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MUSIC: MORE TAPES FROM THE CRYPT

3 minute read
Richard Corliss

THERE’S ALWAYS BEEN A GHOULish side to the idea of a Beatles reunion. A promoter throws the prospect of a little money–$225 million was the most recent offer–at Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr for going on the world’s greatest oldies tour. It’ll be fabulous, guys. Just the three of you, and your dead friend.

John Lennon’s old mates have rightly declined such offers. They know that where the Beatles live is in their music. Its enduring appeal was certified with The Beatles Anthology 1, a collection of the group’s tracks from 1957 to 1964, which has sold some 10 million copies worldwide since its release last November. That album was, musically speaking, kid stuff with nostalgia value–a fine addition to your fetish file, to put between the bootleg tapes and The Baroque Beatles Book. Now comes The Beatles Anthology 2, a two-CD set that dispenses with the first album’s period chat and cover versions of R.-and-B. songs to concentrate on alternate takes of songs from the band’s musical prime time, from 1965 to early 1968. This is not just candy for Beatlemaniacs; it’s a tonic for the soul. You want a solid couple of hours of superb pop music? 2 is the one.

The album kicks off with Real Love, Lennon’s dreamy 1979 ballad to which Paul, George and Ringo added sweet harmonies and rhythmic heft. There’s also 12-Bar Original, a metallic-blues instrumental from 1965. Two other “new” songs are from that year: Paul’s flaccid That Means a Lot, recorded as a demo for a single by P.J. Proby; and a Ringo vocal, If You’ve Got Trouble, with inanely taunting lyrics: “You think I’m soft in the head/ Well, try someone softer instead.”

Anyone could write these toss-aways. But only McCartney was writing Yesterday, an instant-classic melody that boasted an unusual seven-bar chorus and producer George Martin’s string-quartet underscoring. Anthology 2 has two archival gems: the song’s first studio take, with Paul calling out chords to the sidemen, and its first public rendition, to which he brings a Liverpudlian tang (“Now it lukes as though they’re here to stay”) and a choirboy’s urgent purity.

It’s thrilling to trace, on Anthology 2, the gestation of Strawberry Fields Forever–from John’s first rough tape, just voice and guitar (frustrated, he keens, “I canna’ do it, I canna’ do it”), to a spare, beautifully sung take with Paul’s mellotron and George’s gently weeping guitar, to the slow, sliding version that (when speeded up by Martin) provided the first minute of the final single. All these takes are gorgeous but tantalizing. Let’s hear the whole amazing production process–an all–Strawberry Fields CD.

Some of Anthology 2’s most charming cuts are pre-Martin-ized versions of the final material. Check out the Beatles unplugged: a rollicking Got to Get You into My Life featuring sumptuous harmonies; the fetal version of A Day in the Life; a mainly acoustic, hand-jivey I’m Looking Through You; a busted take of And Your Bird Can Sing, in which John and Paul teeter into wild giggling–two kids in love with the fun of making music.

The new album reminds you that at heart, the Beatles were four guys in their 20s having a ball singing and playing their songs. Thirty years later, who needs three of them on stage straining to rekindle that fire? Anthology 2 has all the light and heat you need.

–By Richard Corliss

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