Album Spotlight: The Beatles—Anthology 1

The Beatles Anthology was years in the making, dating back to shortly after the group broke up. Their friend and roadie, Neil Aspinall, began compiling footage of the band for a documentary to be entitled The Long and Winding Road. Allegedly in 1980, John stated in a deposition against the producers of Beatlemania that he planned to reform the Beatles to perform for a finale for this film.1 After John’s death, the project was shelved until 1992, when it was revived and had its title changed to The Beatles Anthology, allegedly to placate George. Paul, George and Ringo all were interviewed and reunited to play a few cover songs, but that footage was only included in the bonus material included with the DVD release. George Martin also went into the vaults and came up with six CDs worth of unreleased material; Anthology 1 comprises the first two discs.

Anthology 1, released November 20th, 1995 to coincide with ABC’s airing of the Anthology, is of prime importance for dedicated Beatles fans. It contains many sessions of truly historical importance, such as their first recording session, their audition for Decca Records, their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, and the like. However, musically, it’s not that great. In their early days, the group barely showed the promise of what they were to become, partly because they played with musicians who weren’t as talented as they and partly because they weren’t all that talented yet. Also, the sound quality on most of these tracks is lower fidelity. While this is to be expected from older recordings, it doesn’t translate to as enjoyable a listening experience. This is probably why although this disc was the biggest seller of the Anthology series, it’s also the one which ends up most frequently at used record stores.

Before I start the review proper, though, I’d like to digress and say a bit about what this album meant to me. Apart from some bootlegs, I’d not experienced much of the Beatles’ outtakes. So I was extremely excited for this first brand-new Beatles album, the first I’d be buying on the date of its release. I remember going to a record store the night of November 19th, 1995, and standing around chatting with other fans while we waited for the album to go onsale at midnight. We got free T-shirts with The Beatles Anthology in black on a white background2, the store gave us free pizza, and there was a trivia contest which, alas, I didn’t win. (It may have been picked out of a hat; I can’t remember.) At midnight, I stood in line, bought my copy, ran home and instead of staying up all night to listen, forced myself to go to bed, getting perhaps 3 1/2 hours of sleep before my one-year-old son woke up and wanted his breakfast. I remember listening to the album as I fed him, my heart full. 

Free As A Bird: The first of two “new Beatles” recordings. Originally, Paul, George and Ringo were going to compose music for the soundtrack, something I still wish had happened. However, Yoko gave Paul a cassette tape of three or four songs that John had been working on and invited the group to use them as foundations for new tunes. With the assistance of Jeff Lynne (George Martin declined), the band overdubbed John’s half-finished piano demo with drums, bass, guitars, more piano and vocals. Lynne cleaned up the original recording as much as possible, but John’s voice still sounds distant compared to the other three. I don’t consider this the Beatles 3, but it’s a moving tune, and it’s the only one to feature John, Paul and George on lead vocal lines. The composing credit is given to the Beatles. I just wish George had played a straight lead guitar line instead of leaning into the slide guitar effects; it makes the tune sound more like ELO and less like the Fab Four.

Speech: John Lennon: As producer of this compilation, Martin elected to distract from the crude sound quality of most of the early material by including snippets of the Beatles discussing their history. Here, John talks about the ordinariness of the band, leading into their first recording.

That’ll Be The Day: This and the following track are the earliest known Beatle recordings, done at a local recording studio in spring or summer of 1958. The band was still called the Quarrymen, and consisted of John, Paul, and George on guitars, Colin Hanton on drums, and John “Duff” Lowe on piano. Taken from a 78 rpm shellac, it’s got some nice lead guitar and vocals, but nothing really special is happening yet. Just another bunch of teens trying to sing like their idols.

In Spite Of All The Danger: The only tune credited to McCartney/Harrison, mainly because they felt George should get composing credit for his guitar solo. Strangely enough, this was sung by John. It’s kind of a doo-wop number. Again, nice harmonies, but nothing world-breaking yet.

Speech: Paul McCartney: He talks about the reel to reel tapes the band made in the spring or summer of 1960, from which the next three songs come. They were now called the Beatles and had added Stu Sutcliffe on bass, but currently had no drummer.

Hallelujah, I Love Her So: A cover of the Ray Charles tune. Slightly better sound quality than the previous songs, but not much. Paul sings lead, and you can tell they’ve gotten better at their guitar playing.

You’ll Be Mine: A bizarre Lennon/McCartney tune with Paul singing lead and John providing a spoken interlude about a girl’s “National Health eyeball”. Just goofing around, really; not a lost gem. But it showcases their early humor nicely.

Cayenne: A McCartney instrumental with Stu on bass. This is actually pretty good. It’s a Spanish-type tune which is probably the best of the songs so far. Sutcliffe shows his limitations as a bass player here, sticking to one or two notes.

Speech: Paul: He discusses their early Hamburg recordings as a backing band for the singer Tony Sheridan. These were done around June 22nd, 1961. By this time Stu had left, Paul had just taken up the bass guitar, and Pete Best had been their drummer for about a year. The next three songs come from those sessions.4

My Bonnie: A cover of the boring old folk tune. Tony Sheridan sings lead and plays the guitar solo, but George plays the riffs throughout. Showcases the limitations of Best’s drumming quite nicely; the producer, Bert Kaempfert, actually took away his bass drum as he was playing it so badly. This was recorded in a school auditorium on a stage, by the way. For that, it’s not bad.

Ain’t She Sweet: John sings lead on this old number, using the Gene Vincent cover as his guide. Again, Pete’s limited drumming abilities really hurt. Paul plays a mean bass line considering that he’d only began playing bass a couple of months before. George’s guitar solo is only OK.

Cry For A Shadow: A Harrison/Lennon instrumental which came about when they were trying to learn the Shadows tune Man of Mystery from Rory Storm. The original title was Beatle Bop. For a tune which is just taking the piss out of the Shadows, it’s decent.

Speech: John: He talks about their manager, Brian Epstein.

Speech: Brian Epstein: Taken from recordings he had made for a proposed album of his autobiography (A Cellarful Of Noise). Brian talks about driving to London for their first label audition with Decca Records. The following five tunes are taken from that tape, recorded January 1st, 1962.

Searchin’: A cover of the Coasters tune. This is probably the best cover on the Decca audition tape; I suspect it was recorded late in the session, once the band had begun to relax a bit. Paul sings with authority, and even Best’s drumming doesn’t distract from the powerful performance.

Three Cool Cats: Another Coasters tune, with George singing lead. This really showcases the silliness the group could indulge in, with John and Paul singing asides. Their harmonies are also quite nice.

The Sheik of Araby: An old movie musical number, inspired by Joe Brown’s cover. Again, George sang lead (he always had a fondness for Joe Brown), with John and Paul chiming in with “Not arf!” at strategic intervals. It’s weird, but fun, and hardly a number to impress record executives.

Like Dreamers Do: One of three Lennon/McCartney originals. Paul sings with a weird tremor in his voice; he may have been nervous. Some good guitar work helps. This was the tune which inspired their first music publishing contract, which in turn secured them a record deal for a single with EMI, although no one knew it for that at the time.

Hello Little Girl: Another Lennon/McCartney tune, sung by John. (The third was Love of the Loved by Paul, not included here because it’s pretty bad.) This is probably the best of the three originals done here. Again, nice guitar riffs, but lousy drumming.

Speech: Brian Epstein: He talks about the failure of Decca to sign (for which we should all thank our lucky stars), and the band securing an audition (as they thought at the time) with EMI and George Martin. The next two tracks are from that session on June 6, 1962.

Besame Mucho: A cover of the Coasters’ cover. The band added the “Cha-cha-boom!”s themselves. It’s a fun rendition which they would return to while making Let It Be.

Love Me Do: Their first recording of the tune and the only recording with Pete Best drumming. His work, especially in the middle eight, was so terrible that Martin took Epstein aside afterwards and told him that they’d be using a studio drummer on future recordings. This is also the first time that Paul sang the “Love me do” line; previously John had taken it, but since he needed to play harmonica, Martin ordered Paul to sing it. You can hear the nervousness in his vocal. Not a very good rendition, overall, but the Powers That Be had declared that the Beatles be signed…so they were.

How Do You Do It: Written by Mitch Murray, a British Tin Pan Alley-type songwriter. John takes the lead vocal. Ringo, who had now joined the group, drums. Martin had heard a Number One hit in Murray’s demo, and thought the Beatles could do it well. They thought otherwise, but dutifully recorded the song when Martin insisted. It doesn’t suit them at all, and although it definitely had the sound for a hit record (by Gerry and the Pacemakers), they pushed hard for Love Me Do, recorded at the same session, instead. To his credit, Martin listened, and the Beatles’ How Do You Do It stayed in the can until 1995.

Please Please Me: An early version from their second recording session. Sadly, not the slow version of legend, but one close to the hit single. There’s no harmonica, and the spark of the final take isn’t quite there yet. Martin told them to work on it and bring it back later, and when they did, they recorded their first Number One.

One After 909 (False Starts)/One After 909: Recorded March 5, 1963, at the session for From Me To You. John and Paul sing a duet on this rendition of the song later revived for Let It Be. It’s slower, and a little too mannered for my taste. They sound far more relaxed on the 1969 take.

Lend Me Your Comb: Recorded at the BBC on July 2nd, 1963. The group made dozens of recordings for BBC radio from 1962 through 1965; in fact, they had their own show, Pop Go The Beatles! Often they made an effort while there to cover songs from their favorite artists, playing numbers that they’d featured in their early live shows. This tune by Carl Perkins, sung by John, was inadvertently left off of the 1994 compilation The Beatles Live at the BBC. Hence its inclusion here. (It also turned up on the sequel BBC compilation, On Air: Live at the BBC Volume 2.) A fun rendition of a great rockabilly number.

I’ll Get You: Recorded live at the London Palladium, October 19th, 1963. This was to the UK what appearing on the Ed Sullivan show was to the US. A rare live performance of She Loves You’s B-side, complete with screaming girls.

Speech: John: He talks about how great the Beatles were performing live. The next five tracks prove him right.

I Saw Her Standing There/From Me To You/Money (That’s What I Want)/You Really Got A Hold On Me/Roll Over Beethoven: Performed live for Sveriges Radio in Sweden on October 24, 1963. The group were touring there, and such was the love of Swedes for their music that they were given a 25 minute time slot and a special program (The Beatles, popgrupp fran Liverpool pa besok i Stockholm). Fired up by the enthusiasm of the audience, they turned out an excellent performance. The final three covers (Money, You Really Got A Hold On Me and Roll Over Beethoven) hadn’t even been recorded at EMI yet. It’s a fantastic peek at how marvelous the group could be live. (Similarly, the Swedish TV show Drop In, featured on the Anthology DVD, shows another marvelous performance with excited fans.)

Disc Two: She Loves You: This and the following two songs were recorded live at the Prince of Wales Theatre on November 4, 1963. The Beatles were appearing at the Royal Command Performance, playing for the Queen Mother and other nobles, in a performance televised a week later. At this point, the band had become Britain’s darlings, and they basked in the attention. Sonically it’s not high fidelity, but the band’s enthusiasm shines through.

Til There Was You: The classic from The Music Man. Paul introduces it as being from “our favorite American group, Sophie Tucker.”

Twist And Shout: The famous announcement by John: “Would the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And the rest of you, if you’ll just rattle your jewelry.” I love the orchestral rendition of the song after the Beatles finish and the curtain closes.

This Boy/I Want To Hold Your Hand: Performed live on The Morecambe and Wise Show, December 2nd, 1963. Morecambe and Wise were a British comedy duo with their own TV variety show. The band joined them in a comedy skit highlighted below.

Speech: Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise/Moonlight Bay: The interview of the band by the beloved comedians included Wise addressing Ringo as “Bongo”, mistaking the Beatles for the Kaye Sisters, and trading quips with George and John about their appearance and their youth. It’s hysterical, and shows the quick wit of the group (although it was probably scripted). They then don striped jackets and straw hats and join the duo for a rendition (backed by Kenny Powell on piano and Ringo’s drums) of the standard Moonlight Bay. Of course, Wise appears in a Beatle jacket and with a wig, shouting “Yeah yeah yeah”. It’s a classic. The TV recording appears on the Anthology DVD.

Can’t Buy Me Love: Take 2, recorded in Paris at the Pathe Marconi studios while touring (and while recording the German versions of I Want To Hold Your Hand and She Loves You). This was later overdubbed at EMI studios. Some interesting “Ooo” backing vocals from John and George, and a bluesy vocal by Paul. Rough, but good.

All My Loving: From The Ed Sullivan Show, performed live on February 9, 1964. This is where the glass ceiling separating the Beatles from US fame smashed to bits.

You Can’t Do That/And I Love Her: Early takes recorded on George’s 21st birthday. And I Love Her is more interesting, since it’s a different arrangement, with electric guitars and drums. The famous guitar riff isn’t quite there yet, either. Ultimately, the acoustic remake is much better.

A Hard Day’s Night: Take 1. The piano/guitar solo isn’t yet present; instead, George plays a rather weak guitar solo. All of the outtakes are unpolished, but have a lot of fun moments when lyrics are flubbed and jokes are made.

I Wanna Be Your Man/Long Tall Sally/Boys: Recorded for a TV special in April 1964, entitled Around The Beatles. They also did a great adaptation of a skit from Shakespeare which is sadly not included. At any rate, these are the original recordings, undubbed with applause and screams as they were in the special.

Shout: A cover for Around The Beatles which was never formally recorded by the band. It’s fantastic, with Paul, John, George and Ringo trading lead vocals. Unfortunately, for some bizarre reason, the people who assembled this album decided to CUT OUT a chunk of the middle of the song. It’s well done—I would never had known if I hadn’t heard the bootleg version—but it’s a tragedy.

I’ll Be Back (Take 2): Interesting because originally the group tried to do this in 3/4 time instead of 4/4, but gave up because, as John states, “It’s too hard to sing!”

I’ll Be Back (Take 3): Here they’ve gone to 4/4 time, and you can hear the improvement in the instrumentation and vocals. The final track is better, but the harmonies which are the jewel of the arrangement are in place.

You Know What To Do/No Reply (Demo): These tracks were recorded after a rehearsal session with Jimmy Nicol, the drummer who replaced Ringo on the 1964 Far East tour when Ringo came down with tonsillitis and had to be hospitalized. After Nicol had left, John, Paul and George recorded demos of three songs (sadly, It’s For You is not included). You Know What To Do is George’s second composition; this demo is the only known recording of the song. It’s not great, but even in this simple arrangement (guitar, bass and tambourine), I can almost hear what it would have sounded like as a full band number. No Reply is a much better song, and this demo was probably made for Tommy Quickly, an artist of Epstein’s who had planned to record a Lennon/McCartney number. Strangely, there’s a drummer present; I suspect it was Paul or perhaps Norman Smith, who I seem to remember drummed on Can’t Buy Me Love.

Mr. Moonlight: Takes 1 and 4. Take 1 stopped when John’s voice gave out on the opening line. This is a much better arrangement, and closer to the one they used to perform the song live. I’m still puzzled as to why they remade it with that horrible organ sound, or didn’t replace it with the following number.

Leave My Kitten Alone: Perhaps the most famous unreleased Beatles recording. A cover of the Little Willie John number, it’s a scorching rocker. Maybe the band and Martin felt it would be out of place on Beatles For Sale. It’s a mystery, since it’s far better than Mr. Moonlight in most fans’ eyes.

No Reply: Take 2. It’s good, but I can’t help but wonder why two versions of No Reply made this album and It’s For You was left off. 5

Eight Days A Week (False Starts): Showcases the original arrangement for the song. It was to open with falsetto “Ooo”s and an acoustic guitar strum.

Eight Days A Week: Take 5, with the “Ooo” opening. It’s pretty good, but the final version is better.

Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!: Take 1 was the released version, but they did attempt a second take, which is this one. It’s excellent, but not as good as the first time around.

The cover collage was assembled by Klaus Voormann, their friend from their Hamburg days who also did the cover for Revolver. Klaus replaced Pete Best’s head with Ringo’s (see the center of the photo to the right of Paul in leather), which caused some controversy. Best later used the torn-off corner showing his face for the cover of his album Haymans Green.

Mention should also be made of the Free As A Bird CD single released in December 1995. It contained three songs otherwise unavailable: take 9 of I Saw Her Standing There (with its count-in which was edited onto the released take 1 for Please Please Me), takes 12-13 of This Boy, and an edited version of Christmas Time Is Here Again from the 1967 Christmas recording. I Saw Her Standing There is quite good; it could’ve been the album version but for George’s tentative solo. This Boy is mostly good for a laugh, but John’s lead vocal is excellent. Christmas Time is a one-line riff, which is probably why it was edited from the over six minute original. It also contains some Christmas messages for fans.

To summarize: Anthology 1 is probably not for a casual Beatles fan, who would be better off listening to the tracks on Spotify and deciding which, if any, songs she should download. However, it’s a brilliant curation of their early days.




November 18: Anthology 2

December 9: Anthology 3

Sometime in December/January: The White Album

2019, TBD: Reviews of Live at the Hollywood Bowl, The Rutles, compilations (Red/Blue, etc.) and the BBC albums