Friday, October 05, 2007

The story of the US versions of Beatles albums – part two

(read this first)

In 1966, after the Beatles played their last concert at Candlestick Park in San Francisco they took a little time off and then dove back into the studio to work on their next album, what was meant to be an album of reflections on their childhood. They took a long time to record this album – not by modern standards but by their previous standards. They had churned out two albums and four singles a year for a while and now, spending this much time on one album made their fans, the press and others wonder if they had "lost it." In fact, it took so long that when Christmas came around with no new Beatles album to sell, Parlophone put out a collection of the songs that had been on singles but not on albums. That collection was called A Collection of Beatles Oldies (but Goldies). There is no comparable US album because these songs had all appeared on the various US albums already.

But the world wanted new Beatles music too so their manager persuaded them to take two of the songs from their forthcoming album and release them as a single – one by Lennon ("Strawberry Fields Forever") and one by McCartney ("Penny Lane") – in both the UK and the US. This single accomplished two things. It showed they still "had it" and it effectively took the heart out of their forthcoming album of songs about their childhood. So they refocused their energy, used a wacky idea of McCartney's of pretending to be another band and finally finished the new album - Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was obvious, even to the business folk at US Capitol Records, that they couldn't carve up this album, subtract songs or mess with it in any way so the US and UK versions of this album are practically identical. (I've never seen this in print anywhere but I'm not convinced that the US version had the run-out groove that we now hear at the end of the CD version of this album. I'd love to hear from someone who bought it in the US and had it on theirs – I'm pretty sure mine didn't.)

The Beatles actually didn't record another album next. They did a few singles ("Hello Goodbye," and "All You Need is Love") and made a film, Magical Mystery Tour, and recorded songs for that film. Those songs, the soundtrack to the album, were released in the UK as a double EP – two 7" singles packaged together with three songs on each disc. The US company knew that the American buyers didn't know much about EPs – they had never really taken off here in the US – and took those six MMT songs, combined them with the recent singles and made an album which they also called Magical Mystery Tour. This is the one case where this idea made so much sense (both musically and economically) that the UK eventually followed suit and released it in this form too – that's why you can get a CD like that.

The Beatles continued to release both albums and singles in the UK and the US but by this time the pattern was well established and they were the same on both sides of the Atalantic – with one exception. In 1969, between the release of Abbey Road and Let it Be, the US got antsy for more new stuff to sell and gathered the singles that had not been released up to that point including "Hey Jude," "Revolution," "The Ballad of John and Yoko," and even "I Should Have Known Better" from 1964 which hadn't been on a US album yet, and put out another album with no title on the cover. The first edition (which I still have) had the name Hey Jude on the spine of the record sleeve but it had The Beatles Again printed on the album itself. Later pressings were just called Hey Jude.

After Let It Be, the Beatles final album, was released in the US and UK, Parlophone released an album called Rarities, which collected b-sides, songs that had only been on EPs in the UK (like "Matchbox") and things like "Bad Boy" which had been recorded specifically with a US audience in mind and released on Beatles '65 but never released in the UK. Since the US had already released all these things on the albums there was no comparable US release – except they, too, made an album of Rarities which had a few alternate takes, mono mixes, one or two songs that actually didn't get on US albums (like "Misery.") It, as well as a 1977 release of The Beatles Live at the Hollywood Bowl, has never been released on CD.

So, there it is. If you buy the CDs you'll find the UK albums as well as two collections called Past Masters Vols 1 and 2 which contain all the tracks that aren't on the UK albums – things like the singles, b-sides, EPs and other things. Other collections (Like 1 and Love) have been identical around the world. So, Kathy, does that answer your question? :)


Ron H said...

I had forgotten about the "Hey Jude" LP! My LPs are in storage in VA. So, what are your sources for these two posts, or did you do all of this out of your head? ;-)

Bob K said...

Ron (and others who are interested,) I'm doing this all off the top of my head. That says something about my mis-spent youth! I've read WAY too many Beatles Books.

Ron H said...

I am just very impressed with your Beatle-knowledge! Good job!

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