Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Beatles 27: Anthology 2

Anthology 2 followed just a few months after the first installment, with just a slight delay for a rejigged sequence. Another “new” song opens the set, and it’s a winner. “Real Love” was first heard legally as an acoustic snippet from the Imagine film in 1988, and because it was actually finished before the others got their mitts on it, it was the favorite. (Hence the solo writing credit for John.) Paul and George were able to add their parts instinctively, though we don’t know whose idea the key change was. If you’re looking for the grand finale to the Beatles songbook, it beats “Free As A Bird”.

But while we’re here, it’s back thirty years. Anthology 2 neatly covers the band’s transition to a strictly studio band, while giving plenty of evidence that despite their attitude, they could still cut it live.

Moving outside a strict chronology, we hear an early take of “I’m Down” that kicks the tempo up a bit. The shortcomings of the Help! LP come through with the full-fledged outtakes of both “If You’ve Got Trouble” and “That Means A Lot”. The former is a loud Ringo basher, while the latter steals its arrangement from “Ticket To Ride”. Excerpts from a TV show include George’s hilarious introduction to the crowd’s first acquaintance with “Yesterday”, while Shea Stadium is represented by “Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby”; the roar of the audience is deafening. Only three outtakes from Rubber Soul appear: an early “Norwegian Wood”, the completed first stab at “I’m Looking Through You” without the middle eight, and a three-minute edit of the notorious “12-Bar Original”. Then, it’s feet first into Revolver with the first recording of “Tomorrow Never Knows” that’s even crazier than the final take. “Got To Get You Into My Life” is dominated by discarded harmonies and a single organ chord. John and Paul giggle incessantly throughout an overdub session for an embryonic “And Your Bird Can Sing”. Some later run-throughs of “I’m Only Sleeping” show that perhaps the version we know wasn’t always their favorite. The full take included is anticlimactic coming after the effective instrumental on vibes. We go to Japan for two live songs from the last tour—and that’s just the first CD.

For those who enjoy such things, some of the more thorough bootleggers have compiled entire LPs with nothing but “Strawberry Fields Forever” in various stages of development. Disc 2 doesn’t go quite that far, but does allude to its progress. We first hear parts of John’s demos, followed by the first studio take and the complete take 7 with the drum coda from take 26. This way we get the song as originally played, plus a peek at how the two halves sounded on their own. Alternate mixes of “Penny Lane” and “A Day In The Life” demonstrate some of the fascinating sounds that were discarded before the final mixes. Without the brass, “Good Morning, Good Morning” sounds truly different—and listen to the bass running all over the place. “Only A Northern Song” also benefits from having the chaotic effects stripped away. The alternate “Sgt. Pepper (Reprise)” is notable for the minor chords at the start that got buried on the album, but the real surprise comes with the reedited “You Know My Name”, in stereo for the first time, with a previously unheard ska section that’s just plain hilarious. Simpler takes on “I Am The Walrus” and “Fool On The Hill” are mesmerizing, while a soothing, more Indian stab at “Across The Universe” ends the collection.

As it covers 1965 through the first sessions of 1968, Anthology 2 was the early choice as the installment most likely to be the most interesting. And it really is. There’s plenty here that hadn’t been heard before, and it shows how the boys began to really stretch in the studio. It also enhances one’s enjoyment of Anthology 1, giving it a wider perspective. Many purists cried foul at so many of these tracks being compiled from separate takes, but this way they could include all the interesting parts of each song. (Three and a half songs’ worth of “Strawberry Fields” is the limit here.) You can’t please everyone, and those who were most offended had all the missing stuff on bootlegs anyway. And now they had stuff they’d never have heard otherwise.

The Beatles Anthology 2 (1996)—

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