For being the biggest band of all time, the Beatles’ discography can be surprisingly labyrinthine the deeper you go. Sure, there’s the classic later albums – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The White Album, Abbey Road, you know the drill and if you don’t you really should.
But for their earlier, poppier work, The Beatles received quite different treatments in Britain and in America, with different album titles and contents depending on what side of the Atlantic you hailed from. Singles were often kept separate from albums in the UK (hence CD collections like Past Masters Volumes 1 and 2), but in the U.S. they were included on the albums proper.
When the Beatles catalog was released on CD back in 1987, though, the “British” versions were taken as the gospel to standardize releases, and U.S.-only albums like Beatles VI were deleted from the catalog. Until now, when Capitol Records continues their reissue series with the four-CD box set The Capitol Albums Vol. 2, out today, featuring the debut on CD of American albums The Early Beatles Beatles VI, the Help! soundtrack, and Rubber Soul. Each album has been remastered from original tapes with excellent results, and features many Beatles classics on stereo on CD for the first time, such as “Twist and Shout” and “Please, Please Me.”
The 2004 set Capitol Albums Vol. 1 cleaned up the Beatles’ earliest releases, but to my mind, this new set really starts to get into the golden material. The Capitol Albums Vol. 2 nicely marks the line between Beatles as teen idols and Beatles as truly monumental songwriters. Rubber Soul, included here, is the first in a series of albums continuing with Revolver that set the Beatles legend in stone. Astoundingly, all four albums here were released in the U.S. in 1965. Imagine four albums by The Beatles in one year, nearly every song a gem!
The differences here are mostly in track sequencing, rearranging songs included on other collections. Rubber Soul here, for instance, kicks off with “I’ve Just Seen A Face” rather than “Drive My Car,” which gives the album a radically different feel from the start. The Help! soundtrack is reconfigured by adding several of George Martin’s instrumental movie songs and deleting several Beatles tracks – which means completists will likely still want the separate “British” CD version. See how confusing this can get?
The set is aimed more at audiophiles and Beatle-maniacs, featuring each song twice in both stereo and mono versions. But the sound quality alone makes it worth a listen. The stereo remixes are amazingly sharp, making fans feel all that more distraught that the rest of the aged 1980s CD releases still haven’t been remastered for wider consumption. If an early Lennon/McCartney trifle like “Baby It’s You” sounds crisper, clearer, and filled with more details than it has on CD until now, imagine what “Strawberry Fields Forever” will sound like when it finally gets remastered. It’s astonishing that hearing most of the Beatles’ work today on CD, we’re still stuck with 20-year-old CD technology. This set gives a peek at the future.
Each of the discs in The Capitol Albums Vol. 2 are slipped into a miniature replica of the album’s cover, and the set includes a 60-page booklet of rare photos and press clippings. Unfortunately, Billboard magazine reports a slight manufacturing error in the first pressing of the set – the original mono masters from Beatles VI and Rubber Soul weren’t included. To get technical, the label reports step-down masters were used instead of the mono masters ordered by the label. Apparently there’s no discernible difference in sound quality, but the change is being made to future pressings to ensure historical accuracy. So if you’ve got to have the Beatles’ 1965 CDs exactly like they were meant to be, keep that in mind and wait for this to be corrected. Everyone else, get ready to get fab all over again.