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A Very Beatles Christmas

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Beatles fans, rejoice: this Christmas promises to be a festive one for you.  Due to the John Lennon 70th birthday celebration last October, Paul McCartney reissues, and a slew of new DVDs and books, many new Beatles-related presents should appear under the tree.  The following is a gift guide to ensure a very Merry Christmas for the Beatles fanatics on your list.

“I Saw A Film Today, Oh Boy”: The DVDs

First generation fans—and those who wish they were—will enjoy The 4 Complete Ed Sullivan Shows Starring The Beatles.  This two-disc set includes the entire Ed Sullivan episodes, complete with the original commercials.  Lennon enthusiasts will appreciate LENNONYC, the companion to the recently aired American Masters program.  View rare photos, hear studio outtakes and listen to Lennon’s closest friends and coworkers reminisce about the rocker’s all-too-brief life.  Those who have seen the Cirque du Soleil show Loveshould own All Together Now, a behind-the-scenes look at the production’s creation. 

While the five-disc set does not include the Beatles, the British Invasion series should appeal to Fab Four fans.  The DVDs feature original 1960s footage, mainly culled from European TV shows, of such stars as Dusty Springfield, Herman’s Hermits, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and the Small Faces.  Newly remastered, the clips show these artists performing in front of live audiences.  The T.A.M.I. Show, while not including the Beatles, is a long-awaited DVD issue of the 1964 concert held at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.  Critics have labeled the film as one of the best rock movies ever made, and the lineup definitely supports that argument: James Brown, the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, Chuck Berry, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Smokey Robinson, and many more.  Previously available only through bootlegs, this pristine DVD version is prized by collectors. 

Finally, longtime Beatles fans will surely want Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?, an often moving examination of the singer/songwriter’s life.  A friend of the Beatles, particularly Lennon and Ringo Starr, Nilsson enjoyed early success with such singles as “Without You,” impressing critics with his broad vocal range and clever lyrics.  Ultimately he descended into drugs and excessive partying, never fully realizing his early promise. 

“Dear Sir or Madam, Will You Read My Book?”: The Books

Every year, a staggering number of Beatles-related books are published, and 2010 is no exception.  Particularly noteworthy texts include Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney, which examines McCartney’s extensive life from birth until the present day.  Ken Sharp’s Starting Over: The Making of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy is an unprecedented look at the making of what would be Lennon’s final album; it serves as an oral history, with the musicians, engineers, producer, and Ono describing the making of the disc.  Don’t miss the long-awaited reissue of leading Beatles researcher Mark Lewisohn’s classic The Complete Beatles Chronicle: The Definitive Day-By-Day Guide to the Beatles’ Entire Career.  All serious fans should have this book in their libraries. 

Some authors tell their own story, especially if they worked for the group.  One example is Chris O’Dell, an assistant and tour manager for the most famous artists of the 1960s.  Her book, Miss O’Dell: Hard Days and Long Nights with The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton, details her often wild days in and out of the studio.  Among her interesting anecdotes: she sang in the chorus on “Hey Jude,” and inspired George Harrison’s song “Miss O’Dell,” the B-side to his single “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth).”  A useful reference book is Beatles Deeper Undercover,  Kristofer Engelhardt’s exhaustive discography of collaborations with other artists.   Many of the Beatles’ guest appearances on other musicians’ songs were either uncredited or listed under an alias, so this book serves as an essential tool for fans.  Another crucial reference book, Andy Babiuk’s work Beatles Gear was updated and reissued earlier this year.  View beautiful photographs of the Beatles’ instruments, and learn who owns these pieces of music history today.  Although somewhat difficult to find, the New York Times Historic Beatles Newspaper Compilation includes reproductions of every article the newspaper ran on the group, as they appeared in the original issues. 

Looking for a relatively inexpensive gift set?  Try the Fab Four FAQ Deluxe Set, which includes Fab Four FAQ (written by Robert Rodriguez and Stuart Shea) and Fab Four FAQ 2.0, Rodriguez’s thorough study of each Beatles’ solo years.  These books are packed with photos of memorabilia, discographies, and little-known anecdotes about their recordings and careers.  Serious scholars may like The Cambridge Companion to the Beatles, a collection of essays examining the Beatles’ influence on music and culture.  Finally, purchase The Beatles vs. The Stones: Sound Opinions on the Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Rivalry if you wish to inspire a spirited debate at the dinner table.  Read Glen Boyd’s article on Beatles books for even more gift suggestions.    

“Lend Me Your Ears and I’ll Sing You a Song”: The Music

What do Beatles fans love most?  The music, of course.  2010 brought reissues and, most recently, their debut on iTunes.  Lennon’s 70th birthday inspired the remastering of almost his entire catalog, overseen by Ono.  Each album can be purchased separately on CD or via iTunes.  In addition, Double Fantasy Stripped Down features a radical remixing of the Double Fantasy tapes, with much of the production removed to prominently highlight Lennon’s vocals.  For the casual or new fan, Power to the People: The Hits compiles 15 of his best-known tracks; an enhanced version offers not only the tracks, but a DVD containing video clips for each of the songs.  Still another compilation, Gimme Some Truth, groups Lennon’s most famous works into categories such as politics, love, and his earliest rock ‘n’ roll roots.  The four-CD set encompasses a great deal of his career, and may be an alternative to the pricier Signature Box set, discussed below. 

After announcing that his catalog would be remastered, McCartney released the first project, the Band on the Run Special Edition.  The three-disc set contains the remastered album, plus nine bonus tracks.  The third disc, a DVD, includes rare footage of the album cover photo shoot as well as the McCartneys during the album’s recording in Lagos.  A particular treat is the One Hand Clapping documentary, previously available only through bootlegs.  A Deluxe edition includes more material, which is explained below.   2010 Harrison releases include Collaborations, a four-disc set chronicling his work with friend and mentor Ravi Shankhar.  Earlier this year, Starr released his album Y Not, an enjoyable romp featuring guest artists Ben Harper and Joss Stone, among others.  A highlight of the album, “Walk with You” is a touching duet with McCartney, their harmonies reminiscent of their former group.

As for the entire group, the greatest hits collections, otherwise known as the “Red” and “Blue” albums, have been newly remastered, completing the The Beatlesremastered Beatles albums released last year.  1962-1966 (Red) and 1967-1970 (Blue) provide a good introduction for new fans and will be of interest to Beatles collectors who wish to own every album.  Now that the Fab Four have finally arrived on iTunes, listeners can purchase individual songs, entire albums, and even the 2009 remastered stereo box set (as of this writing, the mono box set is unavailable online).  Those who buy the box set will also receive a video of their 1964 Washington Coliseum show, a welcome bonus.  On a side note, everyone can view the film for free through iTunes until December 31, 2010.  For gift givers, it may be easiest to purchase an iTunes gift card for the Beatles fans on your list.  Not surprisingly, iTunes have designed limited edition gift cards featuring pictures of the group.  Simply visit the iTunes gift card site through your browser or iTunes software for more information.

Finally, collectors also like to acquire Apple Records releases.  The Beatles’ record label and company issued an impressive number of releases by established—and emerging—artists.  This is celebrated with  Come and Get It: The Best of Apple Records, which contains the essential, remastered singles from the label.  Remember such songs as Mary Hopkins’ “Those Were the Days,” James Taylor’s first version of “Carolina in My Mind,” Badfinger’s “Day After Day,” and Billy Preston’s gospel-tinged cover of Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”?  Rediscover those tracks—and perhaps learn about lesser-known songs—on this through collection.  For those who desire every album released on Apple, consider the Apple Records Box Set, described below. 

“Baby You’re a Rich Man”: The Splurges

What if the special person on your list already owns everything?  Unique Beatles gifts abound, so pamper your friends with these items, all priced over $55.

To celebrate 2009’s remastered Beatles albums, Jon Polk designed the Beatles Box of Vision, a lavish storage unit that featured a cloth-covered box, labeled sleeves for storing every album (not just the remastered ones), and a beautiful, full-color book reprinting all the albums’ original cover art.  Polk tops himself with 2010’s John Lennon Box of Vision, another visually stunning case for storing the entire Lennon catalog.  The set includes a cloth-covered box, the binder-like CD storage system (featuring a reproduction of Lennon’s “Baby Grand” drawing), an LP-size book reprinting every album’s original cover art, and the Catalography, a full-color discography accompanied by an essay from leading Beatles researcher Bruce Spizer.  A limited edition number adorns each box, and to complete the package, four blank CDs are included for fans to burn additional Lennon music or videos.  Lennon fans will appreciate this well-crafted, attractive storage system.

Want to provide the CDs to place in the Box of Vision?  Look no further than the John Lennon Signature Box, a deluxe tribute to the legend.  The entire remastered catalog is included, along with a two-CD collection entitled the Lennon Home Demos.  An accompanying 65-page book features new essays by Ono, Sean Lennon, and Julian Lennon.  Note that Double Fantasy Stripped Down is not included in this collection, and must be purchased separately.  If the gift recipient does not want the book and specially designed storage box, the Signature Box can also be purchased at iTunes for a lower cost. 

As previously mentioned, McCartney has released the Band on the Run The Beatlesremaster.  While the Band on the Run Special Edition contains two CDs and one DVD, the Deluxe Edition contains additional bonuses.  A 120-page, hardcover book contains many rare and previously unpublished photos, as well as reprints of the original cover art and singles sleeves.  This luxe package also grants access to downloadable, high-res versions of the remastered album and bonus tracks.  An additional disc contains a new McCartney interview, a full history of the album’s creation ,and expanded track information.  Finally, the deluxe edition offers a Band on the Run audio documentary, original produced for the Band on the Run 25th  Anniversary Edition.  McCartney fanatics are sure to enjoy these extra features, and will love hearing the classic album in state-of-the-art sound. 

Harrison fans have two thorough, lavishly packaged releases to choose from.  Audiophiles who claim that LPs still sound superior to CDs or MP3s will enjoy the All Things Must Pass 40th Anniversary Vinyl Box, a limited-edition set which replicates the album’s original three-LP configuration.  The original album art and poster are recreated, and the music was remastered at Abbey Road using the analog master tapes.  This package is currently sold out on Harrison’s website.

Remember the “supergroup” of the late 1980s, The Traveling Wilburys?  The band consisted of Harrison, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, and Roy Orbison, and scored raves both critically and commercially.  Relive those days in The Traveling Wilburys: The Collector Edition, a volume created by Genesis Publications.  Known for their limited-edition, finely crafted books, Genesis designed the work as a tribute to the group.  Only 3,000 copies will be printed, each signed by Lynne.  According to the Genesis website, “all copies in the edition are craftsman-bound in an Italian linen matched to the jacket Nelson Wilbury (aka George Harrison) wore in the video for ‘Handle With Care.'”  The package also includes a reprint of Harrison’s handwritten lyrics to “Handle with Care.” The Deluxe Edition is already sold out, so generous gift-givers will want to purchase the Collector Edition as soon as possible. 

Finally, the avid Beatles collector will cherish the Apple Records Box Set, which contains every album released on the Beatles’ label.  All remastered, the CDs include an impressive array of artists: Taylor, Badfinger, Preston, Hopkin, and the Modern Jazz Quartet, among others.  As an added bonus, the greatest hits collection Come and Get It: The Best of Apple Records compiles the best-known singles from the label.  A 16-page booklet details the history of the Beatles’ label and company, and the storage box replicates the original Apple Records crate.  While the label may have been short-lived, it issued a variety of interesting, timeless albums, and this package is a fitting tribute.  

To paraphrase the Beatles, money can’t buy you love, but it can buy a variety of wonderful gifts for the fans in your life.  No matter how much you choose to spend, the remasters, books, DVDs, and other presents are sure to please friends—and you may want to pick up some gifts for yourself, too!

This guide describes only 2010 releases; obviously many other Beatles-themed gifts exist.  For further recommendations—and more information on how to purchase these gifts—visit the Beatles’ official site, Harrison’s, Lennon’s, McCartney’s, and Starr’s official pages, The Fest for Beatles Fans, and the Fab Fourum’s Beatles Gift Guide (the weekly Fab Fourum podcast discusses new Beatles-related topics and interviews Beatles insiders—visit their site to hear episodes and subscribe.

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About Kit O'Toole

  • Karen Stoessel

    Wow Kit…you out did yourself! How does one keep track of all the comings and goings of all of the new Beatle extra’s??? You are truly the ultimate Beatle fan and a very organized one at that! That New Yorker publication intrigues me as well as the new Paul McCartney life story book. I’ll need to look into a few of these new publications as I was asked back to be a guest lecturer in the Beatles Class at Harper discussing how it was growing up with the Beatles! Thanks for helping me out! Happy Holidays!!!

  • http://www.kitotoole.com Kit O’Toole

    Thanks, Karen! Coming from a huge Beatles fan like yourself, your comment means a lot to me. As you can imagine (no pun intended), it took me a while to research this article–I already knew about most of the releases, but I had fellow fans send me a couple of good suggestions, too. How cool that you’re going to talk at Harper again–I’d love to see your presentation! Happy Holidays to you!

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/josh-hathaway Josh Hathaway

    Nice job of scouring all this, Kit. I’ve got my Box Of Vision and also added my remaster of Band On The Run. I’m pretty sure you know I have massive admiration for George but I’m not sure I’m going all in on the Collaborations box set. I’m thinking about it, though.