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The Return of the Red and the Blue Albums
by Bruce Spizer
Apple has quietly upgraded and reissued the "Red Album" and "Blue Album" collections. These separate two-disc sets are comparable in packaging and sound quality to the remasters issued on 9-09-09. The removable booklets for each album contain liner notes by Bill Flanagan, photos and the lyrics to the songs.
The albums were the first authorized "best of" collection of Beatles music issued in the United States, although Parlophone had put together "A Collection Of Beatles Oldies" for the 1966 holiday season when EMI learned there would be no new Beatles album until 1967. Although officially titled "The Beatles 1962-1966" and "The Beatles 1967-1970," they quickly became know as "The Red Album" and "The Blue Album" due to color of their respective covers, inner sleeves and labels. They were each issued as two-record sets in April, 1973, in part to satisfy the contractual obligations of the Beatles to provide product to Capitol Records. The decision to release the albums was also influenced by the success of unauthorized collections containing Beatles songs pirated from albums manufactured and distributed by Apple and Capitol.
The most notorious pirated collection was "Alpha Omega," which contained 60 Beatles songs (including a few solo recordings), all for $13.95. The album was heavily advertised on television and radio, catching the attention of Capitol. On February 16, 1973, George Harrison, Apple and Capitol filed a law suit against the manufacturer. The advertising immediately stopped. Although court records from the lawsuit are missing, one can safely assume the case was either settled or decided in favor of Harrison, Apple and Capitol.
The official Apple albums were programmed by Allan Steckler, who worked for Abkco (Allen Klein's company that at the time managed Apple) and who had previously selected the tracks and running order for the "Hey Jude" LP as well as the Rolling Stones' "Hot Rocks" collections. The songs appear in chronological order (give or take a week) based on British release dates. In addition to having all of the hit singles, the collections contain a generous dose of key album tracks, including eight selections recorded during the "Rubber Soul" sessions. "Sgt. Pepper," "Magical Mystery Tour," "The White Album," "Abbey Road" and "Let It Be" are all well represented.
For older fans, "The Red Album" and "The Blue Album" were a great way to relive the excitement of the Beatles music of the sixties. For others, the albums served as a wonderful introduction to the incredible music recorded by the group. "The Red Album" peaked at number three and, as of 2002, had certified sales of 15 million units (meaning sales of 7.5 million albums). "The Blue Album" topped the charts and, as of 2002, had certified sales of 16 million units (meaning sales of 8 million albums).
The huge initial success of the albums was due in part to then-current interest in the Beatles generated by hit singles and albums from Paul ("My Love" and "Red Rose Speedway") and George ("Give Me Love" and "Living In The Material World"). "The Red Album" and "The Blue Album" have remained steady sellers over the years due to quality of the music selected for the discs.
As was the case with the 9-09-09 remasters, great care and thought have gone into these releases compared to the way they were rushed out by Capitol in 1973. Gone are the crossfades on "A Day In The Life" and "Back In The U.S.S.R." The Abbey Road engineers went back to the master tape of each song, not the banded albums. Thus, we get to hear John's acoustic guitar opening of "A Day In The Life" clean without the ending cheers of the "Sgt. Pepper" reprise. The fade out of "Back In The U.S.S.R." no longer has the opening guitar notes of "Dear Prudence." These minor points enhance the listening experience and once again demonstrate that Apple truly cares about the Beatles musical legacy.
If you purchased the remasters last year you might wonder is this something you really need. Well, as always, need is relative. While you may already own remastered versions of the songs in these collections, its nice to have some of the group's greatest music carefully selected and sequenced. If you have fond memories of listening to "The Red Album" and "The Blue Album" in the seventies or whenever you were first introduced to these great collections, you will enjoy hearing them again in improved sound.
Additional information about the history of "The Red Album" and "The Blue Album" can be found in Bruce Spizer's book "The Beatles on Apple Records." Bruce Spizer is the author of a series of critically acclaimed books on the Beatles American record releases. He also wrote "The Beatles Are Coming! The Birth of Beatlemania in America," which is the definitive book on the subject. He served as editor and publisher of "Price Guide for the Beatles American Records," which was written by Perry Cox and Frank Daniels. Bruce is currently working with Frank Daniels on a new book covering the Beatles U.K. record releases from the sixties titled "Beatles For Sale on Parlophone Records." He has served as a consultant for EMI/Capitol Records on Beatles projects. Information regarding his books can be found at his website www.beatle.net.
Published November 19, 2010
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