It is perhaps only inevitable marketing to see the Beatles US Albums out in line with the fiftieth anniversary of the Fab Four’s first visit to America. Unlike the previous release of The Beatles Capitol Albums, 2004 and 2006 sets now out-of-print, this collection has the additional selling points of the inclusion of the Hey Jude album, heretofore unreleased on compact disc, not to mention use of the banned butcher cover for 1966’s Yesterday and Today. And that’s in addition to applying uniform packaging consistent with the layout (if not the exact dimensions) of the 2009 remasters and the two BBC titles.
While it may be true that the original British versions of the Beatles’ albums are definitive in their own artistic and historic way, there are fans and musiclovers in general who only know these titles as eleven track records (inferior as those may be to their fourteen-cut counterparts.) With that perspective in mind, it’s fascinating to evaluate the US Albums titles on their own merits, in terms of sound, sequencing and song selection, using quality benchmarks the likes of which we’d apply to any newly released album of the present day.
As with the best of the Beatles experience all around, surprises and new sensations abound, the most striking of which here is that, contrived by the Capitol label as most of these were to meet tremendous market demand, the following stand on their own merits as excellent ‘albums’ the likes of which would compare favorably to (and quite probably surpass) the most exemplary work of the bands of their time….and today.
The Beatles Second Album: What becomes readily apparent two tracks into this set is that the Beatles might well have released any (and all?) album tracks like “Thank You Girl” and seen the release rocket up the charts. This cut features same virtues that distinguish those songs specifically recorded for the singles market at the time, such as this album’s closer “She Loves You:” an irresistible hook, a sing-along refrain derived from the natural full harmonies and an economical arrangement (including a bridge that’s the definition of tension/release). Miracles of two-minute plus duration such as “You Can’t Do That” and “I Call Your Name” are only slightly more memorable than the covers the Beatles performed, such as John Lennon’s soul-stirring Motown choice “Money” and Paul McCartney’s high-spirited homage to Little Richard, “Long Tall Sally.”
Something New: Its title carrying more significance now that at the time of its release in summer of ’64, the inclusion of covers in the form of “Slow Down” and “Matchbox” belie the influence of Bob Dylan becoming prominent in the songs of Lennon/McCartney as on the precocious likes of “If I Fell” and “Things We Said Today.” The Beatles’ first album of all original material was A Hard Day’s Night, in its British but not American version, so the bulk of the content comes from that yet to be released movie soundtrack and ebullience of “Tell Me Why” balances the perfect simplicity of the ballad “And I Love Her,”. Inclusion of both mono and stereo mixes on these discs seems fatuous except when alternate versions appear as here in the form of two “I’ll Cry Instead”’s roughly twenty seconds different in duration.
Beatles ’65: Revelatory in its own mindful way of the hours of club work where they honed their craft, Chuck Berry covers like “Rock and Roll Music,” sound like necessary steps to originals like “I Feel Fine,” that represented a quantum leap in terms of composition, recording sophistication and technical innovation: the feedback that opens the tune may at this point be no more noteworthy than the descending riff that forms the bedrock of the tune and Ringo Starr’s drum break mid-track is evidence of his restrained genius. Meanwhile, Lennon/McCartney progressed further as songwriters with their own personalities by composing tunes like “No Reply,” “I’m A Loser’ and “I’ll Follow the Sun” exhibiting a depth that allowed the evolution of the longplayer into a single statement rather than just a collection of songs.
Yesterday and Today: As much of a quantum leap as was December 1965’s Rubber Soul, August of 1966’s Revolver was an even greater advance in terms of sonics and experimentalism in general. Thus, Yesterday and Today carries an unusual distinction apart from the controversy that arose from its original cover (a sticker of its replacement is included) as it juxtaposes tracks from both albums (“Drive My Car,’ “I’m Only Sleeping”) demonstrating the continuity in the Beatles artistic growth. In fact, this album might well constitute a summary of the Beatles career to date, the most notable aspects of which are George Harrison’s prominence at this stage of their career: his homage to the Byrds, in the magnificent chiming chords of “If I Needed Someone,” signaled his emergence as a songwriter of note as well as a progressive guitar player far removed from, but still capable of, the perfectly pithy breaks he offers on “Nowhere Man.”
Hey Jude: Mercenary as are the Beatles US albums of the Sixties, cobbled together from their British albums, plus songs released as singles that never appeared on the long-players, they are no more so than this seemingly arbitrary collection of tracks designed to enhance the cash flow of an Apple organization which, at this point in 1970, had begun to turn into a liability for the group. The distinct differences of depth and presence in the audio quality so readily apparent on the other discs are no less so here, particularly in the sumptuous kick drum and bass sounds in “Paperback Writer” and “Rain.” Even with its obvious omissions (such as “Get Back” and “The Inner Light”) this title acts like a time-elapsed chronology of the Beatles progression as recording artists from 1964’s “Can’t Buy Me Love” to “Don’t Let Me Down” five years later.