The Beatles - Past Masters

As my esteemed colleague Mr Burnett points out elsewhere on these fair pages, studying for a degree in Beatles-ology in the immediate aftermath of their split was not always a straightforward process. Although the Fab Four were still regulars on daytime radio - and school music lessons it has to be said - getting the bigger picture was often a tad more complicated.

Aside from a few battered singles, if you wanted to hear anything else by the band you were often relying on a friend being able to pull out a copy of one those weird compilations like Love Songs or Rock and Roll Music from the period when EMI were briefly able to exploit the back catalogue in all manner of strange ways. Oddly, one of my mates even had a copy of 'Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand' in a creased picture sleeve that he rescued from his Mum's collection - but that was about it until I used some birthday money to buy Sgt Pepper ..., sitting it proudly alongside ABBA's Greatest Hits and copies of 'Mull of Kintyre' and Kenny Rogers' 'Coward of the County'.

Things just weren't quite as accessible as they are nowadays, not least because we were all growing up in families who were more concerned with keeping a roof over our heads and putting food on the table than providing a fully-rounded and comprehensive insight into the development of the Great British popular beat combo 1962-70. What ever happened to parental responsibility, I ask? I mean, it was probably 1986 before I even heard 'Rain' properly for the first time.

When the Beatles albums first appeared on CD in 1987, EMI took the opportunity to round up all the stray tracks that didn't appear on the full-lengths, meaning the two volumes of Past Masters were not strictly singles compilations and, in fact, excluded many of their most famous tracks: no 'Help!', 'Ticket To Ride' or '... Walrus', distorting ever-so-slighty the band's eight year progression from pop group, through the psychedelic Magellan stage and finally onto being elder statesmen of British rock music.

Over recent decades the Beatles canon and critical reputation has shifted to their albums, meaning a few of these tracks have fallen out of familiarity and the likes of 'Slow Down', 'Yes It Is' and 'Old Brown Shoe' became the tough answers to questions set by particularly mean pub quizmasters. This threatened to overshadow the band's legacy as the greatest singles band of all time and the music that soundtracked our ghosts of bedrooms past. For The Beatles were unafraid to 'discard' some of their mightiest work to the 7" format. The idea of a band these days not including the double-header of 'Penny Lane' b/w 'Strawberry Fields Forever' on the subsequent album is quite unthinkable. Not even teasers for the main course, they stood alone as the work itself.

And ever mindful of value-for-money, only once did they sanction a single release after the parental album had already come out. Proper gear, those lads.

As has already been highlighted in the millions of words already published during Beatles Week, overall these remasters sound splendid. From the rubbery 'boing' of McCartney's bass on 'Love Me Do' through to the speaker-shredding guitars of 'Revolution', the project engineers have treated the material respectfully, unswayed by the modern fashion for dynamic-reducing volume. Personally, I find the reverb on the vocals of 'Day Tripper' a little intrusive, at odds with the grit ingrained from countless spins on the old Dansette, but it's a minor complaint.

The accompanying artwork and booklet are also a significant upgrade on the old CDs, although for such an iconic catalogue the front cover remains woefully dull.

Essential, of course, and yet strange that they are coming out now; sonic pioneers at the last splutter of an almost defunct format. Never again will there be such a significant re-packaging of an artist's entire catalogue on CD and never again will an act mean quite so much, to quite so many.

"Nothing's gonna change my world"? Oh, but you did! These memories prove as much.




out of 10
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