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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Beatles: Anthology 3

THE BEATLES: ANTHOLOGY 3 (1968-1969; 1995)

CD I: 1) A Beginning; 2) Happiness Is A Warm Gun; 3) Helter Skelter; 4) Mean Mr Mustard; 5) Polythene Pam; 6) Glass Onion; 7) Junk; 8) Piggies; 9) Honey Pie; 10) Don't Pass Me By; 11) Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da; 12) Good Night; 13) Cry Baby Cry; 14) Blackbird; 15) Sexy Sadie; 16) While My Guitar Gently Weeps; 17) Hey Jude; 18) Not Guilty; 19) Mother Nature's Son; 20) Glass Onion; 21) Rocky Raccoon; 22) What's The New Mary-Jane; 23) Step Inside Love/Los Paranoias; 24) I'm So Tired; 25) I Will; 26) Why Don't We Do It In The Road; 27) Julia.
CD II: 1) I've Got A Feeling; 2) She Came In Through The Bathroom Window; 3) Dig A Pony; 4) Two Of Us; 5) For You Blue; 6) Teddy Boy; 7) Rip It Up/Shake Rattle And Roll/Blue Suede Shoes; 8) The Long And Winding Road; 9) Oh Darling; 10) All Things Must Pass; 11) Mailman Bring Me No More Blues; 12) Get Back; 13) Old Brown Shoe; 14) Octopus's Garden; 15) Maxwell's Silver Hammer; 16) Something; 17) Come Together; 18) Come And Get It; 19) Ain't She Sweet (Rehearsal); 20) Because; 21) Let It Be; 22) I Me Mine; 23) The End.

The journey ends here, much the same way as it started. No matter if we are dealing with the ten­se, but cooperative sessions for the White Album, or with the angry madhouse at Twickenham in early 1969, or with the final solemn ritual of completing the circle with Abbey Road, what we have here are nearly always bad — relatively bad, of course — work-in-progress versions of what would, in the end, become timeless masterpieces, regardless of the emotional states of their crea­tors at the time. Be it 1963 or 1969, the Beatles always chose the best take for the official record; no exceptions that I could be aware of.

However, one of the major bonuses of Anthology 3 is that it offers much more «new» stuff to the casual listener than the second volume — apparently, the 1968-69 sessions resulted in a larger number of canned outtakes than sessions for the previous years. Quite possibly, this had to do with the band members now working much more on their individual own than before — and con­sequently running far stronger risks of having their contributions vetoed by other members be­cause of not being «Beatlesworthy» enough.

So it is up to us to decide now whether John's ʽWhat's The New Mary Janeʼ, George's ʽNot Guil­tyʼ, or Paul's ʽStep Inside Love / Los Paranoiasʼ were rightly excluded from the official canon or cruelly wronged by being shelved for almost thirty long years. I would say that, all things consi­dered, the wait time should have been shorter, but also that I mostly agree with the vetoes.

ʽNot Guiltyʼ is often highlighted as a first-rate Harrison song that was abandoned much too easily, and should not have waited until 1979, when George finally decided to rework and release it on his eponymous album. But the vocal melody of the song is so seriously underwritten that «first-rate», as far as I can tell, is out of the question — it is hardly a coincidence that, when it came to emptying George's stunning backlog on All Things Must Pass, ʽNot Guiltyʼ was not seen fit for inclusion even without the vetoing block of his former colleagues. It's got a fine riff, some terrific guitar pyrotechnics in the largely instrumental coda, and primetime Harrison lyrics, but it defini­te­ly lacks that certain «something» — be it the transcendence of ʽWhile My Guitarʼ, the catchy humor of ʽPigsʼ, the subtle minimalism of ʽLong Long Longʼ, or even the outright whackiness of ʽSa­voy Truffleʼ. Good song, but if they gave all 5 to me and told me to exclude one, I'd have made the same choice as John and Paul. Did Ringo have a vote at all?..

Another «lost classic» is John's ʽWhat's The New Mary Janeʼ, one of his «nutty» numbers that indulges in the pleasure of going from simple absurdist piano-led music hall ditty (almost like a parody on something Paul could have done) to an alien world of spooky sound collages, like a blueprint for much of Amon Düül II's work on Tanz Der Lemminge three years later (or may­be not, but somehow that association did spring into my mind). When the final version of The Beatles was being assembled, the track was pulled in favor of ʽRevolution #9ʼ — a much longer piece that did not have any musical basis at all. Should ʽMary Janeʼ had taken its place? Years earlier, I would definitely have said yes; now I am not at all sure — no matter how absurdist and silly some of John's stuff might sound, ʽMary Janeʼ lacks «killer guts» where even ʽCry Baby Cryʼ has some. It's more of a musical joke fit for something like the second LP of John's own Sometime In New York City, where he was fooling around with the «Elephant Memory Band». A darn fine musical joke, though, and it's good to know that it has not been lost.

1968 and, most prominently, 1969 introduced plenty of tunes that later surfaced on the Beatles' solo albums — here, in particular, we have an attempt to record ʽTeddy Boyʼ (later included on McCartney) and George's ʽAll Things Must Passʼ (later included on, naturally, All Things Must Pass). The former was and remains kinda fluffy, if cute — and no, that's not «Paul in a nutshell», if you want to know — and the latter's potential remained half-hidden until Phil Spector came and laid a wall of ten million instruments on it. But the 1969 sessions also yielded lots of uninspired waste — there is no better way to understand the futility of the band's attempt at «getting back to its roots» than to listen to their perfunctory run through a medley of old rock'n'roll hits, performed with none of the enthusiasm or motivation that they had in the early Cavern days. And ʽMailman, Bring Me No More Blues?ʼ Really, that could have been done by anyone. The only small piece of true joy on Disc 2 is Paul's original demo of ʽCome And Get Itʼ — a nice song, generously dona­ted to Badfinger... who actually improved on it, since Badfinger were one of the very few bands to carry on the «original spirit» of the Beatles, whatever it was.

Elsewhere, it's the same old story. Vocal harmonies for ʽBecauseʼ without the instrumental track. Nice, but they were fairly well discernible with the instruments already. A raw take on ʽOctopus' Gardenʼ with George still fumbling and fussing around with the guitar solo, quite far from per­fection. ʽThe Long And Winding Roadʼ with Paul trying out a spoken rather than sung version of the bridge — what is this, Elvis time? An ʽOh! Darlingʼ tried out in an all-out comic mode — here, the bridge is crooned in a hilarious falsetto rather than screamed out at the top of one's lungs. Wind your way back to The White Album and everything stays mostly the same...

...probably with the exception of the original acoustic demo for ʽWhile My Guitar Gently Weepsʼ, which sounds like an entirely different song from what it eventually became — a meditative con­fessional, rather than a grand lament for the fate of mankind. Although its evolution was a bless­ing, it is still very pleasing to have the starting point as well: the major highlight of Anthology 3, with ʽMary Janeʼ, ʽNot Guiltyʼ, and ʽCome And Get Itʼ all coming in for the second spot in a tier that lags significantly behind.

It goes without saying that the historical value of all this stuff, as usual, is priceless. It is useful to know, after all, that the original line in ʽPiggiesʼ went "...clutching forks and knives to cut their pork chops" rather than the final "eat their bacon" — "bacon" fits the verbal flow better than "pork chops", even if it may make less sense (people do tend to eat pork chops rather than bacon for dinner, I guess). Or that the original version of ʽHappiness Is A Warm Gunʼ contained a direct lyri­cal reference to Yoko — who, as it seems, provided some inspiration for the song, a fact all Yoko-haters should keep in mind. Or a million or so similar observations that each of us can make by thoroughly studying these documents. One thing surely cannot be denied — studying the development of Beatles songs can actually be far more enjoyable than enjoying the final takes of  thousands of other bands. Think of the Anthology project from that angle, and it might take its proper respectable place in the band's regular discography some day.

Check "Anthology 3" (CD) on Amazon


  1. Wow, 'Not Guilty' is incredible, and I think that with just a bit of work it could have replaced a few of the songs on The White Album.
    Oh and there's an even longer version on youtube.

  2. The lyrics of Not Guilty are awful. Lines like "I'm not here to steal your vest" (what?) and especially "But like you heard me said" are just cringeworthy, lazy song writing. Sometimes odd phrasing appeals but not in this case. It just seems like he was rhyming words without much thought to the meaning. Plus I find George's whiny, poor-me songs to get very old very fast.

    I love all 3 anthologies, though, purely for the information they provide on how the Beatles worked through a song.

    -- Drew