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Past Masters: Volume One is a Beatles compilation album first released in 1988. This album, along with Volume Two, aimed to allow their fans to collect Beatles songs EMI had previously released that were not available on their 13 studio albums.
All of the songs available on this album show The Beatles in the early stage of their career, writing and singing simple songs about love and romance rather than the more experimental and edgy music they later developed. All songs were three minutes or less, and 'love' was clearly defined as wanting to hold a girl's hand.
The Beatles Back Catalogue
When The Beatles were together and releasing albums and singles between 1963 and 1970, they released 13 albums in the UK:
- Please Please Me
- With The Beatles
- A Hard Day's Night
- Beatles For Sale
- Rubber Soul
- A Collection of Beatles Oldies
- Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
- The Beatles (nicknamed 'The White Album')
- Yellow Submarine
- Abbey Road
- Let It Be
During the 1960s The Beatles were constantly frustrated that different versions of their albums had been released in America, where 21 albums of their songs had been released. As they did not have control in the States over the songs they had recorded, many of their singles found their way onto American albums almost at random, and rarely in any particular order. Thus an A-side and a B-side of a single would often end up on different albums altogether. In 1967, when The Beatles renegotiated their contract with EMI, they specified that from then on all albums would be identical both sides of the Atlantic, meaning that their last five albums were the same.
18 years after their split, The Beatles' song catalogue was released on CD. The opportunity was also taken to standardise The Beatles' albums worldwide. Twelve of their British releases would form the basis of the albums, with only the 1966 Christmas compilation album A Collection of Beatles Oldies excluded, considered no longer necessary.
As the unusual double-EP format of Britain's version of Magical Mystery Tour had become obsolete, in the mid-70s EMI noticed that the American Album was the more popular version, with British fans consistently importing the Magical Mystery Tour album from America. In 1976 the American album version was released in the UK, becoming the first, and only, American version of a Beatles album to supersede its UK counterpart, and this too was available on CD in 1988.
During their career, The Beatles had felt it was unfair to expect fans to buy singles and then buy albums composed of the songs which they had already bought. This meant that several hit songs and their B-sides did not appear on any albums. Some appeared when the greatest hits album A Collection Of Beatles Oldies was released in 1966, others appeared on the two greatest hits albums, The Beatles 1962-1966 (also known as 'The Red Album') and The Beatles 1967-1970 (also known as 'The Blue Album') were released together in May 1973, but many did not appear until the release of the Past Masters albums in 1988.
Past Masters: Volume One
The two-volume Past Masters series were compilation albums designed to ensure that all the previously officially released Beatles back catalogue were available on CD. The Past Masters albums contained songs that had not appeared on the 12 original albums or Magical Mystery Tour. Most of these had appeared as either A-sides or B-sides from singles, two had been released in German for the West German market and four cover versions of some of The Beatles' favourite songs by other artists had been originally released as an EP1.
Past Masters: Volume One contains recordings that were released between 1962-5. On its release, as an album of previously available songs, it reached only 49 in the album chart. Both mono and stereo versions were available, although not all songs were available in stereo. In 2009 the album was digitally remastered and rereleased as a double album combined with Past Masters: Volume Two. This was simply entitled Past Masters.
'Love Me Do'
This is the original single version recorded on 4 September, 1962, featuring Ringo Starr on drums. 'Love Me Do' was The Beatles' first single and was written by Paul McCartney in 1958. It was after the first recording of this song that The Beatles' first drummer, Pete Best, was asked to leave the group. The Pete Best version of 'Love Me Do' is available on the Anthology 1 album.
On 11 September, 1962, the song was re-recorded, with professional EMI musician Andy White on drums. It was the Andy White version that was released on The Beatles' first album Please Please Me. The version on Past Masters: Volume One is the single version, and has Ringo playing the drums. The way to tell the difference between the album and single versions is to listen for a tambourine - if a tambourine is present, Andy White is drumming and Ringo simply plays the tambourine.
'Love Me Do' is a very simple song, with most words being only one syllable, and 'Love' repeated 21 times. Although not a national Number 1 hit in the UK, it topped the local Liverpool chart and later became a US Number 1. It is one of only two Beatles' songs whose copyright is owned by MPL2 Communications, as it and the B-side, 'P.S. I Love You', were released before The Beatles set up Northern Songs in February 1963.
This song can also be found on Please Please Me, The Red Album: 1962-1966, The Beatles: Live At The BBC, The Beatles Anthology 1 and 1.
'From Me To You'
'From Me To You' was written by Paul and John in the back of a van as they travelled from York to Shrewsbury in February 1963. They had been inspired by the letters column in Mersey Beat, entitled 'From You To Us', after discussing a letter claiming that Cliff Richard was more popular than Elvis. John and Paul co-wrote the song by suggesting alternate lines, with John saying:
The first line was mine. And then after that we took it from there... We were just fooling about on the guitar. This went on for a while... Before the journey was over we'd completed the lyric, everything.
The group were apparently initially unsure of this song. John has admitted: 'we nearly didn't record it because we thought it was too bluesey'.
They recorded it a week later on 5 March, released it on 11 April, and it became their first undisputed Number 1 in the UK for six weeks. This song is also on the following albums: The Red Album: 1962-1966, The Beatles: Live At The BBC, The Beatles Anthology 1 and 1.
'Thank You Girl'
Released as the B-side for 'From Me To You', in 1980 John described this song with the words: 'Thank You Girl' was one of our efforts at writing a single that didn't work, so it became a B-side.. Paul later agreed, saying: These early songs were wonderful to learn by and were good album fillers. This was pretty much co-written but... the 'thank you girl' thing, it sounds a bit like me, trying to appease the mob. The only other album that this song appears on is The Beatles: Live at the BBC.
'She Loves You'
In the UK this was the best selling single of the 1960s3, getting to Number 1 twice, between September and early October 1963, and again at the end of November to early December. In America it reached Number 1 following on the success of 'I Want To Hold Your Hand'. John described the song by saying: the woo woo was taken from the Isley Brothers' 'Twist And Shout' which we stuck into everything – 'From Me To You', 'She Loves You', everything.
'She Loves You' was written in their room in Newcastle's Turks Hotel on 26 June, 1963. Paul suggested that instead of writing a love song about two people - me and you - they remove themselves and write about two others - She loves You. Versions appear on The Red Album: 1962-1966, The Beatles Anthology 1 and 1.
'I'll Get You'
This was written by John, and was the B-side to 'She Loves You'. Its opening line, 'Imagine I'm in love with you, it's easy 'cos I know' anticipates John's most famous solo song's first lines, 'Imagine there's no heaven, it's easy if you try.' A version appears on the first Anthology album, recorded on the Sunday Night at the London Palladium television show.
'I Want To Hold Your Hand'
'I Want To Hold Your Hand' was the first song to sell over a million copies in Britain before release, in November 1963. It was the song that finally brought them success in America. In John's words:
We wrote a lot of stuff together, one on one, eyeball to eyeball. Like in 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand'[sic], I remember when we got the chord that made the song. We were in Jane Asher's house, downstairs in the cellar playing on the piano at the same time. I turned to him and said: 'That's it! Do that again!'
'Eyeball to eyeball' is a very good description of it. That's exactly how it was. 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' was very co-written.
The 'I can't hide, I can't hide, I can't hide' line was inspired by the idea of a stuck record playing the same thing over and over again. As The Beatles often did not include their singles on albums in the UK, 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' was not released on an album until December 1966, on the A Collection Of Beatles Oldies album. It only appears on the compilation albums The Red Album: 1962-1966, 1, The Beatles Anthology 1 and Love.
The B-side of 'I Want To Hold Your Hand', 'This Boy', did not appear on any UK album until Past Masters: Volume One was released in 1988. The song was inspired by the harmonies used by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and has three-part harmonies performed by Paul, John and George.
An instrumental version arranged by George Martin appears as 'Ringo's Theme' in the A Hard Day's Night film.
'Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand'
'I Want To Hold Your Hand' sung in German, recorded in an attempt to break the West German market. The song has the same instrumental track as the English version, with the band simply singing the amended lyrics on top.
'Sie Liebt Dich'
'She Loves You' sung in German, this time music and vocals all done from scratch. This German version was released as a single in America, where it reached a respectable 97.
'Long Tall Sally'
A Little Richard song originally released in 1956, this Beatles cover was only available on the Long Tall Sally EP. This was the very first song that Paul ever sang solo on stage, at a Butlin's holiday camp in Wales. A long favourite of Paul's, it was a regular part of The Beatles' set between 1957-66. The song controversially appears in the Beatles biopic Backbeat being sung by John, even though the song was always sung by Paul. The song did not appear on a UK album before Past Masters: Volume One, but opened side two of the 1964 American Beatles Album entitled The Beatles' Second Album.
'I Call Your Name'
Like 'Long Tall Sally', The Beatles' version of 'I Call Your Name' was released in the UK on the Long Tall Sally EP. John wrote this when he was 16 in 1956: 'That was my song when there was no Beatles and no group - I just had it around... The first part had been written before Hamburg, even.' In 1963 Billy J Kramer had recorded the song as the B-Side to his Lennon-penned 'Bad To Me' Number 1 single. Many of the lyrics would be reused by John later in life, with the line 'I never weep at night, I call your name' similar to his later song 'Oh Yoko' from Imagine; 'In the middle of the night I call your name'.
A cover version sung by John of a Larry Williams hit originally found on the Long Tall Sally EP. Another version of the song appears on The Beatles: Live at the BBC. Larry Williams was one of John's favourite American rock stars, singing this song live between 1960-2. John would also record Williams' 'Bad Boy' and 'Dizzy Miss Lizzie' with The Beatles and 'Bonie Moronie' on his solo album Rock 'n' Roll.
A Carl Perkins number sung by Ringo and originally released on Long Tall Sally. A live version appears on The Beatles: Live at the BBC.
'I Feel Fine'
The tune of this song was inspired by a guitar riff from Bobby Parker's song 'Watch Your Step'. On 6 October, 1964, John composed a similar riff that was the basis for the song, and has described it as:
I actually wrote 'I Feel Fine' around the riff which is going on in the background. I tried to get that effect into every song on the [Beatles for Sale] LP, but the others wouldn't have it. I told them I'd write a song specifically for the riff so they said: 'Yes, you go ahead and do that', knowing we'd almost finished the album. Anyway, going into the studio one morning I said to Ringo: 'I've got this song but it's lousy', but we tried it, complete with riff, and it sounded like an A-side.
It was so 'lousy' it became a Number 1 hit both sides of the Atlantic and was the UK's 1964 Christmas Number 1. The song is also famous for its revolutionary deliberate use of feedback to create a 'catching' sound. John has challenged:
I defy anybody to find a record... that used feedback that way. I claim it for The Beatles. Before Hendrix, before The Who, before anybody. The first feedback on any record.
'She's a Woman'
The B-side to 'I Feel Fine', Paul wrote this song to be a screaming song similar in style to Little Richard's style. This was also the first Beatles song to contain a drug reference. John commented:
We put in the words 'turns me on'. We were so excited to say 'turn me on' – you know, about marijuana and all that.
This may explain the opening couplet, 'My love don't give me presents, I know that she's no peasant.' Paul described composing the song by saying:
This was my attempt at a bluesy thing. We always found it very hard to write the more rock 'n' roll things. It seemed easy for Little Richard to knock 'em off, penny a dozen, but for us it wasn't quite so easy... So instead of being doing [sic] a Little Richard song, whom I admire greatly, I would use the style I would have used for that but put it in one of my own songs, so this was about a woman rather than a girl.
This song also appears on Anthology 2, Live At The BBC and Paul's Unplugged (The Official Bootleg) album.
Capitol Records, who were releasing The Beatles' albums in America, requested that the band send over two songs quickly, in order for them to fill up and release a new album in the States, to be entitled Beatles VI. As time was of the essence and no chance to rehearse new material, the lads chose to record two tracks by the American rock star Larry Williams – 'Dizzy Miss Lizzy' and 'Bad Boy'. They were very familiar with those songs because they had been performing them regularly since 1960. The master tapes were posted by air-freight first thing the following day to Capitol Records in Hollywood. 'Bad Boy' was not released in the UK until A Collection Of British Oldies in December 1966, and is now available only on Past Masters: Volume One.
'Yes It Is'
'Yes It Is' was the B-side to the Number 1 'Ticket To Ride'4 single. It did not appear on a UK album until Past Masters: Volume One, partly because it was one of John's least favourite compositions. An early take of this song is available on The Beatles Anthology 2.
During most of their concerts, The Beatles closed their performances with songs written by other artists, normally either 'Twist and Shout' or 'Long Tall Sally'. 'I'm Down' was a deliberate attempt by Paul to write a song in that vein. He later said:
I could do Little Richard's voice, which is a wild, hoarse, screaming thing... A lot of people were fans of Little Richard so I used to sing his stuff but there came a point when I wanted one of my own, so I wrote 'I'm Down'...
So 'I'm Down' was my rock 'n' roll shouter. I ended up doing it at Shea Stadium... It was a good stage song.
As well as this song appearing on The Beatles Anthology 2, Paul sang 'I'm Down' live when he performed at Citi Field Stadium, Shea Stadium's replacement. This performance is on his 2009 Good Evening New York City live album.
Past Masters: Volume One has a simple cover design, simply featuring a black background with the words 'The Beatles Past Masters Volume One' in white.
The album contains an informative booklet which features photographs of the fab four, as well as informative notes written by Beatles expert Mark Lewisohn, author of many books about The Beatles, including the definitive The Complete Beatles Chronicle and consultant for The Beatles Anthology project. He has written similar sleeve notes for other Beatles and Paul McCartney albums.