May 15, 1996
The Beatles, Anthology II (Capitol 1996) - Anthology II is an easy choice for one of the top ten albums of 1996. No exaggeration. With 45 cuts and more two hours of Beatles music that has never been released before, Anthology II is a must-own, both for old and new fans.
And I say that as someone with great familiarity with The Beatles. I've listened to all of their albums countless times, and was still amazed and astounded by Anthology II.
Anthology II covers the period from 1965 through 1968, when The Beatles changed from mop top darlings to the most progressive studio band in the world. Perhaps the most progressive studio band ever. And the change was breath-taking.
In addition to one new track ("Real Love"), Anthology II features outtakes and demos of such songs as "Norwegian Wood," "I'm Only Sleeping," "The Fool on the Hill," and "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite."
Another outstanding track is "Good Morning, Good Morning," sans barnyard critters and roosters crowing. This track is stripped-down and presented as a hard-rock number, with Paul's energetic bass driving the song. It's a great recording, with a real edge.
Everyone who listens to this set seems to have a different favorite. One reviewer said that "Only a Northern Song" opened his eyes, while another said that "Across the Universe" showed him how great this song was. (But then I always knew it was great, based on John Lennon's assistance on the 1974 David Bowie cover that appeared on Young Americans).
What did I like? Well, the three-track sequence that shows the development of "Strawberry Fields Forever" is amazing, particularly the ending drum solo by Ringo. (And, while I can hear John say "cranberry sauce" in one place, I also hear "I buried Paul" quite clearly in another.)
I was also enthralled by the strings-only version of "Eleanor Rigby," a George Martin masterpiece. "Eleanor Rigby" shows one of the truly remarkable things about The Beatles: They helped us hear music in ways that we'd never heard it before.
For example, no one has ever heard a live double string quartet produce the kind of volume that's available when I play "Eleanor Rigby" on my stereo. It's just not possible. Listening to the strings-only version of "Eleanor Rigby" made me understand what went through Beethoven's mind when he lost his hearing, but still remembered the power of the string section.
In addition, I was dazzled by the version of "Yesterday" which features Paul's opening explanation of the chord structure. Paul makes it seem so easy; it must be genius.
Also featured are half a dozen live tracks, including "Ticket to Ride" and "Help!" While Ringo is excited by these tracks (he remembers that The Beatles were a rocking live band), I'd have left them out. On the other hand, some fans will find them of historical interest, particularly as they show the dramatic difference between The Beatles that we saw on the stage, and The Beatles who worked in the studio.
In the end, Anthology II is an indispensable addition to your collection, as it traces the development of The Beatles from Revolver through Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour. Nobody's ever been able to top Lennon & McCartney, and this material tracks show them at their strongest.
In fact, the somewhat primitive recording techniques used by The Beatles (they only had a four-track system) probably contributed to the power of many songs. Instead of slicing and dicing and endlessly recording the various tracks, the band was often forced to work in a live mode. And this led to better recordings.
Finally, the multi-media CD-Rom press kit is a joy onto itself. The CD-Rom features terrific graphics, insightful interview clips [and it seems like George Martin is still trying to figure out how the band created this incredible music, while Paul (the creator) understands: it just was], and incredibly detailed liner notes.
Capitol should sell this CD-Rom separately as an EP; it's perfectly made, easy to use, and chock full of information.
Some wits have described The Beatles Anthology set as a six-disc boxed set on the installment plan. (I have no idea what will be included on Anthology III, but you can expect out-takes from the roof-top concerts that resulted in Let It Be.) Anthology I sold big numbers, but disappointed fans who weren't interested in hearing The Quarrymen. Anthology II is a great set; too bad it wasn't released first.
And if you've been wondering why the release of Anthology II was delayed earlier this year, it's because Paul McCartney decided, at the last moment, to change the order of the songs on disc 1. Actually, all Paul did was move "I'm Down" up from track 6 to track 3. Reportedly, this change cost Paul at least $2 million (because Anthology II was pressed and ready for release when Paul made this change), but it saved Paul from the ignominy of not appearing as lead singer until the sixth song. Big deal? It was for Paul.
-- Randy Krbechek
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