Compiling The Beatles’ recording career across 22 singles, plus a new-to-vinyl double A-side 7″ that scoops up the Anthology-era ‘Threetles’ encore, this limited edition boxset has been remastered for vinyl at Abbey Road from the original mastertapes. Effectively, it’s the narrative arc of 60s British pop in microcosm – from the beat boom years through to the emergence of psychedelia and incorporation of World music influences to an eventual acceptance of classicist songwriting principles.
With a different tracklisting, Parlophone first issued a Beatles singles box way back in 1982, and on a purely practical level you can, of course, find the vast majority of this material via the 1 and Past Masters compilations. But that’s not really the point. This latest offering is a superior proposition thanks to the impeccable remastering work and the addition of Free As A Bird and Real Love.
With most of The Beatles’ original 1960s UK singles issued in desultory plain sleeves, Apple have looked elsewhere for design flair and given this collection an international flavour. From the Beatle wig illustration on the Austrian release of Can’t Buy Me Love to the garish pink Belgian sleeve for Help!, the wonderful Japanese imprint of Lady Madonna (its photo is from the video shoot for Strawberry Fields Forever, but we won’t quibble about that) and an evocative ink illustration of moustachioed Beatles on 1968’s Revolution, which declares Hey Jude to be the B-side, these faithfully reproduced picture sleeves are time capsules in themselves. Also included is a 40-page booklet boasting photos, ephemera and essays by Beatles historian Kevin Howlett.
And what of the music? Well, the hothouse conditions that The Beatles operated under means their development occurred at breakneck speed. The bare-bones likes of Love Me Do and Please Please Me are soon superseded by the earworm melodicism of I Feel Fine and no-holds-barred rock ’n’ roller She’s A Woman, the latter a much underrated vocal from McCartney. By Ticket To Ride, Ringo is confidently asserting himself and developing his own unique style behind the kit – you can hear every crunch and nuance on these remasters. Likewise, George’s unusual strangulated volume pedal additions to Yes It Is sound rich and full.
You won’t need us to tell you about the perfection of arguably the greatest double A-side single of all time, Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane, but perhaps the lesser-known delights at the dustier end of The Beatles’ back catalogue will now get more attention. Harrison’s bite-sized take on Indian mysticism works well on the pretty The Inner Light, the throwaway Old Brown Shoe is rather charming and Lennon’s self-referencing reportage style he explored more fully in his solo work gets an early airing on The Ballad Of John And Yoko. A clear contender for the silliest entry in The Beatles’ back catalogue, the Goons homage You Know My Name (Look Up The Number) is testament to the fact the band’s tongues were often not too far from their cheeks. Elsewhere, this is seriously good stuff.