Anthology Three Visits 'White Album' And 'Abbey Road'

Like its two predecessors, the concluding, double-disc "Beatles Anthology, Volume 3" (Apple, 4 stars) gives listeners a fly-on-the-wall perspective to the group's creative process. What a treat, hearing how songs sounded at their peak of freshness, in unvarnished solo demo versions or maybe the first or second time the whole band played it! In the evolution to the final master (maybe 35 takes later), many changes would be made - most but not all for the better.

Volume 3 concentrates on music created for the Beatles' final group efforts - "The White Album," "Let It Be" (a k a "Get Back") and "Abbey Road" - though some tunes included (like "Teddy Boy" and "Not Guilty") wouldn't surface until the guys' post-breakup solo albums. Here are juicy George Harrison demos of "Something" and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," the latter with a whole extra verse I'm not sorry was scrubbed: "I look from the wings at the play you are staging/While my guitar gently weeps/As I'm sitting here doing nothing but aging ..." But I'm loving the anthology's fresh and funny "new" takes on "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," with Paul doing guttural vocal tricks a la Doodles Weaver in the Spike Jones band, and "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," much more in the Trinidad carnival spirit with added xylophone and saxes.

Paul sounds angelic on the stripped-bare "Mother Nature's Son," an early take of "Blackbird" and the "as nature intended" version of "The Long and Winding Road," de-schlocked of Phil Spector's orchestral and choral overdubs.

Equally impressive is an a cappella version of "Because," showcasing the group's superb harmonic skills.

While true finds are few, John's long-suppressed avant-garde rocker "What's the New Mary Jane" finally makes its spacy debut, here. So, too, do the lads' crisp cover of an obscure Buddy Holly single, "Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues," and a spirited medley of oldies - "Rip It Up," "Shake, Rattle & Roll" and "Blue Suede Shoes" - from the "Get Back" sessions.

Both amusing and insightful is an "Oh! Darling" rehearsal with John riffing spontaneously on the news that "Yoko's divorce went through ... and I'll never do you no harm."

Also newly out is a 10-hour-long video box set likewise titled "The Beatles Anthology" (Apple/Capitol VHS, Pioneer Laserdisc, 3 stars), though it hardly relates to the "alternative take" concept of the CDs bearing the same name.

Instead, this high-priced video collection (discounted to about $110 on VHS tape, and $180-$200 on laserdisc) intends to be the definitive autobiographical overview of the group.

Twice as long as the version that ran on ABC last year, the home video anthology glories in historic Beatlemania footage, dozens of live performances and music videos, and recently filmed anecdotal bits by Paul, George and Ringo - with John represented by audio clips from radio interviews.

Most amusing is how differently or selectively the guys recall the past - like the time they all had a few cups of "tea" and went to meet Elvis Presley. Bizarrely, only John remembers them all jamming with the King. Or discussing the "White Album," Starr remembers the tracks they all recorded together, while Harrison recalls only the material they cut separately. As the Beatles are the most documented group in music history, new insights are few and far between. Frankly, you'll learn more about their creative mindset from listening to the audio "Anthology" discs.

And here's a major cautionary note: While there's lots more performance footage from events like the Beatles' Shea Stadium concert than was offered in the edited TV version, the home video still abides by the "documentary" style. Meaning that musical renderings are sometimes interrupted before the song is through, so that one of the Beatles or producer George Martin can toss in a cogent insight.

Even their historic world television debut of "All You Need Is Love" is stepped on in this annoying fashion. Blasphemous!

I'd wager that a one videotape/videodisc "Best of the Beatles Anthology" with clean performance clips and none of the palaver will surface sometime soon. You might want to wait for it.

[Get Back]
Harald Gernhardt's Beatles Pages. Educational use only!