Ben: I didn’t know you were into music. I know you’re a DJ, but I’ve heard your show.
Alan: Yeah, I like all the bands. I’ve got a broad taste, from the Brit-pop bands like UB40, Def Leppard, right back to classic rock, like Wings.
Ben: Who’s Wings?
Alan: They’re only the band The Beatles could have been…
Ben: Well, I love The Beatles.
Alan: Yeah, so do I.
Ben: What’s your favourite Beatles album then?
Alan: Tough one. I think I’d have to say, “The Best of The Beatles“.
Today marks forty years since the release of the two greatest “Best of” albums ever. The Beatles 1962-66 and The Beatles 1967-1970, (or The Red Album and The Blue Album as they are better known) went straight to the top of the charts on release, before Aladdin Sane knocked them off.
The covers feature photos of The Beatles taken in 1962 and 1969 peering down from the same staircase at the EMI building in Manchester Square. The photo shoot was an attempt to recreate their first LP cover Please Please Me and they even used the same photographer, Angus McBean. A photo from the session was originally going to be used as the cover of Let It Be – there’s a picture of an early proof here:
The concept of “Get Back” (as “Let It Be” was originally titled) was to strip The Beatles of studio trickery and “get back to basics” with a rock n roll record – evoking their first albums. To demonstrate this, the lettering of Let It Be (“and 10 other songs”) is similar to that of Please Please Me and the poses are almost identical.
The photos used on the Red and Blue albums are slightly different but taken from the same session and show how the band changed in the eight years between photos. They were such a bunch of long haired scruffs: in 1962…
In late 1972, US national media began running advertisements for a multi record set called The Story Of The Beatles. This was an entirely unofficial (and illegal) re-release of The Beatles songs by another record company, which earned the distributors a lawsuit alleging “illegal pirating” of the music. This prompted Allen Klein (who was in charge of The Beatles’ affairs at the time) to authorise an official “best of” release. Of the official Red and Blue Albums, George was the Beatle most involved in picking the music. Said Lennon “George controlled the choice of material on those albums…They sent me lists and asked for my opinion, but I was busy at the time.” McCartney added “I still haven’t heard them”.
Although he authorised their release, the release of the records was mysteriously and conveniently delayed until a few days after Allen Klein’s management contract expired – meaning he wouldn’t receive any income from their sale…
I was 20 years old before I bought my first Beatles albums, and these were the two that I bought – on cassette, so I could play them in the car. Until then, my record collection exclusively featured heavy rock bands. I had heard Norwegian Metal before I heard Norwegian Wood. I knew the words to every Journey ballad before I had heard The Ballad of John and Yoko. Until I bought these albums I thought Come Together was an Aerosmith song.
What is great about these albums – apart from being a beginner’s guide to the most famous pop band of all time – is that they allow you to polarise your love of The Beatles. Are you Team Red (early rock n roll up to Revolver) or Team Blue (Sgt Pepper onwards)? You can also wonder about some of the random song choices (it isn’t a singles collection) both good (Norwegian Wood, A Day In The Life) and less obvious (Old Brown Shoe? Proof of George’s involvement!) What is especially great about the Red and Blue Albums is that they sold in the millions and thus are not at all rare – you can pick these up on vinyl in great condition for less than a fiver at just about any second hand record store or record fair worth its salt (I think mine cost £5 for the two). That’s 54 of the greatest ever songs for less than the price of the latest Justin Beiber CD. That’s 54 more reasons (not that any more were needed) to not buy that CD, in addition to the one you probably were already aware of (i.e. it’s desperately terrible).
It is still rankles that the Government’s No Child Left Behind policy still believes it is acceptable not to furnish every family with a complete set of Beatles records for free. What are we paying our taxes for? I know times are hard. But at the very least they could surely start with the Red and Blue albums? Let’s start a campaign. Write to your MP today – or if you prefer, the lead singer of Echo and The Bunnymen -and ask for free Beatles albums for kids. Let’s improve the lives of our children – and our children’s children – forever. Get the campaign trending on Twitter by using the tag line: #Beatles4Kids. C’mon people – it could be the start of a Revolution…..and the end of the likes of Justin Beiber: Imagine a world where kids listen to The Beatles and eschew the saccharine Beiber-pop they have been hitherto force-fed. Too far fetched? Maybe. But Rome wasn’t built in a day – and it has to be worth a try…
Record #173 : The Beatles – Revolution
Next: The Bowie Bet resumes.