Nostalgic look back on before The Beatles became world conquerors
So indelibly etched are The Beatles into the collective psyche of popular culture, that it would be almost impossible to imagine a world without them. Just as a world without Elvis would have seemed impossible to teenagers of the 1950’s and ‘60s, so too was The Beatles importance to many slightly older baby boomers, who were desperate for something, anything to distract them from the dull drudgery of everyday life, a distraction which came in the form of rock ‘n’ roll.
Anthology 1, as the title implies, was the first of three anthologies issued in the 1990’s, and documents the group’s humble beginnings from 1958 through to 1964, the year when Beatlemania was at its peak. Apart from “Free As A Bird,” the surviving members ode to John Lennon, some of Anthology’s minor treasures come in the form of acetates made by pre-Beatles The Quarry Men, most notable of which is the McCartney/Harrison tune “In Spite Of All The Danger” and Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be The Day.” However few of these recordings reveal much of what was to come just a few years later.
The rest of Anthology is a mix of live recordings, alternate takes, home demos, and between song banter, very little of which will probably make more than but a fleeting impression. “Ain’t She Sweet,” Hallelujah I Love Her So,” “Three Cool Cats” and “The Sheik Of Araby” (the last two with drummer Pete Best) are fun though ultimately forgettable pre and post adolescent excursions, while “Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me,” despite their promise, still lack the necessary spark that made the band so special in the first place.
It’s not until the listener gets to the second half that things really take off, with three tracks extracted from their November 1963 performance at London’s Prince of Wales Theatre, recordings made the following month for ATV Studios, and one, “All My Loving” from their February 1964 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Of main interest to fans will be a first take of “A Hard Days Night,” which doesn’t sound too different from the finished master (take 9), and other alternate takes of familiar material captured at EMI Studios (“Eight Days A Week,” “And I Love Her”), along with a rare never-before-released Harrison demo “You Know What To Do,” recorded 3rd June 1964. It was one of Harrison’s earliest compositions, yet for some reason never revisited (apparently Harrison couldn’t even remember writing it when the tape, thought lost, was eventually unearthed in 1993).
The group rip it up with live renditions of “Long Tall Sally” and “Shout,” from IBC TV’s 1964 Around the Beatles program, proving that they didn’t have to rely on the studio (or George Martin) to recreate that formidable raw energy seen and heard during their days at The Cavern.
Of course the song which attracted the most attention from both fans and the media was “Free As A Bird,” a unfinished song recorded by a solo Lennon in 1977, and given a modern posthumous revamp by Paul, George and Ringo. Jeff Lynne (ELO) was brought in for production, which means that much of it has an extremely dated ‘80s feel to it (especially the drums). That George Martin was overlooked as producer is strange, considering how much The Beatles owed him, not only for their unique sound, but sense of quality control in the studio. Yet the song is not without its virtues, and remains a touching elegy for their late friend.
Either way you look at it, Anthology 1 was destined to be the weaker of its two older siblings, which isn’t to say that there still isn’t much to enjoy over its two hours. Yes, few apart from Beatles obsessives (who probably own everything and more on bootleg anyway) are likely to revisit the majority of music presented here more than once or twice. But that shouldn’t detract from the overall sense of teenage exuberance, adventure and enthusiasm heard throughout its many tracks.