Album Spotlight: The Beatles—Compilations

Once an artist hits it big, it’s only a matter of time before compilation albums of her or his work begin to be released: Greatest Hits, Best Of and the like. Since the Beatles were one of the most successful musical groups of all time, naturally EMI released a number of compilations.1 There are so many world wide that it would take a book to list all of them, but here I’ll touch on some of the most famous.

It didn’t take long after the band announced its dissolution before their manager, Allen Klein, began dreaming up ways to get more golden eggs out of the dead goose. The appearance of a pirate recording entitled Alpha Omega, which contained many of the Beatles’ singles and a few solo singles, spurred him and EMI on to release an official Best Of compilation. As there were far too many singles and popular album tracks to squeeze into a double album, two double albums were released in April 1973: The Beatles 1962-1966 and The Beatles 1967-1970. An outtake from the photo sessions for Please Please Me was used for the former, and a photo which had been taken six years later in the same location by the same photographer (Angus McBean), intended for the Get Back album, was used for the latter. The back covers included the other photo, showing buyers just how much the lads had changed over their career. 1962-1966 had a red border, and 1967-1970 a blue one. This led to fans tagging them as the Red Album and the Blue Album, to go with the earlier White Album.

The Beatles 1962-1966: Love Me Do (album version), Please Please Me, From Me To You, She Loves You, I Want To Hold Your Hand, All My Loving, Can’t Buy Me Love; A Hard Day’s Night, And I Love Her, Eight Days A Week, I Feel Fine, Ticket To Ride, Yesterday; Help!, You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away, We Can Work It Out, Day Tripper, Drive My Car, Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown); Nowhere Man, Michelle, In My Life, Girl, Paperback Writer, Eleanor Rigby, Yellow Submarine

The Beatles 1967-1970: Strawberry Fields Forever, Penny Lane, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, With A Little Help From My Friends [sic], Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, A Day In The Life, All You Need Is Love; I Am The Walrus, Hello Goodbye, The Fool On The Hill, Magical Mystery Tour, Lady Madonna, Hey Jude, Revolution; Back In The U.S.S.R., While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, Get Back (single version), Don’t Let Me Down, The Ballad Of John And Yoko, Old Brown Shoe; Here Comes The Sun, Come Together, Something, Octopus’s Garden, Let It Be (single version), Across The Universe (Let It Be version), The Long And Winding Road

The albums were well-received, although people argued with some of the choices. Personally, I would’ve included If I Fell and left off I Am The Walrus, just because it wasn’t popular.2 Another consideration is that three songs weren’t included which still were unavailable on an album (I’m Down, The Inner Light and You Know My Name (Look Up My Number)). Finally, Klein was in such a hurry to release these records that he didn’t bother to get stereo masters for I Want To Hold Your Hand, A Hard Day’s Night, I Feel Fine, Ticket To Ride, Penny Lane and Hello Goodbye before rushing them out.3

The Blue Album was my first Beatles record. I’d received a Sears gift certificate from my aunt or sister for Christmas and went there in 1975 or 19764. I remember being disappointed that they didn’t have the Red Album, and I worried about what was on the Blue Album since no songs were listed. As it turned out, I knew most of them, and I grew to love them even though I preferred the early songs. I got the Red Album sometime afterward, and the two together persuaded me to check out the Beatles’ catalog more fully. I’ve never been sorry.

Such was the success of the Red and Blue albums that Capitol/EMI quickly began thinking up new ways to rerelease their work. Rock ‘n’ Roll Music, a double album released in June 1976, was the first to include remixed tracks since George Martin was appalled at the sound quality of the early songs. It took a lot of flack for its cover, which was inspired by the Fifties more than the Sixties, and looked pretty cheap.

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Love Songs, a collection of ballads, followed in October 1977. Its cover was pseudo-leather and gold, with a rendition of a famous photograph from 1967 by Richard Avedon. Fans noted that Paul’s head was enlarged and moved into the center, and Ringo’s moved off to the side. A 28-page booklet of lyrics on parchment paper was also included.

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Other compilations which followed over the years included The Beatles’ Ballads (cover by John Byrne, which may have been the original concept for The Beatles back when it was A Doll’s House); the American Rarities, which was actually a useful album for fans, compiling rare mixes and songs not found on U.S. albums; Reel Music, a collection of film songs with a truly horrendous cover and an advance single which chopped together a bunch of songs in The Beatles Movie Medley, the only Beatles single which remains unreleased digitally; and 20 Greatest Hits, EMI’s first real attempt at a single-disc Greatest Hits collection. To get all the songs on, they had to edit Hey Jude down to 5:05.

Apart from the Past Masters albums which were released on CD, EMI left Greatest Hits repackaging alone until November 2000, when 1 was released. Due to the greater amount of time available on a CD—over seventy minutes as opposed to about forty-five for vinyl—the concept of putting all of the band’s Number One songs in the UK and the US on one record was finally possible. Of course, a few songs were left off which many felt should have been included, most notably Please Please Me (left out because of a technicality) and Strawberry Fields Forever, the flip side of the #1 Penny Lane. Still, as a greatest hits collection, 1 was a powerhouse.

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Love Me Do (album version), From Me To You, She Loves You, I Want To Hold Your Hand, Can’t Buy Me Love, A Hard Day’s Night, I Feel Fine, Eight Days A Week, Ticket To Ride, Help!, Yesterday, Day Tripper, We Can Work It Out, Paperback Writer, Yellow Submarine, Eleanor Rigby, Penny Lane, All You Need Is Love, Hello Goodbye, Lady Madonna, Hey Jude, Get Back (single version), The Ballad Of John And Yoko, Something, Come Together, Let It Be (single version), The Long And Winding Road

1 was a smash hit, to date selling over 31 million copies. It was also the best-selling record of the 2000-2009 decade worldwide. Since its release, the only new compilation of note was Tomorrow Never Knows, released July 2012 on iTunes only. Its emphasis was on rockers which were experimental and influential on other artists. It did moderately well, despite the hideous cover.

As long as Beatles records continue to sell, we will probably keep seeing new Beatles compilations. As a way of introducing new fans to the group, they serve a great purpose.