Album Spotlight: The Beatles—Anthology 3

 

Compared to the first two albums in the series, Anthology 3 came off as an afterthought, a somewhat limp finish to the collection. It lacked the brand-new “Beatles” song which opened the first two records, and while EMI promised a surprise ending…well, you shall hear how well that succeeded. Still, it contains many great tracks and gave fans their first official taste of the Esher demos (more about which in my White Album review) and the Get Back/Let It Be sessions.

Disc 1, consisting completely of White Album demos and outtakes, is the stronger of the two and perhaps the most consistent of all six discs in the series. Sadly, Disc 2 is much weaker because of the Get Back sessions, which were musically lackadasical. The Abbey Road outtakes help pull it up, fortunately. Chronological order, played with in Anthology 2, was ignored whenever convenient here.

A Beginning: Composed by George Martin as an intro to Don’t Pass Me By; you can hear it in that capacity on the Super Deluxe White Album. It’s an orchestral piece which sounds a lot like an outtake from Martin’s work for Yellow Submarine. Pretty, but a real letdown compared to Free As A Bird or Real Love.1

Happiness Is A Warm Gun: The first Esher demo, and one of my favorites. It’s really just the “I need a fix” segment, not the entire song, but it’s spooky and gorgeous. John throws in a couple of mentions of Yoko, and complains at the beginning when he flubs the chording.2

Helter Skelter: Take 2, edited down to a little under five minutes from twelve-plus. This is the best way to hear this slow blues jam which features either John or George hitting the same note over and over on the bass while Ringo pounds the drums in union. It’s really not an earth-shaking rendition.

Mean Mr. Mustard: This and the following five tracks are Esher demos. All are basically double-tracked acoustic guitars and vocals, with occasional nonsense blathering from John on his songs. This version features “sister Shirley” instead of Pam, as they hadn’t yet thought of the Abbey Road medley. All of these demos are fantastic, although I prefer John’s to the others.

Polythene Pam: Rocks just as hard as the album version. Includes an extra verse.

Glass Onion: This is basically just the first verse about Strawberry Fields. Evidently John hadn’t quite finished his lyrics yet. Still, it’s got a lovely shimmering finish to it which the album version lacks.

Junk: Pretty much the same as Paul’s recording from the McCartney album. This began life with the title of Jubilee.

Piggies: A nice demo of George’s song. It substitutes pork chops for bacon, and doesn’t include the extra verse (neither does the album version) which George resurrected for his live performances in Japan with Eric Clapton.

Honey Pie: The last Esher demo included here. It’s fun to hear this on an acoustic guitar instead of piano.

Don’t Pass Me By: An outfake of takes 3 and the vocal from take 5. There’s no fiddle on this version, and the drums are a lot more aggressive.

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da: The first version of the song, with three saxophones and conga drums. After all that work, Paul decided he didn’t like it, and they did a remake with John on piano. This one is quieter and more acoustic, and doesn’t flub the lyrics in the final verse.

Good Night: An early rehearsal with just Ringo and George Martin on piano. It’s crossfaded into the orchestral score from the final version, because the ending wasn’t polished. I’ve ranted before about glossing over things like this and not releasing unedited takes, so I shan’t do it again.3

Cry Baby Cry: Take 1. A great song, and this is a good version even if it wasn’t quite there yet.

Blackbird: Take 4, with the verse and chorus order reversed. See my comments above.

Sexy Sadie: Take 6, with the ending faded out. This is a bluesier version than the final one, and slower. Rough, but good.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps: Take 1 of George on acoustic guitar and Paul playing organ. It features a final verse unused on the album take. Absolutely gorgeous, and I wish it had ended up on the White Album. For years it was thought to be the sole take, but a second take was discovered and used on the Super Deluxe White Album (not quite as good, but this is relative).

Hey Jude: An early take recorded at EMI before the Beatles went to Trident to do the master. They sound like they’re having fun. I’ve yet to hear a bad version of this song.

Not Guilty: One of two White Album outtakes, later rerecorded in an acoustic arrangement by George for his 1979 album George Harrison. This version is heavy rock, and took 102 takes (most of which were breakdowns) due to the complicated time changes. I love it, particularly the guitar solos overdubbed at the end. Unfortunately, part of the second verse was cut out by Geoff Emerick when he compiled this track for the aborted 1985 Sessions album. The Super Deluxe White Album contains the full recording, but leaves off some of the guitar overdubs, which is a crying shame.

Mother Nature’s Son: Take 2, without the overdubs. It’s lovely. Paul on his own once again.

Glass Onion: A mono mix of the original arrangement, with sound effects at the end which sound very peculiar; apart from that, they don’t shed any light on the lyrics. When George Martin returned from his vacation, he suggested a string arrangement instead.

Rocky Raccoon: Take 8, full of flubbed lyrics, laughing and silliness. I love it. The same take (!!! WHY??) was used on the SDE White Album, but it went on a bit longer and gives Rocky a happier ending.

What’s The New Mary Jane: The other, infamous White Album outtake, hated by many Beatles fans due to its freeform nature. This is the version which was intended for a single release by the Plastic Ono Band and never happened. John, Yoko and George start quietly with an almost singsong piano/acoustic guitar backing and head into a psychedelic jam session at the end. I hated it the first time I heard it, but now I think it’s great. Certainly different.

Step Inside Love/Los Paranoias: While recording I Will with John and Ringo on percussion, Paul kept jamming on other tunes, including Can You Take Me Back, the bit just before Revolution 9 on the White Album. This is a medley of a tune he wrote for Cilla Black and a silly jam, edited down. The full version is on the SDE White Album.

I’m So Tired: An amalgamation of three different takes “that embraces all the best moments”, according to Mark Lewisohn’s liner notes. Yeah, OK. It’s good.

I Will: Take 1. This was never my favorite White Album song, but if it’s yours, you’ll probably like this a lot. It’s nice.

Why Don’t We Do It In The Road: An acoustic guitar take (4) which has Paul’s voice alternating between quiet and strident. See most of my remarks on the previous track.

Julia: John practicing his guitar playing and talking to Paul in the control room. A beautiful song, and I’m glad that he decided to fingerpick it rather than strum it. The final White Album recording.

Disc Two: I’ve Got A Feeling: This is where the un-Spectorized outtakes from the Get Back/Let It Be sessions begin. Many of them are quite good, actually; this is most  likely because the best takes from the Apple studio recording sessions were chosen rather than the Twickenham outtakes. I like this performance of a song which is not one of the Beatles’ strongest.

She Came In Through The Bathroom Window: From the first day of the Apple sessions; this, unfortunately, just drags. It’s taken slowly and as a result seems to take forever to finish.

Dig A Pony: Also from the first day of Apple sessions. Ragged, but it’s nice to hear the inclusion of the “All I want is you” vocals.

Two Of Us: A very nice alternate version. I love Paul’s “Take it, Phil” to John, indicating the Everly Brothers harmonies which predominate the tune.

For You Blue: Good alternate take, with John on slide guitar, interestingly enough. (He also played it on the album.)

Teddy Boy: A mashup of two different takes, with bad guitar feedback and a bored John Lennon breaking into a square-dance call midway through. The version on McCartney is much better.

Rip It Up/Shake, Rattle and Roll/Blue Suede Shoes: A great portion of a jam filmed for Let It Be. If they had done an entire album of covers like this, it probably would be given a lot more respect today.

The Long and Winding Road: The “naked” take of the song which Spector overdubbed for the Let It Be album. Although John’s bass playing is weak (and that’s charitable), this version is my favorite of the myriad ones available.4

Oh! Darling: Another “let’s slow this down to a crawl” version of a number later recorded for Abbey Road. I do like John’s comments about Yoko’s divorce at the end.

All Things Must Pass: One of three demos which George recorded on his birthday, February 25th, 1969. They’re all fantastic, with overdubbed guitar parts and tender vocals. Never released by the Beatles, but it was the title track of Harrison’s first true solo album.

Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues: A chopped-up and edited version of a jam done during the Let It Be sessions. It’s a cover of a Buddy Holly cover, with John singing lead. Too brief, alas.

Get Back: The very last live performance by the Beatles, from Apple’s rooftop on January 30th, 1969. The guitars cut out at the beginning because the cops had showed up and pulled the plugs; George can be seen in the film turning his amp back up once it was restored. A spirited version, with Paul ad-libbing about the police arresting Loretta for playing on the rooftops. Of course, they weren’t arrested.

Old Brown Shoe: The second of George’s demos. He plays piano on this as well, a wonderful version of the song.

Octopus’s Garden: Take 2, with Ringo playing drums and singing a guide vocal. His comment at the end was taken from take 8, but it’s charming, so I’ll allow it.

Maxwell’s Silver Hammer: Take 5, with a very rough guide vocal from Paul. He obviously hadn’t ironed out all the words yet, or had forgotten them. A nice basic version.

Something: The final George demo. It includes a counter-melody verse which was not included in the studio take, which seems a pity. The best of his demos.

Come Together: Take 1, with a live vocal from John, who since he wasn’t playing guitar clapped his hands and then played tambourine. A solid basic version.

Come And Get It: Paul’s demo for Badfinger, recorded in an hour complete with piano, drums, bass and vocals all done solo. They almost didn’t include this on this album because it wasn’t “the Beatles”. Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed.5 It shows how closely Badfinger stuck to the demo arrangement, per Paul’s (the producer) instructions.

Ain’t She Sweet: Part of a three-song Gene Vincent jam. I wish they’d included the entire thing. This is a much better take than the one from Anthology 1, done during the Tony Sheridan album sessions.

Because: The vocal tracks only, remixed to showcase the nine-part harmony. Exquisite. I’m certain it was included because it had been widely bootlegged.

Let It Be: More like a demo than an outtake, with Paul solo on piano. Some great comments from John added from a later session.

I Me Mine: Paul, George and Ringo recording the final Beatles number. This is the original 1:34 version, expanded by Spector for Let It Be. George’s lyrical comments on the atmosphere during the time say all you need to know about those sessions.

The End: A remix emphasizing guitar solos which were mixed out of the album version, probably because they obscure Ringo’s drum solo. The orchestral overdub is also brought forward. For whatever bizarre reason, it ends with a backwards and then forwards piano chord from A Day In The Life—hence the “surprise ending” that we were promised. My response: Yuck.

Released October 28th, 1996. The cover completed the collage done by Klaus Voorman for each album. If you squint, you can see an updated photo of him in George’s hair right below his signature and John’s mouth.

Anthology 3 is a fairly solid album, and I prefer it to Anthology 2, although it has fewer outtakes of consequence. The series as a whole, although padded (I would’ve made it a four-disc set), provides marvelous insights into the Beatles’ career as both a live and a studio band.