Sunday, November 24, 2013

Past Masters, Volume 1 -- The Beatles -- Review

Past Masters, Volume 1 (1988)
Rating: 12
"How can you laugh when you know I'm down?"
Best Song: I Want to Hold Your Hand
Worst Song: I Call Your Name

       For those not in the know, in the late 80s EMI took a look at their vaults and realized that The Beatles had a great deal of material released only on singles. You see, back in the 50s and early 60s, bands would write 2 or 3 good singles and then record about 25 minutes of cover tunes and filler; this was how most pop albums were produced. The Fab Four, however, took a different approach, one designed to give their fans the most bang for their buck -- they would indeed record a series of brilliant, well-selling singles, but they would never actually place them on their albums, leading to every album containing nothing but completely new material. This was great back in the day, but by the 80s this proposition was a little troublesome; there was a load of great material released by the band that was virtually inaccessible.
       Enter Past Masters, a two-volume set of all the singles released by the band. This first set, comprised of material released from 1962 to 1965, is a little weaker than the second set, but it's still necessary. Sure, there are some middling tunes -- Ringo's cover of "Matchbox" is forgettable, Paul's chipper "She's a Woman" is rather boring, and John's "I Call Your Name" is just...meh. There are also German versions of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You", which, while fun for novelty value, are completely unnecessary when the brilliant originals are already placed on the exact same album.
       Other minuses include the silly "Bad Boy" and the slightly cheesy "This Boy" (although the middle eight on that one is friggin' excellent, featuring some of John's best vocals EVER), but everything else is definitely solid. The afore-mentioned "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You" are pretty overplayed and ubiquitous, but you're heavily saturated with them for a reason! They're both spectacular pop gems, particularly "Hold Your Hand", which features some of the best harmonies I have EVER heard. "I'm Down" is Paul's attempt at something of a...hard-rock surf-rock doo-wop number, and he pulls it off handily -- it's brilliant. I've admittedly never been a huge fan of the group's first single "Love Me Do", but its follow-up, "From Me to You" is absolutely splendid, combining some great vocal melodies with a great harmonica line.
       There are other highlights as well (Paul's cover of "Long Tall Sally", "I'll Get You", and the groundbreaking "I Feel Fine"), but I'm sure you get the idea -- a great collection of a decent period by a great band. There are far more essential Beatles recordings, but I'd be hard-pressed not to recommend this at least somewhat. A solid buy.

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