Title: When the Beatles’ back catalogue was released on CD in 1988, all the singles, B-sides, variant mixes and other rarities that don’t feature on the official LPs were compiled for this two-volume album. A lovely move that appeals to my completist brain. If only as much thought had gone into a fun title.
Covers: Bland. The logo is superb, though. Read about its creation here:
(Thanks to Fraser Dickson for combining the two album covers into one image for this post.)
* On volume one, it’s John’s Latin-flavoured I Feel Fine, a single from 1965. After its cheeky opening of deliberate feedback, we get a swinging rhythm, a complex guitar riff and some tremendous drumming from Ringo. It’s Merseybeat meets Cuba and is infectious.
* The best song on volume two, meanwhile, is my favourite Beatles song of them all. Rain, also written by John, was the B-side to Paperback Writer in 1966. It’s a kaleidoscope of controlled chaos. Front and centre are Ringo’s flamboyant drumming and Paul’s wildly inventive bassline, but they’re matched by the dreamy drag of Lennon’s vocal, the innovative use of backwards singing and the track’s general hypnotic sense of space: if I play it loud on headphones, I can get lost in it and forget the real world exists.
* On volume one, non-album singles From Me To You, She Loves You and I Want To Hold Your Hand (all true Lennon/McCartney collaborations) are blockbusters of early 60s pop. The first has a delightful dark turn for its middle eight; the second grabs you straightaway by beginning with the chorus; while the third has a very cute finale in a different time signature.
* She Loves You’s B-side, I’ll Get You, is a lovely little tune with a minor explosion of a chorus.
* One of the Beatles’ best cover versions is Long Tall Sally, which was issued on an EP in 1964. Paul’s vocals go punch-for-punch with Little Richard’s raucous original.
* Although I’ve rarely heard a good word about it, I’ve always really liked John’s catchy I Call Your Name (from the same EP).
* Paul’s jazzy She’s A Woman (I Feel Fine’s flipside) is a total joy – I love the clipped strikes of guitar, the swaggering bass sound and the superb, soulful singing.
* Volume two begins with both sides of a 1965 double A-side: the riff-tastic Day Tripper and the crafted We Can Work It Out. The former, by John, is a bluesy gem: simple but incisive. The latter, a joint effort based on Paul’s idea, has the same freewheeling confidence as contemporary album Rubber Soul – the contrasting sections and the way they musically hook up are just wonderful.
* Paperback Writer, an A-side from 1966, is Paul at his most rock. The chrome-sounding guitar riff is matched in its power by a superb arrangement, shining harmony vocals and a tremendous melodic bassline. Incidentally, I’m not sure men have ever looked more stylish than the Beatles do in the Paperback Writer video:
* Other super McCartney singles included here are the honky-tonk Lady Madonna and the massive Hey Jude, both from 1968.
* Don’t Let Me Down is a yearning song of John’s recorded during the Let It Be sessions; guest keyboardist Billy Preston’s work is lovely.
* Lennon also wrote the fun, autobiographical rocker The Ballad of John and Yoko – despite various fallings-out around this time, Paul enthusiastically helped him record this for a quick single while George and Ringo were out of the country.
* Finally, I also adore its B-side, George’s foot-tapping Old Brown Shoe.
Worst songs: Volume one has a trio of equally forgettable cover versions: Slow Down, Matchbox and Bad Boy. Volume two includes George’s tedious B-side The Inner Light.
Notable outside contributions: George Martin plays piano on Slow Down and Matchbox. Some saxophonists – Ronnie Scott amongst them – appear on Lady Madonna, while the backing track of The Inner Light was recorded with local musicians in India. Rafts of violins, violas, cellos, double basses, flutes, clarinets, bass clarinets, bassoons, contrabassoons, trumpets, horns and trombones appear on Hey Jude and Let It Be. Nicky Hopkins plays electric piano on Revolution; Billy Preston plays one on Get Back, Let It Be and Don’t Let Me Down. Two teenage fans – Lizzie Bravo and Gayleen Pease – were invited in off the street to sing backing vocals on Across The Universe. Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones plays a sax on You Know My Name (Look Up The Number).
Review: Past Masters is a brilliant listen, showing how good the Beatles were for their entire career. Any Beatles collection needs these albums. The opening four tracks of volume two – Day Tripper, We Can Work it Out, Paperback Writer and Rain – make up the best run of four songs on *any album I can think of*.
Nine one-way tickets, yeah, out of 10.