The Best Beatles Album Ever
In recent weeks I have walked the vinyl path, striving for a less complicated life, recently selecting the Beatles 1966 mashup, Yesterday and Today. This record is best known as the second to last American Beatles release to significantly differ from the original British version and is almost universally disrespected, mostly because its censoring of a then daring pop-art cover.
That photo, featuring the Fab Four in bloody smocks surrounded by decapitated dolls, was supposedly intended to call attention to the “butchering” of the Beatles’ product. The original cover’s value has grown and has always been a few steps more than what I can afford, so a few years ago I purchased a counterfeit of the controversial cover, sealed and containing an album that was not Yesterday and Today. I put it in a frame and hung it on the wall next to a copy of the album as it was released in 1966.
Aside from the cover I hadn’t given this album a thought in years, following the conventional wisdom that all of the albums that didn’t follow the original British blueprint were second rate. It drew album tracks songs from Revolver, and Rubber Soul along with both sides of three great singles.
I loved Yesterday and Today when it came out as no one had told me it was second rate. Listening to it this year I am gratified to discover that I was one smart 12-year-old. This record may lack “authenticity” and not at all reflect the group’s preferences, but is actually one of the best representations of their versatile, diverse middle period. Which is to say it is one fucking great record.
It begins with “Drive My Car,” as did the British version of Rubber Soul. In America the “I’ve Just Seen A Face” kick off sets a softer tone for the record. Second up is “I’m Only Sleeping” in an incomplete version. Later part of the British edition of Revolver, it is one of three John Lennon songs that are included here, which also changed the character of what is now considered by many to be their finest LP.
Unsurprisingly, Revolver earned this honor once the whole world heard the British version. It wasn’t exactly unappreciated the first time out but the restoration of “I’m Only Sleeping,” “And Your Bird Can Sing” and even “Dr. Robert” lifted it to another sphere. In America Revolver only had two Lennon songs and Rubber Soul was similarly denatured and Yesterday and Today ended up with the edgy stuff from both LPs.
As we are always looking to have the same experiences only slightly altered I recently took the butcher cover off the wall and slipped in the copy once housed in the tamer jacket. After playing this version for the first time I retired for the night with the idea that whoever’s driving the perpetual Beatles reissue machine would be wise to release a high quality vinyl edition of the album with the cover restored. Done right this could be something that a fan who has everything would want to have. I would probably pass since I’ve already worked up a less expensive solution. And I no longer need to have every last Beatles bauble.
There are no coincidences in the Beatles world, but someone obviously someone was reading my thoughts or I was reading theirs. There must have been a bad connection as news about an upcoming box set of the American albums (http://tinyurl.com/US-Albums) draws an ambiviolent reaction. This set, released to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first US Beatles appearance, boxes up the 13 albums that were exclusive in the US, most of them in both mono and stereo. This is a necessary move as even the most shameless repackager balks at releasing a disc that runs less than 30 minutes.
There are dozens of reasons to hate this, beginning with the notion that EMI is once again attempting to sell us the same wine in a new bottle. Every few years they come up with another way to sell the music we’ve already bought just one more time. It’s slightly offensive to purists, who spent 20 years believing that the American scourge had been eliminated. For the purest of the purists, it is the cultural equivalent of a polio resurgence. And those who are not purists might be surprised to get this home and find the box is missing such touchstones as Sgt Pepper, Abbey Road and the White Album. (And Magical Mystery Tour should be included as it was an American release.)
Right now we are on a Beatles upswing, aside from the increase of repurposed product (the American package, a second volume of BBC recordings and the iTunes-only release of mostly superfluous “bootlegs”) but this uptick in popularity isn’t entirely driven by commerce. Recently I’ve met under-thirtysomethings whose knowledge of and enthusiasm for them challenges my own. Fans have long said that the Beatles will be remembered forever, in the same breath as Beethoven and Mozart. This is already happening, and it is likely that Sinatra and the Stones will become the equivalents of Salieri. And we need to stop perpetuating the lie that the only way to listen to the Beatles in their original context in order to “get it.”
While Charlie Bermant has published Imagine There’s No Beatles, his recollections and impressions of the Beatles are no more valid or valued than your own.