THE BEATLES: ANTHOLOGY 2 (1965-1967; 1995)
CD I: 1) 1) Real Love; 2) Yes It Is; 3) I'm Down; 4) You've Got To Hide Your Love Away; 5) If You've Got Trouble; 6) That Means A Lot; 7) Yesterday; 8) It's Only Love; 9) I Feel Fine; 10) Ticket To Ride; 11) Yesterday; 12) Help!; 13) Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby; 14) Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown); 15) I'm Looking Through You; 16) 12-Bar Original; 17) Tomorrow Never Knows; 18) Got To Get You Into My Life; 19) And Your Bird Can Sing; 20) Taxman; 21) Eleanor Rigby (strings only); 22) I'm Only Sleeping (Rehearsal); 23) I'm Only Sleeping (Take 1); 24) Rock And Roll Music; 25) She's A Woman.
CD II: 1) Strawberry Fields Forever (demo); 2) Strawberry Fields Forever (take 1); 3) Strawberry Fields Forever (take 7 and edit piece); 4) Penny Lane; 5) A Day In The Life; 6) Good Morning Good Morning; 7) Only A Northern Song; 8) Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite-1; 9) Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite-2; 10) Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds; 11) Within You Without You (instrumental); 12) Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (reprise); 13) You Know My Name (Look Up The Number); 14) I Am The Walrus; 15) The Fool On The Hill (demo); 16) Your Mother Should Know; 17) The Fool On The Hill (take 4); 18) Hello Goodbye; 19) Lady Madonna; 20) Across The Universe.
I am not much of a bootleg guy, but it did so happen, accidentally, that I heard John's early demo for ʽReal Loveʼ (not for ʽFree As A Birdʼ, though) way before the remaining Beatles started working on it, and I distinctly remember thinking — «that melody is quite gorgeous, really, I wonder how it would sound on a Beatles record». Well, as it turns out, it does not sound way better than the barebones original on a Beatles record — mainly because the Beatles record is really a Jeff Lynne / John Lennon record with accidental Beatles participation (George throws in one of his tasty slide solos).
But because there is no McCartney bridge; because John's vocals and, most importantly, John's words come through more clearly than on ʽFree As A Birdʼ; finally, because the song was not quite as heavily advertised as «New Beatles material in twenty-five years!» — because of all these things, ʽReal Loveʼ comes through as just a caring tribute to John's memory, and, unlike ʽFree As A Birdʼ, it never fails to bring a sentimental tear to my eye while playing. And, in fact, as a final post-scriptum to the Beatles' legacy, it works better than ʽFree As A Birdʼ — where they turned ʽFree As A Birdʼ into a sort of metaphorical meditation on the band's fate and legacy itself, ʽReal Loveʼ, on the contrary, is not self-centered, but is instead a message to the world, the simple, but effective kind, the Beatles kind — "no need to be afraid, it's just real love" hits with the same intonations as "don't carry the world upon your shoulders", despite coming from John rather than Paul. Well, after all, the love for Love was one thing that united both.
It's all too bad that ʽReal Loveʼ has to introduce what I still view as the weakest, «sagging-est» of the three Anthology packages. Spanning the «magical metamorphosis» years of 1965-67, these 2 CDs neither give the listener an impressive number of previously unheard titles (no matter whether good or bad), nor reward him with enough fleshed-out alternate takes to start thinking about «an alternate White Album» or something. Instead, in order to fill out space, we have to sit through some really superfluous tracks, such as the Stack-o-Tracks-influenced strings-only arrangement of ʽEleanor Rigbyʼ or, even worse, the voiceless arrangement of ʽWithin You Without Youʼ (why? why? all of these sitars and sarods were quite perfectly audible with George's voice, thank you very much).
These are just the extremes; more often are the situations where you just end up with «non-final mixes», genuinely painful to listen to «for pleasure». It gets particularly unbearable on Disc 2, where, for instance, we are offered to sit through an ʽI Am The Walrusʼ without the strings and the noise overdubs — had Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne heard that mix, there would have been no Electric Light Orchestra for sure. Or a ʽLucy In The Sky With Diamondsʼ without the keyboards. Or an ʽA Day In The Lifeʼ without the orchestral crescendos. Uh... yeah, there was a time — a short time — when these songs really were that naked. Are we supposed to understand that the general public should think of these early takes and demos as «alternate approaches»? They just sound like naked demos, nothing more. They're still great, but who would be interested in tasting a chocolate cake without the chocolate? Only the baker, perhaps.
Altogether, we get three songs that we never knew before from the Beatles (not counting ʽReal Loveʼ), and one of them isn't even a song: "12-Bar Original", recorded in late 1965, is the Beatles trying to be Booker T & The MGs for a few minutes (the unedited take on bootleg records actually goes over six of them) — long enough for us to understand why the Beatles so quickly decided to leave the 12-bar blues business to the Rolling Stones. (Not that there weren't a lot of 12-bar blues bands back then who were quite happy with this kind of technical and imaginative levels, but that's why the Beatles are number one and most of those bands are forgotten). ʽIf You've Got Troubleʼ is a Lennon/McCartney composition that they gave to Ringo, but were so horrified with the results that they quickly retired the silly number and replaced it with ʽAct Naturallyʼ. Only ʽThat Means A Lotʼ, later donated to P. J. Proby, has a fine, Beatles-worthy middle eight, but otherwise, as Ian McDonald rightly pointed out, is (possibly a subconscious) melodic re-write of ʽTicket To Rideʼ — and whoever heard of the Beatles humiliating themselves with remaking earlier material?
The live performances on the first disc continue Anthology 1's trend of convincing the listener that the Beatles were, in fact, a very good live band when they could hear themselves — tracks 9-12, recorded at the relatively small ABC Theatre in Blackpool, are excellent, including a historical moment: the introduction of ʽYesterdayʼ to the general public. (In the movie, the look upon Paul's face as John presents him with a large bouquet of flowers during the applause is absolutely priceless, as is George's sneery introductory remark of "...and so, for Paul McCartney of Liverpool, opportunity knocks!"). But, of course, the perfunctory performances of ʽRock And Roll Musicʼ and ʽShe's A Womanʼ from the June 30, 1966 Tokyo concert, coming straight off the Revolver sessions, clearly show how far ahead the band was in its studio flight — and why they decided to cancel further live appearances.
But ahead or not, Anthology 2 does a good job of showing just how many bad ideas the Beatles could go through before settling on the good ones. Notice how awful the sitar sounds during the bridge sections of ʽNorwegian Woodʼ? Good lads, they took it out. Doesn't the sharp «rocking» guitar sound out of place in the chorus of the otherwise mild-folksy ʽI'm Looking Through Youʼ? You'll find it gone for good in the final version. Doesn't this take on ʽTomorrow Never Knowsʼ, with its straightforward, de-funkified drumming, seem like lazy stoner rock? By the time of the final takes and overdubs, it would turn into a psychedelic ocean. Don't the woodwind / brass solos on ʽPenny Laneʼ sound chaotic and extraneous compared to the rest of the piece? How marvelous it was for them to finally settle on that little sad/triumphant note mix of the piccolo trumpet. Isn't that acoustic guitar rhythm on take 4 of ʽFool On The Hillʼ unable to convey the required atmosphere of sadness that Paul's original piano melody provides so well? And so on, and on, and on...
One might get a kick, perhaps, from the full (extended) version of ʽYou Know My Nameʼ (I am not sure; six minutes of silliness seem a bit too long), but everything else on the second disc only has this «positive through negative» effect — I definitely urge every aspiring songwriter to study the evolution of these songs, because, really, there is nothing wrong with perfectionism, no matter how much the simplistic perception of «indie culture» tries to convince the aspiring songwriter otherwise. As a historical piece, Anthology 2 is priceless (except that it will only whet any credible historian's appetite for more), but do not make the mistake of trying to «enjoy» it. If the Beatles never released their original songs this way, they obviously never wanted you to «enjoy» them this way. Well, at least, not until three of them got old, mellow, and generously forgiving of their own mistakes and blueprints.
PS. One track I do like a lot is the «Giggle Version» of ʽAnd Your Bird Can Singʼ, if only because it is a mean mean feat to see the band able to carry the tune so well when they are literally falling over their feet with laughter from the very beginning. Be careful, it's infectious.