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New Beatles Capitol box set misunderstood by critics

By Bruce Spizer

Capitol records recently announced the November 16, 2004, release of its first four Beatles albums on compact disc in a limited edition box set. The Capitol Albums, Vol. 1 includes the four Beatles albums issued by the company in 1964: Meet The Beatles!, The Beatlesí Second Album, Something New and Beatles í65. These were the albums that Americans grew up with not only in the sixties, but also in the seventies and eighties when these landmark albums continued to sell as catalog items introducing the Beatles to second and third generation fans. Although these albums exposed millions of Americans to the Beatles, they are sometimes criticized for not being what the Beatles intended. Beatles historians and fans have passionate feelings about these albums. Recent commentaries and postings on the internet by Beatles fans and scholars not only demonstrate the strong opinions held regarding these albums, but also show that these albums are misunderstood.

Those condemning the Capitol albums often claim that the company remixed the songs, added echo and issued everything in Duophonic fake stereo. That is simply not true. While some songs were altered, most were not. As detailed below, 38 of the 45 songs appearing on the first four Capitol albums are true stereo mixes prepared by George Martin. While the 8 stereo songs appearing on The Beatlesí Second Album have added echo, the others do not. The important thing to know is that The Capitol Albums, Vol. 1 marks the stereo debut on CD of 32 Beatles songs. Hearing George Martinís stereo mixes of songs such as And I Love Her, If I Fell, Things We Said Today, No Reply and Iíll Follow The Sun on CD will certainly be a treat.

Some people have unfairly accused Capitol of greed when discussing the box set. Each of the four albums is presented in both mono and stereo, a decision that was made to please fans even though it increased the royalties and cut significantly into Capitolís profits. That doesnít sound like greed to me. It sounds more like the Beatles practice of giving fans good value for their money. (As of this date, none of the Beatles British albums have been released in both mono and stereo versions on CD.)

Most of the negative comments regarding the Capitol albums are general statements criticizing the running order of the songs and the horrendous mixes. When each album is carefully examined, it becomes clear that these albums are neither travesties nor sonic disasters.

Meet The Beatles! features the same striking Robert Freeman cover photo as the British LP With The Beatles. However, for financial and marketing reasons, Capitol made alterations to discís lineup. In order to save on song publishing royalties, the company limited its LP to the American standard of 12 songs rather than the British standard of 14. (In the U.K., publishing royalties are calculated on a per disc basis where each publisher shares pro-rata in the royalties paid on album sales. Thus, there is no additional cost to the record company for having extra songs. In the U.S., royalties are calculated on a per song basis. Each extra song costs the record company money. That is why the U.S. standard was a lesser number of songs.)

While Brian Epstein and producer George Martin believed that singles should not be placed on albums because it forced consumers to buy the same songs twice, Capitol believed that hit singles made hit albums. Thus, Capitol opened its first Beatles album with both sides of its Beatles single, I Want To Hold Your Hand and I Saw Her Standing There, followed by the British B side This Boy. The remaining tracks selected by Capitol were the British albumís seven Lennon-McCartney originals, George Harrisonís Donít Bother Me and the Broadway show tune Till There Was You, a song even mom and dad could appreciate. By choosing original compositions and dropping five cover versions of songs originally recorded by American artists, Capitol could exploit the song writing talents of the group. In sequencing the songs from With The Beatles, Capitol followed the running order chosen by George Martin, except, of course, for the tracks dropped from the lineup.

Meet The Beatles! was the perfect album to introduce the group to America. Capitolís marketing strategy of placing the hit single I Want To Hold Your Hand on the album paid off. In two months time, Meet The Beatles! sold over 3.6 million copies--ten times more than even Capitolís most optimistic sales forecasts. The album went on to sell over 5 million copies.

It should be noted that in the early sixties, teen albums rarely sold in excess of a few hundred thousand copies. Capitolís success with its reconfigured Beatles albums containing hit singles changed that. Record companies soon realized that well-crafted rock albums could be big sellers. A few years later, thanks to the Beatles and Capitol, the album replaced the single as the dominant pop and rock† music format.

The Beatlesí Second Album is admittedly a pieces-parts album, containing the five leftover songs from With The Beatles (Roll Over Beethoven, You Really Got A Hold On Me, Devil In Her Heart, Money and Please Mister Postman), three B sides (Thank You Girl, You Canít Do That and Iíll Get You), two freshly recorded songs that would later end up on the British Long Tall Sally EP (Long Tall Sally and I Call Your Name) and the hit single She Loves You. That said, it is an amazingly effective album full of great rock íní roll songs such as Roll Over Beethoven, Long Tall Sally, Money and Please Mister Postman anchored by the hit single She Loves You. It was number one on the Billboard Top LPís chart for five weeks and had certified sales of over two million units.

Something New is arguably the weakest album of the bunch. Capitol was faced with a dilemma brought on by United Artistsí film contract with The Beatles that covered A Hard Dayís Night. UA had the exclusive right to issue a soundtrack album in America, so Capitol had to come up with something new to compete with the soundtrack LP. Capitolís album mixed songs appearing on the UA disc (Iíll Cry Instead, Tell Me Why, And I Love Her, Iím Happy Just To Dance With You and If I Fell) with a few songs from The Beatles latest British album (Things We Said Today, Any Time At All and When I Get Home), the two remaining rockers from the Long Tall Sally EP (Slow Down and Matchbox) and a version of I Want To Hold Your Hand sung in German titled Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand. Although Something New was unable to knock the UA soundtrack album from the number one position, the Capitol album stayed at number two for nine weeks and sold over two million copies.

Beatles í65 featured eight songs from the groupís latest British LP, Beatles For Sale (namely No Reply, Iím A Loser, Babyís In Black, Rock And Roll Music, Iíll Follow The Sun, Mr. Moonlight, Honey Donít and Everybodyís Trying To Be My Baby), and both sides of their latest single, I Feel Fine and Sheís A Woman, plus Iíll Be Back, which was on the British A Hard Dayís Night LP but had yet to appear in America. Capitol did not completely deviate from the running order of the songs on Beatles For Sale, with side one bearing a strong resemblance to the British disc. So much so that the album can be described as Beatles For Sale, Part 1. The disc held down the number one spot on the Billboard Top LPís chart for nine straight weeks and sold over three million units.

As for Capitolís alleged remixing of the songs, here are the facts. EMI did not send Capitol original two-track or four-track master tapes, so Capitol could not have "horrifically remixed" the stereo songs even if Capitol had wanted to. Capitol used the same stereo mixes for its albums as those sent to Capitol by George Martin. In a few instances, the U.S. mixes sent by Martin differed from those that ended up on the Parlophone albums. Sometimes this was intentional on Martinís part. Other times it was a case of Capitol getting an earlier mix that was later improved upon.

On the first two albums, the stereo mixes have the instruments on one channel and the vocals on the other. This was not done by Capitol. This is a result of how the songs were recorded. George Martin recorded those songs on a two-track recorder. To ensure he could get a proper mono mix that had the vocals at the proper level, he recorded the instruments on one track and the vocals on the other. So if you donít like the stereo mixes on the first two albums, donít blame Capitol. The company used what it was sent. The stereo mixes on Meet The Beatles! are exactly the same as those appearing on the stereo verison of With The Beatles.

For the stereo version of† The Beatlesí Second Album, Capitol did add echo to the stereo masters. The box to the stereo master tape for the Capitol album indicates that the songs were dubbed with E/Q and limiter plus echo. This explains why the songs on the stereo album have significantly more echo than those on the mono album or the British version of the songs. This is particularly noticeable on the cover songs, such as Roll Over Beethoven and Please Mister Postman.

The stereo mixes found on the Capitol albums Something New and Beatles í65 use stereo mixes sent by George Martin. With a few exceptions, they are the same as the stereo mixes on the British LPs A Hard Dayís Night and Beatles For Sale. Except for the songs I Feel Fine and Sheís A Woman, Capitol did not add echo to the master tapes of those U.S. albums.

Three of the Capitol stereo albums contain a few duophonic fake stereo mixes. This was in keeping with the practice at the time that every song on a stereo album should either be a true stereo mix or a simulated fake stereo mix. Engineers took a mono recording and placed it on two tracks, with the bass being boosted on one track and the treble being tweaked on the other. Sometimes the two tracks were slightly out of phase to add to the illusion. Capitol was not alone in this practice. All record companies did it, including George Martinís Parlophone label. The stereo version of the Please Please Me LP has simulated stereo mixes of Love Me Do and P.S. I Love You.

While some critics give the impression that all of the four Capitol stereo albums are full of duophonic echo-drenched mixes, this is clearly not the case. Capitol only made duophonic mixes for the seven songs that had no stereo masters at the time the albums were compiled. Most of these songs, especially I Want To Hold Your Hand, She Loves You and Iíll Get You, are effective simulated stereo mixes. However, the duophonic mixes for I Feel Fine and Sheís A Woman are truly horrendous.

For the songs taken from With The Beatles that appear on the mono versions of Meet The Beatles! and The Beatlesí Second Album, Capitol created its own mono mixes by reducing the stereo master in a 2-to-1 mix-down. As the stereo master for the album was nothing more than a balanced copy of† the original two-track master tape, Capitolís engineer merely duplicated what George Martin had done in mixing the mono master. Why Capitol did this is not entirely clear. It is possible that Capitol did not initially have the mono master tape for the album, but that seems unlikely. A Capitol engineer who has been with the company since the fifties told me that 2-to-1 mix-downs of stereo masters were sometimes made under the belief that this gave the mono songs a fuller sound.

Those who rightfully point out that the Beatles had no part in compiling the Capitol albums often downplay or ignore the involvement of George Martin and Brian Epstein. While George Martin did not program the Capitol albums and did not approve of the practice, he and Brian Epstein were fully aware that Capitol was reconfiguring Beatles albums specifically for the American market and understood Capitolís reasons for doing so. They cooperated with Capitolís plans by supplying the label with songs to place on the American albums. When Capitol needed a few more songs to round out The Beatlesí Second Album, George Martin, with Brianís approval, sent the company Long Tall Sally and I Call Your Name. For Beatles VI, George Martin sent Capitol four new songs, namely You Like Me Too Much, Tell Me What You See, Bad Boy and Dizzy Miss Lizzie. The latter two songs were recorded specifically for Capitol. Dizzy Miss Lizzie ended up on the British Help! LP because the group needed an extra song. Bad Boy was slapped on a British greatest hits collection. When Capitol was compiling its Yesterday...And Today album, George Martin sent the company three songs from the upcoming Revolver album.

By the time the Beatles submitted Sgt. Pepper to Capitol, the practice of reconfiguring albums had stopped. Capitol knew the Beatles had recorded a brilliant album that needed to be left intact. Capitolís engineers did, however, deviate slightly from the British album by not adding the high pitch whistle or the inner groove gibberish attached to the end of the British albums. Thus, the end-of-the-world feeling one gets from the final sustained chord of A Day In The Life is not disturbed the extras tacked onto the British LPs.

For Magical Mystery Tour, Capitol ripped off fans by converting the convenient double EP set into an album by padding the record with filler such as Strawberry Fields Forever, Penny Lane, Hello Goodbye and All You Need Is Love. (Tongue firmly in cheek for the last sentence.) Nine years after the release of Capitolís Magical Mystery Tour LP, Parlophone issued the same album, even using the same Capitol master tapes, which included duophonic mixes of three of the songs! (When the album was issued on CD, true stereo mixes were used for all of the songs.)

It has often been said that Capitol butchered the Beatles carefully crafted records. Some Beatles authors and fans have speculated that the infamous butcher cover was created for Capitolís Yesterday...And Today LP as a not-too-subtle dig at Capitol for butchering the groupís albums. While this makes a good story, it is simply not true. The butcher photos were conceived by photographer Bob Whitaker as part of a bizarre series of images titled "A Somnambulant Adventure." John chose the butcher photo for the cover as a subtle protest against the Vietnam War. After the recall of the cover he stated, "Itís as relevant as Vietnam. If the public can accept something as cruel as the war, they can accept this cover." Capitol made changes to the Beatles albums to help sell the albums in America. The companyís strategy of placing hit singles on the albums clearly contributed to the huge sales generated in America. Capitol did not butcher the Beatles; Capitol marketed the Beatles.

Some critics of these albums have gone so far as to say that Capitolís recent decision to release the albums on CD is an act of greed committed under the guise of giving American baby-boomer fans "what they want." The only truth in such comments is that Capitol is giving Beatles fans "what they want." This is not a case of Capitol telling baby-boomers what they want. It is a case of baby-boomers telling Capitol what they want and Capitol responding accordingly. Anyone who checks out Beatles-related posts on the internet or reads Beatles magazines such as Beatlefan and Beatlology knows that fans have been clamoring for these albums on CD for over 15 years. We grew up with and loved these albums. We are grateful they are finally being released on CD. It is unfair to criticize a record company for appropriately responding to fan requests.

It is also unfair for people to criticize what the CDs will sound like without first hearing the CDs. Although I have yet to hear the final approved versions of the CDs as of this time, I am willing to bet a box of Krispy Kreme donuts that even the most vocal critics of the Capitol albums will enjoy hearing the George Martin stereo mixes of And I Love Her, If I Fell, Things We Said Today, No Reply and Iíll Follow The Sun on CD for the first time.

For those that believe the release of the Capitol albums on CD is an insult to the efforts of the Beatles, George Martin and Brian Epstein, I strongly disagree. While I understand the merits of standardizing the Beatles catalog throughout the world and presenting the albums as the Beatles intended, the issuance of the American albums in a limited edition box set does not compromise either. By restricting the U.S. albums to box sets, consumers will not be confused by seeing With The Beatles on sale next to Meet The Beatles! or finding two different versions of Rubber Soul in the CD bins in music stores. I think Capitol and Apple came up with a great compromise by maintaining the U.K. catalog as the standard and releasing the U.S. albums in a limited format for those who want to hear what Americans heard in the sixties, seventies and eighties. After all, America was and still is the Beatles biggest market. The Beatles legacy is not harmed by the release The Capitol Albums, Vol. 1. To the contrary, an important part of the Beatles legacy has now been preserved.

BRUCE SPIZER is a first generation Beatles fan and well-known Beatles author/historian. He is considered the leading expert on the groupís North American record releases. He has an extensive Beatles collection, concentrating primarily on American and Canadian first issue records, record promotional items, press kits and posters. A "taxman" by day, Spizer is a board certified tax attorney and certified public accountant. A "paperback writer" by night, he is the author of the critically acclaimed books The Beatles Records on Vee-Jay, The Beatlesí Story on Capitol Records, Parts One and Two, The Beatles on Apple Records and The Beatles Are Coming! The Birth of Beatlemania in America. His articles have appeared in Beatlology Magazine, Beatlefan, Day Trippiní, Goldmine and American History. He maintains the popular Beatles collectors internet site

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Although Mr. Spizer has been serving as a consultant to Capitol Records for the CD release of the Capitol albums, the views expressed in his commentary are his own and are not influenced by his involvement in the project. Those familiar with his books "The Beatles' Story on Capitol Records" and "The Beatles Are Coming! The Birth of Beatlemania in America" will notice that he has consistently held a fondness for the Beatles albums issued in America.]

Published October 20, 2004

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