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The Beatles: The U.S. Albums

by Shawn Stone on February 13, 2014

The Beatles
The U.S. Albums (Apple/Capitol)

 

When Apple reissued the Beatles’ catalog on CD (and then reissued, and reissued it), many U.S. fans felt something was amiss. What’s this With the Beatles crap? Where were Meet the Beatles and Beatles VI and Yesterday and Today? John, Paul, George and Ringo were never happy with the stateside versions of their records, which were cut and pasted and shrunken and retooled out of all recognition, so Apple deep-sixed the Capitol catalog. Capitol producers (most prominently one Dave Dexter, Jr.) had messed around with the sound of the recordings to “Americanize” them, and Apple felt justified in consigning those to the dustbin. Many American Beatlemaniacs didn’t care, however: They wanted the originals.

Apple issued two sets of a few of the American albums in the last decade, using the U.S. source masters. Here, just in time for the much-hyped 50th anniversary of the boys’ arrival in New York City, is the upgraded (and almost complete) The Beatles: The U.S. Albums. This handsome (and pricey, listed at $199.99) box of musical madeleines combines the original U.K. versions of most songs with some of the U.S. variations, in both stereo and mono versions, in the order and timings of the stateside LP’s.

Was it worth it? Well, if you found yourself listening to the British Rubber Soul and exclaimed, out loud, “What the fuck is ‘Nowhere Man’ doing on Rubber Soul?” or heard the British Help and asked, “What the fuck is ‘It’s Only Love’ doing here?” then, yes.

So, for me? Yes.

It took an Internet search to determine which masters/versions were used for each song/album, however. There’s a snazzy 64-page glossy book included with the set, but it’s infuriatingly thin on technical specs. What it does have is a long essay by producer and Beatlephile Bill Flanagan, who offers some good info and a lot of opinion. He is of course entitled to the latter, but it isn’t particularly edifying. In one part he slams Beatles VI for having fewer Lennon and McCartney originals than its Brit counterpart, and instead featuring older covers like “Dizzy Miss Lizzy.” Subsequently, he calls the Brit version of Help a “masterpiece,” when it includes—yup—“Dizzy Miss Lizzy.”

The real time-trip here is the packaging. The album sleeves are reproduced in miniature with original art and liner notes. Capitol didn’t bother with—or much improve on—the original U.K. art on any of their first seven releases (until Rubber Soul), but that’s not hard to understand. (There’s even the soundtrack to A Hard Days’ Night on the old United Artists label. Or, as the sleeve boasts, “United Artists Records: The Proudest Name in Entertainment.” Maybe this was true if you were related to UA’s biggest act, the piano-playing lounge lizards Ferrante and Teicher.) American LP’s of that era had a certain corporate look, with the label’s logo given special prominence, and there were all sorts of comically anal notations included. At the top edge of Meet the Beatles, in small print, it reads: “File Under: The Beatles, Pop Rock, Vocal Group.” (This was promptly shortened to “File Under: The Beatles.”) Comparatively, the U.K. covers were more graphically advanced. Still, a few of the Capitol covers are all right: There’s the weird blue tint on Meet the Beatles, all those umbrellas on the cover of Beatles ’65, and the infamous “butcher” cover of Yesterday and Today. (The more benign replacement art for Yesterday is amusingly included as a bonus sticker, in case you–like the parents and retailers of yesteryear–are grossed out by the Fab Four posed with doll parts and meat, and feel compelled to cover it up.)

The detail is relentless, right down to the very small print: “EMI—The Greatest Recording Organization in the World,” and “Made in U.S.A.—Factories Scranton, Pa.—Los Angeles, Calif.” Oh well: EMI is dead and gone, and the CDs sure as hell weren’t made in Scranton.

This packaging is an exercise in the kind of expensive nostalgia only Baby Boomers would be willing to afford, but that’s the point—and makes sense, since the set is on a format that only we elderly folks still use. Yes, it’s decadent; it’s also a useful time capsule of the musical world the Beatles blew up. This is best glimpsed on the inner sleeves—they’ re included, too—with the earliest featuring ads for other Capitol albums by folks like Peggy Lee and Vic Damone. These promise “new Capitol albums by Glen Gray . . . Guy Lombardo . . . Kay Starr.” Yes, Glen freaking Gray and his Casa Loma Orchestra, who hadn’t been hip since the early days of the Hoover administration, still had a major label contract.

If you’re not a Baby Boomer, would it hold any interest?

There are annoyances: The Help and Hard Days’ Night soundtracks are just as compromised as ever, padded with instrumentals; Revolver is missing three key Lennon tunes, which are on Yesterday and Today; and the “documentary” The Beatles Story is fascinating but totally “L7.” But it’s the same music, and that’s what counts. And with these, I don’t ever have to buy the Brit originals. Does that make me an ugly American? Listen, pal, you can have my Beatles ’65 when you pry it from my . . . well, you can borrow it if you ask, nicely.