Defining the repertoirial guidelines of our project
by Aviv Kammay
First, Apple did it for us. Not that Apple, the other one. The Beatles’ one (or is it that the Beatles are its?). In March 1988, with the release of the two Past Masters compilation CDs, the boundaries of the Beatles recorded canon were commercially defined. To complement the 13 albums released on CD the previous year (the 12 original UK albums plus the US album Magical Mystery Tour), the Past Masters collections – edited by history’s greatest Beatles historian, Mark Lewisohn – included 33 additional tracks that were not on any of the albums.
Thus, an official complete Beatles catalogue was formed. What was in? Well, it boils down to…
The UK albums,
plus non-album tracks on UK singles,
plus the Long Tall Sally and Magical Mystery Tour EPs,
plus the single containing German language versions of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You,”
plus the song “Bad Boy” (first released on a Beatles US album in mid 1965 and then on a Beatles UK compilation in late 1966),
plus the version of “Across the Universe” released in late 1969 on a World Wildlife Fund charity album.
That’s a total of 224 unique tracks (after deducting second appearances of identical recordings of “Yellow Submarine,” “All You Need Is Love” and “I Am the Walrus”). These 224 were now known as the Beatles’ core catalogue, pressed on the period’s newest format, the compact disc. It is important to note that at that point each one of these tracks was officially available in either mono or stereo (never in both) on CD. In other words, each track had one specific “canonized” mix.
So there it was. The Beatles’ canon. It featured selected (or in some cases, newly created) mixes of every title the Beatles recorded and commercially distributed spanning from their EMI signing in late 1962 through their final album release in mid 1970.
What was left out? Well, numerous other Beatles recordings:
Mixes officially released only on vinyl/tapes,
authorized and bootlegged live recordings,
the entire Beatles BBC corpus,
studio outtakes, sessions, and rehearsals (many of which had been leaked and were in circulation),
and various collectors’ gems, from precious home demos to obscure fan-recorded Beatles dialogues to yet more obscure material suited for scholars, the obsessed, and the scholarly obsessive.
Much of what did not make the cut in 1988 was later officially released by Apple on various compilations and formats (remember the Anthology and the Capitol Albums sets?) and a very great deal of the rest is (and has been for a while) available on hard-format bootleg collections and online.
It’s All Too Much…
It is now early 2013, and Get Back Wisconsin is formed. We will celebrate the 50th anniversary of every Beatles album release. We will study and perform every Beatles song. Wait, every Beatles song? As in, the infinite number of known (and really, unknown) official mixes, BBC sessions, live versions, and who knows what else? That would not make sense. However, the 224 core catalogue tracks that constitute the rich Beatles canon make PERFECT sense. They are the most “real” Beatles songs (excuse the dangerous adjective there). They are the ones on the albums whose anniversaries we will mark and they include the in-between-albums material which is essential for an authentic representation of the Beatles’ music. And they, if I may, reflect the Beatles’ own desired releases (with the occasional odd exceptions).
Now there are more interesting questions to ask, intentional compromises to consider, and happy decisions to make, some easier than others:
- Are songs that the Beatles themselves covered fair game?
For sure. So many of them are associated with the Beatles (think “Twist and Shout” and “Act Naturally”) and all of them are vital building blocks of the releases in which they are featured.
- Are the 7 instrumental tracks by George Martin on side two of the Yellow Submarine album a truly integral part of the canon?
We should symbolically acknowledge them in one way or another.
- How important is it that we perform the German language versions of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You?”
Not that important.
- What about some of the Beatles songs that absolutely deserve to be paid tribute – for scholarly reasons, historical accuracy, or simply for fun – even though they are not in the canon? Take “Love of the Loved,” “You Know What to Do,” “Leave My Kitten Alone,” “If You’ve Got Trouble,” or “What’s the New Mary Jane” for example.
Let us pick and choose!
- What do we do with “Across the Universe,” “Get Back” and “Let It Be,” two versions of each are featured in the canon?
We base our decision on the context of a given performance. The album versions of these songs will suit their album show best.
- Wait, and “Love Me Do?”
Really? If you are seriously asking this, then you automatically get a bonus point and I guess you will have to look for that tambourine and find out the answer for yourself next time you see us perform that old number!