1 | A Collection of Beatles Oldies
Past Masters: Volume One | Volume Two
1962-1966 The Red Album | 1967-1970 The Blue Album
1962-1966, more popularly known as 'The Red Album' is a Beatles compilation double album first released in 1973. Released alongside 1967-1970 also called 'The Blue Album', this album presents a selection of the Beatles' songs from the first half of their careers.
The songs on this album show the Beatles in their early years, between 1962-1966. These songs, all written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, are all their single releases as well as a selection of their album tracks, all in chronological order.
1962-1966 'The Red Album'
Both the 'Red' and 'Blue' albums were released on the same day in April 1973. Despite being made up entirely of previously released songs, it surprised everyone to become a number three in both the UK and US Billboard chart. It was even number one on America's Cash Box chart. When the album was re-released on CD in 1993 it again became a number 3 UK album, and in 2010 when a digitally remastered version was released it reached number 6. The album is double-Platinum in the UK and multiple-Platinum in the US, where it has sold over seven and a half million copies.
In the early 1970s there was a large number of bootleg Beatles albums being sold across America. Before 1971 copyright law there had dated from the beginning of the century and only covered writing. America's 1971 Sound Recording Amendment Act actually encouraged unofficial bootleg records as it stated that sound recordings made before 1972 would be subject to state copyright regulations; as New Jersey had comparatively relaxed copyright regulations, numerous bootleg albums were released from there.
EMI decided to counter the Beatle bootleggers by issuing authorised double-album compilations of the Beatles' greatest hits. As many of the songs on 'The Red Album' had previously been released on earlier compilations1 its overwhelming success was not anticipated. Despite the earlier compilations the album was almost as successful as 'The Blue Album'.
The album covers for both 'The Red Album' and 'The Blue Album' show The Beatles in identical poses, looking down the stairwell at EMI House. Both photographs were taken by Angus McBean. One photograph had been taken for the cover of their first album, Please Please Me (1963) and the other photograph had been taken in 1969 for the proposed Get Back album2 and showed the Beatles in the same poses at the same place, only with longer hair and moustaches.
On 'The Red Album' the 1963 picture is on the front and the 1969 picture is on the back cover3. Later audio cassette and CD releases of these albums have the track listing on the back covers, but nevertheless both pictures can be seen on the front and back of the accompanying booklet matching the original LPs.
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Below is a description of the songs as well as which album the song was originally released on, as well as if it was a single.
'Love Me Do' (Single & Please Please Me, 1962)
'Love Me Do' was the Beatles' first single and was written by Paul McCartney back in 1958. It was after the first recording of this song on 4 September, 1962, that the Beatles' first drummer, Pete Best, was asked to leave the Beatles. 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 version with Andy White not Ringo Starr that was released on the Beatles' first album, although Ringo played the drums on the initial release of the single which is available on the Past Masters: Volume 1 album. The way to tell the difference between the two 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 One hit in the UK, it topped the local Liverpool chart according to Mersey Beat. It is one of only two Beatles' songs whose copyright is owned by MPL4 Communications Ltd, as it and the B-side, 'P.S. I Love You' were released before the Beatles set up Northern Songs in February 1963.
'Please Please Me' (Single & Please Please Me, 1963)
The Beatles' second single and the name of their first album. 'Please Please Me' was listed as a UK Number One on five of the six UK's national charts of the time. Although 'Please Please Me' was considered a Number One on the BBC, Disc, Melody Maker, New Musical Express and Record Mirror charts, on the Record Retailer chart it was classed as Number 2. Record Retailer's chart is the one that evolved into the chart used today.
Capitol Records, EMI's American subsidiary, chose not to release 'Please Please Me' as a single as they felt the lyric was promoting fellatio. In fact, John's inspiration was the 1932 Bing Crosby record 'Please', one of John's mother's favourite songs. This contained the lyrics 'Oh please lend your little ear to my pleas'. An early version can be heard on Anthology 1. A live performance can be heard on On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2.
'From Me To You' (Single, 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 Beatles were apparently initially unsure of this song. John has admitted: 'we nearly didn't record it because we thought it was too bluesey'.
The Beatles recorded it a week later on 5 March, released it on 11 April, and it became the Beatles' first undisputed Number One in the UK, staying at the top for six weeks. This song is also on the following albums: A Collection of Beatles Oldies, Past Masters: Volume 1, The Beatles: Live At The BBC, The Beatles Anthology 1, 1 and On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2.
'She Loves You' (Single, 1963)
In the UK this was the bestselling single of the 1960s and the best-selling song of all time until Paul McCartney's 'Mull of Kintyre' in 1977. It was also the first song to get to Number One twice, between September and early October 1963, and again at the end of November to early December. In America it reached Number One 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'5 which we stuck into everything - 'From Me To You', 'She Loves You', everything'.
'She Loves You' was written in a hotel room in Newcastle 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 One 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 A Collection of Beatles Oldies, Past Masters: Volume 1, Anthology 1, 1 and On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2.
'I Want To Hold Your Hand' (Single, 1963)
Their fifth single, 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' was the first song to sell over a million copies in Britain before release, in November 1963. 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 one 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 ones7. This record paved the way for other acts too. Before 'I Want To Hold Your Hand', between 1955-1963, 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.
'I Want to Hold Your Hand' was the second of two songs from 1963 to sell over a million copies in the UK. It was also the 1963 Christmas number one.
As The Beatles 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 A Collection of Beatles Oldies, Past Masters: One, 1, Anthology 1, Love and On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2.
'All My Loving' (With The Beatles, 1964)
A song written by Paul one day as he was shaving, and he later described it as 'the first song I ever wrote where I had the words before the music'. This is the only song from With the Beatles, the Beatles' second album, on this compilation. Paul later performed this song at the 2010 Isle of Wight Festival.
'Can't Buy Me Love' (Single & A Hard Day's Night, 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 One.
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 one. In the US it was the first ever single to jump straight into the chart at number one, 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. It also appears on A Collection of Beatles Oldies.
'A Hard Day's Night' (Single & 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 Lester8 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.
'And I Love Her' (A Hard Day's Night, 1964)
A Paul McCartney ballad inspired by his relationship with Jane Asher that was written at the Asher's house. Paul described it as 'the first ballad I impressed myself with', although John helped with the chorus. The song also appears on Anthology 1, On Air and Paul's later album Unplugged (The Official Bootleg) .
This song is one of the Beatles' most covered compositions, with over 300 artists to date including Beatles' favourites Smokey Robinson & the Miracles.
'Eight Days a Week' (Beatles for Sale, 1964)
The phrase 'Eight Days A Week' was coined by Paul McCartney's chauffeur9. Paul decided to incorporate this phrase into a song, just as John had adopted Ringo's 'A Hard Day's Night' phrase. Paul has described the process by saying:
Neither [John nor I] had heard that expression before so we had that chauffeur to credit for that. It was like a little blessing from the gods.
Though a US number one in 1965, 'Eight Days A Week' was never released as a single in the UK as it was considered considerably weaker than John's 'I Feel Fine'.
'I Feel Fine' (Single, 1964)
The Christmas number one both sides of the Atlantic, 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 One hit 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 one on three separate occasions; this was the Beatles' sixth US number one 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.
'Ticket to Ride' (Help!, 1965)
This was the first Beatles song to break the three-minute barrier. The lyrics were partly inspired by Ryde on the Isle of Wight, a town that Paul and John had hitchhiked to in 196010. Paul has said
We sat down and wrote it together. I remember talking about Ryde but it was John's [song]. We wrote the melody together.
As well as Help!, the song appears on album A Collection of Beatles Oldies.
'Yesterday' (Help!, 1965)
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 Beatle 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 in the UK as a single by the Beatles11, it was released elsewhere, and became a Number One 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.
'Help!' (Single & Help!, 1965)
'Help!' was written by John and Paul in John's house in Kenwood in April 1965. In John's words the song really was a cry for help. 'The song was about me', he admitted. '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!, the Beatles 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 Beatles 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, A Collection of Beatles Oldies, The Beatles Anthology 2 and 1.
'You've Got to Hide Your Love Away' (Help!, 1965)
John described this song by saying,
This was written in my Dylan days for the film 'Help!' When I was a teenager I used to write poetry, but was always trying to hide my real feelings.
John was fascinated by Dylan's acoustic style and his wordplay and he would be a key influence on his songwriting. Other theories have included that the song is either a reference to a secret affair or a reference to the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein, who was homosexual at a time in which this was illegal.
'We Can Work It Out' (Single, 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 Unplugged (The Official Bootleg), Paul is Live and Back in the World/US albums, as well as Beatles compilations Past Masters Volume 2 and 1. This song also 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. It was the Christmas Number One.
'Day Tripper' (Single, 1965)
'Day Tripper' was a UK Number One 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' 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 One.
'Drive My Car' (Rubber Soul, 1965)
A song which reverses the stereotypes of the day, in which the male narrator is asked by a successful woman to be her chauffeur. Originally Paul had the tune but was unable to progress beyond his placeholder lyrics, with John helping it turn into the song it later became. Paul has described this by saying,
The lyrics were disastrous and I knew it... I came in and I said, 'These aren't good lyrics but it's a good tune.' Well we tried, and John couldn't think of anything… so we had a break, then we came back to it and somehow it became 'drive my car' and then… this nice tongue-in-cheek idea came.
'Norwegian Wood' (Rubber Soul, 1965)
Though John Lennon had married Cynthia when he found out she was pregnant, he continued to have affairs and 'Norwegian Wood' was inspired by one of them. The song marks the first time that a sitar was used on a pop record, when it was played by George who was developing a fascination for Indian music and way of life.
'Nowhere Man' (Rubber Soul, 1965)
The first Beatles song not to be about love, when John wrote this song he was describing himself as the nowhere man. The song would later appear in the film Yellow Submarine with the character Dr Jeremy Hilary Boob Phd being a nowhere man. In America the song was released as a single, getting to number 3.
'Michelle' (Rubber Soul, 1965)
Surprisingly, 'Michelle' is one of the oldest melodies that Paul wrote, written when he was at the Liverpool Institute12. He described its original composition with the words,
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 A Collection of Beatles Oldies. Paul would later perform the song on his Paul Is Live (1993) and Back In The World live albums.
'In My Life' (Rubber Soul, 1965)
A song John later called his 'first major piece of work', this was an autobiographical look at his life. The song mentions friends, 'some are dead and some are living'. This respectively refers to Stuart Sutcliffe, who had died in 1962, as well as his best friend Pete Shotton.
'Girl' (Rubber Soul, 1965)
A John Lennon song of two halves, about a girl who at first appears to be the ideal woman but in the second half it is revealed that she is cruel and conceited. John did ask Paul and George to sing 'tit tit tit tit' as backing vocals throughout the chorus as a hidden joke.
'Paperback Writer' (Single, 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 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.
'Eleanor Rigby' (Single & Revolver, 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 attraction13.
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 in which none of the Beatles played any instruments. Though Paul sang lead and John and George provided backing vocals, the backing was provided by an eight-piece string group14. 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 A Collection of Beatles Oldies album, having been released as a single and on the Revolver album in August. A purely instrumental version features on Anthology 2.
'Yellow Submarine' (Single & Revolver, 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 top-selling single. Yellow Submarine was later used as the title and inspiration for a psychedelic animated film released in 1968.