The Beatles – Past Masters Volumes One & Two

Flawless collection of Beatles rarities, all in the one convenient package

In the 1980’s, once EMI had reissued the original Beatles albums on CD, the question remained as to what to do with all the remaining tracks that were released separately as singles. The solution was as obvious as it was simple: compile all their non-LP recordings onto two discs, and, thanks to the digital age, this meant that just about everything could be compiled, including the songs from the Long Tall Sally EP, the original mix of “Across The Universe,” and even the two German sung tracks from 1964.

First issued as two separate CDs in 1988, in 2009, both albums were merged together as part of an exhaustive reissue program that oversaw the remastering of every Beatles LP both in mono and stereo.

Back in the early ‘60s, The Beatles tended to shy away from expressing their own personal feelings, and instead focus more on writing hit singles designed solely for the Pop charts. Hence songs such as “Love Me Do” (their first ever single from 1962), “She Loves You,” “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” and the harmony-rich “This Boy.” All of them classics to be sure – though written with one purpose only – to sell millions of records.

Apart from the odd rocker (“Long Tall Sally,” “Slow Down,” “Bad Boy,” “I’m Down” etc), by 1964/65, The Beatles were beginning to extend themselves a little more, most notably on “I Feel Fine” (with its use of electronic feedback), and “Yes It Is,” the B-side to “Ticket To Ride,” where George Harrison employs the use of a tone-pedal, otherwise known as a wah-wah.

But it’s not until we get to Volume Two that things truly get interesting. By the time of Rubber Soul and Revolver, The Beatles’ had seriously evolved as songwriters and musicians. “Day Tripper” and “We Can Work It Out” are prime examples of how Lennon and McCartney could churn out tunes that were instantly memorable on first listen.

“Paperback Writer” (b/w “Rain,” Lennon’s first ‘acid song’) saw The Beatles push Abbey Road Studios’ technology to its limits, thanks to a complex array of instrumental and vocal overdubs. The Beach Boys were so impressed that it compelled them to up the ante with “Good Vibrations” later that same year. “Lady Madonna,” recorded in February 1968, is a hybrid of ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll and British jazz, while its flip-side, Harrison’s India-inspired “The Inner Light” contains one of George’s most exquisite melodies, however due to Lennon and McCartney’s dominance, the song would remain a relatively obscure B-side until Past Masters came along.

McCartney’s “Hey Jude” (written for Lennon’s son Julian) proved to be another smash hit with the public, despite its length (seven minutes). Recorded over a mere two days, the band brought in a 36-piece orchestra (clearly by then money was no object), and went straight to number 1 on both sides of the Atlantic. In response, Lennon’s agnostic call to arms, “Revolution,” is one of the hardest, most electrifying songs The Beatles ever made, full of heavily distorted guitars and a tough as boots rhythm section.

There are two versions of “Get Back,” the one performed on the rooftop of Apple on 30th January 1969, and the one they recorded two days earlier in the studio. The former would ultimately appear on Let It Be, with the latter selected as a single. Lennon’s “Don’t Let Me Down,” recorded on the same day as “Get Back,” is a superb, near-impulsive ode to Yoko Ono, and speaking of which, John’s “The Ballad Of John And Yoko” is an autobiographical bit of storytelling, with John seeing himself as a sort of rock ‘n’ roll Christ figure whom the authorities wish to crucify. Incredibly, the song was recorded and mixed in under nine hours!

Harrison’s “Old Brown Shoe” is hardly the most remarkable of the guitarist’s compositions, rush-recorded in order to provide a B-side to “The Ballad Of John And Yoko.” Initial sessions for “Across The Universe” were made as far back as February 1968, before being completed in October 1969. Apparently Lennon woke up one night with the melody stuck in his head, writing down the lyrics soon afterwards. For some reason the band didn’t quite know what to do with it, and so the decision was made to donate it to The World Wildlife Fund, and included on the LP No One’s Gonna Change Our World.

“Let It Be” was the group’s last UK single, and though it found its way onto the LP of the same name (in heavily re-mixed form courtesy of Phil Spector), here we have the original mix as prepared by George Martin, sans Harrison’s braying guitar solo. Which is better, is no doubt up to the listener to decide.

The CD concludes with “You Know My Name (Look Up The Number),” a song whose origins dated back to The Magical Mystery Tour, then inexplicably discarded, only to be resurrected by Lennon in 1969, where overdubs were made during sessions for Abbey Road, and issued as the B-side to “Let It Be.”

Past Masters Vols I & II is an impeccable compendium by arguably the most important and influential pop-rock group ever to walk the earth. To record 12 albums in only 7 years is a remarkable achievement and a feat practically unthinkable today. Past Masters is a testament to The Beatles’ enduring brilliance. It is a legacy that will unlikely ever be surpassed.

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