The Beatles have already celebrated 50 once, but this year will mark the 50th anniversary of their stateside introduction. From a musical standpoint, very little has approached what Beatlemania did to the USA and its citizens back in 1964. Sure, old fuddy-duddies of the day pooh-poohed the notion that these mop-topped kids from Liverpool would ever amount to a hill of beans. Oh, but they did. So much so that CBS recently aired a 50th anniversary special celebrating the cause. The American public still loves to revel in their music.
Many hardcore Beatles fans, original or secondhand, swear by the UK catalog. Suggest otherwise, and be prepared to be judged for believing any other track sequence could possibly do the band justice. (Word to the wise—don’t even dare to present a streamlined White Album.) Yet, starting in 1964, Capitol executives opted to present an alternate album universe for the band after giving a handful of singles a test drive on smaller subsidiaries. Presented in The U.S. Albums is a collection of 13 CDs, consisting of 12 albums and one audio documentary of the group for one to get nostalgic, disgusted or satisfy a curiosity of an alternate playlist of the band’s catalog. All the discs—save The Beatles’ Story, which is the audio documentary noted above—are available for individual purchase.
To be fair, this set doesn’t present their entire recorded output. Nor does it pretend to. Starting in 1967 with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the band’s albums were streamlined for both UK and US crowds. If you want to complete your Beatles library, you’ll have to purchase a few more (British) titles and the approved Magical Mystery Tour, an American creation. More than likely, however, if you’re purchasing this set, the rest is in your collection…potentially multiple times.
It’s clear that this set is a tug on the heart/pursestrings of a subset of Beatles fans. It’s certainly wrapped around the anniversary to be more palatable, but if there’s one guarantee in these music buying-challenged times, it’s that Beatles fans will flock to their retailer of choice to support the band, relive their memories and rekindle their love of some of the greatest songs ever recorded.
Cynicism aside, there has been a great amount of research and care put into this set by all involved. The box itself is made of thick, sturdy cardboard that could withstand a direct hit from the Magical Mystery Tour bus itself and still be in M- condition, at worst. There is a sheen to the cover photo and the paper used for the booklet contained within that is dazzling. It feels important. The team went so far as to replicate the inner sleeves, which contained advertisements for Capitol albums of the period, for each title. If the album was originally in a gatefold cover (Help!), then it’s presented here as such. If not, as with the majority of the rest of the titles, then it’s presented accordingly. And who can forget the Butcher Cover? In true fashion, the original release of Yesterday…And Today has the original cover of the boys in white smocks with dismembered dolls upon their laps. The replacement cover is offered as a peel off sticker, as was done in 1966, after a recall due to complaints.
Every album contained within is presented in both its mono and stereo mixes, except for The Beatles’ Story and Hey Jude. With the 2009 reissue campaign of the UK titles, if you wanted to get both the mono and stereo mixes, you had to buy TWO separate box sets at $250 a pop. With this US collection, it’s value priced at well under $200.
Capitol has been down this US territory before. In 2004 and 2006, two other box sets (released in two different configurations, no less, in longbox and brick formats) at four CDs apiece were released chronicling The Capitol Years. Then, a hush of silence fell. A third volume seemed imminent. How could they NOT finish the series? These were configurations for which US fans were clamoring. Yet, year after year passed and nothing. At the least it would have contained Revolver, Yesterday… And Today and Hey Jude with some other disc to fill it out as a four-disc compilation. Now, with the release of The U.S. Albums, that bookend is lost to unfinished business.
What those Capitol Years sets did was present a historically accurate—not only visually but aurally, as well—account of what the US experience was about: futzed-with, inferior remixes, oftentimes referred to as the Dexterized versions (as it was Dave Dexter, Jr. who was at the helm of the US releases). With The U.S. Albums, we get a cleansed version of the experience, many times utilizing the UK remasters. Yes, this new version sounds better, but is it a rewriting of history? Is there a sense of false advertising in the marketing of this set?
The label’s defense of utilizing better quality mixes would be that it’s how The Beatles intended for their music to sound. However, the group also intended for the albums to be presented with certain art, tracklistings and mixes. Yet, the U.S. albums never met those criteria, and here we are being sold a set years later advocating their history. Sure, it’s a quibble to harp over better quality, but there is an argument to be made for historical accuracy.
Still, it can’t be disputed that in any configuration, The Beatles’ music touched all of our lives in the US, UK and worldwide. As songwriters, singers and performers, they reached the pinnacle of success, and their staying power is unparalleled. Even if you are more of a purist, you’ll still find yourself bopping and singing along as the tunes play in your CD changer. And you’ll be bewildered when the next song isn’t necessarily the one you remember. After all, these are the US Beatles albums. Just play the damn music and enjoy masters of their craft in excellent sonic quality…in whatever order they play.