The Beatles

Ever hear of these chaps?

Strongest album: Revolver
Must to avoid: The Anthology Series

Writing about the Beatles leaves me with a certain dilemma: to say something incisive and original that has not already been said before. Doubtless you have heard their tunes, unless you've been stranded on a desert island for the past 50 years and have just been informed that the Imperial Japanese Army has surrendered. A little personal info: I discovered the Beatles when I was about five years of age. Not that I hadn't heard their music before, but I was only informed of who John, George, Paul, and Ringo were at that time. I must have first heard the Beatles' music during my mother's third trimester. I believe that my personal experience speaks for approximately 35% of the industrialized Western world. The only people who don't like the Beatles are people born before 1940 who can't stand that rock'n'roll racket, and musical snobs of various stripes (heavy metal, classical, jazz, ethnic Albanian polka aficianados). The Beatles' primary achievement was to take basic rock'n'roll derived from Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry and prove that one could wed it to any form of popular music existent, whether bossa nova or avante-garde dada, thereby opening up possibilities that have yet to be exhausted and doubtfully ever will be exhausted. The Beatles would try almost anything and try to make it work as good pop music, and they succeeded more often than not, showing that pop musicians didn't have to stay stuck in a familiar rut but could grow and change, could actually improve artistically. I mean, it's sad to say, but people like Sinatra and Elvis basically did the same thing over and over throughout their careers. Before the Beatles, only jazz musicians like Miles Davis kept constantly changing; the Beatles showed that purveyors of pop music could do the same. Secondly, the Beatles wrote their own material: a commonplace today, but revolutionary for the time. Before the Beatles came along, performers sang songs written by teams of songwriters spilling out from the Brill Building and Tin Pan Alley. Buddy Holly, the Beatles' biggest influence, had written and performed his own material, as had many blues musicians, but they were anamolies. Thirdly, the Beatles opened up rock'n'roll to the British, thereby turning rock'n'roll into not just a regional American sound but an international phenomenon. The Rolling Stones, for instance, didn't even start writing their own material until the Beatles broke big; and then there's the Kinks, the Who, the Yardbirds, the Hollies, the Animals, etc. All of those bands wouldn't have had an audience outside of England without the Beatles to lead the charge. The Invasion didn't end there, either; though rock'n'roll started in Memphis, TN, it could be argued that since the Beatles the British have produced more genuinely great rock bands than us Yanks. Fourthly - well, I could go on, but you get the picture. The Beatles were the greatest thing to happen to 20th century music, and only someone who hates pop music or is just being contrary can deny that. Of course, not every single musical moment they released on vinyl was great, or even good - nobody's perfect. So let's get to the reviews, shall we?

Novices should note that the British and American releases of their early albums are different. The British versions are clearly superior, as they were the original albums recorded as such; the American versions are simply patchwork compilations released by incompetent and greedy record company executives to turn a quick profit. I will be covering the British versions, which are readily available on CD (the American versions have been deleted and will probably never be released on CD, which is how it should be).

Please Please Me (1963)

I've just got this one, and the adjective is "formative" -- i.e., not that great by Beatles standards. To which I should add that "not that great by Beatles standards" is pretty darn great compared to most other pop music. The early records generally get low grades because they're not as good as the later stuff, so feel free to add a star to certain records I've given fairly low grades.

With The Beatles (1963) **1/2

The problem with this record is that it was recorded in 1963. Now back in the good old days the long-playing record was still in embryonic form; singles were still the primary medium of the music market. When it came time to make a record, the band went in the studio, rushed through several covers from their live show and a handful of originals, some of which might be singles material and some of which was written at the last minute to fill space. Of the six covers here, only John's ripping vocal performance on "Money" betters the original. If you need to hear "You've Really Got A Hold On Me" or "Roll Over Beethoven", invest in Smokey Robinson and Chuck Berry records. The real disgrace, though, is the constipatedly tight performance of "Please Mr. Postman". Of the originals, only the call-and-response "It Won't Be Long" is a keeper; yeah, "All My Loving" was a hit, but like a lot of McCartney, it's too saccharine. Probably their weakest studio effort.

Beatles For Sale (1964) ***

More covers, by Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, "Kansas City" for a total of six; if you need to hear them, they're here. I don't need to hear them. The originals, though, show growth. "I Don't Want To Spoil The Party" and "Baby's In Black" are miserable, while "I'm A Loser" downright self-loathing, demonstrating a greater emotional range for the Fabs, or at least John. "No Reply" showcases John's pissed-off, vengeful misogynist side for the first time on record, and "I'll Follow The Sun" is a McCartney ballad that's lovely but not cloying. And of course there's the marvelous "Eight Days A Week", easily the best thing on the record. Like all the rest of the early albums, it's not essential until you've bought everything from their later period, but it's still a strong effort. Yes, there are two kinds of people in this world: those who prefer the early Beatles, and those who prefer the later Beatles. Guess which type of person I am. At least there aren't any sappy, formulaic love songs on this release, except for "Every Little Thing", which I actually like.

A Hard Day's Night (1964) ***1/2

You've seen the film, now buy the album! Or rather, don't watch the film unless you're in a camp mood and/or planning on making out on the couch with your significant other Beatles fan - just listen to the record. The best thing about this release is that there are no covers! All originals! At least on the British version, that is; the American version has some instrumental soundtrack filler (strings!) and is clearly inferior. The problem is that by producing an entire album solely of originals, the Beatles fall back on formula. Verse, chorus, verse, sappy teen love sentiments, a hook hook here and a hook hook here and it all starts to sound suspiciously the same. It doesn't help that the first three songs, "I Should Have Known Better", "I'll Be Back", and "When I Get Home" are all the same song. Well, not really, but they might as well be - typical John macho bullshit. George gets a vocal spotlight on a song he didn't write, "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You", which could have come off an assembly line. Which means that aside from the title track, whose authorship I'm not sure of, the best songs are all Paul's. "Can't Buy Me Love" you know as both a great song and a great cliche, "Things We Said Today" is a moody anomaly amongst Paul's more typically cheerier ditties, and "And I Love Her" weds bossa nova to flamenco in a haunting ballad. Still, all in all a big improvement despite its inconsistencies.

Help! (1965) ****

Here is where the Beatles as we know and worship them begin to arrive. It's not as cohesive as it could be, and there are still some throwaways like "Dizzie Miss Lizzie", and the Fabs still rely on formula a bit too much on certain songs ("It's Only Love", "Another Girl"). Quibbles aside, because that's all my complaints are, the only thing that stops this from being a masterpiece is that the next five or so albums are better. Any record that contains "Yesterday" (the global village's most popular-ever ballad), "Ticket To Ride" ("and the bitch don't care, man" - Eddie Murphy alusion), and "You've Got Hide Your Love Away" ("hey, you've to hide the fact that you're gay" - alusion to the well-known fact that John wrote this song about manager Brian Epstein's crush on him), could have the remaining half hour filled with blank tape and still be worth your consumer credits. But folks, that's not all! You get Ringo's Buck Owens imitation! You get a couple of George songs - they're not that great, but hey the kid's getting there (and I do mean kid. George was barely out of his teens! And in the world's best and biggest band! Don't you envy the little tyke?). "You're Going To Lose That Girl" rewrites "She Loves You" for a song only a third as good, but a third of "She Loves You" equals ten times the square root of Bluroasis or whoever else's best single. This album closes out their early phase, as they slowly shed off their moptop image, went into the studio, and came out with....

Rubber Soul (1965) *****

....the most important album ever recorded. Why do I say so? Because this was the first album recorded as an album. Not a haphazard collection of songs, but a sustained piece that holds together with no filler. All good songs! For the first time the same care was taken putting together a quality album as there was with a quality single. You can take all the great songs on the previous four Beatles albums, compress them all on one cassette, and you still won't have as many great songs as there are on this platter. For that alone this release would be monumental, but there's more: the musical explorations only hinted at previously blossom forth. Every song has some unique element working for it musically, and not once do the Fabs rely on formula. There's the sitar on "Norwegian Wood"; the fuzztone bass on "Think For Yourself"; the soaring Byrdsy harmonies and ringing guitars of "Nowhere Man"; the pidgin French of "Michelle" - okay, so the album contains one gaffe, but only one! Every song is a classic; I could easily spend several paragraphs dissecting every one, but let me just list a few instead: "Girl"; "In My Life"; "I'm Looking Through You"; "Drive My Car"; "The Word". This album is the pinnacle of pop music; every band from Badfinger to Ben Folds has aimed for this, and failed. This is the Sistine Chapel to your average band's fingerpaintings; even if you're as good as Picasso - who was a genius - you still haven't come close to matching Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. Dig the analogy? The Beatles have slowed the pace a bit, backing off from the hyper energy of their early performances, making the music a bit softer, but better, with more variety. I suppose the Fabs decided at this point to concede hard rock to likes of the Stones and the rest of their peers, and just concentrate on doing what they did best: craft brilliant pop.

Reader Comments

Samuel Day Fassbinder,

RUBBER SOUL may be "the most important album ever recorded," but it's also got a lot of cynical lyrics. "Drive My Car" is about the world of show biz, "Norwegian Wood" and "Run For Your Life" highlight John's violent tendencies, "Nowhere Man" and "Think For Yourself" are about delusion ("You're telling all those lies/ About the good things that we can have if we close our eyes" applies to more than a few politicians I can name), "I'm Looking Through You" and "If I Needed Someone" are about love relationships pervaded by apathy. Just to name a few. To make a point: RUBBER SOUL is not a "cheery" album.

Revolver (1966) *****

Yet another astonishing leap forward for the Beatles, which means yet another astonishing leap forward for popular music as a whole. The electronic soundscapes and experimentation broke new ground in incalculably influential ways, and this may be the Beatles' most genuinely original music, which is saying a lot. You see, the thing about the Beatles is that they borrowed a great deal of their sound from other musicians; very few people are completely original talents - everyone borrows from everyone else. What matters is what you do with the material you've learned from others. Here, the Beatles take the excursions into Indian music first dipped into by the Kinks, the ringing electronic buzz of guitars first profferred by the Byrds, the creative use of feedback and distortion poked around by the Who and the Yardbirds, and last but certainly not least, the careful attention to sound texture and production (the recording studio as an instrument) perfected concurrently by Brian Wilson with the Beach Boys, and make all of the above mentioned seem tentative and unimaginative in comparison. The Beatles knew instinctively how to fully exploit all the new sounds exploding out of the mid-'60s, and synthesized these strains into their own heady mixture on this album. Oh, and smoking pot certainly had a lot to do with it, too - "Tomorrow Never Knows" could only have been performed and concieved on psychedelics. I'm not sure if they started dropping acid at this time, too - haven't quite got my '60s timeline figured out yet. I also am pretty sure my list of influences is incomplete; who knows who else the Fabs were listening to at the time. Now as for the actual songs, there aren't quite as many good ones as on Rubber Soul. "Good Day Sunshine" rolls to no purpose; "Doctor Robert" is more a vamp than fully developed tune despite George's sharply acidic riff (typical of this album's sound; George probably plays his best guitar throughout, or at least gets the grooviest guitar tone he's ever laid down); "Love You Too" is boring like all of George's Indian songs are; and Paul's "Got To Get You Into My Life" is horn-driven pop that sounds completely out of place in this context. But those are the only real duds; the rest is typically brilliant. I'd like to point out right now that I'm nitpicking the Beatles and holding them up to higher standard than most everyone else - who cares if a few songs on the album aren't perfect? Most bands would kill for the lesser tunes I just mentioned. And the classics here combine to make for perhaps the most killer lineup on any piece of Beatles plastic: "Eleanor Rigby", "And Your Bird Can Sing", "Taxman", "For No One", "She Said She Said", "I'm Only Sleeping", and, oh I give, "Yellow Submarine" even. No use me describing each of those songs, since I could fill up a page easy on each one. Their best? Maybe, maybe not. Of course it goes without saying that you ought to own this today if you don't have it; if you haven't heard it, you are missing out on a crucial piece of 20th century Western music. And that's not hyperbole - when discussing the Beatles, there's no such thing as hyperbole; they are impossible to overrate. With one exception....

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) ***1/2

....the most overrated album of all time. Simply put, this is packaging and hype overshadowing substance; perhaps the most important innovation is the printed lyrics. Critics who rave on about the "greatest album of all time" simply haven't taken the time to actually listen to it, or are clearly too gutless to point out that it's the weakest post-'64 Beatles album existent. Not that it's all bad, mind you - if you've never heard "A Day In The Life", then this album is worth purchasing for that one song. The greatest Beatles moment? - it may be, but unfortunately it comes at the very end, and does not redeem what comes before. The experimentation's half-baked tepidness is only exceeded by its capacity for inducing boredom, and it's supported by flimsy pop that defines shallow and disposable - the likes of "Getting Better" might as well have been done by Herman's Hermits. A handful of classics allow me to give an album I detest this much the unbelievably high grade of ***1/2 - hey, this is the freakin' Beatles! I'd easily trade their weakest album for the very best of work most other bands. And it does contain "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds", the only other genuine classic up to the Beatles' typically high standard. "Good Morning, Good Morning", "Lovely Rita", the title track, and, I give, "A Little Help From My Friends", are fine, if slight, pop songs. "She's Leaving Home" is the Beatles' attempt at the European art song tradition; I'm impressed, but half the time I find it pretty dull - which is why a rock'n'roll fan like myself has never cared the European art song. The result runs the gamut from the abysmal to the asinine. "Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite" has no melody I'm aware of. "Within You Without You" is yet another transcendently boring George Indian piece. Paul wrote the novelty filler "When I'm 64" when he was 14, and it sounds like it. The overly cute, meaningless, and musically aimless "Fixing A Hole" eerily prefigures solo McCartney. Easily the worst collection of tunes the Beatles ever released.

Magical Mystery Tour (1968) ****1/2

A lot of people underrate this because it's not a real album, but a compilation of '67 singles and miscellaneous. And true, it's inconsistent: George's contribution, "Blue Jay Way", is flat-out dull; Paul's "Your Mother Should Know" perilously presages solo McCartney drivel once again; John's overrated "All You Need Is Love" similarly presages the worst aspects of his solo career, in that the tune is more a chant than a real song, and it's full of shockingly naive political posturing. However, the low points are far outweighed by the great material. The double A-side "Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields" is the greatest single of all time, period; those two songs sum up everything wonderful about Paul and John's complementary styles, and say everything Sgt. Pepper tried to say and more, much more. Similarly, "I Am The Walrus" is avante-garde dada that actually works; it's so sub-Joycean-ily goofy that it doesn't even approach pretentious. "The Fool On The Hill" enters McCartney's canon as yet another affectingly melodic ballad, the title track steamrolls over any objections, and as for "Hello, Goodbye", you either take it or leave it. I take it, and the rest of this album.

Yellow Submarine (1968)

A ripoff that I don't own, and refuse to spend my hard-earned money on unless I see it really cheap. Basically what it consists of is four new Beatles songs, two of which are by George, some oldies like the title track, and instrumental filler - strings! I have friends who actually own this piece of junk and from their word of mouth, this is uniformly despised. Avoid.

The Beatles (1968) *****

You probably know this one as the White Album; it's a double-album sprawl that's either your favorite or least favorite Beatles platter. It's my favorite, simply for the fact that there's so much, and so much of it is great that I can easily overlooking the duds, overly slight pop songs, and experimental misfires. This might very well be the greatest pop album of all time, for it captures the world's greatest pop band at the peak of their powers trying to prove that they can tackle any style of music up to that point in history with assured mastery. Some friends of mine and I have this theory that the Beatles were self-consciously "doing" other concurrent artists throughout these two discs. For starters, "Back In The U.S.S.R." puns on Chuck Berry's "Back In The U.S.A.", drops in a Ray Charles reference ("Georgia's always on my mind"), all in a grand parody/tribute to the Beach Boys. The next song, "Dear Prudence", lifts ringing guitar lines from the Byrds. "Obli-di Obli-da" sounds not unlike Ray Davies' bouncy, homey take on ska. I always thought that "Helter Skelter" was a blatant Hendrix send-up, but according to McCartney, the Beatles were trying to outdo the Who. "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" is primo Velvet Underground, with a Lou Reed style narrative about going downtown to get a fix and kill a bitch. Supposedly "Mother Nature's Son" is a take on Donovan's laid-back pleasantries, with a finger plucking style of playing Paul learned from the Sunshine Superman himself. There's blues ("Yer Blues"), country ("Don't Let Me Down"), orchestrated soundtrack balladry ("Goodnight"), an avant-garde sound collage ("Revolution No. 9", which is either brilliant or unbearable depending on your view), rustic folk ("Rocky Raccoon"), tender love songs ("I Will"), haunting love songs ("Julia", John's ode to his dead aunt), and more, much more. If you're at all interested in the Beatles, this is the best place to start since it covers all their many sounds and moods in one place. As a bonus, George finally comes into his own as a songwriter equal to John or Paul - "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", "Long Long Long", "Savoy Truffle", and "Piggies" are all classics that showcase an astounding leap in quality from his previous contributions.

Reader Comments

Samuel Day Fassbinder,

Really liked your review of the White Album. Just wanted to add:

One aspect of their lives doubtless shaped the musical expression of the Beatles like no other, on this album: WE MADE THEM RICH. The Beatles, in fact, owned a sort of monopoly status at the top of the pop charts for a couple of years, and as I recall this was about the time John came out with the "we're more popular than Jesus" comment or whatever it was he said that attracted so much attention.

At any rate, on the White Album you have a certain amount of nose-thumbing at the public, combined with a certain amount of self-obsession, with the White Album -- the original vinyl came with an aimless photo album and four posters of John, Paul, George, and Ringo as if they'd just woken up from midday naps, it's still there in much less impressive form on the CD version. The original cover was of four nude Beatles, but that didn't make it past the censors, so we have the White Album, a cover with nothing on it. Hey, we can get away with it, we're the Beatles! Everybody's got something to hide except me and my monkey! Why don't we do it in the road! The public imposed megalomania upon the Beatles, and the Beatles paid back with an aesthetic treasure-trove, which was the White Album.

The most radical thing on this album is Harrison's "Piggies," a pastiche on the rich and the royals, and that was something real in a year such as 1968. Otherwise we have McCartney's joke on gun-nuts, "Happiness is a Warm Gun," and Lennon's bourgeois nose-thumbing at the New Left, "Revolution #1," and passive spiritual stuff like "While My Guitar Gently Sleeps," "Blackbird," and "Rocky Raccoon." I really dig the more hippiesque stuff like "Dear Prudence" and "Sexy Sadie". Unfortunately, the result of all this great White Album art probably turned the culture of the 1960s in a status-quo, owning-class, boring direction, and so what we have today is "Beatlemania," George's occasional reminiscence about "when we was fab". John Lennon sung, "don't you know it's going to be all right," but it WASN'T all right, not for those who needed, and STILL need, a revolution. See, this is the best damn owning-class musical art that money can buy, done in a great variety of cool Beatle pop styles, reminiscent of a time when Keynesian economics was still acceptable and idealism wasn't yet dead, back then in 60s, before the last three decades of music-industry and cultural-politics fluff. Chronologically, this is the last Beatles album I own.

Interesting comments, but I think you're overreaching: after all, Charles Manson had a quite different reaction to the White Album's meaning. A couple of factual errors: "Happiness..." is a John, not a Paul, song; and John made the "Jesus" comment sometime earlier in their career, when they toured America ('65, I think?). "Revolution #1," is John's commentary on the May '68 revolt of the French against their government, which failed (the Stones' "Street Fighting Man," was another song inspired by the Paris riots). I've never heard of the nudes (undoubtedly Yoko's idea), but I'm sure glad they didn't go for a cover that ugly! -- B. Burks

Fassbinder responds:

1) John's comment that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus was something I was using as an example of the sort of state the Beatles were in, in the late '60s. What can you say about a band that was so popular that its popularity prevented it from hearing its own songs while it was touring? So my case isn't airtight.

2) I think "Street Fighting Man" is a better song than "Revolution #1". At least Lennon tried to do some movement stuff in the early '70s.

3) It's likely that Charles Manson was reacting to Charles Manson, not to the Beatles. If "Helter Skelter" hadn't existed, wouldn't Manson have found some other song to inspire his murders?

Thomas Schiller,

"Julia" was written about John's mother, not his aunt.

didier Dumonteil,

I read Fassbinder's comments about "revolution." it's not weaker than "street fighting man!" The later is pure hypocrisy because revolutionary generosity exists only in what you're doing in a concrete manner! (See the late Phil Ochs or Joan Baez singing in front of a draft center during Vietnam War)

It's always that same story of the famous B and the notorious R.S., a legend that should be long forgotten by now. As for the white album, if you awarded six stars, that wouldn't be enough for it.

Let It Be (rec. 1969, rel. 1970) ****

By this time the Beatles were near collapse; the previous album, brilliant as it was, mainly consisted of solo songs with the rest of the band as mere backup, and this album continues the trend. Perhaps the weakest of their late-period albums, it's made a bumpy ride by placing underproduced, underrehearsed material side by side with overproduced (by Phil Spector), overrehearsed material. Paul's "The Long And Winding Road" is a good song almost buried beneath a mass of strings, while the recycled oldies like "One After 909" seem half-baked, too off the cuff and sorely in need of cleaning up. George's songs present a holding pattern: the solopsistic "I Me Mine" and the numblingly repetitive "For You Blue" - undoubtedly he was holding out and saving the best songs of this period for his first solo album. Nevertheless, some of the sloppier numbers have plenty of charm in their sloppiness, especially "I Dig A Pony", and the majestic title track is perfectly suited for Spector's overproduction - it jusn't wouldn't soar if it weren't so big sounding, particularly when George lets loose his rippingly melodic solo through the cathedral of sound. The most poignant moment comes on "Two Of Us", which ostensibly concerns a couple riding through the country, but as anyone can tell is a metaphor for Paul and John's partnership - their harmonizing is warm and sorrowful, for they are soon to part.

Abbey Road (1969) *****

Unsatisfied with Let It Be, the Beatles decided to go into the studio one last time and end their career on a high note by making their final album a masterpiece. And they succeeded, at least on the second half, a sustained suite concieved by Paul that ties a string of little ditties that wouldn't have stood on their own, but tied together combine to make perhaps the finest side of Beatles music produced. It all comes together in "Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End", which contains the only Ringo drum solo the Beatles released on their studio albums. And then, as a masterstroke, McCartney comes back for the brief "Her Majesty", a simple little ditty that deflates the album, and the Beatles' career, on just the right note. The first side's shakier; John's "Come Together" stomps meaner and harder than you'd think, and showed why he, the rocker, and Paul, leaning towards pop whimsy, were by now incompatible. George steals the show by writing the album's two best songs, "Something" and "Here Comes The Sun". However, the rest of the non-suite originals are subpar. "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" has a killer heavy metal riff, but isn't much of a real song. Paul's "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" is far too slight and insubstantial, and "Oh Darling" pales compared to his earlier Little Richard moans on "Long Tall Sally". Likewise, Ringo's "Octopus' Garden" is a kiddy novelty number that doesn't hold a candle to "Yellow Submarine". Despite all that, the album as a whole is brilliant, and a masterpiece for the second side alone.

Past Masters Vol. 1 & 2 ***** (1988)

These are occassionally available separately, but usually found packaged together, hence my writing one review for both. Essentially what they consist of is the left over songs not found on the British versions of the re-released Beatles albums. Some of these songs are left overs and oddities, such as the German language versions (which are hoot anyway), but "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" (well, they wanted to do much more than that, but this was 1963), "She Loves You" (yeah, yeah, yeah), "This Boy" (their greatest slow one from the embryonic period), "From Me To You" (memorably covered by Del Shannon - really!), "I'll Get You" (John's grittily nasal vocals are particularly appealing in this number), the group harmonized "Yes It Is" (which you might know as "Please Don't Wear Red Tonight"), "I Feel Fine" (the feedback at the beginning is so tentative you can imagine the Who scoffing at these wimps, but the ringing hook you can imagine bringing Townshend to tears with envy), and the raving B-side "I'm Down" (supposedly Paul's parody of John's "I'm a Loser"), all found on Vol. 1, are anything but subpar - in fact, Vol. 1 as a whole is stronger than any album the Beatles released during their early period. Vol. 2 is where you'll find the double A-side "Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out", the second greatest single of all time, period (the latter showing the John/Paul dynamic at its most tense, complementary, and vital); "Paperback Writer" (a Paul song about John's sideline) and its backwards guitar psychedelic masterpiece "Rain"; "Hey Jude" (the longest single to ever chart on Top 40); "Revolution" (the fast version of their commentary on the Paris riots); "Lady Madonna", Paul's take on Fats Domino; George's "Old Brown Shoe"; and John's outrageously egotistical "Ballad Of John And Yoko". Yeah, you have to put up with crap like George's "The Inner Light" (more fake Indian have sitar, will meditate) and the long-winded anarchic jam/novelty number "You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)", but you can very easily overlook the bad songs when they're in company this great. Far from a collection of scraps, the music contained herein is essential to anyone interested in the band - which basically means everyone, since I can't imagine anyone not being interested in the Beatles.

Anthology Vol. 1 (1995) **

After all the hype all we get are dreary barrel scrapings. This captures the Beatles' earliest stage, starting with a promising little skiffle group rehearsing oldies on the streets of Liverpool, who then take a steamer to Hamburg where they discover smoky after-hours nightclubs, speed, loose frauliens, and a tighter band attack, and ends with the four lads prepared to sweep America as they had England. A great story, but it's better appreciated if you read one of the many celebrity bios or rent Backbeat. The never-heard before originals are few and far between - out of 60 tracks on two discs, there are barely more than half a dozen, and they hold up more as collector's curiousities more than good songs: John's "Hello Little Girl", the first song he ever wrote, shows that he had a long way to go, while Paul's efforts prove that he was already quite accomplished at composing (if still an apprentice - "In Spite Of All The Danger"). George's rejects are George's rejects, and he wouldn't write a good song until Rubber Soul, a year or two after the period covered here. So the bulk of the two discs is taken up by the Beatles covering material like "The Shiek Of Araby" and "Three Cool Cats" in hopes of getting a record contract, and alternate takes of the likes of "No Reply" and "Eight Days A Week" that are for the most part barely different from the finalized versions, but noticably weaker. Out of this obsessive documentary comes not a single significant addition to the Beatles canon. Unless you're such a Beatles fanatic that you must hear every false start and routine cover they went through on their road to stardom, then this ain't for you.

Anthology Vol. 2 (1995) **

More of the same - nothing new, just alternate takes that don't add anything of interest to the Beatles legacy. This covers their mid-period, when the moptops began to settle down and get arty, and ends as they've just topped the world charts with Sgt. Pepper and the Magical Mystery Tour. It's a much more interesting period than the one covered on the first anthology, but these two discs contain far fewer surprises. In fact, nearly all of these tunes are nothing more than alternate takes of album and single tracks. As such, this comp is pretty useless, unless you just have to hear the "Yesterday" without strings and "Norwegian Wood" without a sitar. As an amateur songwriter, I'm reassured by the fact that John's demo of "Strawberry Fields" doesn't sound much worse than I do on an untuned acoustic guitar piping into a Radio Shack tape machine, but do we really need to hear the same song 3 times in a row? The few unreleased songs are okay but nothing to get worked up about, with the "new" "Real Love" being far and away the best tune in sight that you don't already own in better form on the original '60s albums. "12-Bar Original" isn't an interesting instrumental, "If You've Got Trouble" is a punchy Ringo showcase but not a lost classic, and "That Means A Lot" is tuneful but unexceptional McCartney pop. And that's it for the undiscovered rarities - if you already own Rubber Soul, Help, Sgt. Pepper, Revolver, and Magical Mystery Tour, these 2 CDs are completely redundant.

Anthology Vol. 3 (1996)

I don't have this one, and if it's anything like the first two, I'm not in any rush to aquire it.

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