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Oldies But Goldies: Every Beatles Album Reviewed

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(I wrote this nearly six years ago, July 2009 to be precise…  it is a guide to every single Beatles album. I have posted over 25,000 articles here and we seldom repost em but I think I am gonna start doing with a new column called “Oldies But Goldies”… Here is the first.. IL.)

So much has been said about the Beatles it is difficult not to tread where others have or even everyone has walked before . you will find no discussion of McCartney the back up singer, George Martin the producer or Starr’s drumming. If these reviews seem incomplete it is because I’m not even attempting to define the albums, but rather take a peek and see if we can illuminate them a bit further.

Please Please Me UK (1963)
The difference between John and Paul is John covered Arthur Alexander’s heartwrenching “Anna” and Paul covered the song made famous by Herb Albert “A Taste Of Honey”. Both are good, one is great. Otherwise, lotsa girl group covers and a rip roaring finale with the Isley Brother’s “Twist And Shout”. Grade: “B+”

With the Beatles UK (1963)
Here the Beatle originals hold their own, the first three songs are as self-assured and powerful as you remember them to me, “All My Loving” being the Beatle sound in redux, and “All I Gotta Do” featuring a stunning Lennon vocal especially on the bridge. But the fourth song is a not very good Harrison number and while the version of “Till There Was You” made great sense from a business point of view (McCartney and Epstein in cahoots for sure) it muted their attack. No reason to apologize for Lennon’s cover of “Please Mr. Postman” and the second side is really, really good with a Chuck cover, Starr taking over “I Wanna be Your Man” (written for the Stones before they rolled their own) and one of Lennon’s greatest vocals ever as he tore his throat to pieces on “Money”. He wanted to be free, you know. Grade: “A”

Introducing… the Beatles US (1964)
Except it was on Vee-Jay Records who missed their chance and Capitol got em. Grade: “B+”

Meet The Beatles US (1964)
A mix of the first two UK releases also “Love Me Do” is here, so is “Boys”. And where is “Money”? “Meet the Beatles” ends with “Not A Second Time”. Ugh. What a let down. The sequencing is simply ridiculous. Grade: “A” (for historical reasons)

A Hard Day’s Night UK (1964)
One of the best albums ever made. One side is songs from the movie, the other side is new studio songs, all original material and all a pop seduction never really equalled. I am looking for something not to like and came upon “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You” but my heart isn’t in it. Grade: “A+”

The Beatles Second Album US (1964)
McCartney does a great cover of “Long Tall Sally” -Little Richard comparisons abounded. Grade: “B+”

A Hard Day’s Night US (1964)
You’re kidding me, right? Four instrumental incidental music decimate the UK masterwork. The reason was money, if you only released half the songs you could add EP cuts and the remainder of the songs on an additional album. Grade: “C+”

Something New US (1964)
Does this album make sense to you? It is my fave of the US releases so far because it puts together so many songs not on the UK albums. Half of “Hard days Night” plus “I wanna Hold Your Hand” in German, “Slow Down” and rockabilly giant Carl Perkin’s (he wrote “Blue Suede Shoes”) “Matchbox”. Grade:”A-

“Beatles For Sale UK (1964)
This is like the UK version of a US Beatles albums. All covers and hit singles plus three morbid lost loves (included a girl mourning her dead boyfriend) plus a harbinger of segues yet to come with the medley at the end and lotsa Buddy Holly-Everly brothers acoustics and harmonies. Grade: “B+”

Beatles ’65 US (1965)
Half of “Beatles For Sale” plus EP cuts. Side two is just whacky. “Honey Don’t” next to “I’ll Be Back” next to “She’s A Woman”. Grade: “B-”

The Early Beatles (1965)
After three albums they got around to releasing the Vee-Jay material. I bet the rights for ir cost a fortune. Grade: “B”

Beatles VI US (1965)
Or VII -depending on who is counting. The other half of “Beatles for Sale”. How can they open the album with “Kansas City/Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey” -so obviously a side closer. There is something neanderthal in the sequencing. Your ears don’t want to hear the songs in this order and though it will be more important with later albums it is really pretty screwed up here. And how did “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” find its way-it hand’t even been released in England yet. Grade: “B-”

Help UK (1965 ) One side songs in the movie, one side 2nd tier Beatlesongs -this and “Beatles For Sale” is the height of their country rock jones and the worst they ever got and both albums are still pretty damn good. PS I’ll take “I’ve Just Seen A face” over “Yesterday” any day. Grade: “B+”

Help US (1965)
Five songs from the movies, five incidental instrumental from the movie . Grade: “C+”

Rubber Soul UK (1965) No rubber here, it starts with McCartney imitating a car horn, ends with Lennon channeling Presley and in between is a dark, brooding,druggy, mysteriously beautiful pop art masterpiece. Or maybe just another Beatles album. It’s so fine, it’s sunshine. Grade: “A+”

Rubber Soul US (1965)
Half “Help,” UK, half “Rubber Soul” UK, this is a travesty. Let’s say UK 4 Sale and UK Help, while excellent in their own ways, weren’t album length artistic testaments and so while US refibering just a greedy mechanism it didn’t really destroy the vision, that is not true with “Rubber Soul”. “Soul” was a pop-rock epic about how love can deliver us from the material world. In the winter of 1965 the cassette player made recorded music portable and “Rubber Soul” played in my Mom’s car in a constant loop of harmonic beauty. And this piece of crap US version should be taken out and shot. Grade: “D+”

Yesterday…. And Today US (1966)
From car to train, stuck in yesterday with some of these songs being released over a year after their initial release in the UK, the Beatles posed as butchers with cut up meat parts. Do you think Capitol got it? Sure they did, they banned the cover. Everything is wrong about this album. I mean, “Revolver” was two months away, what the hell was “Dr. Robert” doing here. Grade: “C-”

Revolver UK (1966)
Debatably (but not by me, I would say self-evidently) the Beatles finest moment or maybe just another Beatles album. I was on vacation in Majorca, Spain, when it was released and it played on the hotel sound system in a constant loop. “Revolver” is on the cusp of the summer of love and a head trip into the mystic; to paraphrase writer Tim Reily, from Western materialism to Eastern transcendence in forty minutes. It starts with a cough and a fake count in and ends with backward tapes and a float down stream; taxmen, lonely people, pill peddling doctors, green with envy contemporaries, loves lost and loves found, and the book of the dead at the end of the begining of the age of doubt. Grade: “A+”

Oldies But Goldies UK (1966)
The first greatest hits collection plus Lennon covering “Bad Boy” (“… now junior behave yourself!!”). Grade: “A”

Revolver US (1966)
“Dr. Robert,” “I’m Only Sleeping,” and “And Your Bird Can Sing” were missing and nothing replaced them. It was like painting two thirds of the Cistern Chapel and leaving the last third blank. Grade: “C”

Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart’s Club Band (1967)
Finally, the same release on both sides of the Atlantic. It takes nothing away from Peppers to state the obvious: “Revolver” was better. And if you take off “Good Morning, Good Morning,” and “A Day In the Life” it sure don’t sound like the greatest album ever. Grade: “A+” (for historical importance)

Magical Mystery Tour Double EP UK (1967)
From the TV special that wasn’t all that special with music carried by Lennon’s Lewis Carrol on acid “I Am The Walrus”. The EP was fabulous with lyrics and pictures. Grade: “B+”

Magical Mystery Tour US (1967)
The flip side is awesome: “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane” and “Baby, You’re A Rich Man”… when “Hello Goodbye” didn’t make it to # 1 in the UK Prince Phillip had to write a retraction: “I said the Beatles are away not the Beatles are on the wane…” Grade: “A”

The Beatles (1968)
The beginning of the end. Essentially three of the greatest sessionmen of all time playing back up at any given time. Lennon was really on fire: “Yer Blues,” “Sexy Sadie,” “Revolution # 9,” “Dear Prudence,” “Cry Baby Cry”. It isn’t sentimentality that makes Lennon the greatest Beatles it is the songs. Grade: “A”

Yellow Submarine (1969)
One side incidental music from the movie, the other side belongs to Harrison’s two great contributions. Grade: “B”

Abbey Road (1969)
This one is Macca’s and he would spend his solo career failing to reach these heights again if only because there was no Lennon to add “Come Together” or Harrison to add “Here Comes the Sun” and even so the last half of the second side is a stupendous achievement. Grade: “A+”

Hey Jude US (1970)
This is a great odds and sods package. Side two particularly goes from the title track to Harrison’s glorious “Old Brown Shoe” to Lennon’s “Don’t Let Me Down” in all its insecurities to “The Ballad Of John And Yoko” with the religious world up in arms over his “Christ you know it ain’t easy, you know how hard it can be”. The Christian right had never forgiven him for his the Beatles are bigger than Jesus” quip. Grade: “A”

Let It Be (1970)
McCartney ruins this album. “The Long And Winding Road” and “Let It Be” are terrible piano based tearjerkers that stop both sides of the album in their tracks.” Grade: “A”

OK, then they broke up. Here are the post-Beatle releases.

The Red Album 1962 – 1966 (1973)
Yeah, I owned every song, yeah I bought it for the cover. Grade: “A”

The Blue Album 1967 – 1970 (1973)
It doesn’t hold together as well as the red album because the Beatles were more of an album band than a single band by then. Grade: “A-”

Rock ‘n’ Roll Music (1976)
As we ready ourselves for the onslaught of MJ product it might be worthwhile remembering how totally useless some of the Beatles products were. Nothing really connects these songs from all ends of their career except a pretty cool cover. It what sense is this a rock and roll album? Maybe the first coupla sides are straight up no chaser but the rest of it… Grade: “B”

Live! at the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany; 1962 (1977)
I loved hearing the early beatles back when they were a fine live band and though the sound was dreadful at least it had an historic value beyond a buncha oldies with a new cover. Grade: “B+”

Live At the Hollywood Bowl (1977)
From 1965 and slab dab in the middle of Beatlemania. This has a lot less historic resonance. Grade: “B”

Love Songs (1977)
Maybe Ringo needed the royalties. Grade: “B-”

Rarities (1980)
For the anal retentive Beatlehead in your household who absolutely has to own the “Penny Lane” with an extra piccolo. Grade: “B”

Reel Music (1982)
Songs from their movie? Are you joking me? Grade: “D+”

20 Greatest Hits (1982)
Go with the UK release which saves us from “Let It Be” and “Long And winding Road”. Grade: “B+”

Past Masters Vol. 1 and 2 (1988)Now you’re talking. Compiles all the songs that never made it on to the Beatles official UK releases. This is essential -gives you everything without messing with the US releases. Grade: “A+”

Live At The BBC (1994)
OK then, now we’re making more than just money from the Beatles past history. You in the market for “Memphis” or “Ooh! My Soul” or “Glad All Over” here is the place to be… “Glad All Over”…??? Well, yeah this is all Beatles at their most charming, fooling with Fluff and making light of the world and so it isn’t the versions of these rock classics we might have hoped for. but it’s what we’ve got and I’ll take em. Grade: “A”

Anthology Vol. 1 (1995)

Let me congratulate the Beatles on begining their three anthology, TV Special, CD, Video, DVD, etc with the worst song they ever wrote. “Free As A Bird” is a half finished Lennon doodle and I have no idea why they tried to polish it off. Otherwise download “Boys, I was thinking…” the skit with english comedian Eric Morecalme shouting over his shoulder. “Where is he? Where is he? Hello Pongo…” to Ringo. Grade: “B-”

Anthology Vol 2 (1996)
This is better than vol 1 because the live stuff on 1 wasn’t worth the hoopla and the studio stuff wasn’t as interesting at the begining of the career. The second CD is where things start cooking with the three versions of “Strawberry Fields Forever” here (George Martin would edit them together to make the surreal dreamlike vocals set the bar as high as it can possibly go here. Oh and the new Beatles song, Lennon’s “Real Love” is absolutely terrific and as this cover by Regina Spektor proves, it didn’t need all the fussing about to make it better: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGc0PqKBnno Here’s Lennon’s original:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KuEOKK8d43c&feature=related Grade “A-”

Anthology Vol 3 (1996)
Better than 1, not as good as 2, the stuff off “Let It Be” is interesting enough. Lennon’s anthology is better than these because these are mainly studio out takes and Lennon’s is mainly home recordings. Grade: “B+”

1’s (2000)
27 of them. Grade: “A”

Let It be… Naked (2003)
If it makes Paulie happy i guess its alright but the original was better. Grade: “C+”

And there you go folks. A peek at the Beatles. But let me make it simpler. Buy all the UK official releases up to “Let It Be” except for “Magical Mystery Tour”where you need the US version, “Live At the BBC” “Anthology 2” and “Past Masters” I and II and you can pass on the rest

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