Beatles bootlegs have been around for almost as long as the Beatles themselves. And like Jimi Hendrix, there is no shortage of people whose number one aspiration in life is to hear every single burp, fart, or bum note their heroes ever made, whether in the studio or otherwise. It must be said that at the time of their release in the 1990’s The Beatles Anthologies stirred a great deal of interest from both the media and the public. After all, the Fab Four were one of the most prolific and productive pop-rock outfits the world had known, or is ever likely to know. The question was, what hidden gems were left decaying in the vaults, unheard after all these decades; any genius compositions and/or previously undiscovered masterpieces thrown on the cutting room floor? Well, the answer to that is, not really. Anthology 3 is nothing more than a brilliant, and I do mean brilliant mixed-bag of outtakes, demos, and other rejects the band were no doubt wise not to release, something which will soon become apparent to the listener not long after he or she has pressed the play button.
Disc one is dominated by recordings that would ultimately make up The White Album, beginning with, appropriately “A Beginning”, an unreleased orchestral number composed by George Martin. Interesting, but it’s the sort of thing your average Beatles fan will tend to skip upon having heard it already. Lennon’s home demo of “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” is another intriguing performance, as do many of the ensuring tracks which follow, but hardly more than that. “Helter Skelter” plods along nicely enough, though never quite gels. “Junk” also written by McCartney has a beautiful melody, however like the majority of home recordings presented here (“Polythene Pam”, “Glass Onion”, “Mean Mr Mustard” etc) they tend to be little else than wobbly Polaroids of songwriters at play. It’s not until we get to “Ob-La Di, Ob-La-Da” that one’s musical antenna begins to rise, and proves that McCartney could have easily made a living out of writing ditties for children’s television programs.
Now if many of the songs included on The White Album resemble works in progress, versions of “Good Night”, “Cry Baby Cry”, and “Sexy Sadie” come across as more so. However “Blackbird” is as beautiful as ever, despite McCartney delivering a less than perfect vocal. And speaking of moving, ironically the most engaging moments are those made by George Harrison, whose delicate and understated “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is indeed one of the true highlights. As for the rest of what’s presented, there’s not a great deal going on that won’t have you remembering their more famous and polished incarnations.
The second CD covers the final period of the Beatles, namely Let It Be and Abbey Road, the last two albums they recorded before their dysfunctional breakup in late 1969. Once again most of this stuff consists of rehearsals and run-throughs, few if any deserve more than a second or third listen, no matter how charmingly absorbing as much of it might be. Exceptions include a tender “Two Of Us”, “For You Blue” (with Harrison on acoustic guitar), along with an extremely heart-felt solo rendition of “All Things Must Pass”, a song that would ultimately wind up as the title track of his first LP. Other highlights include an energetic “Get Back” from the fabled rooftop gig made at Apple headquarters on 30th January 1969; Harrison’s “Old Brown Shoe” (sans overdubs) as well as a rather sensitive demo of “Something” – a composition so good that not even Lennon or McCartney could ignore it. “Let It Be” and “I Be Mine” are as enjoyable as ever, and belie a band that was in reality in complete emotional disarray and on the verge of disintegrating.
What Anthology 3 proves is that not only were The Beatles brilliant and often inventive songwriters, they understood their craft well enough to know a great take from a less than great one. So what we are left with are those less than perfect moments the group itself decided to reject in favour of something approaching pure pop perfection. Take “The Long and Winding Road” for instance, now finally liberated from the shackles of Phil Spector’s production, which some describe as Heavenly, yet McCartney himself was never a fan of, is certainly worth repeated listens, as is much of this compilation, now that I come to think of it in reflection. Nonetheless, there’s a lot of mush – meaning that this one is for the historians and those who write for fanzines, who get a kick out of analysing every take and alternate mix of “Octopus’s Garden”. Still, I’m not complaining. At their most raw and candid, even after so many years, the band’s influence and continues to shine, as this document to their brilliance is undoubtedly aimed at illustrating.