Life at 33 1/3: The album that doesn’t exist

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The Beatles, A Collection Of Beatles Oldies But Goldies! (Parlophone)

This is a weird one: An official Beatles-album that doesn’t exist.  Or at least that is what EMI and Apple would have us believe.  A stopgap album put together just in time for Christmas 1966 as the group didn’t have any new product ready for the Christmas-stockings, breaking a tradition they started back in 1963.

EMI probably panicked when Brian Epstein (the Beatles’ manager) informed them in late October that the group hadn’t even started recording yet.  So the idea for a hit-collection was born.

As some of The Beatles’ singles had only been mixed in mono (those not included on regular albums), there was some stereo mixing to be done.  George Martin did the stereo mix of “Paperback Writer” on October 31, and proceeded with “I Want To Hold Your Hand” on November 7.

The following day, November 8, Geoff Emerick took care of “She Loves You”.  As the original two track master had gone missing, he had to create a fake stereo mix that sounds strange to a 2015 ear, but in the 60’s this solution was quite common.

Peter Brown took over on November 10, mixing “We Can Work It Out”, “Day Tripper” and “This Boy” in stereo.  The latter was done accidentally as Brown probably thought that “Bad Boy” was a typo for “This Boy”.  “Bad Boy” had never been released in England, it was recorded specifically for the U.S. market and ended up on “Beatles VI” in June 1965.

The stereo mixes of the remaining tracks were already to be found in EMI’s archives.

The Beatles were hardly involved in “A Collection Of Beatles Oldies But Goldies!” at all.  But it’s a generous collection of 16 songs (eight had never been on a British LP before), including 13 of their 15 British hits so far (“Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me” were omitted), plus fan favourites “Yesterday” and “Michelle” and said “Bad Boy”.  The latter served as a bait, being the only ‘new’ track of the lot.

The programming is pretty weird.  It jumps back and forth in the chronology and somehow wrong-foots the listener when side 2 ends with “Paperback Writer,” “Eleanor Rigby” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” – in that order.  A chronological journey from start to finish would have been a more seamless listening experience as the group’s development, both as composers and performers, is fascinatingly noticeable from single release to single release.

In 1966, most of the album’s potential buyers were leaving their teeny bopper phase behind, wanting to distance themselves from their own “childish” past.  At this age you measure time in months, not in decades, so just as much as the recent tracks from “Revolver” were more in tune with their own state of mind.  The older recordings simply reminded them of what they had left behind, when Beatlemania ruled and the mop-tops were everybody’s’ darlings.

The constant jumping back and forth in time becomes annoying.  I bet the album would have been a stronger seller if the programming had stuck to a chronological order.

Another thing you can hold against the album is its sleeve.  David Christian’s garish painting of a Carnaby Street dandy placed among subjects that provides significantly stronger associations to New Vaudeville Band than to The Beatles, doesn’t exactly trigger your must-have genes – unless you are heavily into New Vaudeville Band.  Robert Whittaker’s photograph of the group taken in Japan in July 1966 adorns the back.  It’s a pretty cool image, and it would have suited the front cover so much better.  By the way, the photo is inverted, the Japanese noticed of course as Paul’s outfit sports Japanese characters, so they inverted the image right back for the Japanese edition.

A cooler and more luxurious sleeve and chronological programming of the songs would have yielded higher sales.  That’s my theory, and I believe in it.  For I was there, and I didn’t want “A Collection Of Beatles Oldies But Goldies!” for Christmas.  I went for Lee Dorsey’s “Holy Cow” and The Kinks’ “Dead End Street” instead.

I nevertheless think that “A Collection Of Beatles Oldies But Goldies!” should be hoisted back into the Beatles’ official discography.  Since the CD appeared in the 80s, EMI and Apple have pretended that the collection doesn’t exist.  One is referred to “Past Masters” (which has its shortcomings), but that is no solution.  Come on! “A Collection Of Beatles Oldies But Goldies!” is the only official compilation LP’ that was released while The Beatles existed.  It is a part of history!

And even if it sounds strange, this album is the only place where you can find Geoff Emerick’s fake stereo mix of “She Loves You”.  Part of the history too.

Released: December 10, 1966

Produced by: George Martin

Contents (highest chart placing in the UK/US as of original LP release date in brackets): She Loves You (1/1)/From Me to You (1/41)/We Can Work It Out (1/1)/Help! (1/1)/Michelle/Yesterday (-/1)/I Feel Fine (1/1)/Yellow Submarine (1/2)/Can’t Buy Me Love (1/1)/Bad Boy/Day Tripper (1/5)/A Hard Day’s Night (1/1)/Ticket to Ride (1/1)/Paperback Writer (1/1)/Eleanor Rigby (1/11)/I Want to Hold Your Hand (1/1)

*We Can Work It Out/Day Tripper and Eleanor Rigby/Yellow Submarine were double A-side releases in the UK.  Neither Michelle nor Bad Boy were released as singles.  Yesterday was only released as a single in the U.S. (it did however find its belated British release in 1976, reaching no. 8).