- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 20, 2006

American record executives were pop-culture assassins because of the way they sliced, diced and re-formatted the Beatles’ British albums in order to multiply the number of U.S. releases. Or so goes the prevailing wisdom among rock critics and Beatles fanatics.

By issuing albums with only 11 or 12 tracks instead of 14 (as in Britain), by tacking on singles and EPs (usually omitted from the British albums) and by substituting orchestral music for Beatles’ numbers on soundtracks, the label bosses (primarily at Capitol Records) stockpiled tracks for “extra” albums invented in corporate boardrooms.

And yet, despite being motivated by greed, the label hacks also created some inadvertent gems. With the recent release of “The Beatles Capitol Albums, Vol. II,” the time is ripe for a little historical revisionism regarding the Fab Four’s American catalogue. These releases are more than a nostalgia trip — they are a restoration of pop-culture history.

(Of course, for those who prefer to maintain their music collections in cyberspace, this is all mere trivia. For them, the real news is that Apple Corps has announced it will be making Beatles music available for download from the Internet. These fans could care less about what sound bites come embedded in a piece of plastic, and whether it is emblazoned with Capitol’s 1960s “rainbow” label or that the CDs come with a beautiful booklet. We can only pity such people, try to avoid making eye contact and walk past them as quickly as possible.)

Let’s begin with a little history: Between “Please Please Me” in 1963 and “Let it Be” in 1970, the Beatles produced 12 albums of original material for Parlophone records in Britain. But in the United States, 19 albums were released in the same time frame.

The Beatles viewed the Capitol executives as butchers for what they did to their records. So, in 1966 when the label asked for a cover photo for “Yesterday … and Today,” they responded with the infamous “butcher block” photo showing the four festooned with dismembered baby doll parts and slabs of raw meat. Hail to the butchers.

The album was quickly recalled, and a more acceptable photo was pasted over the offensive artwork, making a valuable collector’s item for those lucky enough to nab that first pressing.

With the advent of the CD revolution in the mid-1980s, the surviving Beatles made it clear that only the original Parlophone albums were to be issued. But a funny thing happened on the way to the pop-culture trash bin for the Capitol catalog.

Many Americans who grew up listening to Beatles albums could never quite get used to the British releases. For example, “With the Beatles,” which was closely shadowed by the American “Meet the Beatles,” sounds utterly wrong when it kicks off with “It Won’t Be Long” instead of “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

Indeed, the song that introduced most Americans to the Beatles never graced a British album until included on a hits package.

So why not give Americans a choice of formats? The powers that be finally relented, and in 2004 “The Beatles Capitol Albums, Vol. I” was issued in a box containing: “Meet the Beatles,” “The Beatles Second Album,” “Something New” and “Beatles 65.” Volume II, released April 11, also houses four CDs: “The Early Beatles,” “Beatles VI,” “Help!” and “Rubber Soul.” Each CD comes in a miniature of the original sleeve and includes the stereo and mono versions.

These releases remind us that the butchers’ worst crime against humanity was the chainsaw massacre inflicted on the “Hard Day’s Night” and “Help” soundtracks. Each was bursting at the seams with 14 tracks of pure Beatle audio magic in Britain. But Americans got a paltry seven Beatles songs on each, the albums being fleshed out with schmaltzy (although not utterly charmless) orchestral background music from the films.

That’s not all. Capitol also created some illogical monstrosities like the “Hey Jude” album in 1970, which wedded late-period tracks, such as “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” with completely disparate early tracks dating back to 1964.

And, finally, they forced hard-core fans to buy some of the same material twice by nearly duplicating “Introducing…the Beatles” (on Vee-Jay) with “The Early Beatles,” then pulling the same trick by mirroring much of “A Hard Day’s Night” (on United Artists) with (the ironically titled) “Something New.”

Despite such egregious sins, there is more than sentiment and familiarity to recommend the purchase of these boxed sets (the albums cannot be purchased individually). A good listen provides ample evidence that the butchers deserve as much praise as condemnation.

After all, they gave birth to some surgically altered masterpieces, like the U.S. “Rubber Soul,” which is superior to the longer British version. It is that rare case in Beatledom where less is more. The two most commercial tracks on the British version — “Nowhere Man” and “Drive My Car” — are missing from the American lineup, as is George Harrison’s overly poppy “If I Needed Someone” (which would have been fine on an earlier Beatles record, but already sounded dated here). Ringo Starr’s mediocre “What Goes On” is also omitted.

In place of these four deletions, Capitol substituted two leftover tracks from the British “Help!” album: “I’ve Just Seen a Face” and “It’s Only Love,” which both meld perfectly into a heavily acoustic folk-rock album. Despite the lack of hits, 40 years later it still flows like fine wine.

Capitol also stitched together some patchwork gems like “Beatles 65” and “The Beatles Second Album.” The latter is a fast-paced, thrill ride of a record with some of the band’s best covers, from Mr. Harrison’s punchy take on “Roll Over Beethoven” to throat-shredding vocals from John Lennon on “Money” and Paul McCartney on “Long Tall Sally.”

“Beatles VI” is yet another Capitol weld job that works. It combines some of the band’s catchiest top 40 radio-ready hits — “Eight Days a Week” and “Yes it Is” — with another batch of raw, gutbucket rock ‘n’ rollers: “Kansas City,” “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” and “Bad Boy.” Toss in the greatest Buddy Holly cover of all time, “Words of Love,” and the result is a fine Dr. Frankenstein of an album.

The butchers also had the good sense to bolster the “Magical Mystery Tour” soundtrack (originally a six-song, twin EP in Britain) with five like-tempered tracks to make a superb album that in many respects trumps its overly ballyhooed predecessor, “Sgt. Pepper.”

Indeed, even the Brits eventually released “Mystery Tour” as an LP, which is why it has long been available on CD.

So, before tying the Capitol butchers to the whipping post, give these discs a spin. You may just decide that they knew how to carve.

LET IT BE

The Beatles’ original albums (all issued on Parlophone in Great Britain):

1. Please Please Me, 1963

2. With the Beatles, 1963

3. A Hard Day’s Night, 1964

4. Beatles for Sale, 1964

5. Help! 1965

6. Rubber Soul, 1965

7. Revolver, 1966

8. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967

9. The Beatles (The White Album), 1968

10. Yellow Submarine, 1969

11. Abbey Road, 1969

12. Let It Be, 1970

The Beatles’ American albums (On Capitol, except where noted):

1. Introducing…the Beatles (Vee-Jay), 1963

2. Meet the Beatles!, 1964

3. The Beatles’ Second Album, 1964

4. A Hard Day’s Night (United Artists), 1964

5. Something New, 1964

6. Beatles ‘65, 1964

7. The Early Beatles, 1965

8. Beatles VI, 1965

9. Help! 1965

10. Rubber Soul, 1965

11. Yesterday ? and Today, 1966

12. Revolver, 1966

13. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967 (identical to British)

14. Magical Mystery Tour, 1967

15. The Beatles (The White Album), 1968 (identical to British)

16. Yellow Submarine, 1969 (identical to British)

17. Abbey Road, 1969 (identical to British)

18. Hey Jude, 1970

19. Let it Be (identical to British), 1970

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