Friday, July 15, 2011
The Beatles: Alpha Omega
Artist: The Beatles
Title: Alpha Omega
Format: LP (X4)
Label: Audio Tape Inc.
Hello readers. Sorry it's been a while, but I've been very busy and took a while to get through listening to to this one. I've heard all of these songs a million times before, but in the spirit of the project, I thought I ought to play them all anyway.
I love the Beatles, always. But for whatever reason, maybe because it was the summer of my 16th year that I first got really invested in the Beatles and rock music more generally, the Beatles always sound best to me in the summer. There will be a lot of Beatles reviews on this blog before I'm done with it, but this one is by far the most expansive of the Beatles' recordings I own. This unauthorized 60 song collection spans the Beatles' entire catalogue, from their first record to their last and even a few songs recorded by Lennon, Harrison, and McCartney early on in their post-Beatle careers.
The songs on the record are thrown together in no particular order, bouncing randomly from With the Beatles era tracks to Magical Mystery Tour to Abbey Road and back again. I wouldn't personally have put this collection together in this way, but I will say this: it really gives you a sense how incredibly diverse and inventive this band was. There will never be another band like this, a band which wins the hearts of so many while pushing a genre, and indeed, an entire culture forward. John, Paul, George, and Ringo were a magical combination that combined musical proficiency with brilliant songwriting and an ability to experiment with new sounds, and hearing so many of their songs from so many different records really highlights this. If it offered nothing else of value, rock 'n roll as a musical form would be validated by the Beatles' catalogue alone.
So that's enough of me gushing about the Beatles. You'll get more of it in the next few reviews as I go through all the Beatles vinyl I have. What about this particular release? You may be thinking: "I have never seen/heard of this before." Well, aside from this copy, which was given to me by a friend's parents shortly after I first discovered the Beatles and wouldn't stop talking about them, neither have I. And that's probably because, according to my internet searches, this was an unauthorized bootleg that was sold only via mail order using late-night TV ads for a brief period in the 1970s.
It's an odd little collection that no one who was actually associated with the Beatles or Apple records would have put together. Aside from the unusual ordering of the tracks and the presence of post-Beatle tunes such as "Bangladesh," recorded live at Harrison's famous benefit concert and Lennon's beautiful manifesto "Imagine," there are a couple of other strange features as well. There seems to be some reverb added to some of these recordings, and the vocals are sometimes difficult to hear. The Sergeant Pepper theme cuts off abruptly right before "Billy Shears" is sung, because the song as it appears on the album transitions immediately into "With a Little Help from My Friends," but does not do so on Alpha Omega. This choice is particularly strange given that the song does appear on a later disc, so there's no apparent reason why these tracks were broken up.
The version of "Help!" that appears on this record is also unusual, as it has an intro attached to it that sounds like James Bond Music. Apparently, this was how it appeared on the original American release of the Help! album. Capitol records in the U.S. would often shave tracks off of the Beatles' releases so they could use them to release more albums that collected these tracks. This was a practice that went on until Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band came out in 1967. Apparently (and I didn't know this because when these albums were released as CDs, they were all the original British versions), the songs removed from the Help! album were replaced with soundtrack music from the film, including the 007-ish intro to "Help!" that appears on Alpha Omega.
Oddities aside, this really is a nice snapshot of the Beatles' catalogue. Long ago, a friend and I were talking about which Beatles' albums we had. He said he had, among others, "the Greatest Hits... whatever that means. Everything they wrote was a hit so I can't see how you'd even decide." Fair enough, but if you could make that call and weren't worried about how many songs to include, you'd probably end up with something pretty close to what appears on Alpha Omega.
I found a version of "Help!" with the spy music intro. Check it out.
Total songs listened: 411