Importing the Beatles

In 1987, after unconscionable delays, EMI finally released the Beatles catalogue on CD, the remastering supervised by long-time “fifth Beatle” George Martin.   Considerable controversy surrounded this project – not least the question of which albums to put on CD!

Because what had been released on seven albums in Britain, on EMI’s Parlophone label, appeared on 11 albums in America, all but two on EMI’s Capitol label. This caused a good deal of confusion at the time the albums were released – 1963 to 1966 – among Beatles fans, and it led to American fans’ disappointment in the eventual CDs, which did not duplicate their cherished LPs.

To understand how this came about, we have to look at the way the record industry worked in the 1960s. It was a time of vast changes in the music and the way it was handled.  

To begin with, Capitol had no confidence at all in the Beatles in 1963. The American label turned down the group’s first album, which was released in the U.K. as Please Please Me (PMC 1202 or PCS 3042 in fake stereo). When the American independent label Vee Jay picked it up for release in July, 1963 as Introducing the Beatles, they cut the 14-track album down to 12 tracks, omitting “Ask Me Why” and “Please Please Me,” and keeping the LP’s total playing time to under 29 minutes. Subsequently Vee Jay reissued the album with a different cover, and substituted the missing tracks for two others, “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You” which were bumped instead.

This set a pattern which Capitol followed when it realized its mistake and released the second Beatles album. But while Capitol called it Meet the Beatles! (as if it was their first album), in the U.K it was With the Beatles (PMC 1206/PCS 3045), and the British version had two more tracks.

In Britain the Beatles’ third album was the soundtrack album, A Hard Day’s Night (PMC 1230/PCS 3058), but in April, 1964, Capitol rushed out The Beatles’ Second Album, a collection of mostly 1963 singles – because United Artists had exercised its option to release the soundtrack album that June, having produced the film. But the British version of A Hard Day’s Night (PMC 1239/PCS 3058) is also different from the American album.   It omits four George Martin instrumentals (based on Beatles songs) and has five more actual songs by the Beatles.

So it goes.   To catch up on those dropped tracks, Capitol released Something New in July, 1964, and the British Beatles For Sale (PMC 1240/PCS 3062) was released that December as Beatles ’65.   But while the U.K. version had 14 tracks, the U.S. had only 11, three of which weren’t even on the British album. Then Capitol released its own version of the Vee Jay album, The Early Beatles, in March, 1965. Capitol put out another catch-up album with Beatles VI, and in December released Rubber Soul.   The British version (PMC 1267/PCS 3075) had 14 tracks, the Capitol version only 12, of which two were not on the British album.  

Up to this point the Beatles had been recording singles at a prolific rate, and other people were compiling these singles as albums. Although A Hard Day’s Night was ostensibly a soundtrack album, as was Help!, such albums were really simply showcases for the latest hit singles. As such, they were subject to the record-company executives’ decisions.   A late-breaking single in the U.S. might be added to the American album, and a “lesser” B-side bumped. But it also appeared that Capitol did not want more than 27 or 28 minutes of music on its Beatles albums, while Parlophone was happy with somewhat longer albums. (One explanation had to do with song royalties and publishing rights, and company limits, but it was an explanation only an accountant could love.)

Rubber Soul was, in theory, the first album the Beatles had approached as an album, but it was not treated any differently by the record companies. The same was true of Revolver (PMC/PCS 7009), from which Capitol removed three tracks.   But, interestingly, Capitol used those tracks on “Yesterday”…and Today – its final catch-up album – two months before it released Revolver!

It was not until Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – a “concept album” of sorts, inspired by the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (which in turn had been inspired by Revolver) – that a Beatles album was released simultaneously in both countries with the same contents and packaging. That was in June, 1967. Finally American and British Beatles fans were “on the same page.”   And at last the time barrier had been broken: Sgt. Pepper clocked in at almost 40 minutes – 10 minutes longer than any previous Beatles album released in America.

But it couldn’t last – and didn’t. The soundtrack album to the Beatles’ “home made” movie, Magical Mystery Tour, originally existed only in the U.S.   There was never a British LP.   Instead, Parlophone released it in the U.K. as a 45 rpm EP ((S)MMT-1). That’s because the LP used all the actual songs from the movie on side one; side two collected six additional songs (the A and B sides of three singles), including “I Am the Walrus,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Penny Lane” and “All You Need Is Love.” (The Capitol LP used the mono single mixes in fake stereo; collectors sought out the German LP, which had the same tracks in real stereo.)

The eventual CDs ended up following the original British releases, which only made sense – although since the majority ran for less than 35 minutes it was greedy to release them as single CD albums when two could easily have fit on one CD and there were no “bonus tracks.”   The only exception is Magical Mystery Tour; that CD follows the American album. (29638 bytes)