The Beatles, ‘The U.S. Albums’ – Album Review
Depending on your level of Beatlemania, the Beatles‘ U.S. albums are either a lasting corporate scar on the group’s legacy or beloved nostalgic artifacts tailored for a specific marketplace. Capitol Records are hoping it’s the latter with its 13-disc box set ‘The U.S. Albums.’
Back in 1964, after passing on the band the first time around, the label finally decided to import the Beatles to the States. But the company was already a couple albums, and a handful of singles, behind when it made that decision. So to catch up, Capitol sorted through the backlog of songs they had and began assembling new albums out of the material.
This meant that during the first few years of the Beatles’ existence, their LPs looked completely different in the U.S. than they did in their native U.K. This also meant American ears were getting totally different, and new, experiences with the Beatles albums that were suddenly flooding the shelves.
In some cases, they made for better (‘Meet the Beatles!’) and more nuanced (‘Rubber Soul’) listening experiences. In other instances, they were butchered (‘Yesterday and Today,’ assembled out of leftover album tracks and singles) and scattered (‘Hey Jude,’ which included songs spanning the years 1964-69) beyond recognition.
Capitol released a pair of box sets collecting many of the Beatles’ U.S. albums a decade ago. ‘The U.S. Albums’ gathers a few additional LPs — like the ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ soundtrack, which was released on a different label, and a reconfigured ‘Revolver’ — for an alternate history of the world’s most influential group. But is it a history worth documenting 50 years later?
Again, it all comes down to your level of Beatlemania. The original U.K. versions of these albums are the definitive ones, the LPs the Beatles recorded, assembled and intended for release. But there’s no denying the introductory rush that pulses through ‘Meet the Beatles!,’ their first U.S. album, which is tighter and more focused than its U.K. counterpart ‘With the Beatles.’ And ‘Rubber Soul,’ restructured as a primarily acoustic set thanks to some omissions and additions from U.K. albums, sounds like a landmark record of the burgeoning folk-rock scene in its U.S. version.
But ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and ‘Help!’ were both padded with boring instrumental music for their U.S. versions, turning them into true soundtracks rather than Beatles albums. ‘Please Please Me’ works a lot better than the similarly sequenced ‘The Early Beatles,’ which was released about a year after the group stormed America. And the minor cuts made to ‘Revolver’ really do seem like needless corporate trimming. (Plus, we still prefer the original U.K. ‘Rubber Soul,’ despite the U.S.’ charms.)
So how deep do your memories and Beatles collection reach? (Word is, the mixes used on the original U.S. albums, which gave the records a distinct echo, weren’t used for this set; apparently, the 2009 remasters were just reapplied.) There’s value in these albums. They helped break the group in America, after all. But at what price?