One of the last albums to be released on Apple Records during its original configuration will be re-relesed on vinyl as a 180g pressing. John Lennon’s Shaved Fish will celebrate its 39th anniversary next year, so as to why Universal (who now own the majority of the Capitol/EMI catalog) are reissuing this, it is unknown, especially when the album is readily available. Nonetheless, the new pressing will be out on August 19th and features all of his primary hits and then some, including “Cold Turkey”, “Instant Karma! (We All Shine On)”, “Woman Is The Nigger Of The World”, “Whatever Gets You Through The Night”, and many more. As this was released in 1975, this does not feature any of the material Lennon released on Geffen in 1980. Shaved Fish will be reissued with its original album cover.
For the last installment in my November article series, P.S. I Love You I decided to end things appropriately as we head into December with a Christmas sleeve. Since yesterday was a George Harrison song that is now associated with Christmas, I decided to wrap it up and throw a bow on it (or something) by keeping the Beatles theme.
“Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” will also celebrate its 40th anniversary on December 6th, although it was released in the UK a year later. The song is not really a Christmas song either, but was written as a statement against war, specifically the Vietnam war. John Lennon & Yoko Ono had paid for billboards to be placed in New York city during the 1969 holiday season that simply said WAR IS OVER! (IF YOU WANT IT) | Happy Christmas from John & Yoko. If anything, it marked Lennon’s unofficial independence from The Beatles, and let everyone know that John & Yoko were one.
The song was co-produced by Phil Spector along with John & Yoko, and it is Spector you see on the upper left hand corner of the picture sleeve photo with the Harlem Community Choir. Unfortunately, when the song is introduced on the radio today, the Harlem Community Choir are never credited by announcers but they’ve always been a part of the song, so celebrate them too.
It also marked the first Christmas-related song any Beatle would release to the general public, since their Christmas flexi-disc were made solely for fan club members and remained that way until The Beatles’ Christmas Album was counterfeited in the mid-1970’s.
John Lennon seemed to live life in a unique way once he met Yoko Ono. It seemed that for 12 years (until he was killed in 1980), he felt that if people were going to look at gawk at him, he was going to make sure he gave people something to look at. In this case, it meant something to listen to as well.
As a slight nod to Thanksgiving Day in the United States, I wanted to shine the light on a picture sleeve that referred to “turkey” and I came up with this. Lennon came out with some pretty cool sleeves on Apple, as I’m a fan of the sleeves for “Give Peace A Chance”, “Power To The People”, and “Instant Karma (We All Shine On)”, but this one was always a bit eerie, more because it always raised the question: why?
“Cold Turkey” was a song written about him dealing with his heroin addiction, complete with the sounds of his withdrawals. Personally, as someone who always liked Lennon’s weirder and experimental side, I love the second half of the song where it’s just him screaming in utter pain as the band continue a repetitive riff to where it comes off like a drone, before he eventually reaches a conclusion, and the last few notes are flipped backwards. Regardless of what people felt about him, he knew he had the power and since he now had his own record label (Apple), he was going to release whatever the hell he wanted. Before this, he released “Give Peace A Chance”, a song that was recorded in a Canadian hotel room with friends, guests, and members of a Hare Krishna temple clapping and singing. You could never do that now, nor would it be considered worthy of international attention, but that song has since become an anthem. A year before this, he and Ono recorded them making a private home recording in their bedroom, and then chose to take some photos of them in the nude. That became Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins. They married in the spring of 1969, and that lead to the creation of the more adventurous Unfinished Music No. 2: Life With The Lions and Wedding Album, the latter of which came with plastic replications of their wedding certificate, their wedding photo, and a piece of cake. Statistically, they were huge flops, so the only time a Beatles fan could hear him do “proper” music was on the singles he was coming out with, and Lennon wasn’t about to go the easy route with those either, at least not until 1970, when he knew that The Beatles had come to an end.
The B-side to “Cold Turkey” was also credited to the Plastic Ono Band, but was Ono’s side to shine with the incredible “Don’t Worry Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow)”. When you turned the picture sleeve on the other side, you saw Ono’s X-ray of her skull. EMI/Odeon in Japan decided to combine both sides and show their X-rays side to side on the cover for their release.
The buzz would start, and American record labels were not sure what was going on. Only skiffle groups were known to come from England, and yet kids were enjoying the long-haired antics of a group from Liverpool? A few labels discovered that there were songs recorded in the group’s early days, and they obtained the rights to release them. They include MGM and Atco. For a brief moment, Capitol in the U.S. could not keep up with the demand, even though they had their own record pressing plants. In some markets, Beatles records unique to Canada (i.e. they were only released in Canada and did not have a U.S. counterpart) were imported into the U.S., and enough copies were sold to make a dent on the charts. These few records were on Capitol of Canada.
While The Beatles were not signed by Vee Jay, it didn’t stop them from cashing in on Beatlemania that was attacking. The 14 songs they had acquired the rights to was released as the group’s first American album, the 12-track Introducing The Beatles (the American norm for pop was a 12-track album, while the UK standard was 14, so while there are different variations of Introducing The Beatles, one pressing features “Please Please Me” and “Ask Me Why” while another substitutes them for “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You”.) Trying to find a way to sell the same set of songs to the public, those songs were released as singles and 4-song 7″ EP’s. They also released “Twist & Shout” on a subsidiary label, Tollie, which would become the most successful Vee Jay-related record, going as high as #2 on the Billboard singles chart during the week of April 4, 1964 when The Beatles dominated the 1-5 positions, which no one has ever done since (not even Justin Bieber. It did make it to #1 on the Cash Box chart.
Not wanting to stop, Vee Jay would spread the songs apart and release them a number of ways:
* a split album with Frank Ifield and releasing it with two different covers
* a double album “battle” called The Beatles vs. The Four Seasons (later mocked by bootleggers in a number of ways, including the infamous Beatles vs. Don Ho)
* a single album called Songs, Pictures And Stories Of The Fabulous Beatles
* a series of “oldies but goodies” 45’s on the Oldies 45 label
The only record Vee Jay could properly sell without protest was an interview album called Hear The Beatles Tell All. At the time, interview albums were considered almost disposable, so the idea of a record company owning interview recordings was not as big as the music. Speaking of which, Hear The Beatles Tell All did not feature any actual Beatles music, so the record sounds like a long-lost radio talk show but features some nice moments.
When an album went Gold by selling 500,000 copies, the labels would often print up new covers which stated that title won a “Gold Record Award”, with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) logo. You can find it by looking below the Capitol Records logo on the right hand side:
This distinguishes it from early pressings, and is also a factor in pricing. Now, if you see this RIAA “Gold Record” logo, it means again that it sold 500,000 copies. This means technically that at least 300,000 coopies are still roaming the Earth, and that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a one-of-a-kind “rare” piece. If someone charges $500 for it and it looks like an old photo album found in the back of a pick-up truck, put it down and look elsewhere.
Having the RIAA thing doesn’t mean it’s not rare or that you can’t sell it. Keep in mind though that most pop and rock’n’roll records were played by kids and teens who could care less about record care. Records were often left out of covers, so if someone stepped on it, it would scrape with the carpet. Not exactly great condition. Handwriting on the cover? Put it down. But if you manage to find a copy that looks like the cellophone plastic was just ripped from it, you *might* have something.
But then you have the issue of record labels. It was also common for companies to change the design of the label every few years. The most popular titles would get the new labels, and that would be part of the practice until Capitol stopped pressing records on a regular basis. Since Meet The Beatles was released in 1964, Capitol’s labels looked like this:
What you see here is the first variation of the mono label, and there would be three others with different things on the label (primarily publishing information) distinguishing them from one another.
Do you have an original numbered copy of The Beatles‘ self-titled double LP from 1968? It’s the album commonly known as “The White Album”, and someone wants to know where all of the copies are, specifically the numbered pressings that were originally released in the UK and US? If you have a copy, or maybe your parents or grandparents have one too, make sure you register it at WhiteAlbumRegistry.com.
The website also asks for some technical information on your copy too, such as how the labels look, how some songs are titled, and what pressing plants they were made at. For the non-record collector, the process of locating this information on your pressing is described at the website itself.
Unless you haven’t had a television on for the last month, then you should know that next week will be a huge day for Beatles fans. September 9, 2009, a/k/a 9/9/09, b/k/a “the sacred day of the 9”, is the day that the long awaited Beatles remasters will be released on CD, as individual stereo discs, all of the stereo discs in one box, and a monaural box set for the audio junkies. What’s also coming out is The Beatles: Rock Band video game, where you are able to play along with The Beatles in animated form, with optional guitar, bass, and drum set to play along with. Deep Beatles fans also know that the video game contains digital multi-tracks of the various songs used in the game, which will make it possible to hear isolated bass, guitar, drums, and vocal tracks depending on how they were designed for the game. The CD’s have been put on the floor in some record stores in the U.S., while there were reports that a few of them have been sold at Wal-Mart’s before release day. Some people are also reporting that at a few Wal-Mart’s, some cashier’s will say that the title cannot be purchased until September 9th, but not all of them. In other words, the CD’s hit streets before the release date, so it shouldn’t come to anyone’s surprise that the remasters (and the video game) are now available online if you know where to look.
The question remains: what’s next for The Beatles in terms of releases? Critics had predicted long ago that people would lose interest in the compact disc by 2009, and as fans move over to the MP3 for convenience over quality, it seems there’s a bit of merit to what those critics were saying. If you are to look at what’s being released and reissued, 2009 has shown a mad rush to get out as much music as possible, almost as if record labels are trying to give one last hurrah to their catalogs before it gets purchased by Verizon or Google. To a casual fan, it probably seems like EMI is doing all it can to milk the Beatles teet until it truly dries up. Before the CD, EMI in the UK and Capitol in the U.S. compiled Beatles music in countless ways to sell it to the market, making it possible to hear the same songs again in a new package. The 1987 CD pressings pretty much made compilations like Love Songs, Rarities, and Reel Music pointless, and when thousands of Beatles fans were not satisfied with some of the mistakes found on those 1987 CD’s, they pushed for justice. Over the years, EMI would release their BBC recordings and also come up with the three-part Anthology, something that fans felt was a relief over the same ol’, but it also showed how much of an influence bootleggers had on what appeared on the comp.
Nonetheless, a casual fan will see the hairy Beatles on the front cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and go “again?” I’ve heard some of the stereo remasters, I’ll have a formal review later on, but I’ll briefly say that soundwise, The Beatles have not sounded any better. Mindblowing. However, what does the future have in store for Beatles fans? As with anything related to the group and their music, no one knows and no one is saying.
In terms of music, there has never been an official release of their Christmas album.
The album was made by Apple Records in 1970 exclusively for fan club members, who would receive a flexi-disc or cardboard record during the holiday season between 1963-1969. These records had not been heard by most fans until the Christmas album was counterfeited. In the digital era, the Christmas album has been packaged countless times, including outtakes from the recording sessions. The album is no longer a secret, as many radio stations around the world will play them alongside regular Christmas fare during the holiday season, but still no legitimate release. Considering how widely available the album is online, perhaps EMI/Apple feel no need to release it but I’m sure someone is saying “when the time is right”. Well, best to do it now so that Paul and Ringo will be able to talk about it for inclusion within liner notes.
Another side of The Beatles recordings that have been praised by fans are the acetates, where only a small handful were made for each member of the group, perhaps producer Sir George Martin, and close associates. Acetates, known to some as dub plates, were made when a song was recorded in the studio and one of The Beatles wanted to take the recording home for review. A rough mix of a song, the audio equivalent of a “rough sketch”, would be made into a one-off record and given to the intended person. What is of interest is the fact that most of these rough mixes were never released in this form, as they are unpolished and not produced, you’re hearing these songs in the most primitive form without the additions of strings, percussion, vocals, or other elements that may have been added during post-production. These acetates can go for $200+ when put on the market, which is a rare occasion. Existing acetates have also been bootlegged over the years, compiled into CD compilations so fans can hear songs develop from one take to the other. A very small handful are sourced from existing tapes, which would prove to be of value. A lot of times, the rough mix of a song was solely documented for an acetate, it was not saved on tape so the only way that mix can be heard in that fashion is by doing a vinyl transfer from the records.
Over the years, fans and Beatles scholars have claimed that there isn’t much left in the tape vaults to dig up, that everything that needs to be heard has been released. As time goes on, there seems to be stories of newly discovered tapes, adding to the already valuable cliche of recordings. Another option would be to create alternate mixes of the songs directly from the multi-tracks, similar to what they did with the Yellow Submarine soundtrack. Or a series of isolated tracks from the multi-tracks where Beatles fans can hear just the drums, or just the bass, or maybe the string section? By doing that, it would lead to an endless amount of remixes, mash-ups and variations, which essentially opens the music of The Beatles to anyone and everyone, which arguably would diminish the value of the catalog. Almost 50 years after Decca Records rejected The Beatles, their power has yet to fade, but that’s now. There will come a time when the glory of The Beatles will be nothing more than a 20th century memory, and maybe a conspiracy theory will surface, claiming that The Beatles never existed, that the songs that have moved generations to listen to music differently, look at the world with broader strokes, and perhaps pick up an instrument or sing for the first time, were put together by session musicians from Los Angeles while waiting for Frank Sinatra to come in. Yet with all of the books, videos, and of course the music that exists, it’s all there.
If anything, it will become one of the greatest phenomenons of the 20th century, how four goofy kids from Liverpool were able to inspire with something as simple as music. Even when there’s nothing left, people will continue to ask for more. Since there is more left, give the fans what they want.
Here are some other resources you can take a look at for more information on some of the topics discussed in this article: