Beatles Anthology I and II reviews
Beatles' Anthology Disappoints - And Horrifies By Bill Wyman Hitsville/Chicago Reader The qualitative mark that separates our love for the Beatles from pretenders to their crown of popularity is the intensity of that love. Aside from a few odd covers on the first album or two, and this or that strange track on the White Album or the Yellow Submarine soundtrack, we have a curiously intimate familiarity with their entire recorded oeuvre. Elvis may have sold more records, and Michael Jackson or Garth Brooks may yet still, but none of these can lay claim -- as the Beatles can -- to the fact that approximately a generation and a half of white Americans can sign along to just about every musical note they committed to vinyl. As the star-making machinery of rock and roll has gotten better at marketing itself, the art of leaving the audience wanting more has become an economic luxury. But, it was in just this state that the Beatles left us some 26 years ago. Beatles, The, "Free As A Bird" from Anthology (45 second excerpt) Stereo MPEG (1.08M) Mono MPEG (540k) Mono Sun-AU (359k) RealAudio 28.8k And we can't complain about the quantity of the product they offered. Today, two- and three-year promotional plans for superstar albums are not uncommon, and putting out a record a year is considered almost punk in its cavalier attitude toward marketing. Between 1963 and 1970 the Beatles, by contrast, released the equivalent of about three traditional LPs a year, accompanied by an average of about five singles annually. Elvis Presley produced a somewhat similar density of material over a longer period of time, though a high percentage of this was artistically and commercially unnotable. Few today can call to mind the melodies of more than a few of Presley's latter half-a-hundred hit singles, where, again, most Beatles album tracks are happily imprinted on our memory. All of which to some extent explains why Anthology 1, the first of three planned two-CD sets of Beatles excavations, disappoints. On this first and (it must be said) generous selection of nearly 60 tracks, there is exactly one song that can remotely be considered a contribution to the Beatles canon, the frequently bootlegged cover of Little Willie John's "Leave My Kitten Alone," a randy vocal performance by John Lennon. The rest is live tracks -- blithe and welcome but hardly revelatory music from TV and radio appearances -- and alternate takes of some key songs (like "Can't Buy Me Love") and not-so-key tunes (such as two versions apiece of "No Reply" and "I'll Be Back.") If you have a thirst for new Beatles material, this is not the place to turn. Dylan, Bob, "Like A Rolling Stone" from MTV Unplugged (45 second excerpt) Stereo MPEG (1.08M) Mono MPEG (541k) Mono Sun-AU (360k) In this context look at Dylan, whose routine studio work since the 1960s has been supplemented in the years since not only by The Basement Tapes and more than a dozen unreleased tracks on Biograph but also the three-CD set Bootleg Series in 1991 -- in all nearly 100 tracks, almost all of it either of exceptional quality or developmentally important, and with more to come. This was the result of a restless and uncontrolled talent firing off work in all directions. The Beatles, by contrast, helmed a finely tuned machine that even operating at capacity for seven years was never able to outstrip the demands made on the band by fans. That said, there are still some treats on Anthology. Like many people, I can't listen to the Beatles with fresh ears; familiarity has deafened me to the charms of the songs. When some of the tracks– –those slightly different from the canonical versions -- allow me to rehear songs I've already heard too much, the set succeeds. For me this process merely reinforces a sometimes forgotten truism -- how much more potent the early Lennon's songwriting and vocal skills are than McCartney's. Lennon's "Please Please Me," surely the most apocalyptic plea for mutual oral sex ever recorded, seems as tumescent as ever on the alternate version here, made slightly more deliberate by the absence of the original's harmonica. Early McCartney songs like the insipid "Love Me Do" sound trite. It's true that Lennon by a similar reach was capable of much greater callowness ("You Can't Do That") and not until "Imagine," arguably, did he equal McCartney's treacly but searching way with a ballad. But it's also true that as a singer his grit and wit leave McCartney's protean but shallow stylings in the dust. In its early years the band cheerfully recorded all sort of hack material: compare, here, McCartney's too forgiving and entirely forgettable take on The Music Man's "Till There Was You " to Lennon's blistering reading of the chestnut that is "Ain't She Sweet." Beatles, The, "Leave My Kitten Alone" from Anthology (45 second excerpt) Stereo MPEG (1.14M) Mono MPEG (570k) Mono Sun-AU (379k) RealAudio 28.8k Anthology is an important but not revelatory bit of archiving from the vaults of a group that gave all it had many years ago and whose members have, with only a few exceptions, done their best not to embarrass their legacy in the years since. The heavily expurgated three-part promotional film that was broadcast over Thanksgiving and the "new" Beatles song, "Free as a Bird," are in this context somewhat horrifying. The latter, particularly -- the most over-hyped musical tchotchke in the history of the world -- takes a watery few lines of a Lennon solo demo and adds enough studio folderol to make it radio friendly for the '90s. McCartney, most vomitously, adds six lines of heavily cliched lyrical tripe, one third of this lifted straightaway from the Shangri-Las' "Remember (Walkin' in the Sand.)" The fragility of Lennon's voice cannot withstand such muscle. John was always the cockiest Beatle, and by implication the strongest; it took a kook with a gun, and now the machinations of his former bandmates, to make him seem vulnerable. -------------------------------------------------------------------- Hitsville is published weekly in the Chicago Reader. A complete archive of columns--and a Mosh Pit for discussion--can be found at Hitsville, the Web Site (https://www.chireader.com/hitsville). Copyright ©1996, Chicago Reader, Inc. -------------------------------------------------------------------- ### Subject: Review of Anthology II From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Patrick Wigfull) Date: Sat, 16 Mar 1996 22:12:58 GMT Anthology II Makes Beatles Sound Brand New Again Norman Provencher ARTCETERA/MUSIC The Ottawa Citizen Saturday, March 16, 1996 ---------------------------------------------------------------- The details are a little hazy right now. For one thing, we're dealing with a gap of almost 29 years in a field that has trouble remembering back 29 weeks. For another, our personal memories of the Summer of Love tend to be subject to interpretation. What we do know for certain is that, if Feb. 3, 1959 was the day the music died along with Buddy Holly, then June, 1967 was the month The Beatles brought it back with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band. There had not, quite frankly, been anything like it in rock history. There has not, arguably, been anything like it ever since. It wasn't just the music, although that was quite spectacular enough. It wasn't just George Martin's astouding production, an extraordinary mixture of music and technology that opened minds and ears to the potential of pop and rock. Everything about Sgt. Pepper was new, an exhortation by the Fab Four to move into the future, to challenge and look at things: Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream... Anthology II (in stores Tuesday) shows a group of musicians quite sijply at the peak of their creative powers taking us, over two discs and 45 songs, through the incredibly fertile years of 1965-68, as they left behind the mobs and live pressures of Beatlemania to forge a sound that, whether you realize it or not, is now part of western culture's subconscious. As bad as last year's Anthology I was -- with its goofy collection of atrocious outtakes and cover tunes -- Anthology II's material, amind-bending assortment of various versions of classics such as Strawberry Fields Forever, Penny Lane, Ticket to Ride and A Day in the Life, among dozens of others, legitimately qualifies as a "new" Beatles album. Songs for which you know every word, every bass run, the tiniest element, become brand new as you listen to the band work their way through the development. An excellent example occurs starting with the first track of the second CD, a demo session with John Lennon alone with a guitar agonizing ove the arrangement to Strawberry Fields, the acid-driven nostalgia classic that probably changed popular music forever. The famous lyric, Lennon's patented brilliant nonsense is already in place ("No one I think is in my tree/I mean it must me high or low/That is you can't you know tune it...") but he's accompanying himself with a strange almost folk-blues fingerpicking style. He comes to his senses quickly and mutters in an atrocious Scottish brogue, "I canna dooooo it, I cann doooo it." The next track has the more familiar harmonium/organ vamping in the background, but features George Harrison's worst slide guitar playing. Finally, the third track features Lennons' double-tracked vocals and most of what was finally released as a single. The collections' second CD contains the most intriguing material for fan and non-fan alike. The version of Penny Lane is actually a collection of different takes showing the band toyed with, at one time or another, everything from cor anglais horns to piccolo trumpet. Only the piccolo trumpet made the final cut. Later, we hear Paul working the changes in a beautiful piano version of Fool on the Hill. The Day in the Life highlights acoustic guitar rather than the more familiar bass-heavy piano accompaniement. The first side concentrates more on the four moptops period, with an excellent four-song live session recorded at Blackpool. The session includes the first live version of both Yesterday and Help! (which, Lennon tells the crowd, is "our latest record, or our latest electronic noise, depending on whose side you're on"). Less than a year later, the screaming fans and touring pressures would prompt the band to stop live concerts forever.