The Beatles always do well in all time best ever album polls. Sergeant Pepper’s, Revolver, Abbey Road and The White Album usually feature high on most lists, and Rubber Soul or one of the earlier records are also occasionally recognized. For me, a massive fan, it’s well deserved, for all these records are stunning achievements. They sparkle with wit, innovation and craftsmanship and even after all these years sound crisp and fresh. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine how the The Beatles could have improved any of these albums, wondrous as they are, but what if it were so? What if they had something else up there sleeves which could have elevated, what would go on to become some of rock’s greatest icons, to an even more exalted status? Well, that ‘what if’ is not as fanciful or as speculative as it appears; that ‘what if’ has more to do with an ‘if only?’. In fact, a closer examination of their recording sessions leading to the release of these albums suggests that that ‘if only?’ was tantalizingly at the LP aficionado’s fingertips
On November 24 1966, after a 4 month break upon completing Revolver, The Beatles commenced work on a song for possible inclusion on a yet to be titled upcoming album. The song, famously, was Strawberry Fields and the album was, of course, Sergeant Pepper’s. A couple of weeks later they started work on When I’m Sixty Four and after breaking for Xmas, Penny Lane. The epic A Day In The Life followed days later in mid Jan 1967, and by mid Feb, they’d also recorded Sergeant Pepper’s, Fixing A Hole and For The Benefit Of Mr Kite. In the meantime, a decision was made to release Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane as a double A side single. In doing so, this meant that these songs would not be included in the upcoming album. This was the convention for many U.K. artists until the late sixties and had something to do with a legal protocol for not releasing the same recording twice (as I understand it.) Anyway, by restlessly putting out this sneak-preview of their new project, The Beatles brains-trust robbed Sergeant Pepper’s of the glittering Strawberry Fields. I mean, to have Strawberry Fields complimenting A Day In The Life, Lucy In The Sky and the other brilliant work on Pepper. Can you imagine it? Can you imagine how much more towering the already towering Pepper would have been had it rightfully included Lennon’s masterpiece? Can you imagine how much more seismic the Pepper quake would have been on the 60’s pop music richter scale? I venture it’s as great an ‘if only?’ as there’s been.
Delving further, now reimagine Revolver with Paperback Writer, and for that matter, the brilliant Rain.
Work on Revolver began in April 6, 1966 with the hypnotic Tomorrow Never Knows, and within a week they’d recorded four more tracks. Rain and Paperback Writer were the 4th and 5th recordings in these sessions and a week before The Beatles completed the last song on June 21, these songs were released as a double A side 45. Again, had it not been for the convention of the day, these singles would have gone on to compliment their relative recordings. Like, Rain and Paperback Writer alongside Taxman and She Said She Said (notwithstanding And Your Bird Can Sing, For No One, Good Day Sunshine (and the other great songs on this flawless record)) Again, it’s just a mind blowing ‘if only?’
And what about The White Album?!
Recorded slap bang in the middle of the The White Album sessions was Hey Jude and the electric version of Revolution. Hey Jude was recorded on the same day as Sexy Sadie, while Revolution was sandwiched between Ob-la-di Ob-la-da and Cry Baby Cry. Indeed, by the time they tackled Hey Jude, The White Album was already taking shape with Everybody’s Got Something, Helter Skelter and Blackbird already in the can. The Hey Jude / Revolution 45 went on to be released in September 68, a month or so before The White Album sessions concluded.
Abbey Road also would have also benefited had it not been for this convention.
The Ballad of John and Yoko was the second project in these cluster of recordings which commenced on Feb 22 1969. I Want You (She’s So Heavy) kick started proceedings and after a months break, The Ballad Of John And Yoko, Old Brown Shoe, Something and Oh Darling all followed in a week in the middle of April. Octopuses Garden and You Never Give Me Your Money quickly followed in the next week, and after a one month lay off (who was fighting with who I wonder?), they had a big July, packing in Come Together, Something and the remaining songs. The Ballad of John And Yoko / Old Brown Shoe 45 went on to be released in June 1969, and surely would have improved Abbey Road had it bumped Maxwell’s Silver Hammer from its contents.
Also consider these:
*Let It Be, troubled project that it was, lost the heart wrenching Don’t Let Me Down to the B side of the Get Back single (and for me I’d go with the studio version, not the roof top concert version.) Get Back, however, was one of the few exceptions of a 45 being included, albeit that Phil Spector played around with the album mix to make it seem different.
*Rubber Soul, packed full of quality songs, would happily of bumped a couple of numbers to find room for Day Tripper and We Can Work It Out. Both were recorded in the middle of these sessions.
*Yes It Is, the B side to Ticket To Ride, is a much better song than a great many in the Help sessions (and I’d bump It’s Only Love for it (and curiously, Ticket To Ride, was included, contrary to convention?))
*Beatles For Sale, scandalously underrated as it is, could have included I Feel Fine and She’s A Woman. This 45 coupling was recorded in the later stages of its formation.
*Between Sergeant Pepper and The White Album, was, of course, the Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine projects. This covers the period from April 1967 to February 1968 and the Beatles recorded sporadically over this time. They recorded the Magical Mystery Tour song in April, but did not revisit the remaining songs for the film until September. In the meantime, they recorded All You Need Is Love and some songs that would appear on the Yellow Submarine film. After completing the remaining songs for Magical Mystery Tour (all in September), they recorded Hello Goodbye and Lady Madonna and the B sides for these 45’s. Across The Universe and the electrifying Hey Bulldog were also recorded during this period. All over the place as they seemed, there’s still some magnificent stuff here (and need I mention I Am The Walrus), but for the purposes of reimagining these releases, it’s hard to make an argument about what belonged to what (so I won’t!)
*I Want To Hold Your Hand, She Loves You, From Me To You, I Call Your Name and other early releases on 45’s were all recorded outside sessions dedicated to upcoming albums, so I won’t make an argument for there inclusion either, but wow, wouldn’t they have added something to A Hard Days Night or With The Beatles?
For me, it’s just mind boggling how these iconic albums – LP’s already bursting with quality – could have been transformed into something even more stupendous had it not been for convention. I mean, these albums are so good in any case, they’re in no way in need of a boost, and yet could have had one. It’s just staggering. And on a sombre note, what a shame that all those 45’s are homeless when the world is viewed through the eyes of the album lover. The LP aficionado turns up his and her nose to compilations, so when the Beatles are evaluated in their polls, Strawberry Fields, Hey Jude and the other songs on 45’s are considered albumless orphans. These, arguably, the catchiest and most effervescent of all the Beatles songs don’t come into the equation? And yet their albums still dominate these lists? Wow, they really were something, weren’t they?