Friday, February 29, 2008

Beatles 1: Meet The Beatles!

So this is where it all started. Derek Taylor, a longtime Beatle insider, called them “the twentieth century’s greatest romance”. That’s a pretty fair assessment, and one that’s not so obvious to those whose view of the band comes from a historical perspective. The Beatles influence still pervades pop culture, yet in subtle ways that make them easy to dismiss. That only makes it more fun for some of us to smile and nod whenever someone begrudgingly comes around to the idea that “maybe they were pretty good after all”. (On a strictly personal level, The Beatles still fascinate me, and while I listen to countless other things these days, too many things in my life revolve around those guys—hair, glasses, why I play music, etc.)
The music is timeless, obviously—otherwise we wouldn’t be talking about them today. For the price of fourteen CD packages—once available in a nifty box set with a rolltop wooden cover, but now as either a complete stereo or limited mono set—you can get the whole picture, adhering more or less to the boys’ original intentions. But Americans of a certain vintage were introduced to the first half of the catalog via a slightly different context, and while the Beatles catalog has been standardized worldwide for decades now, some of us still hold a fondness for the way things used to be.

The repackaging of Beatles material started before they had even hit American shores. Vee-Jay’s Introducing The Beatles replicated Please Please Me, the first British album, almost track for track, with several cuts slipping in and out depending on the edition and cover. However, it was solely on the back of Capitol’s marketing machine that Vee-Jay’s album moved any copies.
In the UK, singles and LPs were considered separate entities that should not be crossbred. But in the US, you don’t look a gift horse in the wallet. Capitol’s first LP starts off with the smash single “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, followed by its American B-side, “I Saw Her Standing There”, and “This Boy”, the British B-side. The rest of Meet The Beatles! consists of eight songs from the British With The Beatles LP, which had been released the previous November, and sports a nearly identical cover design.
Following the one-two-three punch at the start, side one concludes with “It Won’t Be Long”, “All I’ve Got To Do” and “All My Loving”. Right there we have six songs that could be considered among their greatest. Side two isn’t as strong, but does give the less dominant members their own spotlights—George sings the first song he wrote, “Don’t Bother Me”, and Ringo attacks “I Wanna Be Your Man”, previously offered to the Rolling Stones. Capitol was also wise to include Paul’s cabaret bit—“Till There Was You” from The Music Man—to appeal to the parents.
All together it’s still an entertaining album, packaged in that iconic sleeve. And the liner notes are priceless. Forty years later it was a selling point in the limited Capitol Albums, Vol. 1 box set, and maintained its headline status ten years after that, when the “U.S. Albums” series finally made all the American versions purchasable digitally and physically.

The Beatles Meet The Beatles! (1964)—5
UK CD equivalent: Please Please Me/With The Beatles/Past Masters

2 comments:

  1. I'm so glad (and why would I be surprised?) that you're starting with the Beatles. I watched their Ed Sullivan appearance on the housemother's television when I was a freshman in college, but it was my roommate who bought the "Meet the Beatles" album, which we both loved. I can remember singing along with the radio, especially in the French part, with "Michelle" while folding tiny baby clothes in the winter of '65-'66. I didn't know how much I'd miss hearing your collection until you went off to college yourself. (Now and then I still pity your poor roommate who had to listen to your dubbing every song onto tapes for my Christmas present.) Jump ahead a gazillion years, and I sat in an arena in Hartford in 2002, spellbound seeing Paul in person for the first time. It still amazes me that he was onstage for the whole concert, never taking a break. I loved it. Thanks for being there with me.

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  2. I just have to say that your mom is cool. And awesome. And that you are lucky to have such an awesome mom. But I think you know that.

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