The Beatles US Album Box Set: “Yay” vs. “Wait a minute”

DEVIN McKINNEY  •  Capitol Records announces today that on January 21, it will reissue the Beatles’ America-only LPs in a box set. Surely, thoughts of the 50th anniversary of the band’s touchdown at JFK inspired this felicitous notion.

41n4dPP4jpLFirst thought: Yay, another Beatles toy! Second thought: Wait, they’ve done this already, haven’t they, more or less? The Capitol Albums Vol. 1 was released in 2004 (40th anniversary time), Vol. 2 two years later. Both boxes covered the US-specific releases up through Rubber Soul, excepting the Hard Day’s Night soundtrack (released on United Artists) and The Beatles’ Story, a 2-record Capitol-cooked documentary that’s a lot of fun to hear, but had no input from the band beyond a scattering of press-conference sound bites.

51JN6M0E24LMore or less … but more “less” than “more.” Which means, there was plenty the two earlier boxes didn’t do, and plenty of gaps for the new one to fill. No Vol. 3 meant no Yesterday and Today, no US Revolver, and no Hey Jude; the UA Hard Day and The Beatles’ Story were also skipped. All five of those will be appearing on CD for the first time. And while the earlier boxes replicated the outer covers nicely, the new one will reproduce even the period-specific inner sleeving. (Just the kind of thing I love, since I was never into dollhouse furniture but find I am into miniaturized LP, EP, and single packaging, each of which formats has one or more devoted Beatles boxes.) And I’m curious to see how the reformatters will deal with the peel-away trunk photo of Yesterday and Today, and the butcher bonanza beneath.

Of course I’ll shell out. It’s another Beatles toy, after all, and welcome even in a season that has seen its share of those already. I’ve written before on this blog how wonderful I have always found the Capitol albums. I’m glad they’re being preserved and propagated as a legitimate part of the legacy; I’m glad they’ll come out in a box that appears far more vividly assembled than the earlier sets, which looked like they took the design department three minutes of work, and fewer of thought. The worthiness of this new box doesn’t merit debate. It’s just a bit of a shame that they couldn’t have done it right the first time, and saved the faithful a few shekels.

Is it perfect? As some are already pointing out, the new box is not even consistent within its theme (Hey Jude was an Apple, not a Capitol, assemblage; where’s Live at the Hollywood Bowl, or the US Rarities?). But they (we) who complain about such things will always find such things to complain about. I’m choosing to look at it not like a critic but like a collector: The two earlier boxes will soon fall out of print, and perhaps, on some bright day distant, find a place among the more desirable of Fab also-rans and never-quite-weres.

Of course, we’ll all be dead by then. Merry Christmas!

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7 Comments

  1. Avatar Nancy Carr wrote:

    The physical improvements in this reissue of the Capitol albums are in line with what’s going on with music box sets generally. They’re becoming ever more comprehensive and detailed, often reproducing all the original materials and adding new ones. As music gets ever more digitally dematerialized, the box set is the ultimate concrete musical manifestation.

    And I bet it’s one of the few ways record companies can reliably make money now, especially with sure things like the Beatles or Stones. I suspect that the difference between the original Capitol CD box sets and the new ones is due in part to that reality and in part to the desire to capitalize on the Beatles synergy you point out (not just the 50th anniversary of the first U.S. visit, but also the Lewisohn biography and the attendant publicity).

  2. Avatar Devin McKinney wrote:

    one of the few ways record companies can reliably make money now, especially with sure things like the Beatles or Stones.
    I think you’re right, Nancy.
    Yesterday a news story came by (hardly a day passes lately without a Beatles story) that a number of 1963 EMI and BBC tapes that are in danger of escaping copyright protection in the European Union are going to be hush-released on iTunes next week. The speculation as to why there’s been no big announcement of the online-only collection—59 songs (44 from the BBC) called The Beatles Bootleg Recordings 1963—is that it’s merely a maneuver allowing Apple to extend the nearly-lapsed automatic copyright of the remaining BBC tracks so that they can issue them formally one day, assuredly in box shape.
    See here: http://www.theverge.com/2013/12/13/5209002/beatles-bootlegs-headed-to-itunes-next-week

  3. Avatar Devin McKinney wrote:

    I assume it is, Mike. That’s the only reference I’ve seen to the loophole before, but don’t remember all the technicalities. (Where’s Belmo?) It always struck me odd, though, that if such were the case, Europe wasn’t flooded with such product. Maybe Great Dane’s box was so definitive it foreclosed the whole market.

  4. Avatar James Marcus wrote:

    The whole kit and kaboodle is now available on iTunes: $39.99 for 59 tracks. I’m wondering if the Studio 2 outtakes sound substantially better than the versions on bootlegs, having been taken right off the masters etc. I also wonder whether this entire offer will be pulled off iTunes soon, once the copyright-extension mission has been accomplished.

  5. Avatar Devin McKinney wrote:

    Thanks for this heads-up, James. I’m downloading it now. (What else was I gonna spend the forty bucks on, food?) I’m at work now so can’t really listen to any of it until later, but I’ll give a brief report for anyone who’s interested.

    I haven’t a doubt in the world the collection will be off iTunes soon, for the reason I guessed at above. But there are plenty downloading it right now who will be willing to sell or upload copies. (Not me!) So there’s no chance of these mixes, should they be appreciably different or better, simply disappearing. (I’m still agog at the bootleg stuff that’s on YouTube now, that we of a certain age spent years hunting up in record stores and spending small fortunes on. I’m still missing an arm and part of a leg from those years of bootleg sprees.)

  6. Avatar James Marcus wrote:

    Hail to thee, fellow sucker! I’ll probably buy it when I get home, unless EMI has already accomplished its dirty work and pulled the set off iTunes.

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