Almanac Music: A case for the *real* Beatles albums

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 RevolutionHey 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 Ridewas 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?

About Punxsutawney Pete

Punxsutawney Pete aims to be a rabble-rouser, but comes off more as someone in need of a life.

Comments

  1. Shane John Backx says:

    Well this is really a nothing article I must say. Thanks to modern ipods and the like, you can add all those songs onto the playlists for these albums, therefore making it all right if thats what you want to do.

  2. As a Beatles fan, I greatly enjoyed this. Thanks Peter.

    A few amazing facts:
    * The Beatles embarked on their final tour of North America only days after Revolver was released – and did not play one track from the new record.
    * In just over a 3-year period between August 1965 and November 1968 they released: Help, Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour and the White Album. Surely the most brilliantly productive 3-year period in music.
    * George Martin fought to get Strawberry Fields / Penny Lane included on Sgt Pepper, because he thought they were part of that album. But the Beatles would have none of it.

  3. Enjoyable “what-ifs” Punx. I wouldn’t want to be the one cutting songs from the albums to make space on the LPs! Remember there was great stuff that never got released until the three (!) Anthology double CDs.

    I don’t believe there was any legal reason for not including singles on the albums as there are many exceptions throughout their career from the first album (Please Please Me, Love Me Do) to their last (Let It Be, Get Back). I think it had more to do with wanting to give their fans value by having more content on each LP without doubling up as much. Apart from that, they were so productive they had to find outlets for all this brilliant stuff. I agree that the album is seen as *the* artistic statement much more so than the compilation which means that so many great songs become orphans.

  4. I did bit of googling this morning on the convention of the day, and yeah, it came across as more of a policy by U.K. artists not to include 45’s on their albums. The Stones also followed this practice until the late 60’s, as well as many others. As I’ve lamented, it’s a terrible shame this happened because the album has prevailed as the artistic statement over the 45 (well, at least it did until the itunes age.) I only listen to the Beatles on vinyl (gotta have analogue’s warmth), so soothing my lament with a fantasy playlist isn’t an option for me. Just have to suck it up and remind myself that my lament is as garish a First World problem as you’d get (well, maybe it comes a little under whinging about having sh*tty Wi-fi when at a coin launderette!)

    PS Smokie, yeah was aware how George pushed hard for its inclusion. Shame he couldn’t persuade em. And 65-68? I think they matched the GDP of small to middle sized countries for output.

  5. I share your love of the Beatles music Pete. I was besotted with the Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields single as a kid. Could never work out which side I preferred.
    I always have the Blue and Red compilations on high rotation because they contain most of these great songs omitted from the LP’s of the day.
    Have never found much to like with the White Album though. Went to see the concert version a couple of years back thinking I must have missed something. Only “While my Guitar gently weeps” and “Blackbird” make my faves list. Confirmed what I always thought that their brains were temporarily drug fried at the time. Even genius has off days.
    The 8 Days a Week movie showed how sophisticated and innovative they were at a time when technology and music were still primitive.

  6. PZ- great research and post. Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields is remarkable and the later probably my favourite Beatles song, largely due to the strings of George Martin which make it profoundly evocative.

    Thanks.

  7. Earl O'Neill says:

    The Hey Jude album is a collection of singles throughout The Beatles career and the best one-shot compilation you’ll hear.

  8. A great read. Mind blowing that those albums could have been any better. Such variety and innovation over a relatively short period of time, The white album’s my favourite. They all sound so good and it was 50 years ago. What’s more to be said about John, Paul, George & Ringo?

  9. Gareth Meyer says:

    Pete
    Thanks for your interesting thesis.
    I wouldn’t agree with Shane that it was a ‘nothing article’. You’ve employed an interesting perspective to challenge us to think about the artistic completeness of those great Beatles’ albums. And just lining up the album and singles tracks on an iPod misses the point. If Strawberry Fields/Penny Lane had of been part of Pepper, it would have significantly altered the conceptual basis of that LP. In particular, it might have seen the Beatles lay an early claim to a true ‘concept album’ (although the Pretty Things’ S F Sorrow and Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed and Floyd Piper at the Gates of Dawn were contemporaries) . In Pepper’s case, the combination of SFF/PL, A Day in the Life, When I’m Sixty Four – might have better connected up life experiences – as Simon and Garfunkel’s Bookends did well.

    Anyway, I also wondered about the source of the idea that George Martin pushed hard for SFF/PL inclusion on the album? In the The Beatles Anthology, George admitted that the only reason SFF/PL didn’t go on Pepper was the feeling of a need to give fans good value for money and that if issued as a single, it shouldn’t go on the album. He added that he ‘was partly responsible’ for this and admitted it was a ‘crazy idea’. Perhaps Mark Lewisohn can resolve this debate when the next edition of his huge three-part history comes out next decade.!
    If the second edition is anything like ‘Tune In’, I’m sure he’s going to be able to tell us who was sitting in the chair that makes the squeaking noise towards the end of A Day in the Life as the piano crescendo fades out!

    One last challenge – a mate of mine and I did some public radio many years ago with the theme of an alternative solo Beatles album. We took the idea from an interview of John Lennon – who suggested for those missing The Beatles that you could take a track from each of the solo Beatles and put them together on a mixed tape. Image a kind of solo Beatles’ White Album – Bluebird, Mrs Vanderbilt, Imagine, Photograph, etc etc….

    Gareth

  10. Hey fellas. Thanks for reading. I was watching the Big Bash final sat’day night and snuck over to Foxtel’s premiere movie channel at 8.30 just to see the first few minutes of Ron Howards ‘Eight Days A Week’ (first time on Murdoch TV), and didn’t end up switching back. Don’t know if that says something about the superficiality of the Big Bash or the magnificence of the doco / and, or The Beatles. Love me Big Bash cricket, so I’ll cut it some slack and defer to the later. ‘Eight Days A Week’ IMHO, is the finest doco take on The Beatles you’ll come across. It concentrates on their touring years and captures the nightmarish bind they were trapped in. It also examines their early work, and even though we now consider their first 5 albums sophomoric, this music rises well above juvenilia. Moreover, skewed to teenage girls as the lyrics were, when John Lennon sings, “Please please me, oh yeah, like I please you’, I think we all know what he’s talking about (clever bastard knew how to get a “perversion” under the radar, even back then!)

    Pete, the white album has its flaws, but it’s also The Beatles at their grittiest. Happiness is a warm gun, Sexy Sadie, Back in the USSR, Helter Skelter, I’m so Tired, Me and my Monkey, Cry Baby Cry … The Beatles are forging into dark and murky places in their sub-consciousness in these songs. And then to balance it with the daggy Ob-la-di and Martha my dear, as well as the heart-wrenching Dear Prudence, Julia and I Will … wow. If you’re a Beatles fan and you haven’t connected with these songs, I recommend you give em another chance.

    Mickey, the strings and horns in Strawberry Fields is music rising into the heavens. With this song, the Beatles made *everyone* sit up and take notice. It was the game changer that had snobbish musicologists reconsidering every dismissive comment they’d made towards the band.

    Earl, the Hey Jude compilation is a cracker and did a good job finding a home for the “orphaned” songs prior to the Past Masters releases. Still love putting it on the turntable (and found a pristine copy recently to replace my much loved, but now crackly, original purchase.)

    JD, agree, mind blowing. Alas, it was not to be.

    Gareth, looking forward to the new tome from Lewisohn. Loved the first volume. And on a fantasy 70’s Beatles album, I have been constructing a page on my blog on as much. It’s still pretty sparse on text, but I have all the albums completed, with track lists etc. Here’s the link if you want to test the waters on just how much a Beatles junkie / dag you are (and oh, Bookends is a brilliant record. Big Paul Simon fan.):

    http://www.vivtufnell.com.au/fantasy-beatles-albums.html

  11. Luke Reynolds says:

    Amazing to think so many great tunes weren’t included on LP’s.
    What a band.
    Fantastic piece PZ. Been a while since I’ve given The Beatles albums a spin, you’ve inspired me to do so again.

  12. Punxsu.... Pete says:

    Yeah it really is a shame these songs are not grouped with their contemporaneous recordings. Applying this 60’s policy to the 70’s, ‘Born to run’ doesn’t *have* ‘Born to run,’ / ‘Meeting across the river’ on it (to give the gazillion fans of the Boss on this site some perspective). And it wouldn’t have ‘Tenth avenue’ as well. As for 60’s US artists, Dyan’s ‘Like A Rolling stone’ misses out on its title track and you could go on and on and on.

    Just on Pepper, I see ‘Good morning Good morning’ being axed to get in the exiled songs, but would struggle to find another. Maybe ‘When i’m sixty four’? But I’d kinda miss it. I think that’s part of the Beatles charm having Macca’s daggy side rear it’s err . daggy head every now and then. Daggy stuff mixed with Lennon’s edgy stuff rounds them beautifully for me. Makes em real … coz who doesn’t have a bit of a daggy side to em?

  13. Gareth Meyer says:

    I guess you are all counting down to the 50th anniversary release ! The early promo snippets of the 2017 pepper remix sound very promising.

  14. Punxsu and the rest of Peter says:

    Hey Gareth. Oh dear, not another anniversary repackaging of a classic! It’s been under my radar. You know, I’ve never liked any of the remastering’s / remixes: they were great just the way they were. But maybe they could reimagine the 50th anniversary packaging and get Strawberry fields on it? That’d get my juices flowing.

  15. I’ve been flirting with the idea of getting the Beatles mono albums. The mono mixes were laboured over for days whereas the stereo versions were apparently knocked together with out any more than cursory attention. Certainly some of the early stereo mixes are rudimentary (in a bad way). Any thoughts?

  16. Punxsu.... Pete says:

    Me too Mick J. I hear great, great things about the mono releases. I already have 2 to 3 vinyl copies of every record (can’t let go of the now crackly original purchases), so it’s hard to justify spending another $500 on em. Reckon I’ll wait for a long shot to come in on an each way bet, and spoil myself with those winnings.

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