Volume One | Volume Two
Past Masters: Volume Two is a Beatles compilation album first released in 1988. Released alongside the first volume, it was intended to allow Beatles fans to complete their song collection on CD. All The Beatles songs that EMI had previously released that were not available on their 13 official studio albums were placed on either Volume One or Volume Two.
The songs on this album show The Beatles in their later years, between 1965-1970. Unlike the first volume, their songs have become edgier and are about far more diverse topics than those featured in the first volume, including references to drug use. Songs by George Harrison are also included.
Purpose and Release
18 years after their split, when The Beatles' song catalogue was released on CD for the first time, the opportunity was taken to standardise The Beatles' albums worldwide. During their career, The Beatles had felt it was unfair to expect fans to buy singles and then buy albums consisting entirely of songs they had already bought. Many hit Beatles songs and their B-Sides therefore did not appear on any albums until the release of the Past Masters albums in 1988.
On release, as an album of previously available songs, Past Masters: Volume Two reached number 46 in the UK album chart. Both mono and stereo versions were available. In 2009 the album was digitally re-mastered and re-released as a double album combined with Past Masters: Volume One. This was simply entitled Past Masters.
Past Masters: Volume Two
The two-volume Past Masters series were two compilation albums designed to ensure that all the previously officially released Beatles back catalogue were available on CD. The Past Masters albums contained songs or versions of songs not available on any other Beatles albums1.
All but one of the songs on Past Masters: Volume Two were released as either A or B-sides of singles. The exception is 'Across the Universe', first released on charity album No-one's Gonna Change our World.
'Day Tripper' was a UK number 1 that John wrote in the summer of 1965 when The Beatles were beginning to be influenced by hallucinogenic drug Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, commonly known as LSD. John described it as 'just a rock'n'roll song' criticising those not fully committed to taking drugs who were, in his words, 'weekend hippies'.
'We Can Work It Out'
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 Unplugged, Paul is Live and Back in the World/US albums, as well as Beatles compilations The Red Album and 1. This song also had one of the first music videos, filmed on 23 November, 1965.
Paul's 'Paperback Writer' was the first Beatles single not about love or girls. George Harrison has 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 newspaper the Daily Mail 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.
The B-Side of 'Paperback Writer', this is a song about both the futility of moaning about the weather and the importance of transcending earthly existence. It also contains the last verse recorded backwards, producing a strange chanting effect. Both John Lennon and George Martin claimed that the last 25 seconds of the song, which contains the lyrics 'Rain, when the rain comes they run and hide their heads' backwards, was their idea. John claims that he found it by accident while using a tape machine under the influence of drugs. Producer George Martin disagrees, and said:
It was just an in-joke. The Beatles weren't quite sure what to do at that point, so I took out a bit of John's voice from earlier on and played it backwards. They all thought it was marvellous... so we kept it in. We often like to do things like that for a giggle, particularly as they so often work out.
'Lady Madonna' is a song that, in Paul's words:
The original concept was the Virgin Mary but it quickly became symbolic of every woman, the Madonna image but as applied to ordinary working-class women. It's really a tribute to the mother figure, it's a tribute to women.
This is Paul's favourite song to perform live, with versions appearing on his Wings over America, Paul is Live, Back in the World, Back in the US, Good Evening, New York City and Live in Los Angeles live solo albums.
'The Inner Light'
George Harrison's India-influenced B-Side to 'Lady Madonna'. George had been inspired by poem 'The Inner Light' in the Tao Te Ching. In his autobiography I Me Mine, George reveals that he had received a copy of a book entitled Lamps of Fire from its author, Juan Mascaró, Cambridge University's former Sanskrit teacher, which contained the poem translated into English. Mascaró, having listened to George's earlier song 'Within You, Without You' felt that this poem would work well to music. George described it by saying:
The song was especially written for Juan Mascaró because he sent me the book and is a sweet old man.
Appropriately this song was released when The Beatles were in India studying Transcendental Meditation.
Perhaps the most famous song about divorce, Paul initially wrote 'Hey Jude' as 'Hey Jules', a song aimed to give John's son Julian advice in how to cope with the divorce between John and Cynthia Lennon. Julian described what Paul had told him about the song's origins by stating:
[Paul] told me that he'd been thinking about my circumstances all those years ago, about what I was going through and what I would have to go through in the future. Paul and I used to hang out quite a bit.
In 1996 Julian Lennon paid £25,000 to buy the song's recording notes at auction. Paul has said:
I started with the idea 'Hey Jules', which was Julian, don't make it bad, take a sad song and make it better. Here, try and deal with this terrible thing. I knew it was not going to be easy for him. I always feel sorry for kids in divorces.
John's interpretation of the song was somewhat different:
I always heard it as a song to me. If you think about it, Yoko's just come into the picture. He's saying, 'Hey Jude - Hey John'. I know I'm sounding like one of those fans who reads things into it, but... the words 'go out and get her' — subconsciously he was saying, 'go ahead, leave me'.
This was the first song The Beatles released on their own Apple label, and to celebrate they sent copies to 10 Downing Street, Buckingham Palace and to the Queen Mother. The Queen Mother replied saying how much she enjoyed the gift, while the Queen2 soon after remarked to Sir Joseph Lockwood, chairman of EMI, 'The Beatles are turning awfully funny, aren't they?'.
The song was a revolutionary seven minutes long at a time when the average song length was still around the three minute mark. It was The Beatles' best selling hit in America. Paul frequently performs this song live, such as at the 2010 Isle of Wight Festival.
The B-Side to 'Hey Jude', this version was recorded after the White Album's 'Revolution 1', is faster and has slightly different lyrics. John recorded the original version with the intention of releasing it as a single, but both George and Paul felt that it was too slow, leading John to make this faster version. The speed is not the only difference. One line on the earlier version says indecisively 'when you talk about destruction, don't you know that you can count me out/in', whereas now John firmly says 'you can count me out'.
John's school friend and personal assistant Pete Shotton described the song by saying:
'Revolution' meant more to John than any song he'd written in years, and he was determined that it should appear as the A-side of The Beatles' debut release on their soon-to-be-launched Apple Records. Apart from marking a return to the high adrenalin, no frills rock 'n' roll that had always remained his first musical love, 'Revolution' was the first Beatles song to constitute an explicitly political statement, which in turn is precisely why Paul felt so wary of it.
This version of the song controversially was used to advertise Nike shoes in 1987, resulting in Apple Records suing Nike and Capitol Records. George Harrison remarked:
If it is allowed to happen, every Beatles song ever recorded is going to be advertising women's underwear and sausages. We've got to put a stop to it in order to set a precedent... they don't have any respect for the fact that we wrote and recorded those songs, and it was our lives.
Paul wrote 'Get Back' as a political song criticising the passage of the Commonwealth Immigration Act that intended to satirise those who felt immigrants should 'get back to where they once belonged'. Although he has confirmed his intention, and said 'The words were not racist at all, they were anti-racist', he realised that his original aim was not working out and his song would be open to serious misinterpretation. The verses were rewritten with ambiguous nonsense3, although he retained the original chorus. This version of the song was recorded the day before the version that appears on the Let It Be and Let It Be... Naked albums.
'Don't Let Me Down'
The above song's B-Side, 'Don't Let Me Down' is a song that remains a heartfelt, impassioned plea from John to the new love of his life, Yoko.
'The Ballad Of John And Yoko'
John wrote 'The Ballad of John and Yoko' as an autobiographical song that summarises John's wedding to and honeymoon with Yoko Ono. This took place shortly after Paul had married Linda, and seeing the fuss that Paul's plans for a secret registry office wedding had caused, John and Yoko planned a wedding outside the UK.
The first verse, which states: 'standing at the dock at Southampton, trying to get to Holland or France, the man in the Mac said, 'You've got to go back', you know they didn't even give us a chance' implies that John and Yoko were deliberately prevented from entering Europe. The truth was that they did not have their passports with them, possibly as a result of Paul having told them he had been able to leave the UK and travel to France and back without his passport, filming 'The Fool on the Hill' while away. They eventually flew to France and got married in Gibraltar.
In America the song was criticised for its chorus, in particular the use of the word 'Christ'. However, it got to number 1 not only in the UK but also in West Germany, Denmark, Austria, Norway, Belgium, The Netherlands and Malaysia.
Later, in 1978, John began writing a musical entitled The Ballad of John and Yoko, which would have included such songs as 'Real Love' and 'Free As A Bird'.
Only Paul and John perform on the song, with Paul playing drums, bass guitar, maracas and piano, and John playing three guitars as well as percussion.
'Old Brown Shoe'
George Harrison's B-Side to 'The Ballad of John and Yoko'. The song expresses George's belief that the material world is an illusion and should be rejected. In his autobiography, George described the song by saying it was about 'the duality of things – yes-no, up-down, left-right, right-wrong etc.'
'Across the Universe'
This was the first version of the song to be released, on a charity album that Spike Milligan had organised to raise money for the World Wildlife Fund4. The charity album was entitled 'No One's Gonna Change our World' and also featured contributions from Spike Milligan and fellow Goon Harry Secombe, but a veritable who's who of 1960s pop including Cliff Richard and the Shadows, Cilla Black, Lulu, Rolf Harris, the Hollies, the Bee Gees, Bruce Forsyth and Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch. The version of 'Across the Universe' on this album is different from the version later released on Let It Be as it contains background animal sounds, has a faster pace and has not been treated to the Spector 'Wall of Sound'.
The song was written shortly after John met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at 7am one morning, when John couldn't get back to sleep. John later described it by saying:
'It's one of the best lyrics I've written. In fact, it could be the best. It's good poetry, or whatever you call it. The ones I like are ones that stand as words without melody.'
When David Bowie recorded a cover version for his Young Americans album, John played guitar.
'Let It Be'
'Let It Be' was a song written at a time when The Beatles were beginning to fall apart — the hour of darkness — and was inspired by a dream Paul had about his mother Mary, who had died when Paul was 14. The hymn-like style suits the song perfectly, with 'Mother Mary' evoking thoughts of the Virgin Mary.
Phil Spector5's unauthorised remix of 'Let It Be' was a major factor in The Beatles' disbandment. This song was finally released as originally conceived on Let It Be... Naked.
'You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)'
The 'Let It Be' B-Side, the song consists of the words 'you know my name, look up the number' sung again and again in different styles and voices. The song was inspired by the Post Office's telephone directory advert, which boasted 'You have their name? Look up the number'. The only other words were John's mentions of Denis O'Dell, the Director of Apple Films and Apple Publicity. After the song was published, O'Dell was constantly bombarded by phone calls from people who, searching for secret meanings in Beatles records, had heard his name and dutifully looked up his number – in some cases, even turning up on the doorstep.
This song is the only one on the album not to have been produced by George Martin.
Past Masters: Volume Two has a simple cover design, just featuring a white background with the words 'The Beatles Past Masters Volume Two' in white. This is designed to supplement Volume One which features the words 'The Beatles Past Masters Volume One' in white on a black background. Since 2009, when it has been sold as a double-album along with Volume One, the overall cover has white text on a black background.
Like the first album, it contains an informative booklet that features photographs of the Fab Four, as well as informative notes written by Beatles expert Mark Lewisohn.
The Beatles Back Catalogue
Past Masters: Volume Two therefore completes the series of 15 albums of material that The Beatles had released while they were together:
- Please Please Me
- With The Beatles
- A Hard Day's Night
- Beatles For Sale
- Rubber Soul
- Magical Mystery Tour
- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
- The Beatles (Nicknamed 'The White Album')
- Yellow Submarine
- Abbey Road
- Let It Be
- Past Masters: Volume One
- Past Masters: Volume Two
Other albums of previously unreleased material would be published following the release of the Past Masters albums, both the Live at the BBC albums and the tremendous Anthology project. New versions of old material would also be released, such as Let It Be... Naked and Love, as well as new compilation albums Yellow Submarine Soundtrack and 1. Recordings of their pre-Cavern career in Hamburg with Tony Sheridan would also be released in various forms. Yet despite this, both Past Masters retain a unique position being albums designed to collect on albums for the first time the great, good and unusual songs of The Beatles' career.