DON'T LET ME DOWN: Rewriting Beatles History With The U.S. Albums Box Set

The recent Apple release “The U.S. Albums” should have been great. It should have been important, and it should have filled a void. It is none and does none of those things.

The 13-disc box set is revisionist history - an attempt by Apple and The Beatles to rewrite the past and undo wrongs they perceived that needed to made right. The fancy mini album replicas mean nothing - the discs in this box set are most definitely not the U.S. albums as were released by Capitol.

When The Beatles were hitting it big in the U.K. there was no precedent for success by a British group in America. Record companies in the U.S. didn’t care, and it took a concerted and carefully planned effort by Brian Epstein to break into the U.S. market. Once they finally did, there was a backlog of recordings already released in the U.K. that hadn’t made it to the U.S. yet. Coupled with the fact that the standard U.K. release was 14 tracks and the standard U.S. release just 12, that meant there was a large amount of music that had to be arranged and rearranged for U.S. customers. So we didn’t get Please Please Me - we got Meet The Beatles nearly a year later.

On top of that, there were ideas for what executives believed U.S. listeners wanted in records. Dave Dexter Jr. was the man who American-ized the masters received from Parlophone by compressing the sound (make the quiet parts louder, the loud parts quieter, and dropping out some of the deeper basses) and adding lots of reverb. Also, several tracks which were not available in stereo from Parlophone (and even some that were!) were remixed into a fake stereo format known as “duophonic” where the mono was mixed into two channels which were slightly out of sync.

The 1987 CD standardization was something of a shock for some North Americans, because the sound was completely different from what they grew up with. The Beatles put the kibosh on a Capitol albums box set series after releasing two volumes and before a third volume could be released and tell the complete story. Those box sets featured the actual Capitol mixes and masters on CD for the first time ever and were highly anticipated by American fans.

But for all the nostalgia that they invoked, they presented a problem. At the time of their release The Beatles were preparing to remaster their entire catalog, and during the process were paying meticulous attention to the quality of the masters and taking extra steps toward eliminating tape hiss, clicks, and other anomalies. The idea that these sub-standard quality Capitol recordings - which essentially amounted to unauthorized remixes made on sometimes third and fourth generation tapes - was no longer acceptable. The “Capitol Albums” project was shelved, and the U.S. albums Yesterday And Today, Revolver, and Hey Jude never saw release.

The idea was that ‘The U.S. Albums’ would be supplanting ‘The Capitol Albums’ and containing the whole discography in a single box. But a few weeks before its January 21st release, reports surfaced that ‘The U.S. Albums’ would not be using the original Capitol masters, but rather the original source from the remastered 2009 masters. The compression, reverb, and other unique edits American listeners were familiar with and rightfully expected from a set titled ‘The U.S. Albums’ were gone.

From the box set booklet:

“Many of the songs used on the original U.S. albums were made from second-, third-, and even fourth-generation tapes. In compiling this box set, the decision was made not to remaster from the original Capitol master tapes. While doing so would have been the easiest way to go, it would not have created the best possible listening experience. In an effort to preserve the original intentions of the band and the producers, the masters used are, in most cases, the same as the stereo and mono remasters released in 2009 as part of the Parlophone/Apple core catalog, all approved by George Martin and The Beatles. All of the duophonic mixes have been replaced with the approved stereo mixes when available and some mono mixes in the few instances where no true stereo mix exists.”

‘The U.S. Albums’ is not a collection of CD versions of American Beatles records. It’s a collection of 13 glorified playlists; aside from the false start intro on I’m Looking Through You and a few other insignificant (and fake) edits, there is no discernible difference between this box set and the already existing 2009 remastered albums.

Some people will be OK with this, and no doubt the Beatles who were famously frustrated with the editing of their music for the American market are happy to have rewritten history and eliminated these mixes from history. But if that is the case, why issue this box set in the first place? The album re-sequencing is just as marked a difference as the remixing, so what is the point of recreating the albums and changing the music? What is the point of creating brand new mixes of I’m Looking Through You if the original remixes were unacceptable? Why go through the extra effort of putting out a half effort like this box set?

‘The U.S. Albums’ cannot be recommended, especially if one already owns all of the 2009 remasters since one could simply rip the CDs and create a playlist for each of the albums. At over $160 list price, it would make more sense to track down the two out-of-print ‘Capitol Albums’ volumes and either wait until Apple decides to give in to fans’ demands and issue the remaining three U.S. titles or seek fan-made vinyl rips.

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