Tuesday, May 08, 2018

The Red (No White) And Blue

The Beatles' "Red" and "Blue" albums are the band's missing links.  Released in 1973, a few years after the group broke up, these compilations were the main way millions of new fans learned about the band.  Eventually, there would be more compilations, not to mention new material in the Anthology and BBC series, and, in 2000, 1--a new greatest hits collection which has become one of the best-selling albums of the 21st century and the new way young people get into The Beatles.

Originally, Capitol didn't quite know what it had.  Sure, the Beatles had been the biggest act of the 60s, but it was the 70s, time to move on.  However, a bootleg collection of the Beatles' hits was selling well, so the release of these albums was almost an act of self-defense.  Both the Red and Blue albums went diamond (over 10 million sold, though double albums are counted twice).

The songs were actually compiled by Allen Klein, their crooked manager who caused a split in the band (Paul refused to sign with him).  He doesn't do a half bad job but there are still odd things about his choices.

The one thing he got right is splitting the Beatles into two eras, 1962-1966 and 1967-1970.  This makes Sgt. Pepper the turning point, which it was.  The Beatles were always changing, but the biggest dividing line is Pepper.  Also, in general, he includes all the big singles.  It might be obvious, but it's still important.  (And he also didn't pick any covers.  The Beatles did amazing covers in the early years--some even charted--but I suppose it works to keep it all in the family.)

But the oddest--and worst--idea was the number of songs.  For some reason I still can't comprehend, the Red albums have 13 songs each while the Blue albums have 14.  With so many classic cuts left off, why?  Especially considering the earlier songs are shorter.  Thus, the full Red collection is 62:34 while the Blue collection is 99:40.  If anything, Klein should have stuffed the Red albums with 8 or 9 cuts a side.  Instead, most of the sides are barely over 15 minutes, and, in fact, side two of album one has only 14:09 worth of music.

Then there are some of his choices when he goes beyond the major hits.  Klein was trying to give a sample of a band that was more than singles, but was he choosing personal or fan favorites?

Thus, the Red album includes "And I Love Here," "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away," "Drive My Car," "In My Life" and "Girl." Most of these I can't fault, though "Hide Your Love Away" and definitely "Girl" I would leave off.  Meanwhile, I can think of twenty or thirty other original songs from this era that have become standards for Beatles fans and were worthy of inclusion.

Also, no George songs.  That's okay, though he sure missed out on royalties.

The Blue collection is even weirder, possibly because there were less singles to fill up the space, so Klein had to get creative.

Once again, there are the hits, to be expected.  Then from Sgt. Pepper (which had no singles released--singles recorded during the Pepper sessions were not put on the album) we get the title tune plus "With A Little Help From My Friends," "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" and "A Day In The Life."  Pretty good choices--Klein couldn't ignore the album, and he chose the songs that made the biggest splash.

But next, from the Magical Mystery Tour album (originally released only in America), after picking the singles, he also includes the title number and "The Fool On The Hill."  Once again, these were the big numbers from the album, but I could have done without the latter.

Next, he's got to choose cuts from the "White" album.  We get "Back In The U.S.S.R.," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"--as much as I don't like the middle number, not bad choices (and George finally gets some royalties).  Though some might wonder why there's no, say, "Blackbird"?

From Abbey Road, Klein chooses "Come Together," "Something," and "Here Comes The Sun"--makes sense, and George is killing it.  But he also included is "Octopus's Garden"--I can only assume this was chosen to give Ringo a taste.

There are a lot of choices from Let It Be (though some may have been released in a different form as singles)--the title number plus "Get Back," "Across The Universe" and "The Long And Winding Road."  I might have left off "Universe" even though it has become a beloved classic.

Finally, there are a few stray choices, such as "Don't Let Me Down" and "Old Brown Shoe."  The former is one of those Beatles classics that it's hard to argue with, even though there were a bunch of such numbers left off the Red collection.  The latter, however, is nobody's idea of a classic.  It's the most confusing choice on either album.  And it's not even as if George Harrison needs some help at this point. The song must have been a favorite of Klein's. (Or maybe he got more money for the stuff they recorded after he took over?)

Overall, I have to admit, it could have been a lot worse.


Anonymous Lawrence King said...

Interesting analysis. These were my main Beatles albums during high school -- all my friends had them. (I didn't realize at the time that one reason was that some of their earliest hits had never been on albums, only on singles.)

I'm not sure I agree that the dividing line was correct. The final two tracks on the Red Album ("Eleanor Rigby" and "Yellow Submarine") fit much better with the later Beatles than earlier. I see these as blue (or at least, proto-blue) Beatles seizing a bridgehead on the Red album.

Which is fine with me, since I -- unlike L.A. Guy -- tend to prefer the later Beatles to the early Beatles. (Not exclusively, of course: the best ten cuts on the Red album are much better than the worst ten cuts on the Blue.)

I still can't comprehend how you can dislike "How My Guitar Gently Weeps" (easily in the top 5 of all Beatles songs). I realize today how silly "Fool On the Hill" is, but it was still getting plenty of radio play when I was in high school.

I agree that there are awesome White Album tracks that should have been included, but if I cut one of the three they did include it would be "Back in the USSR" -- it's a good song, and eveyrone knows it, but it's really not great.

I love "Octopus' Garden," and since Ringo only has two songs and it's the better of the two, it belongs here.

"Don't Let Me Down" is good but overrated. They should have included "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" instead (because breaking up the awesome side two of Abbey Road would be wrong).

The problem is that the Get Back / Let It Be-era compositions are mostly awful: "Don't Let Me Down" (yawn), "Old Brown Shoe" (ugh), "Hey Jude" (ugh AND yawn), and worst of all, "The Long and Winding Road". Closing the album with that was a serious mistake. On the other hand, when you have a great album, maybe it's good to end it with a dud, so the listener doesn't end up wishing for more and feeling unsatisfied?

"Across the Universe" and "Get Back" are the only good songs from that batch.

They should have closed the album with the songs from Abbey Road, as that was recorded last. But maybe they feared people would stop listening after the Let It Be numbers, so putting them last might have been strategic?

4:09 PM, May 08, 2018  
Blogger brian said...

The albums were picked in the 70s and it shows. But I remember the collections well still. The idea of a collection of music as an album barely survives today and compilations are completely weird in the era of music streaming.

7:17 AM, May 09, 2018  
Blogger New England Guy said...

I grew to love Old Brown Shoe from the Blue Album but even then I couldn't understand why it was included with all the hits and ear candy. (I do like it but it doesn't really sound like the Beatles) The notion of a sampler also necessarily keeps the short combined song sequences on Sgt Pepper and Abbey Road off too. I would have liked to have heard "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window" earlier in my life. Nature of the beast I guess.

Yon can not like "Hey Jude" but it is clearly one of the most emblematic later Beatles songs.

4:48 AM, May 10, 2018  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

I agree that "Hey Jude" is iconic. But when I listen to it, I hear Paul edging closer and closer to "Silly Love Songs."

You'd think that people would have had enough of silly love songs? Well, you'd be right.

9:55 PM, May 12, 2018  

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