In 1995 and 1996, The Beatles Anthology, a new documentary about the Beatles, and three accompanying CD sets were released. These sets were a collection of unreleased Beatles songs, outtakes, live performances, and different versions of their big hits. Like the first set, the second volume included a "new" Beatles track but did away with the interview clips found on Anthology 1.
Anthology 2 begins with Real Love, a song that John Lennon recorded as a demo in the 1970s. In 1995, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, with the help of coproducer Jeff Lynne, began working on removing the static and background noise on the mono cassette tape. They then added some new instrumentation and vocals, but didn't mess around with Lennon's lyrics, which are very beautiful and poignant. John's voice sounds much stronger here than on the Anthology 1 track "Free As A Bird," and Paul and George's backing vocals are gorgeous. The song is sort of poppy, and sounds very much like a "real" Beatles song. George's guitar solo is a highlight.
Anthology 2 covers the period many consider the Beatles' best, 1965-1967, when they produced the albums Help!, Rubber Soul, Revolver, and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Beatles stopped touring in 1966, so there are still some live performances on this CD, though not as many as on Anthology 1. There are a few songs that were never released, but mostly what you get here are early versions of songs that appeared on albums.
After "Real Love," the first track is Yes It Is, which starts out with only John singing. He starts laughing and almost stops singing completely, then the three-part harmonies of John, Paul and George kick in. The released version of this song was the B side of "Ticket to Ride." I'm Down was the B side of "Help!" and this version is basically the same, although it is missing John and George's backing vocals. At the end, Paul says, "Plastic soul, man, plastic soul," perhaps inspiring the title of their next album, Rubber Soul.
You've Got to Hide Your Love Away has a funny beginning, with the sounds of glass breaking and John singing, "Paul's broken a glass, broken a glass..." This is a nice acoustic song which was included on the Help! album. If You've Got Trouble is a Lennon-McCartney penned song sung by Ringo. It's really not a very good song, and it's easy to see why it was never released, but I do like when Ringo says, "Aw, rock on anybody!" That Means a Lot is a Paul song, and again, this one just isn't that great.
An alternate version of Yesterday features only Paul and his acoustic guitar, and it is simple but very nice. Interestingly, although the song begins with George asking Paul what key the song is in, George doesn't play on the actual song. Next is another Help! track, It's Only Love. This one does not feature George's lead guitar and as such is softer than the released one.
Four live performances from the television show Blackpool Night Out are included, I Feel Fine, Ticket to Ride, Yesterday, and Help!. There is also a live version of the Carl Perkins cover Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby, taken from the Beatles' legendary 1965 Shea Stadium concert. It's almost impossible to hear George's singing over the screaming fans, but it's still cool to hear a song from that appearance.
There are only two songs from Rubber Soul included on this anthology. Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) is the first and differs very slightly from the released one. With this song, written principally by John, the Beatles began moving in a new direction, with better lyrics and the first use of the sitar in popular music. I'm Looking Through You is my least favourite song from Rubber Soul, and this version is one of my least favourite songs on the anthology. I'm not sure if it's better, but it's different. It's slower than the released one, it features more sparse instrumentation, and it's missing the "Why, tell me why" choruses.
A 12-Bar Original is a rare instrumental recording by the Beatles, also featuring producer George Martin on harmonium. It's pretty cool actually. Take 1 of Tomorrow Never Knows follows, and it is one of my favourites on this compilation. The music is kind of echo-y, especially the drums, and John's voice sounds weird and far away as he sings lines like "Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream, it is not dying." This is a very strange song, and it's probably stranger than the Revolver version.
Got to Get You Into My Life, like its Revolver counterpart, features Paul on lead vocals, but that's about the only similarity between the songs. The music for this version is slow and the organ kind of reminds me of a funeral march or something. There are backing vocals which are kind of annoying, and some different lyrics. This is an interesting version, but I prefer the released one. And Your Bird Can Sing is musically not very different from the Revolver one, but on this one, John and Paul basically giggle their way through the song. It's kind of cute, actually, although now I want to know what they were laughing at.
Taxman is almost exactly like the master, right down to the opening countdown and cough. George's biting, witty lyrics and Paul's awesome bass guitar riffs are here, although the backing vocals say "Anybody got a bit of money" instead of "Ah-ah, Mr. Wilson" and "Ah-ah, Mr. Heath." Then we get Eleanor Rigby (strings only) which I guess would be good if you wanted to sing along without Paul's pesky vocals.
You can continue your Beatles karaoke session with the next track, I'm Only Sleeping (rehearsal), an instrumental rehearsal of the song that later appeared on Revolver. We also get to hear I'm Only Sleeping (Take 1), featuring both John and Paul singing instead of just John. The first disc ends with two live songs, Rock and Roll Music and She's A Woman, which, again, you can barely hear over the screaming Beatlemaniacs.
Disc two begins with a Strawberry Fields Forever overdose: a demo sequence, take 1, and take 7 and an edit piece. Penny Lane features a single-tracked Paul vocal rather than the double-tracked single version, and the trumpets in the bridge are louder. An alternate version of one of my favourite Beatles songs, A Day in the Life, follows. This version does not include the orchestral buildup or the final piano note, but it does feature John introducing the song by mumbling, "Sugar plum fairy, sugar plum fairy." It's pretty cool, but the Sgt. Pepper version is definitely better.
Good Morning Good Morning does not include the "good morning" chorus or the horns, and the drums sound louder. Nothing too exciting here. Only A Northern Song is a variation of the song that appeared on Yellow Submarine, and although I prefer the released version, I like this one a lot. The music is very weird and cool, and the lyrics are funny when you realize that Harrison was singing about his experience writing for Northern Songs Ltd. We then get takes 1, 2 and 7 of the Sgt. Pepper song, Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!, which Lennon actually wrote while looking at a circus poster.
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, another Pepper track, is presented here with a guide vocal from John that is pretty bad. You can hear a tamboura pretty clearly here, but the drums don't sound as powerful as on the released one. Next is the Within You Without You (Instrumental), over five minutes of some Indian musicians jamming. I guess it's pretty cool if you're in the mood to listen to some Indian instrumentals. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) does feature a vocal, but again, it's a guide vocal (this time by Paul), so it's pretty weak.
You Know My Name (Look Up the Number) is one song you either love or hate, and most people hate it. The lyrics consist of Paul and John shouting, "You know my name! Look up the number!" repeatedly over different beats. So for the anthology, I guess they figured why not take a song most people hate and make it longer and more annoying? Thus, the almost six minute version of "You Know My Name" appears here. I don't actually hate it, but it's far from my favourite. I Am the Walrus is an amazing Lennon composition, featuring some of his strangest lyrics ever and some weird sound effects. This version is the basic track, without all the extra effects, making John's voice sound clearer.
The Fool on the Hill (demo) is (obviously) a demo of Paul's song, featuring him singing and playing the piano live. Your Mother Should Know sounds very unlike the Magical Mystery Tour version, featuring a rapping snare drum and a mournful-sounding harmonium. I am not a fan of this version, and I am very happy they changed the arrangement for the released one. The Fool on the Hill (Take 4) is nothing special. Hello, Goodbye has some differences but is pretty close to the single version, as is Lady Madonna. Across the Universe is a very beautiful Lennon song in any form, and this alternate acoustic version is no exception. The "Nothing's gonna change my world" is simple but so effective, and this is a nice way to end the collection.
Anthology 2 should have been the best of the anthologies because it covers what was arguably the Beatles' most creative period. Unfortunately, there are too many versions of the same songs, there are some songs that don't even sound all that different than their released form, and many songs are not represented on here at all. It's hard to believe that only two songs from the transitional album Rubber Soul are included here. I would also have liked to hear different versions of songs like "We Can Work It Out," "Paperback Writer," and "Rain." That's not to say that this isn't a good collection, because it is. It's cool to hear how some songs developed, and I actually like some of these anthology versions as much as the released ones. And the 48-page booklet with information about all the songs and lots of pictures just about makes the set worth the price alone. Just don't make this one of the first Beatles albums you get.
Other Beatles CDs
With the Beatles, A Hard Day's Night, Beatles For Sale, Help!, Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Magical Mystery Tour, The Beatles (The White Album), Yellow Submarine (Songtrack), Abbey Road, Let It Be, Past Masters Volume One, The Beatles Anthology 1, The Beatles Anthology 3, Free As A Bird (Single), Real Love (Single)
And in case that wasn't enough:
A Hard Day's Night, Help!, Magical Mystery Tour, Yellow Submarine, Beatles Anthology, Ed Sullivan Presents the Beatles, Concert for George, How I Won the War, Imagine (film), Beatles Essay, George Harrison CD