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The Beatles Reissues: Quite Good!

New This Week

This week's biggest news, of course, is the long-awaited release of the Beatles catalog in newly remastered versions--as individual albums, boxed together in expensive stereo and mono complete sets, and in the unexpected music videogame format--which will introduce the famous quartet's music to an entirely new generation, and an actual music videogame to one much older.

Few would argue that this is a bad thing.

As an additional by-product of the Beatles release, it's likely a significant number of people may want to go to "a record store" for the first time in several years. And they may be slightly chagrinned to discover there aren't very many left.

Look for that videogame next Christmas.

 

The Beatles: Please Please Me, With The Beatles, A Hard Day's Night, Beatles For Sale, Help!, Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Magical Mystery Tour, The Beatles (The White Album), Abbey Road, Let It Be, Past Masters (all Apple/Capitol/EMI)  It would be incredibly pleasant--and highly unlikely--for most people of a certain age to hear the Beatles for the very first time, so as a result, judgments about actual musical quality as far as these reissues go are near-impossible; each and every song has been ingrained into most people's psyches and linked to pleasant or unpleasant events in their respective lives, so the Beatles "at their best" is an almost laughably subjective notion. An example: I am old enough to have owned most of the Beatles albums when they first came out, but the Beatles albums I grew up with are the American versions not really represented here (the band's American label messed around with song sequencing, added singles, and thus released several more Beatles albums than were issued in Britain).
Why is this relevant? Because right around the time Capitol issued Beatles '65 here--the "abbreviated" version of Beatles For Sale which I thought was quite good--money was scarce, and I when I checked out its official American follow-up, Beatles VI, I was less than impressed with its opening track "Medley: Kansas City/Hey Hey" and "Dizzy Miss Lizzie," covers both, and decided I'd hold off on buying Beatles albums for a while. Which meant, you see, that except for their omnipresent singles, I really missed hearing Help!, Rubber Soul and Revolver in full for several years.

I inevitably came back for Sgt. Pepper, absolutely loved the American-hybrid Magical Mystery Tour release, liked a significant portion of the White Album, was transfixed by George Harrison's "It's All Too Much" from Yellow Submarine, really only enjoyed the mini-suite on Side 2 of Abbey Road and thought Let It Be was kind of bad. Friends at the time raved about Revolver and Rubber Soul as I sat there listening to albums by the Kinks and the Zombies, and I agreed with them: I really should check those albums out. If you are roughly my age, I'd be willing to bet my Beatles experience probably doesn't resemble yours in the slightest.

So forgive the lengthy prelude, but the point is that these albums can now be heard--in 2009--in uniformly stunning sound quality and, for people like me, about as "freshly" as they've ever been able. And of course, as a body of work they remain stunning; to me, the group's hallmark was that though contemporaries like the Stones, Kinks, Who or Zombies might have very occasionally offered a song better than most Beatles songs, on a sheer song-by-song, A-F grading scale, the Beatles simply had the highest average in the entire class.

Listening to these reissues, then, allows me--and all Beatle fans--the opportunity to do two things. First, I can re-listen to my favorite albums by them for the first time in several years and determine if my personal assessment of their work still holds up. And it does. However haphazardly it might have been assembled, Magical Mystery Tour captures, for me, what made the Beatles so exceptional: singles like "Strawberry Fields" and "Penny Lane" happily sitting next to the original Tour EP's "Flying," "Blue Jay Way" and "I Am The Walrus"--in fact, had G. Harrison's "It's All Too Much" been included here rather than on Yellow Submarine, my psychedelic-loving heart would've joined my brain and exploded back then, too.

Secondly, the reissues allow me now to hear Rubber Soul and Revolver and discover what I missed by not picking them up when they first emerged; they are spectacular, and though the contain hints of psychedelia to come with "Tomorrow Never Knows," say, they sound more like the work of a collaborating band--an exceptional one--than did everything on the White Album and afterward.

I'm still off-kilter with most of the people who've been writing about these guys for ages, though: I think Sgt. Pepper's is fantastic, in and of itself, even were the sociological import it still carries with it completely absent, and I do believe that "A Day In The Life" is the finest closing song any pop album has ever contained. I again am less than sold on the inherent greatness of the much-hallowed Abbey Road and think it sounds like a bunch of different tracks jumbled together; aside from the "You Never Give Me Your Money" bit on side 2, the album's major worth, I think, is in allowing George Harrison to shine like never before with "Here Comes The Sun" and "Something." The downside here, though, is that I have heard the latter two tracks enough to last me eight more lifetimes.

So to be as methodically anal as possible, I now present the new Beatles reissues in the sequence I would buy them, if I could only purchase one at a time:

1) Magical Mystery Tour

2) Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band

3) Revolver

4) Rubber Soul

5) Help!

6) Beatles For Sale

7) The Beatles (The White Album)

8) A Hard Day's Night

9) Abbey Road

10) With The Beatles

11) Please Please Me

12) Yellow Submarine

13)  Let It Be

 

It's not really fair to consider Past Masters an actual album album, since it's a completely fabulous collection of singles (like "Hey Jude" and "Lady Madonna" and many of the tracks which filled out the American versions of the same albums) and was assembled--and now reassembled--long after the group and some of its individual members had unfortunately departed.

Packed with photos, informative liner notes, individual "mini-documentaries" via each package's enhanced CD format, and spectacular sound--thankfully these are remasters vs. remixes, and I for one have had enough remixes, thanks--these packages represent an ambitious, worthwhile repackaging of the works of the best band in the history of rock 'n' roll, and are worth every cent you can muster.

(In the tradition of my illustrious colleague Paul Grein's Chart Watch blog, this has been a "New This Week Extra" posting. Tomorrow: The overwhelming excitement of the new Jay-Z album!)

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