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A blog by Scott E. Shepherd · A continuing look at popular music, past, present and future.
Monday, December 20, 2010

Giving the “Butchers” their Due
Giving the “Butchers” their Due

Filed under: Album Reviews, Opinion

To a lot of people, and even a lot of Beatle fans, the idea of owning the Beatles' American released albums on CD seems redundant, silly, and another attempt by the Beatles and their record companies to cash in on their already overexposed catalog. Even the Beatles themselves were not happy with the reissue of their Capitol albums; while Capitol managed to release Volumes 1 and 2, a "Volume 3" has been put on permanent hold, due to cease and desist orders from the surviving Beatles and the others' estates.

The Beatles and George Martin were never happy with the way Capitol originally issued their music in the U.S. Though unheard of today, Capitol received the Beatles' master tapes and was actually allowed to edit and rearrange the masters in a way it felt would better reach the American market. Rumor has it that one of the reasons the Beatles posed for the infamous "butcher cover" was in part to protest how Capitol was chopping up their music. In the span that the Beatles released eight albums in Great Britain, Capitol released eleven albums, mostly cut up from the British LPs and various singles.

American arrangers also added reverb to nearly all of the Beatles' tracks, that echo-like effect that, according to Capitol, gave the music a more "live" feel, as if you were listening to them in an auditorium. Add to that the mixing of stereo to mono and mono to stereo, and the American releases can sound quite different if you listen closely. Were the American arrangers truly "butchers?" Or did they actually improve on what George Martin and the Beatles produced? A case can be made for both.

Meet the Beatles was Capitol's first release, and catches Beatlemania in mid-stride. Released early in 1964, the album borrows the cover photo, and some of the music, from the Beatles' second British release, With the Beatles. It is here where American audiences got introduced to the early hits, like "I Saw Her Standing There," and "I Want to Hold Your Hand." With two albums and several singles of material to choose from, Capitol put out the best the Beatles' had at that time, and made a solid introduction.

The aptly titled Second Album, followed shortly after, and has been noted as being the Beatles' "purest" rock ‘n' roll release. Starting with their cover of Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven," Second Album displays some of the early Beatles finest moments. This one makes a strong argument that, while paring down albums to ten or eleven songs may seem a little "cheap," the American arrangers knew what they were doing.

Something New, however, is clearly a butcher job. The album begins with several songs from the "A Hard Day's Night" film, and British LP with the same name. But because United Artists released the A Hard Day's Night soundtrack (with only seven Beatles' songs and the rest being George Martin arrangements), some of those songs (including the title track) did not appear on the Beatles' new album. The rest was filled up with singles and tracks from other British LPs. It still works as a collection, but the fact that the arrangers decided to include "Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand" ("I Want to Hold Your Hand" in German) speaks to the slap-dash approach of this LP.

Because United Artists released the soundtrack, it's not part of "The Capitol Years" re-release. Songs used on A Hard Day's Night but not Something New, were released by Capitol as singles, and eventually found their way on the Hey Jude album in 1969. Hey Jude did what the Past Masters, Volume 2 CD did twenty years later; collect most of the Beatles' singles released post 1965.

Capitol pretty much took the Beatles for Sale album and split it to make two albums, Beatles ‘65 (released at the end of 1964) and Beatles VI. Beatles ‘65 was the first LP I ever owned. Again, it feels a bit uneven as songs like "No Reply" and "I'm A Loser" show the Beatles maturing as writers, but these songs got coupled with covers of Chuck Berry's "Rock ‘n' Roll Music", Carl Perkins' "Honey Don't" and the awful "Mr. Moonlight." "She's a Woman" and "I Feel Fine" suffer greatly from the aforementioned reverb effect the Capitol arrangers were so fond of; the vocals are so saturated, it sounds like the Beatles were singing in a cave.

Beatles VI (again, cleverly titled because this was the sixth release on Capitol) is a better collection and actually flows pretty well. Capitol arrangers wisely put "Dizzy Miss Lizzy" here with some of the other covers the Beatles did ("Bad Boy," "Words of Love") instead of leaving it as the awkward closer of the Help! LP, like Martin and the Beatles did. I also like the triad of "What You're Doing," "Every Little Thing" and "Tell Me What You See" all appearing on this album.

The Early Beatles was released between Beatles ‘65 and Beatles VI and is basically a lot of the material left over from Please, Please Me. Most of this material had already been released by Vee-Jay records, as Introducing the Beatles.

Introducing was actually released a few weeks before Meet the Beatles. Because Capitol was dragging it's feet releasing their first album, Chicago-based Vee-Jay acquired release rights to songs from Please, Please Me. Ironically, Introducing replicated Please, Please Me almost exactly, including 12 of its 14 tracks, more than any of the Capitol releases. Of course, Capitol sued, the result being Vee-Jay was allowed to produce Introducing until the end of 1964.

The Early Beatles is a good collection, but two years too late; the Beatles had already surpassed most of this music by 1965.

When the Beatles made their second film, "Help!" Capitol decided to release its soundtrack, and, like United Artists, included only the six songs from the film; the rest of the album is filled in with the scores from Ken Horne. The other songs that appeared on the British release of Help! were sprinkled throughout Capitol's 1965 Beatles releases, most ending up on the ‘Yesterday'…and Today album (released in 1966). The Help! soundtrack is good if you like the non-Beatle music from the film, plus it's the only place to hear the title track with James Bond-like intro.

Though again pared down from the original British version, the American release of Rubber Soul is much better; removing "Drive My Car" as the title track and replacing it with "I've Just Seen a Face" gives the American version a much more folksy feel. The American version also includes "It's Only Love" from the British release from "Help" and adds the delicious "false start" to "I'm Looking Through You."

"I'm Looking Through You" isn't the only altered song from "The Capitol Years," "Thank You Girl" from the Second Album has an extra harmonica solo between verses two and three, and the mono version of "I'll Cry Instead" actually has an other wise unheard third verse. Though not always as obvious as the songs listed above, differences do exist between the mono and stereo versions of many of the songs (if you don't know what I mean by "mono" and "stereo," go ask someone who grew up during the days of vinyl), and if you loved those nuances, they can only be found in the American releases.

Because of the Beatles stopping the release of a "Volume 3," ‘Yesterday'…and Today and the American version of Revolver will not be released on CD. Beginning with Sgt. Pepper in 1967, American and British releases of Beatles' albums were identical in content, though ironically it was Capitol that expanded Magical Mystery Tour from the British EP into a full-length album. Of course, Capitol also created the Hey Jude compilation, which was not released to the British audience.

Those who grew up with the Capitol versions of the Beatles' albums may get nostalgic for them and invest in "The Capitol Years," but for the vast majority, current Beatles catalog is fine the way it currently is. Still, I enjoy the Capitol albums, especially their version of Rubber Soul.

Yes, the American arrangers were "butchers," but sometimes the butchers gave us better cuts than the Beatles and George Martin did, and they deserve some credit. The Beatles weren't perfect, and who among us hasn't wished they could "enhance" the Beatles' master tapes if they could. Long live the American LPs.

Capitol also released a Rarities album back in the early eighties, which contained some slightly altered versions of Beatles songs, including "Penny Lane" with an added French horn solo at the end. It would be nice to have these versions in digital form as well.

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