Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Beatles - 2

So, everybody's talking about the Beatles today because of the release of The Beatles: Rock Band (which my wife says is on its way from Amazon) and their remastered CD catalogue. While the remastered CD catalogue is tempting, I already own everything in it in non-remastered form, and it's not $180 tempting to my non-audiophile ears. Anyway, the Beatles are going to be acquiring a lot of new fans soon, so my mind wanders back to the always-fun parlor game of figuring out how to re-compile the Beatles' catalogue.

This parlor game is engaging because there's such a long history behind it. Capitol Records famously "butchered" the Beatles' releases through 1966 by rearranging (and remastering) the tracks from the Beatles' original British releases into shorter albums that also made room for the hit singles left off of the LPs in the British market. Since the Beatles broke up in 1970, record companies have opened up the archives and repackaged already-available material every few years, often making a lot of money in the process. Recently, the mid-90s Anthology series sent three double CD collections of decades-old material to the top of the charts, and the greatest-hits album 1 became the best-selling album of 2000 worldwide.

I thought the success of 1 provided an obvious opportunity for a followup that never materialized, which I'll call 2. The compilers of 1 went the high-concept route and simply presented all 27 songs that hit #1 on the charts in either the US or the UK. That approach avoids the inevitable arguments about what to include, but the Beatles' catalogue is so rich that I think there's easily enough strong material to make a superb second volume of greatest hits.

The track list here would be a lot more subjective, but there are several singles that would be absolute no-brainers to include, like "Strawberry Fields Forever" or "Revolution." Plus some albums --- Sgt. Pepper, for example --- had no singles released from them, so they're completely absent from 1. One list to start with would be the 27 tracks from the 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 compilations that didn't land on 1 (and which would conveniently result in a 77:12 CD). But it would be no fun to just do that, and regardless, I'm still puzzled why they decided to put "Old Brown Shoe" on 1967-1970.

Keeping in mind that this would be for the casual listener interested in getting deeper into the Beatles' catalogue without shelling out for all 13 albums (plus Past Masters), and keeping it to 27 tracks for simplicity's sake (I'm not going to total up the run times), here's what I would put on my theoretical 2 compilation:
1. I Saw Her Standing There* (from Please Please Me)
2. Please Please Me (Please Please Me)
3. Twist and Shout* (Please Please Me)
4. All My Loving (With the Beatles)
5. And I Love Her (A Hard Day's Night)
6. No Reply* (Beatles for Sale)
7. I'm Down* (B-side to "Help"!)
8. You've Got to Hide Your Love Away (Help!)
9. Drive My Car (Rubber Soul)
10. Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) (Rubber Soul)
11. Nowhere Man (Rubber Soul)
12. Michelle (Rubber Soul)
13. In My Life (Rubber Soul)
14. Taxman* (Revolver)
15. Strawberry Fields Forever (double-A-sided single with "Penny Lane," later on Magical Mystery Tour)
16. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Sgt. Pepper)
17. With a Little Help from My Friends (Sgt. Pepper)
18. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (Sgt. Pepper)
19. A Day in the Life (Sgt. Pepper)
20. I Am the Walrus (Magical Mystery Tour)
21. Revolution (double-A-sided single with "Hey Jude")
22. Back in the U.S.S.R. (White Album)
23. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (White Album)
24. While My Guitar Gently Weeps (White Album)
25. Birthday* (White Album)
26. Here Comes the Sun (Abbey Road)
27. Across the Universe (Let it Be)

I hope that would fit on one CD. The tracks marked with asterisks weren't on the 1962-1966 or 1967-1970 compilations. These take the place of, from those compilations, "Girl," "The Fool on the Hill," "Magical Mystery Tour," "Don't Let Me Down," "Old Brown Shoe," and "Octopus's Garden." I know, it's heavy on certain albums (especially Rubber Soul), but that's partially due to what made it onto 1.

So what do you think? Do my selections make sense? Would a casual listener get a good feel for what the Beatles were about if they had this and 1? Am I just imagining that "I'm Down" was a popular song, or was its awareness only at a level commensurate with other Beatles B-sides of the era?

UPDATE (9/10/09): I'm thinking maybe I'd drop "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," "I'm Down," and "Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da" and replace them with "If I Fell," "Blackbird," and "Helter Skelter." Maybe. Just a thought. UPDATE (9/11/09): Or maybe "Roll Over Beethoven."

UPDATE (9/11/09): Okay, I went ahead and totaled up the run times. If this site is to be believed, then my original listing of 27 songs runs 80:03, too long for a CD. But if you replace the two Help!-era songs and "Ob-la-di Ob-la-da" with "Roll Over Beethoven," "If I Fell," and "Blackbird," you get 79:38, which should fit on a high-density CD as long as the gaps between the songs are negligible.