BY ELLIOT STEPHEN COHEN
OK…it was inevitable that Universal, which now owns all of all the Beatles master recordings, was going to release all of their original American albums on CD (the first time by anyone) to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the group’s revolutionary U.S. debut.
The reissues include all 13 American albums released from 1964's "Meet The Beatles" through "Revolver" in 1966 (plus the 1970 "Hey Jude" compilation).
As for the original American releases, until the epic 1967 "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," all Beatles American and British albums were very different.
The reason was obviously record company greed. The Beatles were the hottest recording act in the world, and Capitol Records, which originally refused to release their recordings, had an executive, Dave Dexter Jr., who oversaw The Beatles’ U.S. album releases.
So, while British albums had 13 or 14 tracks, minus the hit single that preceded it, the American ones were usually only 11 tracks, including the singles’ A & B sides. ("Yesterday and Today" actually featured six A's and B's).
The American "Hard Day's Night" album included only eight Beatles tracks, while "Help!" featured only seven. Both albums were padded with instrumental music from the film's soundtracks. While the former was actually acceptable, the latter was absolutely dreadful.
By doing the math, it's easy to see how Capitol was able to release more product (five albums in 1965 alone, plus the double documentary "The Beatles Story").
While The Beatles disapproved of the way their music was diced and sliced for the American market, they were powerless to stop it. They did try to show their displeasure by posing with cut-up raw meat for the cover of "Yesterday and Today." The original photo wasn't used, and became known as the infamous "Butcher Cover."
If the mixed-up, aborted song selection wasn't bad enough, Dexter did what would now be considered almost sacrilegious, adding reverb to some of their recordings like "I Feel Fine" and "She's A Woman," to make them sound more "American." However, to Dexter's credit, many people prefer his song selection for the U.S. "Rubber Soul," which led off with "I've Just Seen A Face." That was closer to the album's folk rock feel than the British album's opener "Drive My Car."
The 2009 box sets of all British Beatles albums presented the music in the format that they and producer George Martin intended. Also, the mono versions were the ones that both preferred. In fact, The Beatles didn't even show up for many of the stereo mixing sessions, as mono was the dominant format of the time.
These new U.S. reissues, while not the way they were envisioned, lets older fans relive the original albums as they remember them.
So, what do we have here? … No need to comment on the music. It's generally accepted that The Beatles produced in a relatively short recording career - less than eight years - the most important and influential music of the 20th Century.
Many fans have already complained that some of the mixes used on the CDs were actually taken from the very different-sounding British releases. Nevertheless - considering the first Beatles CDs released in 1987 were not remastered till then - it's great to have all of the Beatles’ American CDs - containing the stereo and mono versions on the same CD - unlike the British ones for which the mono versions have only been available on the very expensive boxsets.
As for the packaging, which features cardboard mini replicas of the original albums right down to the inner sleeves advertising Capitol's new releases (as well as a "Butcher Cover"!), it's far superior to the British stereo CDs which, like most CDs now, are packed so tightly in cheap cardboard covers that they usually tear or cause the CDs to be finger printed in an attempt to remove them.
All of the music still sounds great, even by contemporary standards, and will probably be viewed the same way in another 50 years.