The music industry is down to about three major record labels, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment. It’s almost enough to make a person long for the days when there were dozens of viable and profitable independent record labels that were not under the umbrella of the behemoths. However, those halcyon days weren’t all covered in glory. Record labels often shortchanged recording artists.
A prime example is what Capitol Records did to early Beatles albums for American audiences. In the name of “Capitol-ism,” the American partner of the British Parlophone/EMI label sliced and diced and plundered early Beatles albums until the Fab Four’s creative efforts were a hodgepodge of disconnected songs that bore little to no resemblance to the British versions of their albums.
“We always objected terribly to what the Americans did to our recordings, but I had no say in it,” said George Martin, the producer of most Beatles recordings, according to “The Billboard Book of Number One Albums.” “They just did what they wanted to do.”
The two primary reasons Capitol Records desecrated Beatles albums and ignored the band’s intentions were that albums typically had 10 or 12 tracks in America and 14 tracks in the U.K., and the Beatles already had two albums released in Great Britain before they broke big in America, forcing their stateside label to play catch-up. There of course was also unfettered greed involved. In an effort to maximize profits, Capitol released more albums in America than did their EMI counterparts in Britain. The Capitol albums seemed like random collections that violated the integrity and cohesiveness of Beatles music.
Here is the bizarre way the early Beatles U.S. albums were assembled.
“Introducing…The Beatles,” released Jan. 10, 1964. In 1963, before Beatlemania erupted in America, Capitol Records passed on the chance to release an American version of the British “Please Please Me” album. The independent Vee-Jay Records label was licensed to put out the album as “Introducing…The Beatles.” It was similar to “Please Please Me,” just with two fewer tracks. The common tracks were: “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Misery,” “Anna (Go To Him),” “Chains,” “Boys,” “Love Me Do,” “P.S. I Love You,” “Baby It’s You,” “Do You Want To Know A Secret,” “A Taste Of Honey,” “There’s A Place,” and “Twist And Shout.” The only two tracks missing on the American version were “Ask Me Why” and “Please Please Me” itself.
“Meet The Beatles!” released Jan. 20, 1964. This was the first Beatles album Capitol Records released. The album, which was number one for 11 weeks, led off with “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” which would soon be a number one single. “I Saw Her Standing There,” the flip side of the single, also appeared on the American album, as did “This Boy.” The remaining tracks were culled from the Parlophone/EMI album “With The Beatles,” released in late 1963. Those tracks were: “It Won’t Be Long,” “All I’ve Got To Do,” “All My Loving,” “Don’t Bother Me,” “Little Child,” “Till There Was You,” “Hold Me Tight,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” and “Not A Second Time.”
“The Beatles’ Second Album,” released April 10, 1964. For “The Beatles’ Second Album,” which was number one for five weeks, Capitol Records “borrowed” the remaining five tracks from the British “With The Beatles” LP. Those were: “Roll Over Beethoven,” “You Really Got A Hold On Me,” “Devil In Her Heart,” “Money (That’s What I Want),” and “Please Mister Postman.” All of these were cover songs, with three coming from Motown Records. The latest hit single “She Loves You” and its flip side “I’ll Get You” are on the album. Rarely would the Beatles put singles on their British albums because they felt it was a form of cheating the customer. “Long Tall Sally” and “I Call Your Name” were taken from a British EP and added to “The Beatles’ Second Album.” “You Can’t Do That” was brought in from the U.K. version of “A Hard Day’s Night,” and finally the single “Thank You Girl, ” the B side to “From Me To You,” was added.
“A Hard Day’s Night,” released June 26, 1964. Capitol did not have the rights to the soundtrack of the Beatles first film, “A Hard Day’s Night.” United Artists Records did, since the motion picture was put out by United Artists studios. What they did to the soundtrack was shameless. “A Hard Day’s Night” was the first Beatles album where Lennon-McCartney wrote all the material. But American audiences did not get to enjoy the 13 vocal tracks arranged in the sequence the Beatles intended. The title song “A Hard Day’s Night” joined “Tell Me Why,” “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You,” “I Should Have Known Better,” “If I Fell ,” “And I Love Her,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” and “I’ll Cry Instead” as tracks that appear on both the British and American versions. But the American version dropped the remaining five tracks from the British album and padded the album with film music and instrumental versions of songs already done vocally on the album. Despite this, the album was number one for 14 weeks in the U.S.
“Something New,” released July 20, 1964. Capitol Records was now back in the saddle and able to release material from the “A Hard Day’s Night” film to compete against the soundtrack. They did so right on the heels of the United Artists release. “I’ll Cry Instead,” “Things We Said Today,” “Any Time At All,” “When I Get Home,” “Tell Me Why,” “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You,” “If I Fell ,” and “And I Love Her” were tracks from the British version of “A Hard Day’s Night” that appeared on “Something New.” Additionally, “Slow Down” and “Matchbox,” from the “Long Tall Sally” British EP, were included. Finally the German language version of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” was on “Something New.” Because it was a rehash of “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Something New” was one of the few Beatles albums that failed to top the chart.
“Beatles ’65,” released Dec. 15, 1964. The album cover featured the Beatles holding umbrellas. Eight of the tracks matched what was on the British “Beatles For Sale” album that had come out in the U.K. less than two weeks before. Those songs were: “No Reply,” “I’m A Loser,” “Baby’s In Black,” “Rock And Roll Music,” “I’ll Follow The Sun,” “Mr. Moonlight,” “Honey Don’t,” and “Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby.” “I’ll Be Back,” the only song from “A Hard Day’s Night” not yet released in America, found its way onto “Beatles ’65.” The single “I Feel Fine” and the B side “She’s A Woman” were also on the album, which spent nine weeks at number one.
“The Early Beatles,” released March 22, 1965. As part of a lawsuit settlement in late 1964, Vee-Jay Records surrendered its interests in Beatles material by transferring the rights to Capitol Records. This meant the earliest Beatles album, “Please Please Me,” was now available to Capitol Records. Eleven of the 14 tracks from “Please Please Me” were on “The Early Beatles.” They were: “Love Me Do,” “Twist And Shout,” “Anna (Go To Him),” “Chains,” “Boys,” “Ask Me Why,” “Please Please Me,” “P.S. I Love You,” “Baby It’s You,” “A Taste Of Honey,” and “Do You Want To Know A Secret.”
“Beatles VI,” released June 14, 1965. A number one album for six weeks, “Beatles VI” contained the six leftover tracks from “Beatles For Sale” that were not put on the “Beatles ’65” album. Those six songs were: “Kansas City/ Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey!” “Eight Days A Week,” “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party,” “Words Of Love,” “What You’re Doing,” and “Every Little Thing.” “Beatles VI” brings in “You Like Me Too Much” and “Tell Me What You See” from the British “Help!” album that had yet to be released. The singles “Ticket To Ride” and “Yes It Is” were added, as were two covers of Larry Williams’ songs, “Bad Boy” and “Dizzy Miss Lizzie.”
“Help!” released Aug. 13, 1965. Unlike the situation with “A Hard Day’s Night,” Capitol Records got the rights to the soundtrack for the Beatles second movie, “Help!”, right from the outset. However, they followed the similar script to what United Artists did with “A Hard Day’s Night.” They gathered seven vocal performances from the movie and filled out the rest of the album with instrumentals, unlike the British EMI version that had 14 vocal tracks. The seven vocal tracks that made the American version of “Help!” were: “Help!” “The Night Before,” “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away,” “I Need You,” “Another Girl,” “Ticket To Ride,” and “You’re Going To Lose That Girl.” The instrumental tracks did not detract from the album enough to keep American audiences away. Fans bought the soundtrack in such quantities that “Help!” was number one for nine weeks.
“Rubber Soul,” released Dec. 6, 1965. With “Rubber Soul,” the U.K and U.S. versions of Beatles albums were finally approximating one another. “Rubber Soul” from Capitol even had the same album name and cover as its British counterpart. The ten songs that were the same on both albums included: “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” “You Won’t See Me,” “Think For Yourself,” “The Word,” “Michelle,” “Girl,” “I’m Looking Through You,” “In My Life,” “Wait,” and “Run For Your Life.” The other two tracks filling out the album were “I’ve Just Seen A Face” and “It’s Only Love,” both pulled from the British version of “Help!” “Rubber Soul” was number one in America for six weeks.
“Yesterday And Today,” released June 20, 1966. This album was the most disgraceful one yet, not only for the violation of artistic integrity but also for the infamous “butcher block” album cover. On the original cover, the Beatles are shown wearing white lab coat smocks, smiling and holding bloody cuts of red meat and dismembered and decapitated baby dolls. The album cover caused such controversy and outrage that it had to be recalled and a less offensive cover was pasted over the tasteless one. There was speculation that the “butcher” cover was the Beatles way of protesting the way they felt Capitol Records was butchering their albums. Not surprisingly, given the album’s title, “Yesterday” was a track on the album, pulled from the American single and the British “Help!” album. “Act Naturally,” the B side of the “Yesterday” single in America, was also on the LP. Also in the mélange were: “Drive My Car,” “Nowhere Man,” “If I Needed Someone,” and “What Goes On,” which were the four remaining songs from the British version of “Rubber Soul.” Even though “Revolver” hadn’t been released yet, Capitol Records had no qualms about pulling “And Your Bird Can Sing,” “I’m Only Sleeping,” and “Doctor Robert” from the future U.K. edition of “Revolver” and arbitrarily throwing them on “Yesterday And Today.” “We Can Work It Out” and “Day Tripper,” a double A-sided single, rounded out “Yesterday And Today,” an album that spent five weeks at number one.
“Revolver,” released Aug. 8, 1966. The American version of “Revolver,” which spent six weeks at number one, was the closest thing yet to a match with the Parlophone/EMI version. The only difference was the three cuts already sacrificed to supply the “Yesterday And Today” album. The 11 songs on both the U.K and U.S. versions of “Revolver” were: “Taxman,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Love You To,” “Here, There And Everywhere,” “Yellow Submarine,” “She Said, She Said,” “Good Day Sunshine,” “For No One,” “I Want To Tell You,” “Got To Get You Into My Life,” and “Tomorrow Never Knows.” The three songs pulled to go on “Yesterday And Today” were all John Lennon tunes, meaning he had just two of his songs left for the American version of “Revolver.” The British version of “Revolver” had a careful balance between the songs and lead vocals of Paul McCartney and those of Lennon. The American version did not keep this balance because such niceties weren’t taken into consideration.
“Magical Mystery Tour,” released Nov. 27, 1967. Fortunately, starting with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in June 1967, the bowdlerizing of albums was mostly discontinued, and the same versions of Beatles albums were released worldwide. However, an exception was the very next album, “Magical Mystery Tour,” a soundtrack to the Beatles TV film on the BBC. The Parlophone/EMI version was a six-song double EP, but American labels did not generally release EPs. To compensate, Capitol Records fleshed out the EP by adding five singles, “Hello Goodbye,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Penny Lane,” “All You Need Is Love,” and “Baby You’re A Rich Man.” From the film came the title track “Magical Mystery Tour,” as well as “The Fool On The Hill,” “Flying,” “Blue Jay Way,” “Your Mother Should Know,” and “I Am The Walrus.” Although the film flopped when released in American theaters, the soundtrack was number one on the album chart for eight weeks. For once Capitol Records had the better arrangements of songs, and when the Beatles “Magical Mystery Tour” CD came out in the 1980s, the Capitol version of 11 songs was chosen over the EMI version.
British version wins CD battle. Mercifully, when the Beatles issued their entire catalog on CDs in 1987, only the British versions were released, except for the U.S. version of “Magical Mystery Tour.” But the American versions of Beatles albums still came back to haunt the public in the early 2000s, when Capitol Records put out a box set of the altered U.S. albums.
When bean counters ruled. In the heyday of vinyl records, corporate labels exercised almost dictatorial control over the music, and recording artists often did not have ownership of their own work. Labels routinely did not show regard or respect for artist’s work but were intent on trying to milk every dime they could off the backs of recording artists. For example, to break up the songs on an album like “Beatles For Sale,” which had a folk music theme throughout, and spread them over two albums, should have been unconscionable. What happened to the Beatles albums is a cautionary tale to anyone who wistfully imagines the era of the ubiquitous record labels was a great time.
“The Billboard Book of Number One Albums,” Craig Rosen, Billboard Books, 1996
“Please Please Me,” Parlophone/EMI Records, CD, 1987
“With The Beatles,” Parlophone/EMI Records, CD, 1987
“A Hard Day’s Night,” Parlophone/EMI Records, CD, 1987
“Beatles For Sale,” Parlophone/EMI Records, CD, 1987
“Help!” Parlophone/EMI Records, CD, 1987
“Rubber Soul,” Parlophone/EMI Records, CD, 1987
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” Parlophone/EMI Records, CD, 1987
“Revolver,” Parlophone/EMI Records, CD, 1987