Album: The Beatles
The Capitol Albums Vol 1, EMI
Friday 17 December 2004
Back in 1963, America was still impervious to the charms of The Beatles. To be fair, it wasn't just The Beatles: none of Britain's home-grown pop stars, from Billy Fury to Cliff Richard, had made the slightest dent in the American market, so when Capitol, EMI's US arm, was offered this latest English sensation, it politely demurred.
The independent R&B label Vee Jay provided the group with its debut release, and when their Introducing... The Beatles album - a compilation that included such seminal cuts as "Love Me Do", "Please Please Me" and "Twist and Shout" - appeared in July that year, it sank without trace. Even "She Loves You" was licensed out to the tiny Swan label, before Capitol made the most profitable decision in the label's history.
With Capitol's promotional muscle finally behind the group, "I Want to Hold Your Hand" became The Beatles' first US hit in January 1964, initiating a wave of teen hysteria. As John Lennon later admitted, the band were astonished by the fervour that greeted their arrival at Idlewild and their appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. By April, they had achieved the still unequalled feat of simultaneously occupying the Top 5 positions in the singles chart. Having been slow out of the blocks, the US was playing catch-up with a vengeance.
By January, Capitol had cashed in with no fewer than four Beatles albums, haphazardly pillaging the band's UK catalogue for the track-listings of Meet The Beatles!, The Beatles' Second Album, Something New and Beatles '65.
This box set, then, offers an opportunity to experience The Beatles as millions of Americans first encountered them - a curious rewriting of history that casts "I Want to Hold Your Hand" as year zero, in effect ignores the Please Please Me album, and splits the wonderful With The Beatles across two separate albums, each bulked out with B-sides including "This Boy" and "You Can't Do That". Something New is a dog's breakfast presumably intended as a spoiler for the soundtrack of A Hard Day's Night (released by United Artists in America), with eight tracks from the film topped up with trivia such as the German version of their hit, "Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand"; and Beatles '65 offers a severely truncated version of Beatles for Sale, with "I Feel Fine" thrown to snare the punters.
Taken en masse, they provide a fascinating illustration of the unequal battle between art and commerce in American pop culture. Their offhand compilation and artless packaging also suggests why the group's subsequent artistic development must have seemed so much more extraordinary in the US: within a year, they would be past Rubber Soul and heading for Revolver. But there's no denying the melodic genius and sheer ebullience of this music, still fresh and feisty 40 years on.
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