A Collection of Beatles Oldies | 1
Past Masters: Volume One | Volume Two
The Beatles, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, were the most famous band of all time. Yet during their active years only one compilation album was released - A Collection of Beatles Oldies.
A Collection of Beatles Oldies
A Collection of Beatles Oldies, subtitled (But Goldies) was a compilation album released in December 1966. Since 1963, the Beatles' record company EMI had released a Beatles album just before Christmas every year1. Yet in 1966 Revolver had only recently been released in August and their next album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, would not be available until June 1967. Desperate to have an album in the shops for peak sale time, EMI created A Collection of Beatles Oldies (But Goldies).
The 40-minute album, nicknamed Oldies But Goldies, was released on 9 December, 1966. Reaching Number 6 in the charts, it was the first Beatles album in the UK not to get to Number 1. It was also the last Beatles album sold while they were together whose release was timed for the Christmas sale. Despite the purely commercial rather than artistic reason behind its release, 14 of the songs on the album were Number 1 hits in the UK and/or the US making it well worth listening to for those who do not have the songs elsewhere.
The Beatles had signed a five-year recording contract with EMI in 1962 which was due to expire. On 27 January, 1967, a month after the release of A Collection of Beatles Oldies, they renegotiated the terms of their contract with EMI and extended it by another nine years. One of the key clauses ensured that the lads themselves would have control over the albums released in their name. EMI would no longer be able to create an album purely for commercial purposes.
A Collection of Beatles Oldies has never been released on CD, having largely been replaced by the double-album The Red Album: 1962-1966. The only song not on The Red Album: 1962-1966 is 'Bad Boy'. Similarly, only 'Michelle' and 'Bad Boy' do not appear on the newer compilation album 1.
The Album and the Era
Significantly, the A Collection of Beatles Oldies album was released shortly after they had finished their final live tour. They had not enjoyed the 1966 world tour. They faced protests and death threats in Japan over their performing in the Budokan martial arts centre, were kidnapped by an armed militia in Manila, and got punched by policemen in the Philippines.
During the Beatles' 1965 America tour their plane had frequently been shot at, and things had got worse. There were 'Beatles burnings'2 and death threats from the Ku Klux Klan, with loud but harmless explosives set off when they performed in Memphis. They gave their last ever scheduled live performance at Candlestick Park in August 1966 and were determined not to tour again. For the rest of the decade, the best way to hear their greatest hits was by listening to this compilation album.
The album's front cover was a painting by David Christian. This shows the band in an almost 1920s vaudeville style, complete with period cars, dancing and gramophones while a Beatle-esque mop-topped man reclines on a drum bearing the album's title. The album cover's look to the past effectively reflects how the band were moving away from being the mop-tops of yesterday and signifying the end of the early era, ushering in the Beatles of Sgt. Pepper and beyond.
The back cover showed a photo of the group taken by Bob Whitaker while they were on their 1966 tour of Japan. Whitaker was the Beatles' official photographer between August 1964 and November 1966; he photographed many of their tours and arranged studio sessions. He is perhaps most famous for the infamous 'Butcher cover', used on the June 1966 American compilation album Yesterday... And Today3, by which the lads objected to the way their US record company, Capitol, would rearrange their albums. That cover was quickly replaced with another one of his photographs.
In the late 1960s a conspiracy theory suggested that Paul McCartney had died in a car accident and had been replaced by a lookalike. Various clues about this were said to have been hidden on their albums, including in the painting on the front cover of A Collection of Beatles Oldies. It was noted that the large, central Paul-like Beatle sat holding a cigarette in his right hand, even though the real Paul was left-handed, while a car drove straight towards his head, supposedly suggesting a car accident and decapitation.
The drum Paul is sitting on, labelled Beatles Oldies, is also considered significant. Firstly, it says 'Beatles' and not 'The Beatles', implying that not all the Beatles are present. The last four letters of 'Oldies' are 'dies', while the first two are O and L. What letters come after O and L in the alphabet? 'P' and 'M', which are Paul McCartney's initials, meaning the title is really saying 'P M Dies'.
Of course, given enough motivation it is easy to interpret music and art however you most desire, as they themselves learned during The Lennon/McCartney Lyrics War.
Although a compilation album, most of the songs on it had not previously been released on an album before. The band felt it was unfair to expect fans to buy the same song twice, so most of the songs that they had released as singles were not released on LPs, although some had appeared on EPs. There was also one song, 'Bad Boy', which had been recorded for the American market and had not previously been released in the UK.
Songs in Bold had not previously been released on an album within the UK.
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'She Loves You' (1963)
In the UK this was the bestselling single of the 1960s and the bestselling song of all time until Paul McCartney's 'Mull of Kintyre' in 1977. It was also the first song to get 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 Brother's 'Twist and Shout'4 which we stuck into everything - 'From Me To You', 'She Loves You', everything'.
'She Loves You' was written in a hotel room in Newcastle5 on 26 June, 1963, as part of their tour supporting Roy Orbison6 alongside Gerry and the Pacemakers. 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.
The song won two Ivor Novello Awards in 1964 for Most Broadcast Song and Top-Selling Record. It was also the first Beatles song to sell over a million records in the UK. In the US it replaced 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' at Number 1 in 1964, the first time the same act had had two consecutive Number ones since Elvis in 1956. In 2005 it was named one of the three records that most changed the world.
The song also appears on The Red Album: 1962-1966, Past Masters: Volume One, The Beatles Anthology 1, 1 and On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2.
'From Me To You' (1963)
'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 lads 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 the Beatles' first undisputed Number 1 in the UK, staying at the top for six weeks. This song is also on the following albums: The Red Album: 1962-1966, Past Masters: Volume One, The Beatles: Live At The BBC, The Beatles Anthology 1, 1 and On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2.
'We Can Work It Out' (1965)
Paul wrote 'We Can Work It Out' at his father's house during a difficult patch in his relationship with Jane Asher. She had decided to join the Bristol Old Vic Company to pursue her acting career, moving away from Paul and London. John summarised the song with:
You've got Paul writing 'We Can Work It Out', real optimistic, and me impatient, 'life is very short and there's no time for fussing and fighting my friend'.
Although Paul did not work it out with Jane and they never married, he has performed the song on his albums Unplugged (The Official Bootleg) , Paul is Live and Back in the World/US. It also appears on Beatles compilations The Red Album and 1. This song had one of the first music videos, filmed on 23 November, 1965.
The song was a double-A-side with 'Day Tripper', selling over a million copies. It was the Christmas Number 1.
'Help!' was written by John and Paul in John's house in Kenwood in April 1965. In John's words, 'The song was about me... I was fat and depressed and I was crying out for help.' He later stated: 'The only true songs I wrote were 'Help!' and 'Strawberry Fields'. They were the ones I really wrote from experience.'
In the film Help!, a recording of them singing this song is projected onto a screen while the head of a religious cult throws darts at the group – a wonderful example of the lads not taking themselves too seriously.
Though 'Help!' sold just under a million copies, it is an Ivor Novello Award-winning song for being the second-best selling single of 1965. It can be found on the album of the same name, The Red Album: 1962-1966, The Beatles Anthology 2 and 1.
There used to be a guy called Austin Mitchell who was one of John's tutors at art school and he used to throw some pretty good all-night parties. You could maybe pull girls there, which was the main aim of every second... I remember sitting around there, and my recollection is of a black turtleneck sweater and sitting very enigmatically in the corner, playing this rather French tune. I used to pretend I could speak French... trying to be enigmatic to make girls think, 'who's that very interesting French guy over in the corner?' I would literally use it as that, and John knew this was one of my ploys. Years later, John said, 'D'you remember that French thing you used to do at Mitchell's parties? Well, that's a good tune, you should do something with that.'
Paul had been introduced to John by his friend Ivan Vaughan, and was still friends with him. Still feeling the song had a French feel, and wanting help writing some French lyrics to go with it, Paul approached Vaughan's wife Jan, who was a French teacher.
I said, 'I like the name Michelle. Can you think of anything that rhymes with Michelle in French?' And she said, 'Ma belle'... I said, 'well, those words go together well, what's French for that?' ...Years later I sent her a cheque around. I thought I better had because she's virtually a co-writer on that.
The chorus had not been quite finished. John at the time was fond of Nina Simone's 1965 version of 'I Put A Spell On You', a song which repeats 'I love you, I love you, I love you', with Nina emphasising the word 'you' each time. He suggested that 'Michelle' should similarly include the words 'I love you, I love you, I love you', but this time emphasising the word 'love' instead.
'Michelle' won the 1966 Ivor Novello Award for Most Performed Work.
The song can be found on Rubber Soul and The Red Album: 1962-1966. Paul would later perform the song on his Paul Is Live (1993) and Back In The World live albums.
Paul McCartney has always said that he composed the tune to 'Yesterday' in a dream: 'it was just all there. I couldn't believe it'. Initially worried that he had unconsciously remembered an already existing song, Paul interrogated everyone he knew to see if they could identify the song. In order to help remember how it went he used the place-holding lyrics, 'Scrambled eggs, Oh you've got such lovely legs'. When he was convinced that it was a new song he re-wrote the lyrics and finally recorded a version. This was the first Beatles song to be released with only one of them performing.
Paul has said:
In fact, we didn't release 'Yesterday' as a single in England at all, because we were a little embarrassed about it; we were a rock'n'roll band.
In the UK, 'Yesterday' was originally relegated to being the second-to-last track on the Help! album. Although never released as a single by the band8 as a single in the UK, it was released elsewhere, and became a Number 1 in America, Belgium, Finland, Hong Kong and Norway.
'Yesterday' won the Ivor Novello Award for 'Outstanding Song of 1965' and has been called the most covered song of all time.
'I Feel Fine' (1964)
The Christmas Number 1 in the UK and USA, 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 on both sides of the Atlantic. The song is also famous for its revolutionary deliberate use of feedback to create a distinctive 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.
Before 1964, a British act had only had a US Number 1 on three separate occasions; this was the Beatles' sixth US Number 1 of the year. It was also their 30th song that year to appear in the US Top 100. In the UK this was the second of two songs released in 1964 to sell over a million copies.
'Yellow Submarine' (1966)
Paul thought of the idea of writing a children's song late at night while lying in bed. He deliberately chose short words so it would be easy for children to pick up and sing along to. Paul described the process:
There's a nice twilight zone just as you're drifting into sleep... I remember thinking that a children's song would be quite a good idea and I thought of images, and the colour yellow came to me, and a submarine came to me...
The song won the 1966 Ivor Novello Award for the top-selling single. Yellow Submarine was later used as the title and inspiration for a psychedelic animated film released in 1968.
'Can't Buy Me Love' (1964)
Paul wrote 'Can't Buy Me Love' in a hotel room in the George V Hotel, Paris. Wanting to quickly follow up their success in America, they recorded it in the Pathé Marconi Studios in Paris, with George Martin flying over from London to produce the song. On its release it leapt straight to Number 1.
The song was also the first Beatles song to be taken seriously when jazz diva Ella Fitzgerald released a cover version. This made music critics suddenly realise that the Beatles were perhaps more than a passing teen phenomenon. In the UK it was the first of two songs in 1964 to sell over a million copies and like 'I Want To Hold Your Hand', over a million copies were sold in advance of release. It was also the Beatles first simultaneous transatlantic Number 1. In the US it was the first ever single to enter the chart at Number 1, and on 4 April the US top five were:
- 'Can't Buy Me Love' by the Beatles
- 'Twist and Shout' by the Beatles
- 'She Loves You' by the Beatles
- 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' by the Beatles
- 'Please Please Me' by the Beatles
The following week 14 songs in America's Hot 100 were by the Beatles. 'Can't Buy Me Love' was also included in the A Hard Day's Night film, replacing 'I'll Cry Instead' at the last minute, in a delightful sequence where the Beatles escape from a press conference into the outside world. This led to its inclusion on the album of the same name, released in July 1964.
'Bad Boy' (1965)
In May 1965, Capitol Studios, who were releasing the Beatles' albums in America, requested that the lads send over two songs quickly, in order for them to fill up and release a new album in the States. As time was of the essence, they chose to record two songs they were very familiar with by the American rock star Larry Williams; 'Dizzy Miss Lizzy'9 and 'Bad Boy', having performed them regularly since 1960. They chose these songs as the date they were in the studio, 10 May 1965, was Williams' 30th birthday. The master tapes were posted by air-freight first thing the following day to Capitol Records in Hollywood. The resulting American album was entitled Beatles VI.
'Bad Boy' was not released in the UK until its appearance on A Collection Of Beatles Oldies, making it the only song on the album not to have been previously available in the UK. It was also the only song on the album not written by Lennon and McCartney. It is now available only on Past Masters: Volume One.
'Day Tripper' (1965)
'Day Tripper' was a UK Number 1 that John wrote in the summer of 1965 when the lads were beginning to be influenced by the hallucinogenic drug Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, commonly known as LSD. John described it as 'just a rock'n'roll song' intended to criticise those not fully committed to taking drugs. These were, in his words, 'weekend hippies'.
The song was a double-A-side with 'We Can Work It Out', selling over a million copies. It was the Christmas Number 1.
'A Hard Day's Night' (1964)
I came up with the phrase 'A Hard Day's Night'. It just came out. We went to do a job and we worked all day and then we happened to work all night. I came out, still thinking it was day, and said: 'It's been a hard day...' looked around and saw that it was dark, and added '...'s night'.
The John Lennon song was written, arranged, rehearsed and recorded all within 24 hours on 16 April, 1964. John commented:
I was going home in the car and Dick Lester10 suggested the title... from something Ringo'd said. I had used it in In His Own Write, but it was an off-the-cuff remark by Ringo... A Ringoism, where he said it not to be funny, just said it. So Dick Lester said: 'We are going to use that title' and the next morning I brought in the song.
George Martin, the Beatles' producer, also produced Peter Sellers' unforgettable cover version of the song, released before Christmas 1965.
'Ticket To Ride' (1965)
One of the highlights of the Help! film is the 'Ticket To Ride' sequence set in the Austrian mountains. John described this song, the first Beatles song to break the three minute barrier, as 'one of the earliest Heavy Metal records made'.
Many have wondered whether the lyrics were about buying a train ticket to Ryde on the Isle of Wight. This is the sort of wordplay John was fond of, as can be seen in his books In His Own Write (1964) and A Spaniard In The Works (1965). Both Paul and John knew Ryde very well as in 1960 they spent a holiday hitchhiking to Ryde, where Paul's cousin Elizabeth 'Bett' Robbins and her husband Mike ran the Bow Bars pub in Union Street.
Paul described it as:
John and I used to hitchhike places together, it was something we did together quite a lot; cementing our friendship...
I'd ask, 'Mike, what was it like when you were on with the Jones Boys?' - a group I knew he'd appeared with... and he'd tell stories of showbiz. He was the only person we had to give us any information. I think for John and I, our showbusiness dreams were formed by this guy and his wife. Mike Robbins has an awful lot to answer for!
Paul and John also spent Monday 8 April, 1963, in Ryde, following their performance in Southsea11, enjoying a much deserved day off. When Paul was asked directly whether the song was about Ryde on the Isle of Wight, Paul replied:
We sat down and wrote it together. I remember talking about Ryde but it was John's [song]. We wrote the melody together.
'Paperback Writer' (1966)
Paul's 'Paperback Writer' was the first Beatles single not about love or girls. George Harrison described the song by saying:
The idea of 'Paperback Writer' is Paul's. I think John gave him some of the chords, but it was originally Paul who came up with the storyline.
The song is in the form of a letter from a prospective paperback writer. As the song was written in John's house, John's belongings influenced and became part of the song. John regularly read the Daily Mail newspaper which the son in the story works for. The mention of 'a novel by a man named Lear' is a reference to Edward Lear, writer of nonsense limericks.
'Eleanor Rigby' (1966)
The song about an old lonely woman who died is one whose inspiration remains a matter of debate. Paul states he got the first name from Eleanor Bron, with whom he had acted in the Help! film, and the surname from the shop opposite the Theatre Royal, home of the Bristol Old Vic Company that Jane Asher was performing at, which was 'Rigby & Evans Ltd'. However, in the 1980s it was discovered that there was a grave for an 'Eleanor Rigby' in St Peter's Parish Church in Woolton. This church was where Paul and John first met, and the gravestone has become a desolate tourist attraction12.
This was one of the first songs Paul wrote on a piano, having had piano lessons when dating Jane Asher. Worried about what he would be doing when he was older, this was one of his first attempts to write a more serious song than the pop songs he had written before.
When Paul originally wrote the song he used placeholder names. 'Eleanor Rigby' was at first 'Miss Daisy Hawkins', while the priest started off as 'Father McCartney',
I had Father McCartney as the priest just because I knew that was right for the syllables, but I knew I didn't want it even though John liked it. So we opened the telephone book, went to McCartney and looked what followed it, and shortly after it was McKenzie… John wanted it to stay McCartney, but I said, 'No, it's my dad! Father McCartney!'
This is the only Beatles track on which none of them played any instruments. Though Paul sang lead and John and George provided backing vocals, the backing music was provided by an eight-piece string group13. The score was written by George Martin, who had been inspired by Bernard Herrmann's score for Fahrenheit 451.
'Eleanor Rigby' was the newest song on the album, having been released as a single and on the Revolver album in August of the same year. A purely instrumental version features on Anthology 2.
'I Want To Hold Your Hand' (1963)
Their fifth single, 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' was the first song to sell over a million copies in Britain before it was released, in November 1963. It was the second of two songs from 1963 to sell over a million copies in the UK. It was also the 1963 UK Christmas Number 1. Although it was 1963's second-best-selling record within the UK, beaten by 'She Loves You', globally it was their most successful song, with over 15 million copies sold.
It was the song that finally brought them success in America, becoming an American Number 1 in January 1964. Only the fourth British record to top the US chart, the previous chart-toppers were 'Auf Wiedersehen' by Vera Lynn (1952), Acker Bilk's 'Stranger on the Shore' (1961) and The Tornadoes with 'Telstar' (1962). Within six years the Beatles had 22 further US Number ones14. This record paved the way for other acts too. Before 'I Want To Hold Your Hand', between 1955 and 1963 only 1.25% of hits in the US Top 20 were by British artists; from 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' onwards throughout 1964, 26% of hits in the US Top 20 were by British artists, in what became known as the 'British Invasion'.
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 Fab Four rarely included their singles on albums in the UK, 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' was not released on an album until A Collection Of Beatles Oldies. It now can be found on compilation albums The Red Album: 1962-1966, Past Masters: Volume One, 1, The Beatles Anthology 1, Love, and On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2.