The Beatles: The Capitol Albums, Vol. 1
Ken Kase
11/21/2004 7:59:33 PM

The Beatles
The Capitol Albums, Vol. 1 (Capitol/Apple)

It’s easy to be cynical about new Beatles reissues, especially around Christmas. Last year’s over-hyped and disappointing Let it Be…Naked only stoked the fires of skepticism among those who felt that maybe the Baby Boomer marketing frenzy had gotten a little out of hand. Lord knows that there are some unfortunate folks out there who have to choose between spending their social security checks on heart medication or new Beatles reissues and it seems damned irresponsible to give them anything less than the best value for their money.

On this point, despite a few curious missteps, the Beatles have usually delivered handsomely. But hardcore Beatles fans can usually find something to complain about with every new release and The Capitol Albums, Vol. 1 is no exception.

Back in 1987, the much anticipated arrival of the Beatles’ music on CD was met with mixed reaction. In an attempt to standardize the entire Beatles catalogue worldwide, EMI issued the original British albums, the first seven of which differed considerably from their American counterparts. The original albums usually contained no less than fourteen songs that excluded songs released as singles. American compilations contained no more than twelve songs and, in accordance with conventional Yankee marketing wisdom, included the hit singles to drive sales of the long players. There were reasons for such disparities: The costs of publishing royalties in the United States were much higher than those in the UK, so restricting the number of tracks not only cut overhead but also allowed Capitol to put out twice as many LPs. In addition, the cost of records to the British consumer was also greater, so redundancies between singles and albums were kept to a minimum.

The real source of disappointment to most American Beatles fans was the decision to issue the first four Beatles albums (Please Please Me, With the Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night and Beatles for Sale) in mono. Stereo versions of the music contained on those CDs had been available on vinyl in America and the UK for years, but producer George Martin insisted that the mono mixes were of primary importance at the time the music was recorded and that those albums should be preserved as such (although sonically, these releases were a little thin and tinny sounding).

Capitol Records, in cooperation with Apple, have come full circle with the release of The Capitol Albums Volume 1, reissuing CD versions of Meet the Beatles, The Beatles’ Second Album, Something New and Beatles ’65. Most of these songs appear in true stereo for the first time on CD and each disc duplicates each song with its corresponding mono mix. The primary complaint among Beatles purists is that some of the songs on these American albums were issued in “duophonic” stereo (a practice of taking mono masters and electronically reprocessing them to simulate stereo). While this is true, only seven of the titles in the entire box set have been given this treatment and, in keeping with the nostalgic feel of the whole package, have been left intact. All seven of these titles were singles and, in accordance with industry practice at the time, had not yet been mixed for stereo. (For example, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “This Boy” didn’t receive stereo mixes until 1966)

For all the hubbub and cries of heresy, there is reason to celebrate. The meticulous 24-bit remastering of the mono mixes absolutely leaves the sound of the standard CDs flat and bleeding. One can actually hear Paul McCartney’s bass and Ringo’s right foot in these mixes that carry a punch and drive hitherto unheard on previous issues. Of the stereo mixes, The Beatles’ Second Album is the only clam of the bunch with way too much reverb added by Capitol back in ’64. Something New, comprising tracks primarily from the UK A Hard Days Night, absolutely shimmers in true stereo, as do the tracks from Beatles for Sale on Beatles ’65.

Unfortunately, the packaging for this set is atrocious—no doubt due to an effort by Capitol to offset what must have been exorbitant costs of audio restoration and publishing royalties. The outer box, garishly decorated and thinly constructed, looks like a typical Wal-Mart bargain bin collection of karaoke hits. Inside, the original covers are replicated on LP-style sleeves. A neat idea, but the simple act of inserting and removing a disc from the sleeve over time could cause damage. The much-touted 48-page booklet contains a rather thin essay by Beatles scholar Mark Lewisohn and a few nice photographs. Considering the $70 list price, fans should expect something more substantial, such as Digipak housing which would have enabled them to replicate the look and feel of the album covers while providing plastic hubs to protect the discs.

For all that, it’s a fun set. The Capitol marketing machine’s strategy was to present this music “as American audiences first heard it”. Fair enough. It’s a nice novelty for a limited edition set and despite its flaws, The Capitol Albums, Vol. 1 at least gives Beatles fans a taste of improved sonic clarity and premiere stereo mixes they’ve been clamoring for nigh these seventeen years. Younger fans probably won’t care, but be sure to stuff the stocking of a Baby Boomer you love with this package so Uncle Fred can afford his Viagra

Read the NT review of Let It Be...Naked


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