Monday, September 21, 2009

Beatles 24: Past Masters

Possibly because of the ongoing lawsuit between Apple and EMI—not to mention everyone against Paul—all was quiet on the archival front until the 1986 announcement that the original British LPs would soon become the worldwide standard, whereupon such US creations as Beatles ‘65 and Yesterday And Today would be deleted. Once the official Beatles CDs began appearing in 1987, newcomers to the music and older fans alike were forced into accepting the albums as originally intended. (In actuality, the advent of the compact disc and increasing popularity of cassettes hurried the end of vinyl as a major mover anyway. Many of the American versions remained in print on cassette well into the ‘90s. And then EMI went ahead and reissued limited boxes of some of the US versions in 2004 and 2006, and then all of them in a mass unveiling in 2014. But back to our story, see?)
Because music buyers and collectors alike tend to look gift horses in the mouth, the Beatles-on-CD rollout was criticized from the start. The first four albums were issued in mono, while Help! and Rubber Soul were subject to new stereo remixes by George Martin. Apple/EMI also didn’t add extra music, such as stereo to match the mono and vice versa or single-only tracks. At the time, compact discs held up to 75 minutes of music, and most Beatles albums averaged half that. Subsequently, many alternate mixes, oddities and unique bits that had found their way onto the American versions were all missing in action. At least the booklets reproduced liner notes were where applicable and included some of the back-cover graphics. (Needless to say, EMI saved their entire art budget for the 20th anniversary unveiling of Sgt. Pepper in June of ‘87.)
After all the albums had made it to CD, Apple/EMI finally came up with a solution for all the orphaned tracks that hadn’t been on original albums. Past Masters—issued as two separate CDs and later as a two-record set—included every leftover single, EP track and notable alternate version that had already appeared on an official Capitol, Parlophone or Apple release. Volume One covers all of the extraneous singles and EP songs, including “Love Me Do” with Ringo on drums and the German versions of “She Loves You” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, up through “I’m Down”. Volume Two starts with “Day Tripper”, “We Can Work It Out”, “Paperback Writer” and “Rain”, then jumps ahead to “Lady Madonna”. Since these last three songs had appeared in this exact order on Hey Jude, it’s no big deal, but opens the discussion for another way to approach the concept (which we’ll get to shortly). The remainder consists of the rest of the singles, including the alternate versions of “Get Back”, “Let It Be” and “Across The Universe”. The disc ends, appropriately, with the happy absurdity of “You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)”.
Considering that Magical Mystery Tour was a double EP and Yellow Submarine was essentially an expanded one, it might have made more sense not to issue them as official CDs, but to include the songs within the context of Past Masters. Conveniently enough, each disc would then total approximately 72 minutes. If Apple/EMI didn’t want to be that generous, they could have made three volumes, with the first covering up to 1966, the middle one (called Volume Half for our purposes) for all the Magical Mystery Tour/Yellow Submarine material, and the third containing the remainder. Each of those would total 45 to 50 minutes each.
But it’s all moot. After two decades of letting this sleeping dog lie, Apple finally sanctioned upgraded CDs with better packaging and beefed up sound, but identical track listings to the initial batch. The only cosmetic change was combining both Past Masters volumes into one package, just like the original LP. (Those who sprung for the Beatles In Mono package might have appreciated the improved context of the set called Mono Masters, which included rare mono mixes of the Yellow Submarine tracks inserted in relation to when they were originally released.) In the end, the music will simply speak for itself.

The Beatles Past Masters Volume One (1988)—4
The Beatles Past Masters Volume Two (1988)—4

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