Monday, September 30, 2019

The Beatles Canon - Part 1 - It's Complicated

Bear with me... The official canon of Beatles LPs includes the 11 British Parlophone/Apple releases from Please, Please Me on March 22, 1963, to Let It Be on May 8, 1970. It does not include Magical Mystery Tour, which although an Album in the U.S., was merely an EP (Extended Player - long format 45s usually with two songs per side) in Britain. When the Beatles collected LPs were re-released on CD in the 1990s, EMI and Capitol Records, the Beatles label in the U.S., agreed to release the U.K. Versions of the LPs with the addition of the American version of Magical Mystery Tour, which contained the six songs from the film soundtrack (the British EP) on Side One and the addition of five Beatle singles, "Hello Goodbye," "Strawberry Fields Forever," "Penny Lane," "Baby You're a Rich Man" and "All You Need is Love" on Side Two. 

"Strawberry Fields" and "Penny Lane" had been released in the U.K. and in the U.S. as a double-A sided single. "All You Need is Love" was released with "Baby You're a Rich Man" as the B-Side, and "Hello Goodbye" as the A-Side b/w "I Am the Walrus." None of those songs appeared in album form on the U.K. releases.

Also of interest is the play order of the tracks on the EP and the LP. Side One/Disk One of the EP was "Magical Mystery Tour" and "Your Mother Should Know." Side Two was "I Am the Walrus." Disk Two had "Fool on the Hill" and "Flying" (the only Beatles instrumental) on Side One with "Blue Jay Way" on the flip side. Neither the EP or the LP released the songs in the order they appear in the film, with the order of the LP being the title track, "Fool," "Flying," "Blue Jay Way," "Your Mother Should Know" and "I Am the Walrus."

With the addition of MMT to the canon, there are 12 Beatles' LPs released over a period of 7 years. In America, there were 19 Capitol LPs, a documentary album and, on VeeJay Records, two LPs and an odd release called The Beatles Vs. The Four Seasons. So, why the differences?

Standard British LPs had 14 songs, 7 per side. In America, this format was reduced to six songs. If you're already confused, it gets worse. You'd think that would explain a lot; nah. The first Beatles LP is officially Please Please Me, which was not released in America. The LP contains eight original songs by Lennon/McCartney and six covers.

In the U.S., EMI's American subsidiary, Capitol Records, released an alternate debut called Meet the Beatles on January 20, 1964, nearly a year after Please Please Me and two months after the U.K. release of With the Beatles, the Beatles' 2nd album. With the Beatles and Meet the Beatles had the same black and white photograph of the band by Robert Freeman, although the American cover had a bluish cast added.

While I won't include a track by track difference, I will mention that Meet the Beatles was an LP of all original material, unlike the first two U.K. LPs, a decision that in many ways adds to Meet the Beatles' appeal. To add to the confusion, though, Meet the Beatles was superseded by an alternative debut from Chicago Label VeeJay Records called Introducing the Beatles released two weeks prior to Meet the Beatles. That LP was essentially a 12 song version of Please Please Me with the tracks "Please Please Me" and "Ask Me Why" omitted. These tracks had been the first VeeJay released single. One other interesting note is that VeeJay omitted McCartney’s 1, 2, 3, 4 count in "I Saw Her Standing There." Meet the Beatles topped the American album charts for 11 weeks with Introducing the Beatles climbing to No. 2 and staying there for nine weeks.

VeeJay could not keep up with the demand the LP and so, several counterfeit versions of the LP were commonly sold at major retailers. Check out your copy. If "The Beatles" appears below the hole and the rainbow label doesn't contain the color green, your copy is a fake. A valuable one, but a fake.

To follow up the release of Meet the Beatles, Capitol Records quickly released The Beatles Second Album two months later. The LP contained the covers that were left off Meet the Beatles and five original songs that had not been released on LP. (It was the Beatles' policy in the U.K. not to release songs on LPs that were previously available on 45s.) The LP went straight to No. 1 displacing Meet the Beatles.

The Beatles third LP (4th in the U.S.), A Hard Day's Night, also had differing U.K./U.S. versions, a trend that would continue until Sgt. Pepper in 1967. The U.K. Version contained 14 original songs, including the seven songs written for the film. One of those, "I’ll Cry Instead" didn’t make the cut in the film. All seven songs were also included on the American release. The remainder of the American tracks were Beatle instrumentals performed by studio musicians and conducted by George Martin. As a soundtrack, the LP was released on United Artists Records in the U.S., UA owning the distribution rights. Each of the LPs had differing, though similar, cover art, featuring Robert Freeman photographs; four on the American version in a red border, 20 on the British issue with a blue background. The songs not included on the American release would be released on the Capitol only album Something New just a month later. That LP would also contain two incidental tracks and a German-language version of "I Want to Hold Your Hand." A Hard Day's Night would spend 14 weeks at No. 1 with Something New sitting in the penultimate position, never making it to the top.

Here's something for collectors. Parlophone released a limited number of the Something New LP for servicemen overseas. Get your hands on one and you're a thousand dollars richer.

In the U.S., Something New was followed by a documentary LP called The Beatles Story followed by Beatles '65, which contained 8 of the 14 songs from the British canon LP, Beatles For Sale. The six omitted songs would appear on Beatles VI later in the year but not until after Capitol's release of The Early Beatles. Capitol had obtained the right to those songs on Introducing the Beatles released by VeeJay Records. The LP was released without fanfare and was the only American release of a Beatles album not to make it to No. 1 or No. 2; The Early Beatles made it to only No. 43 on the Charts.

In the meantime, the Beatles 4th British release, Beatles For Sale, would replace A Hard Day's Night as the top-selling LP and would stay there for seven weeks. It was replaced by The Rolling Stones No. 2, but would return to the top after a week. The Stones would regain the position after three weeks, but the Beatles (for sale or not), would again surge to No. 1 until the LP was ousted by Dylan's first electric release, Bringing It All Back Home. Eleven weeks total at No. 1.

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