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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Beatles Yesterday and Today reissue

The infamous "butcher cover"

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' 1964 American invasion, and--let's face it--a good excuse to make a few more bucks, EMI/Apple have re-issued the Fab Four's Capitol Records 1964-1966 output. With the exception of the poorly conceived and executed box sets The Capitol Albums (vol. I & II), this is the first time these albums have ever appeared on compact disc.

I'm exactly the sucker that EMI/Apple is aiming for when they re-issue these Beatles albums. When I first heard that these albums were about to be re-issued, my immediate response was, "I already have most of these on vinyl, why do I need to get them again?" But then I heard that EMI/Apple had attached a few bells and whistles to these re-issues: with the exception of the 1970 hodge-podge Hey Jude album, all of the releases include both stereo and mono tracks.

Anyway, I'll spare you any blow-by-blow background of these releases because I'll probably get the details wrong and if you really want the details, there are plenty of folks much more obsessive than I on the web who have already written in detail about these Capitol re-issues. If you indeed are interested, here's a good place to start:

Beatles Capitol re-issues

So, in the end I caved in and bought my favorite of the Beatles' Capitol albums, Yesterday and Today, originally released in June 1966. It's an album that is best known for it's controversial "butcher" cover, (which, according to some, was the Beatles' commentary on how Capitol Records was "butchering" their music, and also the band's resentment towards having to do yet another photo shoot). As far as hodge-podge albums go, though, it's probably the best one ever made. It catches the Beatles in arguably their most creative periods, from summer 1965 to spring of 1966. The oldest songs on the collection are "Yesterday"and "Act Naturally," which appeared on the British version of Help!, but had yet to show up on an American album. There are both sides of the "Day Tripper/"We Can Work It Out" single from late '65, four songs that had been chopped from Rubber Soul when that album was released in the U.S. ("Drive My Car," "Nowhere Man," "If I Needed Someone," and "What Goes On?") and three songs from the Revolver sessions ("I'm Only Sleeping," "Dr. Robert," and "And Your Bird Can Sing"), which were still taking place when Yesterday and Today was released .

I now realize I'm relaying information that is easily obtainable from a simple Google search. Sorry!

Anyway, despite being pasted together from disparate recording sessions over the span of a full year, Yesterday and Today holds up extremely well as an album. Some may argue that it's a little "Lennon-heavy," but that's another reason why I like it so much. From '65 to '66, Lennon was writing some great material and many of his best songs from this period are represented on Yesterday and Today. The one George Harrison song on the album, "If I Needed Someone," is one of his first truly great tunes. "We Can Work It Out" is one of the best collaborative songs that Lennon and McCartney ever wrote and recorded. The only moderate clinkers, in my own personal opinion, are "Yesterday" (which I've always found just slightly too saccharine despite the song's massive popularity--and maybe that's the problem for me: I've heard "Yesterday" so many times it's hard for me to hear it with fresh ears anymore) and the two Ringo-sung cuts, "Act Naturally" and "What Goes On?". I respect the Beatles' catholic musical taste and their forays into country music at a time when it wasn't yet the cool thing to do, but I have never been overly fond of "Act Naturally" or "What Goes On?". Still, it's hard not to get a kick out of Ringo's hangdog persona and the Beatles' sense of humor in these tunes. And part of what made the Beatles so great was they were able to leaven their more serious side with a good dose of humor.

Another reason I like Yesterday and Today is that it's a great guitar-oriented record. From the Stax-Volt-inspired playing of "Drive My Car", the jagged and choppy sound of "Dr. Robert," the languid "sleepy" sound of "I'm Only Sleeping", the elegiac "Nowhere Man" (and George's shimmering solo played on a newly acquired Fender Stratocaster--a lovely solo I never tire of hearing), the Stones-y riff of "Day Tripper" and finally to the sublime "And Your Bird Can Sing" which has my absolute favorite Beatles guitar work. Besides featuring some the best songs the Beatles ever wrote, it can also be argued that Yesterday and Today contains the band's best and most inventive ensemble playing.

So was buying this re-release worth it? Yes. I enjoy having these great (and not-so-great) songs in mono because I have found that the Beatles' music sounds much better in mono than stereo. The Beatles always spent more time on the mono mixes, and the stereo mixes were an afterthought (read Geoff Emerick's outstanding book Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles for more information about that). Unfortunately, unless one wants to spend loads of money, these mono versions are difficult to come by.

The packaging of the Capitol reissues is also fun. The CDs come in miniature reproductions of the original album sleeves, down to the same inserts that were included. The Yesterday and Today CD includes a decal of the "steamer trunk" cover that can be pasted on top of the "butcher" cover: a cute little in-joke for Beatles fans.

The less controversial "steamer trunk" cover

So there is a distinct possibility that the Rubber Soul and Revolver Capital re-issues are in my future. EMI and Apple, I am your captive!