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The Beatles Anthology I (1995)


First of all: let me tell you I’m not a terrible fan of the Anthologies. There’s no doubt about the fact that the whole enterprise was intended to milk the numerous fans’ pockets, and in that it succeeded admirably – it just couldn’t fail.

But I seriously doubt that even the most hard core fan could prefer these tracks to the originals. Raw, without overdubs, with extremely simple guitar and keyboard lines, often stuttering and off-key vocals, sometimes with cracking noises, sometimes with painfully distorted sound, these primeval versions of well-known classics are certainly interesting if taken as historical documents. But try to pass them for real music? Hah! Ridiculous.

Now then, the first one of these products is probably the most interesting in that it contains several early compositions and/or recordings made by the Fab Four when they weren’t Fab yet (in fact, at some times they weren’t even Four). Some people actually consider this a let down, because all of these things are obviously inferior to the Beatles’ classic material as we have grown to know it. However, it all depends on the attitude: if you’re really planning to spend quite a bit of your time listening to this Anthologies stuff as real music, you’d better be off with the third volume. Me, I’m only willing to accept them as treasurable, but not particularly entertaining documents, and in this respect, the first volume is inarguably the most important.

And so, what do we find? There’s the first recording John, Paul and George ever did together, the unlucky single ‘That’ll Be The Day’/’In Spite Of All The Danger’, with horrible cracking noises and extremely lousy singing. Even so, while the version of ‘That’ll Be The Day’ doesn’t really differ much from your average fourteen year old teen school group’s sloppy take, Paul’s original already shows the first blossoms of creative energy – my, don’t you think that with a little elaboration and a bit of changed lyrics they could make it a hit? Next come some poor-audience-quality bootleg recordings dating from club gigs in the late fifties (“Hallelujah I Love Her So”, “You’ll Be Mine” with John (Paul?) making a parody on Elvis), which are, as Paul confesses it, simply recordings made on a tape-recorder placed before the singers to satisfy their own self-indulgent needs. They’re unlistenable, for sure, but just imagine all the hoopla!

Things start getting good with a couple o’ numbers with Tony Sheridan, like the world-famous “My Bonnie”, the band’s first officially released recording ever. Even better, though, are the Lennon-sung “Ain’t She Sweet” and the fabulous instrumental “Cry For A Shadow” which should be considered one of their best instrumental compositions (not that they did a lot of them, anyway) and, in fact, the first significant Beatles’ composition of any artistic merit. That stinging guitar riff is really something, and it’s a good thing the composition was not forgotten. Ripped off from the Shadows, I suppose (as the title suggests), but then again, the Shadows were a pretty interesting group themselves.

Most interesting, though, this volume presents us with some of the so-called ‘Decca tapes’ which were presented by Brian Epstein to Decca, but rejected under the famous pretext that “guitar-based groups are going out of fashion”. These include a great “Searchin'”, two Harrison-sung oldies (my personal favourite is ‘Three Cool Cats’) and especially Paul’s own ‘Like Dreamers Do’ which, I guess, could be easily included on Please Please Me but for some reason wasn’t.

The later stuff, however, is for the most part well-known. Live versions (some of them from the famous Royal Albert Hall gig), a lot of them: fun but certainly add nothing to the originals. And studio takes: some are exciting, I’ll admit, especially the early version of ‘One After 909’, with some banter in the studio (I like the bit where Paul complains about his bass line, saying stuff like ‘I can’t play that, it’s Murder!’, and the funny waltz tempo of ‘I’ll Be Back’. Heard that? John starts singing the song in that tempo, then growls that he can’t do it, and they burst into a much faster take. (Of course, they were spliced only later, but still sounds fun). But most are just curios. Some are even unlistenable, like ‘And I Love Her’ which sounds as if the tape was chewn. Songs unavailable before include a great cover of ‘Shout’ with the band members taking turns to sing the repeating lines, a ‘Leave My Kitten Alone’ (great rocker with John at his best) and a ‘Moonlight Bay’ (imagine that!) preceded by a comedy bit which (the comedy bit, not the song) you can also see on video.

Oh wait! I’ve almost forgotten the ‘Free As A Bird’ tune which is really an old John Lennon demo enriched in the studio by Paul, George, and Ringo. And Jeff Lynne (sigh). The song is fantastic, the production is much too bombastic. Then again, such a great monster as the Anthology should probably have a bombastic start. Who knows? But it’s interesting how Paul intertwines his vocals with the deeply mixed Lennon voice. Reminds me of a “seance in the dark”.

I’ve even managed to get used to the bombastic arrangement, you know. By the way, if you want to hear a cool ‘stripped’ version of the tune, consult Adrian Belew’s Belewprints album (which is pretty hard to find anyway) where he does a touching rendition of the song backed by just a piano. Just like the program specified.

May 5, 2013 Posted by | The Beatles Anthology I | | Leave a comment