Anthology 1

The Beatles

Apple / Capitol Records, 1995

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Back in 1995, there was a bit of a Beatles craze reborn in people, thanks to both the televised Anthology (which I have on tape) and the three-volume release of music over the period of 18 months. Yet the people who could really appreciate any portion of The Beatles Anthology are the die-hard freaks (and I use the term with respect) who all but worship the ground that John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr walked on. The casual listener to the Beatles might pick up Anthology 1 based on the single "Free As A Bird," and find themselves wondering what happened to the hits, and why these alternate versions are here in their place.

Admittedly, I am not in the cult of the Beatles. Do I think they were a good rock band? Yes. Do I think they were musical gods? Not by a long shot. Yet here I am, after two hours in traffic, writing about 1995's Anthology 1... and I like what I hear, to a point.

Let's get the "reunion" out of the way first. Anyone who claims that "Free As A Bird" is what the Beatles would have sounded like had they stayed together is lying; the fact is, we'll never know, nor will we ever be able to fathom the concept of what direction their music would have taken. That said, this is an interesting track which suggests that had Lennon not been murdered in 1980, this would have been an interesting snapshot. It does, though, have a little too heavy of a production hand thanks to Jeff Lynne, someone who seems like he's always fancied himself to be an unofficial Beatle a la the Sergeant Pepper era. I wish that George Martin had been called in to handle this track; after all, quite possibly no one knows the Beatles sound better than this living legend.

Anthology 1 is a portrait of the artists as young men, mostly focusing on their early development and love of 12-bar blues-rock that was prevalent at the time, as well as the day's popular music. Listening to the earliest recording of the group (then The Quarry Men) covering "That'll Be The Day" held out promise for the group, though it might have been hard to pick out through the now aged recording.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

At times, Anthology 1 has the feel of an authorized bootleg, with scratchy, distorted tapes echoing some of the birth cries of arguably the world's most famous band. It's sometimes hard to get through the early numbers like "Hallelujah, I Love Her So" and "Cayenne" (the latter being the only Beatles song I've ever seen credited to McCartney/Lennon and not vice-versa) merely because of the poor quality of the recordings. Some of the live performances are similarly difficult mostly because of the crowd reactions (though the live tracks here sometimes are better than what was released on Live From The BBC). The appearance with Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, Britain's top comics at the time, loses something both without the visual presence to back it up and with the passage of almost 40 years. (I seem to recall the performance is on the video.)

What might throw the casual listener for a loop are the alternate versions of songs like "Please Please Me," "Love Me Do," "And I Love Her" (which is sped up into a rock tempo) and "I'll Be Back", amongst others. Admittedly, this took me aback at first, but it does make a lot of sense. After all, if you wanted to hear the studio-polished numbers, there are several discs you could go to for them. What Anthology 1 allows the listener to do is enter the creative process in a way that we previously could have only dreamed about, and hear the songs in various states of preparedness. It takes a little time to get used to, but soon becomes interesting. (In the case of "And I Love Her," one can understand why the Beatles never pursued the rockier version, and went to the acoustic-driven sound we all know well.)

As Anthology 1 winds down, we can feel the momentum for The Beatles shifting into supergroup mode, especially with the inclusion of "All My Loving" from their Ed Sullivan appearance. The set breaks off leaving the listener wanting to hear more, even if you're just a casual Beatles listener who stumbled in.

Yet, for the casual listener, Anthology 1 is more challenging simply because you have to put aside what you know (or at least what you think you know) about the Beatles, and enter this set with a clean slate. The long-time Beatles fans probably are more familiar with approaching some of this "in process" material; most people will feel like they walked in on something they might not feel right listening to. It's almost like we're intruding on sacred ground - and while I can appreciate there are people who absolutely love The Beatles, I just wonder whether it was necessary to release so much early material that really doesn't add (or, for that matter, subtract) from the Liverpool legend.

Anthology 1 is a set designed for the die-hard Beatles fan, though it is well worth the time and effort for the everyday listener to pick up and check out. I question whether this set will be the kind of collection you go back to again and again, but it's a chapter of the Beatles experience that you should experience in order to understand what precipitated some of their later musical moves. Like I said, I'm not in the cult of the Beatles... but after Anthology 1, I'm interested to hear how things unfold in Anthology 2.

Rating: B

User Rating: B



© 2001 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Apple / Capitol Records, and is used for informational purposes only.