Album Spotlight: The Beatles—Anthology 2

If the Anthology 1 album was of historic importance, Anthology 2 is far more interesting musically. However, it’s also padded quite a bit. There are two tracks that definitely don’t belong here, and a number of others are pretty but not earthshaking. On the other hand, there are many songs on the first disc which are either unreleased or genuinely different alternate versions, which help make up for the overstuffing.1

The overall sound of much of these recordings is acoustic. Particularly at the beginning, many of the tracks consist mostly of acoustic guitars and vocals. The result is like an “Unplugged Beatles”, which is nice, but can get a bit boring at times. The alternate recordings help make up for this, though.

Real Love: Like Free As A Bird, this is a demo of an unfinished song by John onto which Paul, George and Ringo overdubbed additional instruments and backing vocals. Jeff Lynne produced and cleaned up John’s original piano demo. I prefer this song to Free As A Bird because the original recording was more finished, but this does mean that the song credit is to John Lennon alone, and Paul and George don’t have lead vocals. Paul does duet with John throughout to strengthen his occasionally thin vocal line. It’s a gorgeous tune. After it was released as a single, the other three were astonished to learn that fans were already familiar with the tune, a guitar demo having been previously released on the 1988 soundtrack of Imagine: John Lennon. I love both versions.

Yes It Is: Take 2, with a guide vocal by John. As the liner notes state: “Because the take broke down it is completed here with a section (in newly remixed and edited form) from the master, Take 14”. Basically, they blended it with the original recording to finish it. I assume this was George Martin’s decision as he produced the Anthology series. This is not the only track to feature such crossfades and “outfakes”; that is, combinations of takes melded into a new version. I can understand why this was done in some instances, due to the need to fit everything onto a six disc set, but that doesn’t mean as a purist that I like it. Martin aimed this set at casual fans as well as hardcore Beatlemaniacs, but I don’t think he succeeded at drawing in the former and he pissed off the latter. But as far as the take goes, it’s an unassuming early version.

I’m Down: Apparently this CD was originally sequenced chronologically, but Paul insisted after hearing it that the predominately acoustic songs occurring all in a row was too dull, and so this rocker was moved to break up the set. This delayed the album release by a few months, much to the chagrin of waiting fans like me. Again, this is a decision aimed more at casual fans. 2 This is take 1, and sounds “pretty darn good”, as Paul says just before they begin. He also mentions “plastic soul” afterward, apparently discussing the Rolling Stones and other British groups’ versions of American soul songs. This, of course, was a precursor to the album title Rubber Soul.

You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away: Take 5, without flutes. John’s comment about Paul breaking a glass at the beginning is lovely. It’s a good version, but a bit rough.

If You’ve Got Trouble: A rocker penned by Lennon/McCartney for Ringo so he’d have a solo spot on Help! There are lines about diamond rings—for a while there, John and Paul had an obsession about those; see Can’t Buy Me Love and I Feel Fine. It doesn’t work, but I still kind of like it. The guitar riff is neat although clunky. I love Ringo’s desperate, “Ah, rock on, anybody!” This is another song which Geoff Emerick edited for the 1985 Sessions album (never released), so the complete take has never been issued.

That Means A Lot: Also intended for Help!, but they could never get it just right. It ended up being covered by P. J. Proby. Paul does his best, but it’s sort of a strange ballad. The “Can’t you see?” chorus underlines the themes in Tell Me What You See from the same album.

Yesterday: Take 1, without the violin quartet. It’s gorgeous. Paul discusses the chord changes with George Harrison before beginning, which makes me think that at this stage they were at least considering a group version. He transposes the lines “There’s a shadow hanging over me/I’m not half the man I used to be”, which is a neat change even if it was a mistake.

It’s Only Love: Take 2, with acoustic guitar, bass, drums and John’s vocal. It’s a nice “stripped” version.

I Feel Fine: This and the next three songs were recorded live for the British TV show Blackpool Night Out on August 1st, 1965. It’s a good performance, and they can be heard clearly despite the screaming fans in the background. I’m Down and Act Naturally were left off, but they can be found on the Anthology DVD.

Ticket To Ride: See above. It’s cut a bit short, as the band were wont to do when performing live.

Yesterday: Paul solo, with a prerecorded tape of violins playing with him.3 George introduces Paul saying “Opportunity Knocks”, which was a British talent show for TV. At the end, John gives Paul a bouquet, but the flowers come off leaving only the stems in Paul’s hand. He also says, “Thank you, Paul, that was just like him.” The audience reaction to Yesterday is interesting: they start out screaming, then drop out, giving an occasional shriek but mostly remaining quiet until the song’s over.

Help!: See above. John screws up the words. I don’t believe there’s a live performance of this song where he doesn’t get them wrong.

Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby: Live at Shea Stadium, August 15th, 1965. It was left out of the TV special due to time limitations, but it sounds pretty good considering the difficulties they had recording in a baseball stadium.

Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown): The original version, originally titled This Bird Has Flown. It sounds definitely more Eastern, with more sitar by George and finger cymbals and maracas by Ringo. It’s a bit too heavy on the sitar, which is probably why they remade it nine days later. Very spacey.

I’m Looking Through You: The original, bluesy version, without the “Why, tell me why….” middle eights. This is awesome, one of the best alternate versions which the group ever recorded. Where the remake is bitter, this is angry. It wouldn’t have fit well on Rubber Soul, but I’m glad it finally got released.

12-Bar Original: A rare instrumental recording. Perhaps it was considered as a title track for Rubber Soul. At any rate, this version was edited down to 2:54 from the original 6:36; and while I ranted above about altered takes, I’ve heard the full version, and this deserved to be cut down. They jam on twelve-bar blues without too much originality. George uses his tone pedal, and George Martin joins in on harmonium. It’s credited to Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starr.

Tomorrow Never Knows: Take 1, originally titled Mark I. After hearing Mark Lewisohn rave about this in The Beatles: Recording Sessions, I was expecting a heavy metal recording, but instead I got what sounds to me like a Nirvana demo with a washing machine in the background. Apparently the percussion is distorted, making the whooshing noises, and there’s a guitar riff which is looped which John sings to. He gets it wrong in a couple of spots toward the end, which may be why they abandoned it. It doesn’t have the tape loops, but it’s an amazing recording, anyway.

Got To Get You Into My Life: A significantly different arrangement based on an early take (5), with lots of starts and stops and an insistent organ note. Paul sings, “Got to get you into my life, somehow, someway”. John and George sing “I need your love” as backing vocals. It’s pretty cool. It reminds me of the Beach Boys failed single The Little Girl I Once Knew.

And Your Bird Can Sing: An alternate early arrangement, sounding very like the Byrds with the lead guitars. This take features John and Paul overdubbing additional vocals, or trying to; they very quickly break up into laughter, particularly Paul. It’s a fun take, but it would be neat to hear it without the laughing vocals someday. Maybe on the Revolver box.

Taxman: Take 11, which was soon “bounced” into take 12. This features different backing vocals (“Anybody got a bit of money?” instead of “Ah, ah, Mr. Wilson”) and a clean ending without Paul’s lead guitar solo edited on. Very nice.

Eleanor Rigby (Strings Only): Why? Why did they waste a track with this? IT’S NOT THE BEATLES. If I want to do karaoke, I’ll buy a machine. But it does sound beautiful.

I’m Only Sleeping (Rehearsal): This was almost wiped, which is why it is cut off at the beginning. It features a vibraphone, which is cool. It’s only a brief instrumental, but it’s lovely.

I’m Only Sleeping (Take 1): Apparently John wasn’t quite satisfied with the version which became the album take, because he and Paul recorded this acoustic version two days later. Again, cool unplugged Beatles, but it’s not better than the released take.

Rock And Roll Music: This and the next song were recorded live on June 30th, 1966, at the Nippon Budokan Hall in Tokyo. This was from the evening show, which is an improvement over the afternoon show. Apparently the group was shocked at how rusty they were when they realized that they could actually hear themselves playing at this venue, and pulled themselves together a bit for the evening performance. It’s still pretty dire.

She’s A Woman: See above. Paul seemed to be the most enthusiastic about live performing; you can hear it in his voice. Soon, however, this would end, and the band would become a purely studio group.

Disc Two: Strawberry Fields Forever (Demo Sequence): These are two demos edited together, recorded by John in November 1966, sometime between the 7th and the 24th when the Beatles reentered the studio. He tries an acoustic guitar with fingerpicking first, but soon gives up, saying, “I canna do it.” The electric guitar demo is longer and more satisfying, although it’s a shame more of the acoustic wasn’t included.

Strawberry Fields Forever (Take 1): A beautiful arrangement which would have made a fine single, but John wasn’t satisfied with it. Of note is that this version does not include backing vocals which were recorded for the third verse; the take included on the Sgt. Pepper Super Deluxe Edition does include these vocals. It sounds great either way.

Strawberry Fields Forever (Take 7 & Edit Piece): The first portion of this take ended up as the beginning of the final mix, with a 23-second verse removed. I think I prefer it a bit to the final version. Grafted onto the end are sections from edit pieces recorded on December 9th, 1966, including wild drumming by Ringo and John’s utterance of the phrase “Cranberry sauce”.4 At least Martin didn’t try to hide these edits.

Penny Lane: This is basically a remixed version of the final take with different elements brought out to be heard more clearly. Paul’s vocal is single-tracked, and the middle section highlights the cor anglais and trumpet overdubs. We also hear the “suitable ending” that occured after the final piccolo trumpet riff. Interesting, and an unusual approach compared to the rest of the Anthology tracks.

A Day In The Life: An “outfake” of the type discussed earlier. This combines the intro speech from take 1 with the bulk of take 2, along with a mono mix which was an overdub to take 6. It ends not with the final piano chord but with conversation of Paul discussing the orchestral overdubbing. This still annoys me. Martin could have chosen the original, “humming” ending, but no; instead we have this anticlimatic and dull speech. The Frankensteinian result isn’t bad, and again, I see what Martin was trying to do; but I prefer the sequence of takes from the Sgt. Pepper Super Deluxe Edition.

Good Morning Good Morning: The final take without the horns and special effects. It’s awesome, and really makes me think that Sgt. Pepper might have been just as amazing without all the outside musicians. Kicks ass.

Only A Northern Song: Take 3 (the basis of the final version) with unused vocal overdubs from take 12 flown in. This is the first time this tune was released in stereo, which is nice. Some of the lyrics differ.

Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite! (Takes 1 & 2)/Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite! (Take 7): The first two takes are mostly conversation. Take 7 formed the basis for the master take. You can hear George Martin at the beginning; he also played the harmonium. It’s crossfaded with the organ and calliope effects tape so that you can hear the psychedelia more clearly.

Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds: A collage of takes 6, the tamboura from take 7, and the chorus vocals from take 8 which was a reduction of take 7. In other words, a mutt. It sounds nice enough, but it’s fake recording history if you don’t read the notes.

Within You Without You (Instrumental): See my comments on Eleanor Rigby. NOT THE BEATLES. Doesn’t belong here. But, again, at least it sounds lovely.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise): Take 5 (the master was take 9). It rocks.

You Know My Name (Look Up The Number): The most maddening moment on this album. This is an almost complete version of the track which John Lennon edited down for the single, with new sections included and in stereo. It’s fantastic (well, from a historic point of view) right until the point where THEY CUT OUT A PORTION OF THE ORIGINAL SINGLE. Why? WHY?? Apparently because George Harrison didn’t like this number and insisted it be shortened. This maddened me so much that I used GarageBand to edit the two recordings together to get a “complete” version, albeit partly in mono. Oh, and they also faded it early. Grr.

I Am The Walrus: Take 16, the basic track before the strings, choir and effects were overdubbed. It rocks. It sounds like a John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band outtake.

The Fool On The Hill (Demo): Paul and his piano, with lyrics not yet complete. Beautiful.

Your Mother Should Know: The group attempted a remake of this song, but it didn’t work, so they went back to the original for the released version. This one has a snare drum arrangement which is rather bizarre.

The Fool On The Hill (Take 4): Take 4, the basis for the final recording. This was before the recorder and Paul’s final lead vocal were taped. He still hadn’t finished the words yet. I have to wonder why on earth this was included; it’s not that different from the released version.

Hello, Goodbye: Take 16, without many of the final overdubs. Not radically different.

Lady Madonna: Another compilation of takes 3 and 4. I would rather have had their backing vocals with them crunching Marmite crisps.

Across The Universe: Take 2, never before released. This is gorgeous. It’s one of my top two versions of this song. The guitar sounds like an autoharp.

Once again, there was a CD single of Real Love released along with this album which included three bonus tracks.

Baby’s In Black: Live at the Hollywood Bowl. The spoken intro is from August 29th, and the song itself from August 30th. I love this song, and this is a marvelous live version. It was also released on the recent reissue of Live At The Hollywood Bowl CD as a bonus track with the August 30th spoken introduction.

Yellow Submarine: A remix of the master emphasizing the sound effects, coupled with the originally planned introduction. Ringo chants about marching from Land O’Groats “to free the day” while marching feet sound behind him. Really cool.

Here, There And Everywhere: Take 7 with Paul’s guide vocal, with a remix of the vocal harmonies overdubbed at the end. Sounds lovely, but I still wish they’d left the original takes alone.

The cover is a continuation of the collage created by Klaus Voormann. If you put all three CDs alongside each other, you can see where they connect. (I actually own three posters which I caged from a record store which includes a bicycle underneath and some rusty leaking pipes. I got Klaus to autograph one of them at a Beatles con.)

Although a bit padded, Anthology 2 is much more musically satisfying than the first album, and is well worth your time and money. If you don’t like the idea of artificial outfakes, then at least pick up the Rubber Soul/Revolver era alternates on iTunes.