"So 'With The Beatles' took you by sur-pri-ise…. "Only kidding! I'm not really going to do a full-on pastiche of John Lennon's 1971 skewering of Paul McCartney -- even though Bruce Spizer's latest screed does invite such a response.
First of all, anyone who has attended a Beatles fan convention hosted by me over the past five years knows how highly I rate Bruce Spizer's scholarship as an author who has chronicled the American record releases of the Beatles. He knows more about those configurations than any other author I've read.But to quote a legendary American literary figure Ken Kesey (author of "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" and incidentally the man whose mid-60's exploits loosely inspired "Magical Mystery Tour") Bruce knows WHERE it is - but he doesn't really know WHAT it is…
These spirited exchanges between us through the marvelous forum of the Abbeyrd website have been reminiscent of the infamous back-and-forth that occurred between Lennon and McCartney in the British music press in 1971. The denouement of those exchanges of course was Lennon's biting "How Do You Sleep?" I promise not to let it get that far!
But Bruce has taken my last essay a little too seriously. And way too personally. Sometimes B.S. is just B.S…
Ultimately he misses the main point. No one disputes the natural yearning of American baby-boomers to hear things the way they once heard them. It's utterly natural.
But as painful as it is for Bruce and other flat-earthers to admit -- what Americans first heard was an ACCIDENT. Not even an accident of nature. It was an accident of COMMERCE.The artist that they profess to respect and cherish did NOT want their recordings heard in this way. Neither the Beatles nor their illustrious producer wanted these things. They didn't want or sanction these running orders. They were created by an American record executive whose taste and suitability for the task can best be gauged by the fact that on no less than four previous occasions he had turned down signing the Beatles to Capitol.
They didn't want or sanction the addition of artificial echo and reverb on certain tracks.They didn't want or sanction the creation of artificial "duo-phonic" stereo on certain tracks.
They didn't want or sanction the dropping of tracks to enable Capitol to make more money by having less tracks on each album. And thus have the opportunity to issue more so-called "albums" to sell to fans.
They didn't want or sanction the placement of cheesy sales blurbs such as "The First Album by England's Phenomenal Pop Combo" and "Electrifying Big-Beat Performances!" on the main album artworks (as opposed to being placed on a removable sticker). The Beatles had not resorted to such clumsy hype even when they were total unknowns in the UK.
(Robert Freeman's classy album photo and design for "With the Beatles" looked elegant and iconic in its original usage. It did not gain by having a line of hype that belonged on a strip-mall billboard.)
They didn't want or sanction Capitol Records' decision to remove George Martin's official credit of "producer" of the Beatles recordings that were reconfigured to make "Meet The Beatles" and "The Beatles' Second Album."
They didn't want or sanction Capitol Records executive Dave Dexter's decision to insert his own name alongside George Martin as a producer "in the USA" of the Beatles recordings that comprised "Something New" and "The Beatles '65"
The outrageous credit that Dexter conjured up so that he could bathe in George Martin's glory read: "Produced in England by George Martin and in the USA with the assistance of Dave Dexter Jr."
It is not possible to describe in words how deeply wounded George Martin was by his producer credit being stricken from the first two Capitol releases -- and how incensed he was by Dexter glomming his name onto the producer credits for the third and fourth Capitol releases.
How can I make this more clear?
Let's take as an example the great movie "Casablanca."
Just imagine that when it was first released in Britain -- there were some changes made. A guy who happens to work at the British film distributor is of the opinion that some of the scenes aren't in the most logical sequence. He also thinks that it would be interesting if some of the black & white scenes had some sepia toning added for effect. He also doesn't like the sound of the voice and piano when Dooley Wilson sings "As Time Goes By" -- so he adds a little echo to the soundtrack.
He switches the scenes around, adds the sepia, some echo - and he completely re-designs the poster art for the movie. And for good measure the executive replaces legendary director Michael Cutiz's name with his own as the "English Director." He even re-titles the film. ("Meet The Casablancans"!!!)
That new "Anglicized" version is released in Britain. Millions of British fans see the film that way. We see it at the movies, on TV and even on a primitive VHS release.
We get to know the film that way -- and we love it. Why wouldn't we? The script is still there, the acting is still great - and since we hadn't seen the original - how were we to know that the scenes don't follow the sequence the writers and director intended. The sepia scenes? Great -- such a cute effect. The echo during "As Time Goes By"? Fabulous - it sounds just perfect.
We have fallen in love with something DESPITE it being tampered with - because the original elements are so wonderful. We are blissfully unaware that it is not what the director intended.
Then finally comes the time for the film to be issued on DVD.
To our surprise and disappointment -- Warner Bros. in America decides to issue one standardized version of the film -- the original. The AMERICAN version. The scenes in the familiar sequence we knew them? Reversed and now 'out-of-order' (as we would think.) The sepia scenes we loved? Gone - and now all in boring old black and white. The echo effect on Dooley Wilson's voice and piano - Gone. It's now very flat-sounding.
We start howling in protest. "Give us OUR version of the film! The way we first saw it and loved it!"
But it would be quite appalling if Warner Bros. in the US gave in to that request from aging British fans. Especially if the company had announced at the outset of the first DVD edition that they would never issue the bastardized UK version. (Just as Apple announced in 1986 that they were going to standardize the Beatles catalogue to the original UK configurations - with minor tweaks as logistically essential - and never release the 1960's US configurations fashioned by Capitol.)
It would be unnatural if we didn't yearn to see it again how we first saw it. That is human nature.
And sure we Brits liked our version of "Casablanca" the way we first saw it - even when you Americans tell us that it was wrong that way.
But that is where we have to balance two separate things:
Our understandable nostalgia for something we remember.
And respect for the original intentions of the artist.
I don't lack understanding of the powerful yearning of human nature for the old and familiar. But I have an even greater belief that ultimately we owe the most respect to the original artist.
And in the light of that -- the only OFFICIAL releases in a new high-quality media should always be the artist's ORIGINAL work. Unless the artist themselves wish to revisit the work. e.g. the "Let It Be Naked" project so dear to Paul's heart.
There are several ways to assuage the desires of those who yearn for the sentimental pleasures of experiencing the work as they first (albeit mistakenly) experienced it.
1) Listen to the original vinyl albums.
2) Listen to the 1970's cassette versions.
3) Transfer the vinyl or cassette to home-made CDs.
4) Using the now easily-available technology - recreate the audio effect of the tracks on a home computer.
5) If the sequencing is the big thing - make up a new CD or tape at home drawing from the official CDs and home mixes.
We have iPods and CD changers to help us too.
There is only one way in which these duophonic mixes, echo-laden tracks and hastily dashed-off stereo mixes should ever be officially released. And that would be in a configuration that HAS existed in the Beatles world before - namely as a series of "Rarities" albums. A way to gather up these various accidents of commerce and misadventure that did (however wrongly) get released into the marketplace at one time or other.
A set of these mixes as "Rarities" would have been acceptable. I've even got a title for it. We could call it the "Capitol Botch Set"! (Relax. I'm just teasing again!)
Incidentally it wasn't just George Martin and Brian Epstein who eschewed the idea of putting hit singles on albums. This was a mainstream policy throughout the UK industry in the 1960's. The single and the album were two distinctly different 'art-forms' in those days. The Beatles consciously wrote and recorded songs that they WANTED to have released as singles. They put out an average of 4 new singles a year. And with a few carefully-reasoned exceptions - they went out of their way to avoid duplicating tracks on singles and albums. It was thought to be ripping off the fans to make them buy the same song twice.
In the case of their two major feature films -- they released as singles the title songs that were also on the soundtrack albums. But until "Revolver" - when they released "Yellow Submarine" and "Eleanor Rigby" as a double A-side single -- they made a great effort to NOT place fans in the position of having to buy the same songs twice.
Look at singles that they issued close to the same time as albums - and yet INTENTIONALLY left off those albums. "I Want To Hold Your Hand" would have lifted "With The Beatles." "I Feel Fine" would have definitely improved "Beatles For Sale." Either "Day Tripper" or "We Can Work It Out" surely would have enhanced "Rubber Soul." "Paperback Writer" would have been a treat on "Revolver". But though they COULD have placed those songs on those respective albums if they had truly wanted to - they just didn't. They considered these choices - and rejected them.
I cannot say this too often. We Beatles fans owe total respect to the Beatles and George Martin. Their original intentions were crystal clear. And we should honor them.
You certainly don't need to take my word for it. There are endless quotes from the Beatles and George Martin over the years referring to what they did and why.
Ringo even offers a brand-new quote in the latest edition of Rolling Stone magazine: "America had that crazy way of only putting ten tracks [on a record] and they always ended up with extras. And then suddenly we'd have some new album in America."
"Suddenly we'd have some new album in America"…. Hardly a ringing endorsement of those Capitol albums from Ringo. And pardon me - I believe he was in the Beatles…
For what it's worth -- Rolling Stone also asked me as a Beatles scholar for my opinion - and I'm very proud to have been quoted alongside Ringo. Here's part of my quote about this misbegotten CD release:
"Ultimately it indulges American baby-boomers, who are in effect saying, 'I remember first seeing the Mona Lisa with five inches of grime on it -- so I'd like to see it that way again.'"
As many other fans have noted there are far more important works for Apple to be focused on. A re-mastering of the entire CD catalogue. The "Hollywood Bowl" album. "Help!" "Magical Mystery Tour" "Let It Be" and "Shea Stadium" on DVD. Not to mention all the promotional films.
This box set of the "Capitol Configurations" (they were never true albums as such) is a pointless detour -- especially given the wealth of important work to the core catalogue that is waiting to be done.
This is not the first aberration to the Beatles catalogue we've seen in recent years -- but it is the most cynical and least essential.
Still, things will return to normal. Bruce Spizer will continue to write and enthusiastically promote his excellent books, which I urge everyone to buy. I will continue to strongly stand up for us fans respecting the integrity of what the Beatles and George Martin originally created.
America, the land that I love so much that I have made it my home, will continue to bemuse the rest of the world (especially Britain, which is the country, let us not forget - from whence the Beatles came!) with its insistence that whatever it wants it must ALWAYS have - even when it's wrong… (Ah! the hubris of a comparatively young nation… How we love it though.)
And my good friend Bruce Spizer, will eventually get over his "American albums right or wrong" posture (after all I'm glad to say that Bruce is no George W. Bush!), and will return to normal.
I will accept Bruce's challenge to listen to the Capitol "Albums," and look forward to receiving the wager of a box of Krispy Kreme donuts, which for reasons of carbohydrates I will donate to the nearest thin person. I'm sure I will get some guilty pleasure from listening to a few stereo mixes. But like Krispy Kreme donuts and other fast food, these will be EMPTY calories. I prefer to get my nutrition from a sensible diet of British Parlophone releases -- as prepared by Sir George Martin.
So finally - how DOES Bruce Spizer sleep at night? I'm sure he sleeps very well. After all -- he must have learned SOMETHING in all those years!
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