The Beatles

Apple, 1973


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


This may seem hard to believe, but the Beatles are one of the most underrepresented groups by way of compilations.

While many lesser bands have seemingly one best-of per every two albums (ahem, Aerosmith, ELP, Jethro Tull, and the Moody Blues), the Beatles had to make do with the "red album" and "blue album" until 2000, when the 1 compilation came out. That one simply piled on all the band's No. 1 hits, but it still didn't tell the whole story, acting more as an introduction for beginners or a roundup for casual fans – if there is such a thing – of the band's biggest chart toppers.

The fact remains that the Beatles are the most difficult group to compile, not only because of the high quality of all of their work but because of their ubiquitousness. For many, album tracks like "Nowhere Man" and "The Fool On The Hill" are just as well-known as "Let It Be" or "She Loves You," so a compilation seems almost pointless. Thanks to iTunes finally adding the band's catalog in 2009, by this point everybody has probably made their own mix tapes.

Yet the red and blue albums continue to sell, and for a simple reason: They do the best job at telling the band's story through big hits and key album tracks. More importantly, they provide the big non-album singles, which frequently were among the band's best songs, in an easy place. As the years go by and future generations discover the Beatles, these compilations remain the best introduction to the band short of the actual albums.

The four years showcased in this collection encompass an astonishing growth and quality unmatched in popular music. The single version of "Love Me Do" starts things off; seeming almost primitive compared to what would come later, it is nevertheless a fun, head-bopping slice of British Invasion tomfoolery. "Please Please Me" and the triptych of early singles – "She Loves You," "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and "From Me To You" – complete the early days of youth and feigned innocence.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

"All My Loving" is the lone track from With The Beatles, while A Hard Day's Night shows up by way of the title cut, "Can't Buy Me Love" and "And I Love Her," an odd choice but a fine bossa nova pop tune nonetheless ("If I Fell" would have been a better bet, if one wants to nitpick).

Then things take a turn. The tired Beatles For Sale offers up "Eight Days A Week." No band has ever made such a leap in quality and songwriting depth, moving in two years from simple guitar themes and "Yeah yeah yeah" to the feedback drone of "I Feel Fine," the melancholy "Yesterday" and the folk-rock of "Ticket To Ride." The title song from "Help!" (presented in its movie-soundtrack form with the brief spy-music intro) and the album cut "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" (a fine choice) end this era.

The bulk of the second album/disc is devoted to Rubber Soul, Revolver and the assorted singles from the era. Rubber Soul was the Beatles' move toward folk rock and drug use, and it is represented here by six songs, overemphasizing this phase in the band's career. "Michelle" and "Girl" could have been tossed out in favor of something else, probably Lennon's innovative "Rain" and another song or two from Revolver.

The singles from 65-66 are wonderful – "Day Tripper," "We Can Work It Out," "Paperback Writer" – but Revolver is tossed on as an afterthought, with only "Yellow Submarine" and "Eleanor Rigby" making it. Again, it is difficult to compile the Beatles, but adding "Tomorrow Never Knows" and maybe George Harrison's "Taxman" would have been ideal. Revolver is often rated by critics (including four here at the Vault) as the finest Beatles album and one of the greatest rock albums ever made, but adding only two songs is pretty lame. Perhaps putting them on the "blue album" in favor of "Octopus' Garden" and "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" would have been smarter, but hey, it's been 40 years, so who cares?

Still, this is nitpicking with almost no point. All of these are great songs; the vast majority are stunning and timeless, perfectly summarizing the first four years of the band's recorded history. As an introduction to the early days of the Fab Four and their astounding growth as artists, 1962-66 just about gets it right.

Rating: A-

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