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RARITIES (US VERSION)

The Beatles

Proto-Prog


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Chicapah
PROG REVIEWER
2 stars It took a long time for some of us boomers to get over the breakup of The Beatles. Some never did, I suppose, but I finally moved on after suffering through months of withdrawal. The fantastic, anything-goes music that saturated the 70s, especially the spectacular aural art flowing freely from the progressive rock genre, helped me immensely to recover from that particular heartbreak. Yet they were light years from being forgotten. The Fab Four's lengthy shadow stretched across the minds of the musicians of that wild decade and we couldn't help glancing back over our shoulders sometimes to see if there was something that we somehow missed hearing from them. Truth be known, many of my generation who reluctantly grew into adulthood with the likes of "Rubber Soul" and "The White Album" as a backdrop would've been willing to buy a tape of John, Paul, George & Ringo's canine pets farting "Norwegian Wood" in four-part harmony if it went on sale. And, despite the fact that each member seemed to be wholly content to pursue their solo careers, rumors of the quartet miraculously reuniting were as regular as UFO sightings and, thus, hope sprang eternal.

So, in March of 1980, cash-strapped Capitol Records decided to capitalize on the existence of a sizeable Beatle-jonesing consumer group and quietly placed in the record bins "Rarities," an album consisting of tracks that had either never been officially released by that label or not made available on a state-side LP at all, as well as some alternate takes and mixes. An intelligent soul would think that even if an immensely popular group like The Rolling Stones or The Who did such a thing that perhaps a thousand die-hard fans would line up to purchase one. But The Beatles were still sacred bovines in the hearts of the aging flower children gang and this album went gold (half a million units sold) in no time, reaching as high as #21 on the charts, even though there really wasn't anything new about it at all. I must confess, I was one of the multitudes who didn't hesitate to part with my hard-earned cash for it. My overly-optimistic yearning was that somehow, even if for a split second, there would be something included that would recreate the thrill I used to relish every time I heard one of their songs for the first time. Of course, that didn't happen. It was totally unrealistic to think it would so I had to settle for reminiscing about how great the lads from Liverpool were and how lucky I was to have lived in their heyday. You can't re- live the past but you sure can waste a lot of time thinking about it.

Having the Ringo-led version of "Love Me Do" in my possession is nice but it really makes me wonder what the fuss over George Martin's insistence on using session drummer Andy White on the master was all about. Other than not having a tambourine rattling away it sounds the same. "Misery" and "There's a Place" had only been released as 45s previously so they qualified. "Sie Liebt Dich" is "She Loves You" sung in German and I envision Lennon goose-stepping around the studio with his finger under his nose and arm upraised between takes. "And I Love Her" is the first cut to emphasize the sheer eccentricity of this collection as the album descends into the realm of minutiae. Its sole distinction is that Paul's vocal is overdubbed and the guitar riff is repeated six times at the end instead of four. Really? Be still my beating heart. "Help" features a different lead vocal from John, "I'm Only Sleeping" sports an alternate array of backwards guitar snippets and "I Am the Walrus" is a combination of two rarer versions edited together. None of these makes for an earth-shaking revelation, exactly, so side one of this sphere of vinyl was a disappointment.

One of the coolest things is found on "Penny Lane." It's got the extra seven-note piccolo trumpet riff at the end that was trimmed off in the final mix. The deal is that after hearing it you'll expect it every time you hear the tune played on the radio because it fits so perfectly and, when it doesn't happen, it will drive you crazy forevermore. (That's my excuse and I'm sticking with it.) And, speaking of nuts with lame excuses, Charlie Manson's favorite number is next, the homicide-inducing-but-otherwise-playful "Helter Skelter." This is a mono mix that takes a few detours from the well-known version but not enough to make much of a difference. The same goes for "Don't Pass Me By." If there's a Beatles song that has gotten less attention than Harrison's weird "The Inner Light" then please share your knowledge. There's a good reason for its obscurity, too. It's a dog, and a mongrel at that. George tries to meld an Indian raga with lyrics inspired by a Japanese poem and he fails miserably. It makes "Why don't we do it in the road" sound like "A Day in the Life" in comparison. The rawer, Spector-less rendition of John's "Across the Universe" is more like what I wanted to hear. It's a much better composition without all the syrupy strings added on. I'll be honest now. "You Know My Name (Look up the Number)" is the real reason I bought this disc. I've always thought it has a charming Monty Python-ish goofiness about it that shows they could have silly fun in the studio and not take themselves so seriously. It has an endearing atmosphere, as well. At two seconds in duration, the "Sgt. Pepper Inner Groove" goes by way too fast for dissection so let's just let it be, shall we?

When the "Yesterday and Today" LP came out in 1966 I rushed out and snatched up a copy. Soon after I heard that the famous "butcher cover" might be hidden underneath the hideous and, frankly, uglier "steamer trunk" photo that graced mine so I amateurishly tried to peel/steam off the overlay as was being suggested. The good news was that I had, indeed, gotten one of the coveted re-covers. The bad news was that I made a mess of the thing in the process of discovery. You can tell it's the real McCoy, alright, but it ain't gonna be fetching a fortune at auction anytime soon if you know what I mean. The compilers of "Rarities" had intended to put said controversial cover on the front of this bloody baby but that idea got shot down by the same breed of stiff, narrow-minded execs at Capitol as 14 years earlier so it ended up being plastered discreetly on the fold out. Much ado about nothing, I say. To the label's credit, though, they did include over 40 unpublished color and black & white photos of the band to round out the nostalgic concept. 8 years later when Apple released the two volumes of "Past Masters" and then in the mid 90s when the three Anthology CDs came out this LP became woefully obsolete and more of a footnote than anything relevant or sought-after. Still, its success shows that the group's undeniable (and profitable) mystique lived on long after they ceased to exist as a working entity. 2.4 stars.

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Posted Thursday, May 13, 2010 | Review Permalink

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