Anthology 3 - A personal review

By Tony Copple

That marvelous time..after you went out to buy a new Beatles brought it savour the grab a bite..and now you put it on; that's exactly where I'm up to with Anthology 3. Let's feel the emotions as I load disk 1...
    But hang on; see this booklet with loads of pictures I've never seen before! Derek Taylor's finely written introduction reminds me of these events I lived through in my 20's reading every day in every paper about the group. This accompanying booklet, as with 1 and 2 is a carefully constructed and enjoyable document. Suddenly I'm back there in time. You have to remember that in 1969 there were no other popular groups even close to the Beatles in musical strength - the capability to construct memorable music for everyone in a genre designed for throwaways. The Rolling Stones were the competition, but primarily in the R & B field rather than rock. So let's press "start"...
    The George Martin touch kicks off this Anthology with an orchestral weave not published before, but appropriate here in the place of FAAB and the excellent Real Love on "1" and "2". Relaxing. Setting us up as a contrast to the good stuff to come...which begins with John practising Happiness is a Warm Gun, recorded at Esher, Surrey in George's home a few miles from where I lived as a teenager. It's uncanny, hearing this great voice from over 28 years of time in crystal clarity. Thank goodness by then they'd got themselves a good quality recording machine for home use. Into a 5- minute version of the 12-minute original Helter Skelter - very different from the White Album version: Paul's great blues voice on a powerfully insistent beat. And now - take a break - I have to go get my tickets for Neil Young and Crazy Horse at the Corel Centre up the road.
    I'm back. Tell you later about Neil's show. Mean Mr. Mustard, Polythene Pam and Glass Onion are all part of the Esher sessions on the boys' return from India. Here's what I like about these: all done on a simple stereo machine so John sings with himself on the other channel producing the sort of sound you can get with a 4- track from a guitar in the living room, tons of presence, and that's exactly how it sounds - he's HERE in my living room strumming out these tunes that would end on Abbey Road and the White Album after polish had been applied. You can almost reach out and touch him.
    Don't worry; this won't be a track-by-track of the whole album. If you haven't got Anthology 3 yet, you'll want the thrill of discovering each track in turn for yourself. I will say that Honey Pie has more agreeable instrumentation and some subtle harmony improvements over the White Album take, that Paul's inventive bass playing contributes to this version of Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da and many other tracks and comes over so cleanly on the CD. With the stripped down versions the bass and other instruments are very distinctive. George's songs Guilty, and All things must Pass, and Paul's Teddy Boy are heard here as Beatles songs for the first time. George's sister Louise whom we met here at the Ottawa Beatles Convention must be proud of this disc since there are a number of George's best including I Me Mine. In fact there are loads of terrific songs on this disk, sufficiently different from the definitive versions we know to make it (to my mind) the best of the three. On I Will, Paul's singing is so natural, and his voice a quality so endearing that in warmth and enjoyment terms it transcends the White Album version. The humour on Anthology 3, such as on Los Paranoias is more acceptable to repeated listening than that on 1 and 2; the boys had swiftly matured in humour as well as music. For those of us Brits who watched Cilla Black's climb up the show-biz staircase, here's a chance to hear her theme song Step Inside Love sung by it's composer. In fact as I listen to more of the album I'm increasingly impressed with the versions here of some songs that I felt on the original albums were less than 100% successful.
    Let's celebrate this achievement and try and put it in perspective, including the achievement of the Anthologies project itself. Thank goodness someone (probably called George) had the sense to preserve this pageant of the creative process. Some of the stages along the way to the masterpieces are themselves master pieces, and repay multiple listening. I see suggestions from critics about how this version of one of the songs should have been included, or this track should have been left off, but in their selection of music for this project the Beatles and their advisers have always chosen wisely from the large selection that is available to them, and I trust their judgement on this project. If the Beatles were slowly breaking up as a group, their musical talents show no signs of flagging on this disc. If there is a trend, at the time, it was away from big production numbers, but on Anthology we get the tunes before they became tracked and processed, so the trend is less apparent. The Beatles are one of the few groups that I can listen to endlessly and still enjoy more and more. Is that because they worked at it, or they just were born with it? I think of them as a catalyst for the best era of popular music ever - 60's and 70's rock. They took from rhythm and blues, skiffle and guitar instrumental, and added beat, sophisticated chord structures and vocal harmony, launching every trend in that prolific period. This album and it's predecessors will end up in history museums, and with 1996 being their biggest year, I can't see this thing dying down before it gets a whole lot bigger. The Anthologies have triggered huge sales increases in the Beatles regular albums, many to young people who's first exposure to the Beatles has been these only slightly flawed classics; they multiply the enjoyment to be derived from the definitive takes.
    The Anthology set symbolizes an important segment of my life and clearly the lives of millions. It helps me remember how the Beatles became almost a part of my genetic structure, a force for good, and listening to this is like a massage, rejuvenating the cells in my body and mind with a message of hope that good thoughts, good music, and enthusiasm will always outlast the pessimism, angst and depression that we hear in some of today's music. Beatle philosophy and music truly deserves it's universal success, from Russia to Chile and Japan to Germany, where 1997 will see a huge Beatles Convention.
    Sadness; we are near the end of disk 2, and I really wish there were another 50 songs somewhere to hear in new formats. Accapelo, Because shows the beauty of their voices like no other Beatles recording that I've heard. And now, The End: always a favourite, here presented in a remix from the 7 basic takes, must rank with some of the greatest short pieces of guitar/drums work ever since - there certainly was nothing like it before. My living room almost has the excitement level that 13,000 enjoyed in the Corel Centre last night, where Neil Young showed that the spirit of rock is not only living but healthy and dramatically important to so many of us.

- Tony Copple
Ottawa Beatles Site
Kanata, Nov 3, 1996