Friday, December 25, 2009

Beatles 28: Anthology 3

To close out the trilogy, Anthology 3 followed in October. But this time there would be no “new” song, so the set starts with a short orchestral piece by George Martin that purports to be from the White Album sessions, but is actually incidental music from the Yellow Submarine film.

The rest of the disc is not strictly chronological, but only features songs from the latter half of 1968. There are those who demand the release of the legendary 27-minute version of “Helter Skelter”; if this plodding excerpt is any indication of the quality, we’re not missing anything. Several songs recorded at George’s house shortly before the White Album sessions started give an interesting perspective on material that would turn up later. Unfortunately, most of the EMI outtakes included from this period sound too close to the standard versions for them to be interesting, but there are a few exceptions. “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” is the first completed version, more calypso than ska. “Good Night” begins with just Ringo and George Martin’s piano, then fades into the orchestra. George stark, haunting solo demo of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” will floor anyone who thinks of it only as a heavy tune. “Not Guilty” wouldn’t be heard by the public until George rerecorded it in 1979, despite the over a hundred takes it took to get to this version that would have been a worthy White Album track. The first mono mix of “Glass Onion” included an odd collage before George Martin replaced it with sinister strings; this version is welcome here. “What’s The New Mary Jane” is a chaotic collaboration by John with Yoko, George and Mal Evans. The song itself is weird enough, but the four minutes of noise at the end will be less appealing to those who can’t stomach “Revolution 9”. A take of “Julia” closes the disc, and there’s something very poignant hearing John talk with Paul at the end without any of the tension that supposedly permeated throughout the year.

The second disc also jumps around to liven up the dull Get Back takes, but then again, that whole period was out of order to begin with. An aborted “I’ve Got A Feeling” that had been strangely shortlisted for the original album starts us off, followed by a trudge through “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window”. Paul lopes through “Teddy Boy” to nobody’s pleasure—not even his. A dull “Oh! Darling” is undercut by John’s preoccupation with Yoko’s divorce, but it is nice to finally hear “The Long And Winding Road” before Spector got his mitts on it. Three demos by George are scattered throughout the program to add some excitement. “Mailman Bring Me No More Blues” was on the aborted Sessions album, which slightly justifies its inclusion here. The only part of the famous rooftop performance we get is the final “Get Back” after the cops arrived. There isn’t much included from the Abbey Road sessions, save a raspy, low-key “Ain’t She Sweet”, Paul’s one-man band demo of “Come And Get It” that was the note-for-note prototype for Badfinger’s single, and an ethereal mix of “Because” that shows off the vocals. “I Me Mine” shows up in its original short form with timely studio chat. “The End” has more guitars and orchestra for the grand finale, and the last thing we hear is the final piano chord from “A Day In The Life”: rising, striking, and falling.

Each disc on Anthology 3 is over 70 minutes, compared to the 60-minute program on the other volumes, which almost makes up for the lesser quality of selections here. Listening to this volume, whether in tandem with or separate from the first two, only reminds us that for all the effort they put into Abbey Road, the band truly ended with a whimper and so much left undone. Had they only managed to stay interested longer, they still could have put some pretty good albums together and apart. But it doesn’t matter now. Each Anthology CD set, as well as the video box set, sold just as well as expected. Their back catalog already had strong legs, and continued to sell despite a premium price tag. While EMI hinted that there would be more goodies to come, the Threetles insisted the well was finally dry. (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.)

The Beatles Anthology 3 (1996)—3

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