Years after they disbanded, the Beatles remain the most successful rock group of all time. (I was going to attempt a joke about Stonehenge—which is seen in the Beatles’ movie Help!—but there was actually a band of that name in the 1970s.) People are still paying money to listen to the Beatles’ music, people are still writing books about the Beatles, and schoolchildren are still deciding which of the four is their favorite Beatle. The history of the recordings of Beatle music is more complicated than one might expect for such a popular group of musicians.
Early in 1963, the Beatles’ single “Please Please Me” reached the top of the music charts in the United Kingdom (UK). Their producer, George Martin, invited them into the Abbey Road studio to record an album which would also be called Please Please Me. In about twelve hours he recorded several takes of the songs that the Beatles were then performing in their live shows. The album shot to the top of the charts in the UK. Released in the United States as Introducing the Beatles, it did not initially fare well. After their successful concert tour (including two appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show) in February 1964, the album was periodically re-released under various titles. Its most successful American package was released in 1965 and was called The Early Beatles.
In spite of a heavy schedule of concert tours, the Beatles recorded six more albums before the middle of 1966. All of them reached number one on the UK charts: With the Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night, Beatles for Sale, Help!, Rubber Soul, and Revolver. From their first seven UK albums, the American market managed to squeeze eleven albums. They accomplished this three ways. First, the UK albums all had fourteen songs, but the American releases had only twelve songs—sometimes fewer. Second, the Beatles did not include their hit singles and B-sides on their UK albums, but these did appear on the American albums. Third, for the movie albums A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, the American versions used only songs that appeared in the movies and then filled the albums with instrumental tracks from the movies, while the UK versions included Beatle songs not used in the movies. Aside from those already mentioned, the other American albums as of 1966 were Meet the Beatles, The Beatles’ Second Album, Something New, Beatles ’64, Beatles VI, Rubber Soul, Yesterday… and Today, and Revolver.
Rubber Soul and Revolver showed increasing complexity and diversity in the Beatles’ music. When they stopped touring in 1966—their last scheduled live concert was August 29, 1966, in San Francisco—they were able to become a studio band, putting hours into creating each new song. Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was the first album to be released in the UK and the United States with identical songs. This was followed by Magical Mystery Tour which accompanied a made-for-TV movie of the same title, seen in the UK on December 26, 1967. The next year they released The Beatles, a two-disc album usually called “the White Album.” The last album they recorded was Abbey Road in 1969. In 1970, as the band was disintegrating, they finally released the songs they had recorded before Abbey Road as the album Let It Be, which accompanied a feature film of the same name. Meanwhile, the American industry managed to create two more albums, Yellow Submarine (which contains four new songs, two songs from previous albums, and an entire side of instrumental music from the cartoon movie of that name) and The Beatles Again—usually called “Hey Jude”—which consists of singles and B-sides that had been left off the albums.
The Beatles remained popular, so record companies continued to release new combinations of their music. In 1973 two releases, each consisting of two discs, appeared. Often called “the Red Album” and “the Blue Album,” these collections became the definitive catalog of Beatles music for the next generation of fans. Other collections were regularly released with various levels of success. When the Beatles music was remastered for CD release in the late 1980s, the UK albums were selected rather than the American albums. An additional two-disc release, Past Masters, contained the singles and B-sides which were not on the UK albums.
In 1995, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr cooperated in a massive undertaking called Beatles Anthology. The result was a television special (later released on VHS and DVD), a collection of studio outtakes and unreleased songs (released on cassette tapes and CDs), and a coffee-table book. John Lennon had been assassinated in December 1980, but his presence was very much felt in Anthology through previous interviews and other recordings. Two songs that he had recorded (not for release) were remastered with contributions from Paul, George, and Ringo, resulting in the first new Beatles music in several years.
All of this music remains available in a variety of formats. My next post will describe several songs by the Beatles which are, in my opinion, underappreciated. J.