Saturday, February 03, 2007

Review #13: The Beatles Compact Disc EP. Collection

In 1992, EMI and Capitol released a limited edition box set of The Beatles' 13 original British EPs from 1963 through 1967. The set consists of 15 discs, including two bonus discs.
Now, what is an EP?
EP stands for Extended Play. During the fifties and early sixties, they were popular in Britain and the rest of Europe, but never got off the ground as a successful format in the United States (where Capitol issued only two EPs by The Beatles). They were for people who could not afford to buy LPs but wanted more than a single. An EP was the middle ground, including twice the amount of material than a single (two songs on each side) but little less than half the amount of an LP. With that amount of history aside, it's time for a review on the set!

The Beatles used the EP format strategically in the early sixties, before they became extremely popular. The first few discs in this set are perfect examples of this.
The Beatles' Hits opens with the most recent single (as of 1963), From Me To You/Thank You Girl and closes with the A-Sides of the first two singles, Please Please Me and Love Me Do. This would give the buyer an advantage over the LP buyer as "From Me To You" wouldn't make an LP appearance until 1966's A Collection of Beatles' Oldies...But Goldies, and "Thank You Girl"'s came in the form of 1978's Rarities.
Twist And Shout highlights the group's versatility: the rocking Twist And Shout and There's A Place are paired with Paul's smooth cover of A Taste Of Honey and George's easy pop performance of John's Do You Want To Know A Secret (included to give EP buyers the original, as Tony Barrow's note explain how Billy J. Kramer's version hit #1). Of course, like The Beatles (No.1), all these tracks were on Please Please Me. No. 1's purpose is to give "...constantly requested stage-show favourites..." to the EP buyer, according to Barrow's note.
All My Loving provides two of the best tracks from With The Beatles and the two B-Sides of "Love Me Do" and "Please Please Me" (also on Please Please Me). I think this is one of the EPs that are purely terrible track selection. P.S. I Love You and Ask Me Why were nearly two years old by the time of this release. "She Loves You" and "I'll Get You" would have been better here, as that single had been released around this time.
Long Tall Sally might be the best, as it is composed of tracks that were completely exclusive to this EP in Britain, until Rarities. Paul rips out the best Little Richard impression on the title track, while John is incredible on I Call Your Name and Slow Down. Ringo closes the set with Matchbox.
From then on, the EPs are rather bland, with really nothing to offer. Extracts from the film... and Extracts from the album "A Hard Day's Night" are just samplers of the two sides of the British soundtrack LP. Beatles For Sale and Beatles For Sale (No. 2) are the same: just samplers of sides one and two. The Beatles' Million Sellers includes four of the five million selling singles at the time, but who needed that? These four songs were MILLION SELLERS after all, so who wouldn't have had them? The Yesterday EP is noteworthy as it presents one song by each Beatle, but essentially, it is just Extracts from the album "Help!". Nowhere Man is a sampler of Rubber Soul's first side (oddly enough, there isn't one that highlights the second, but I suppose the Beatles said 'enough' by then).
Finally, there is Magical Mystery Tour. EMI/Capitol gave MMT it's original booklet (which begs the question 'If they could reprint it here, why couldn't they reprint it with the album CD?') and the original 'half-sleeves'. This is probably the coolest aspect of the set.
Magical Mystery Tour was an odd set, since The Beatles didn't have enough material for an entire album, they went with the EP format, presenting an awkward set of six songs. The title track and Your Mother Should Know made up side one, backed with I Am The Walrus. The Fool On The Hill and Flying sat on side three, with Blue Jay Way on side four. The discs retain this order. In 1967, both mono and stereo formats were available, so the set was issued in both forms. EMI did not need to give us both, but they did-the mono disc is essentially a bonus disc.
The second bonus disc is simply titled The Beatles and includes four "previously unreleased in the UK" stereo tracks: The Inner Light, Baby You're A Rich Man, She's A Woman and This Boy. Interestingly enough, none of these tracks are available in mono on CD. All four are available on the Past Masters discs in stereo, making this disc nothing special.
With all sixty-four tracks available on albums (in one form or another, either in mono or stereo), the packaging has to be the most important aspect of the set. The fifteen discs are boxed inside a plain black box (reminiscent of all the LP and singles box sets issued in the eighties), which is bland beyond reason. There is no color at all. However, this aspect is easily ignored once you open it. Each disc, separately, is packaged in beautiful reproductions of the original EP sleeves. The first eight discs are complete with all of Tony Barrow's hilarious liner notes (including side-splitting predictions of 1973 on The Beatles' Hits to his use of the made-up word "Dylania" when describing "I'm A Loser" on the Beatles For Sale disc). The next four discs include nothing but a list of the previous "swinging" EPs (the catalogue numbers are all edited, however). Of course, the most amazing sleeve is MMT's, complete with the 32 page booklet. The bonus EP is packaged in a sleeve whose front cover is borrowed from the "Penny Lane"/"Strawberry Fields Forever" single, with a back cover that explains the "rare-ness" of the four tracks. The artwork on the discs is also noteworthy, with huge Parlophone logos.
In conclusion, if you are not a die-hard Beatle fan, this is not the way to go. First, you miss all the great tracks from the first six albums and get nothing from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, The White Album, Abbey Road and Let It Be. However, the music in here is all great, but it still cannot justify the $160 plus retail price. In fact, I only got it because I won a used copy on EBay for $51! This also does not supply an interesting listening experience. The first twelve discs are all little under ten minutes long (some clock in at nearly eight minutes) and it would get aggravating to have to switch CDs (unless you have a CD changer and even then, you'd have to reload it at least twice).
The set is for fans of Beatle history, as it gives a great aspect of just one other format the Beatles dominated...and helped to kill off.

MUSIC: 4/5

No comments: