Wednesday, January 26, 2011

For The Serious Beatlephile Only: The Beatles Anthology - Volume 1

The Good: Interesting study on the origins of rock and roll, Rare tracks, New song
The Bad: Unity of sound, Much unoriginal content, Sound quality, Some repetition
The Basics: An example of how the origins don't always indicate the quality direction that results from a movement, The Beatles Anthology Volume 1 is tun, but only for those who truly love the Beatles.

. . . And then there were the Beatles. And it was good.

But it wasn't great. At least, that's the body of evidence presented in The Beatles Anthology Volume 1. In fact, if this album is any indication, the Fab Four came out through a lot of luck. After a string of cover songs, the Beatles start producing their own songs. It's hard now to go back and rate them because so much of our music now is based in the experiments and innovations the Beatles made. The problem with such an encompassing album of the beginnings of the band is that it makes clear that there wasn't so much innovating going on.

The Beatles Anthology Volume 1 is a collection of early Beatles songs, rare demo versions of known Beatles originals, interview clips from various people (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Brian Epstein, etc.) about the origins of the Beatles and their early time in the spotlight. The two c.d. discs are packed with music and dialog. The only truly new song is "Free As A Bird" an engineered song of John Lennon's that's been doped up in the 90's for release on this album using the surviving Beatles as back-up singers.

The thing is, most of the songs aren't terribly great. Not the actual music, but the tracks used. On disc one, many of the songs are in Mono, not stereo. This gives the authentic sound as it was recorded, but it's frustrating to listen to on your stereo. The other thing is the actual songs. Many of the demos are enjoyable to hear because they have a raw sound and that's cool. It's always fun to hear songs you like in their very original form. But on both c.d.s, they have demo versions that have "false starts." These are tracks where the singing stops and the Beatles complain, laugh or whathave you. Basically, they're bloopers.

Outside the new track "Free As A Bird," the songs range from "That'll Be the Day" (as one of the Beatles' earliest cover songs) through "Roll Over Beethoven" on disc one to "She Loves You" to "Kansas City / Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!" on disc two. The flow of the album is broken up by the speech clips throughout the album. Some of them are distracting. Most of them don't hold up upon repeated listenings. I mean, there are only so many times we can hear that rum and coke was a Beatles drink from the very beginning.

As well, this anthology is harder to recommend because it has the Beatles failing to do what they will do later, which is innovate! The musical differences between their cover songs ("That'll Be The Day," "Ain't She Sweet," and "Twist And Shout") and their original works ("She Loves You," "One After 909," and "I Want To Hold Your Hand") are slight. It's clear that the original works are derivative of the experiments of others. This is not a review of the Beatles in their entirety; Volume 2 illustrates their ability to innovate and their actual talent. This is not a review of Volume 2, though. So, keeping with that . . .

The nice thing is a few of the tracks are actually listenable. Beyond the new track, the version of "I Saw Her Standing There" is good and "This Boy" is even better. The set works as a nice piece to get immersed in early rock and roll. This is, after all, the beginnings of one of the great rock groups in history. The rare, demo tracks will be a pleasure to those who love the Beatles, but not much beyond those people.

The only other catch is the sound quality on some of the tracks isn't terribly wonderful, considering the source material, this is understandable.

Overall, an interesting, if repetitive and uninspired album. Strongest tracks are "You Really Got A Hold On Me" (Disc One) and "I Want To Hold Your Hand" (Disc 2) and the weakest tracks are "Brian Epstein's story" (track 14, Disc 1) and the lyrically inane "Boys" (Disc 2).

For other contemporary artists producing around the same time as The Beatles, check out my reviews of:
Forty Licks - The Rolling Stones
It Ain't Easy: The Essential Recordings - Wilson Pickett
Break Every Rule - Tina Turner


For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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