Box set sparks war among Beatles fans
By Edna Gundersen, USA TODAY
When Meet The Beatles! arrived in 1964, Fab Four harmonies swept America. Today, disharmony greets the return of the stateside debut, included in The Beatles: The Capitol Albums Vol. 1, a box set of the band's four earliest U.S. albums, on CD for the first time.
The collection is sparking debate between baby boomers who welcome the letter-perfect reproductions and British loyalists who consider the U.S. versions a travesty never sanctioned by The Beatles.
When the British band hopped the pond, Capitol handled its U.S. marketing and stretched three U.K. albums into four: Meet The Beatles!, The Beatles' Second Album, Something New and Beatles '65. The running order was shifted and the sonics altered by Dave Dexter Jr., the Capitol executive who dropped producer George Martin's credit on the first two discs and added his own to the next two.
In the mid-'80s, The Beatles anointed the U.K. templates as definitive by not reissuing the U.S. configurations on CD. Brits cheered, and American fans felt cheated.
Pete Howard and Martin Lewis, who concur that everyone should meet The Beatles but violently disagree whether Meet The Beatles! is an appropriate introduction, square off on the box set's blessings and blemishes. (Fans can jump in the fray at www.AbbeyRd.net.
Lewis: After The Beatles standardized their catalog worldwide, they made it clear they'd never go back to the U.S. record versions. Apple acquiesced to make this "botched set." It's a regrettable flip-flop. On balance, Apple has been good with The Beatles' heritage, but this is a cynical exercise in nostalgia. And gee, it's here six weeks before Christmas. Is it a lovingly crafted homage to 1964 or this year's baby-boomer product?
Howard: In 1964, I bought, owned and played to death all four American Beatles albums. They're not only indelibly etched in my consciousness, they are part of my DNA; they are my youth, they are the soundtrack to my life. And nothing that you or anybody could say will ever change that. If I could go back in time, sure, I'd change Capitol's policy and we all would have gotten the same records. But that's not reality.
Lewis: The American releases were an accident of commerce. Each album's tracks were capped at a number profitable for Capitol, which siphoned off songs to create a kitty so a third album could be created for every two in Britain, (where) the records were put together with incredible care. At Capitol, they were treated with disdain.
Howard: People incorrectly assume that the early British albums were entirely the Fab Four's vision. We should explode the myth that The Beatles huddled around making graphic-arts decisions. Parlophone (in England) ran the show and was just as naïve as Capitol.
Lewis: Dave Dexter, the person responsible for this bastardized process, turned down signing The Beatles four times in 1963. He then had the temerity to resequence the tracks and add fake stereo, which is patronizing. George Martin made it clear the first four albums were to be heard in mono only.
Howard: People cite She's a Woman and I Feel Fine as the most Dexterized tracks. I prefer them. I love the echo-drenched "duophonic" sound, because that's what changed my life. Those engineering methods were part of the art.
Lewis: Dave Dexter, who arrogantly said The Beatles were rather hopeless, decided George Martin didn't know how to produce. He slapped echo on and merrily picked songs in a haphazard fashion. "Duophonic" meant using two mono versions out of sync. The Beatles managed to beguile the American public with I Want to Hold Your Hand on radio because it was the George Martin mix.
Howard: It doesn't matter that Dave Dexter was a hack. It doesn't matter that songs were stripped off the American LPs for financial reasons or that The Beatles didn't approve the sequencing or that Capitol remixed and added echo. What matters to Americans is the deep, profound, untouchable, emotional bond that we have to these albums. All the scholarly insights in the world can't alter that in 2004.
Lewis: The Beatles are the holy grail of contemporary music, and they deserve better. It's imperative that their catalog be handled tastefully and treated as the heritage of our generation. To have these officially rereleased blurs the picture.
Howard: Only an American can appreciate the pop-culture nuclear bomb that went off in 1964 with The Ed Sullivan Show and Meet The Beatles! It was a seismic shock that still affects our daily lives. You want to force us to buy the life-changing Meet The Beatles! in a different form just to satisfy historical hindsight? When I listen to MTB to this day, I hear innocence, naiveté, an LP that cost, what, $2.98, when big business, international music conglomerates and scholarly intellect hadn't taken over yet. That's the feeling I want to capture in a bottle.
Lewis: If you want to hear those awful mixes, buy cheap speakers, put them in a trash can, stuff some Krispy Kreme doughnuts in your ears and play the proper Beatles CDs that were released in 1987. They will then sound like the old American vinyl records you had in 1964. The bare minimum we owe artists is to respect their vision.
Howard: I'm deducing that The Beatles didn't really care about what LPs came out in America in 1964, or they would have put their foot down like they did on everything else they cared about. In 1964, teenage pop music was a song-driven market. I can just imagine John Lennon holding the Beatles '65 LP and muttering, "This is weird, but what the hell, they're getting all the music."
Lewis: By the time Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band came out, they absolutely insisted, "No, we will not have our work tampered with," and that record was left intact. But if Capitol had somehow butchered Sgt. Pepper, fans here still would have loved it, because the music was undeniably great. But they would have missed a much better album.
Howard: The reason the world aligned in 1967 with Sgt. Pepper is that it was a "concept album," plain and simple, which history has shown wasn't even that much of a concept. But that was the trigger to get the countries aligned. Plus (there was) the emergence in status of the rock LP (led by Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde)
Lewis: Am I unsympathetic to American baby-boomer fans? Absolutely not. It's natural to like what you grew up with, and it's a testament to The Beatles that you liked them so much in spite of the records' aberrations. But if a distributor in England had taken Casablanca, swapped scenes around, changed it to sepia tone and titled it Meet the Casablancans!, do you think there should be an official DVD release of it 40 years later? I'm not saying you can't listen to your old vinyl or cassette or make your own with an iPod, but please don't have an official release.
Howard: This would be another argument if these were replacing the British versions. Then you'd need the House of Commons meeting with Congress. There's room in this world for both, just as there are lots of versions of the Bible. Which is why, ultimately, Capitol is to be supported in releasing this box set. Some cry "greedy, money-grubbing." I cry, "What the hell took you so long? You finally, begrudgingly, caved in to what American fans have pleaded for."
Meet the experts
A British-born, U.S.-based
Beatles scholar who has been
involved in Beatles-related
projects for 37 years. He was a consultant on the band's Anthology and Live at the BBC projects,
producer of the DVD edition of A Hard Day's Night and associate
producer of The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show DVD. (He runs the official Web site for The Beatles' late manager at BrianEpstein.com.)
The publisher and editor of ICE magazine, an 18-year-old consumer guide to CD releases. He was a contributing editor for Rolling Stone from 1988-1995 and is a leader in the field of collecting vintage concert posters. His three Beatles posters from Liverpool circa
1961-62 anchor The Beatles display at Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum. (Visit his Web site at postercentral.com.)