Tuesday, 19 October 2010

“1967 – 1970” by THE BEATLES. A Review Of The 2010 2CD Reissue Of 1973’s Iconic “Blue” Album.

"…Mother Mary Comes To Me…Speaking Words Of Wisdom…"

Commonly known as the "Blue Album", the 2LP vinyl set "1967 - 1970" became an instant classic when it was first released in April 1973 (as did its "Red" counterpart "1962-1966"). When they were finally reissued onto the new CD format in 1993 however, they caused consternation because of their extortionate full price.

So is this newly remastered 2010 mid-priced 2CD reissue on EMI/Apple 5099990674723 any better - the answer is an emphatic 'yes'.

PACKAGING:
The first thing you notice is that the clunky double jewel-case of the 1993 reissue has been dumped for a three-way foldout card sleeve. The centre and right flaps picture the photograph on the inner gatefold of the original vinyl double album (St. Pancras Old Church in London, 27 July 1969, The Beatles with the public looking through the railings - it's the same photo on the "Red" album). It also houses the two CDs - CD1 has the full Apple label (14 tracks, 51:15 minutes) and the 2nd CD has the half Apple logo (14 tracks, 48:43 minutes). The vinyl set is yet to come, the Digital Download versions are available from 25 Oct 2010 and there's also an issue that lumps both the Blue & Red reissues together as one package in late November.

The left flap houses a new 32-page booklet. The lyrics are intact from the inner sleeves of the original album issue, there's new liner notes by BILL FLANAGAN the MTV Executive and author of "Evening's Empire" (a book on Rock in the Sixties) and there's plenty of superb colour photos from the period - it's impressively done. Downsides - some complained that the 09/09/09 card digipak sleeves for The Beatles reissues were easy to smudge once out of the shrinkwrap and worse - the inner flaps easy to tear as you removed the disc. I'm afraid these are the same. I suppose I would have been naïve of us to think that EMI would actually listen to the complaints of 2009 about packaging, but they haven't - the need for these issues to look the same as the preceding ones has overridden all considerations... Having said that, I still think they look great - substantial even...

PLAYING TIMES:
Unlike the "Red" issue which could easily have fitted onto 1CD (and even included bonus tracks), as you can see from the playing times provided above, it would not have been possible with this set. Anyway - EMI would of course argue that a single CD issue of this most `iconic' of double albums would fundamentally alter the aesthetic of the original release. At least this time, this 2CD reissue is at mid price, so we're not being charged for the privilege of separation.

TRACK CHOICES:
The compilation itself is basically the A-sides of all their UK 7" singles releases between 1967 and 1970 in chronological release date order with a few key album tracks thrown in for good measure. Eagle-eye fans would therefore note that up to and including "Get Back" - ALL Beatles UK 7" singles for that period were issued only in MONO ("The Ballad Of John & Yoko" was their 1st STEREO single in the UK). So the tracks on the album should reflect that - the MONO single mixes. But EMI did nothing of the sort. They're all in STEREO (there's 4 MONO on the "Red" set) and i would argue that accuracy's loss is the listener's gain, because the STEREO versions used here are awesome.

SOUND:
Although the compilation is copyrighted to 2010 (released Monday 18 Oct 2010 in the UK and 19 Oct 2010 in the USA), the liner notes don't try to hide that these are the 2009 remasters by the same team who did the much-praised Beatles catalogue of 09/09/09. The sound quality is fantastic - breathtaking clarity on instruments - the piano and guitars on "Lady Madonna", the jet screeching in at the opening of "Back In The U.S.S.R", the brass on "All You Need Is Love", Billy Preston's superb keyboard work on "Let It Be", the wonderfully loose live feel of "Don't Let Me Down" (best B-side ever?) - and so on.

CONTENT:
But what impresses most is the actual listen itself. Even now, it's truly shocking to hear just how accomplished The Beatles became during this ludicrously productive period.
And diversity of writers crept in too. There's the 3 Harrison gems "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", "Old Brown Shoe" and the magical "Something" while Ringo gets the witty "Octopus' Garden". Leaving the rest as Lennon-McCartney originals. And what an embarrassment of riches they are...

7" perfection comes twice - "Strawberry Fields Forever" b/w "Penny Lane" and arguably the greatest single ever released - "Hey Jude" b/w "Revolution" (melodious Paul on the A with rockin' blistering John on the B). Most bands would kill a close relative to get anywhere near this level of genius. And by the time you get to the ballads at the end of Disc 2 - "The Long And Winding Road" and "Across The Universe" - adjectives begin to fail you... Were The Beatles really 'this' good - the answer is yes - and always will be.

To sum up - the sound on these new reissues is fabulous; the packaging better than the 1993 versions and each is being sold at mid-price - available in most places for less than the price of a single new album. You can't help but think that millions of people globally will take one look at these beauties on a shelf somewhere and slap them straight into their shopping baskets. And rightly so...

I've loved re-hearing these classic Beatles songs in this beautiful sound quality - I really have - and despite some minor packaging quibbles - the 2010 version of the "Blue" album is wholeheartedly recommended.

See also my review for the "Red" album

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Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

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