Graham Reid | | 5 min read
The two 1973 Beatle double albums 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 were far from the first Beatle compilations.
In fact, there's a case to be made that most of their US releases – albums cobbled together British singles, EPs and album tracks – were compilations more than the coherent albums the band and EMI intended.
There had been a number of interesting, if somewhat wayward, collections after the band broke up: the hotchpotch of Hey Jude in 1970 and equally shapeless '72 Australasian-only Essential Beatles.
But the two doubles – known as the Red Album and Blue Album after the colours of the frame around Angus McBeans' cover shots – were by far the best and most successful.
Their manager Allen Klein was smart enough to get them on the market before he was shown the door at Apple.
The band had been gone just long enough for people to feel a sense of nostalgia and the collections – 26 songs on the Red, 28 on the Blue – seemed thorough enough, running from their first single Love Me Do to their last The Long and Winding Road.
Thorough that is, if you thought George Harrison hadn't played much of a part in their career.
He got none of his songs on the Red collection and the predictable three (While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Here Comes the Sun and Something) on the Blue. But also the unusual Old Brown Shoe which many didn't seem to like at all. (Frankly I hear it as a companion to McCartney's Get Back.)
In a band which had Lennon-McCartney knocking out hit singles (and their impressive flip-sides like We Can Work It Out) as well as album tracks as strong as All My Loving, Eight Days a Week, You've Got to Hide Your Love Away, Norwegian Wood, In My Life and more, Harrison barely stood a chance on that first volume.
Fortunately he fares much better on the 2023 expanded remixed editions of these two double albums which bump each out to triple album sets.
On the Red collection Harrison appears with If I Needed Someone (a very Hollies-like song which they covered, to little success) and Taxman. It seems a pity his left-field Love You To isn't there, it was a complete break with Western pop music and totally Indian in its structure. It also pointed the way to a very different kind of Beatles sound at times.
When these compilations came out in '73 Harrison could have done with the extra income the inclusion of more of his songs would brought: renovations on his Friar Park mansion were soaking up the money (that which he had, litigation at Apple had frozen his income stream), his Living in the Material World album met with a mixed reception and while it had done well it went nowhere near expectation given his cachet was so high after All Things Must Pass and the Concert for Bangladesh.
His energy was being sapped by the financial issues after the Concert For Bangladesh album and film.
He must have felt slighted when he saw the original track listings. Yet if Ringo's drumming was the revelation when the previous remasters appeared, it is Harrison's guitar work and distinctive vocals (on the earliest material particularly) which stands out in these new iterations.
The other additional Red tracks on a separate disc in the triple vinyl iteration are I Saw Her Standing There and Twist And Shout (both essential cuts), This Boy (Lennon with a remarkable powerful, soulful vocal borne of in the smoky clubs of Hamburg), Roll Over Beethoven, You Really Got A Hold On Me (great cover of a Smokey Robinson song), You Can’t Do That and Got To Get You Into My Life (McCartney on a Northern soul trip).
There's also I’m Only Sleeping (weary Lennon, written after he'd been called the laziest man in Britain by journalist Maureen Cleave), Harrison's Taxman (which should have been on the original double), Here There And Everywhere (cleverly constructed McCartney ballad) and the seminal, game-changing Tomorrow Never Knows which pointed to an unknown future.
That future would be Sgt Pepper which included Harrison's Within You Without You (on the expanded 2023 Blue reissue along with I Me Mine).
The other additional Blue tracks are Lennon's Dear Prudence, Glass Onion, Hey Bulldog and I Want You, along with McCartney's Blackbird and Oh! Darling.
Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da remains, fortunately Maxwell's Silver Hammer didn't make the new edition.
The expanded Blue Album includes, appropriately enough, their final “final” single Now And Then, not so coincidentally released a week before these sets. The spirit of Opportunist Allen/Cash-in Klein still stalks the hallways of Apple.
However you might think it would have been the last song on the extra disc, not the first. That album closes with I Want You . . . which at least has the advantage of an abrupt ending.
It seems peculiar that the original chronological order of the songs wasn't observed for the vinyl editions (on CD it is) and so the additional tracks feel like they've been tacked on and the integrity of the idea has been compromised.
Aside from being expanded however, what makes these sets enticing is the new remixing by Giles Martin which brings freshness and separation to the songs.
But this raises another question: Martin has gone right back to the Please Please Me album to remix songs up to Revolver, and those album have yet to appear in remastered and/or remixed editions. That means those reissues can't be far off.
By my count seven of the Rubber Soul songs -- half that album -- have been remixed in 2023 for this project.
Remarkable and inclusive as these sets are – and they certainly are, they come as half-speed masters on heavyweight vinyl, with lyrics on the insert sleeves – there are some wonderful omissions waiting to be discovered by a younger audience lucky enough to be gifted these sets by their elders.
There's another journey to be had through the vibrancy of It Won't Be Long, the raw Money, the whole second side of the A Hard Day's Night album, She's a Woman, No Reply, I'm Down, You're Going to Lose That Girl . . .
And the seminal, droning, us-Vs-them metaphor of Lennon's Rain with its surprising final minute.
Rain, June '66. B-side Paperback Writer single
And let's not get started on the sheer breadth and depth of the White Album.
So, two triple albums and the surface still only scratched?
Some years ago a British magazine published a list of The 100 Best Beatle Songs.
The Beatles recorded about 215 songs.
Do the maths: every second song was considered among their best.
What other band could you say that about?
JB Hi-Fi stores have a limited number of the box set which includes both triple vinyl collections (see below). The inserts contain new sleeve notes by journalist and author John Harris.
See JB Hi-Fi here for vinyl and CD options of these collections, including rare blue and red vinyl versions of these sets.