Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Beatles - Past Masters

To this point I've avoided the very early Beatles releases, not because I truly didn't want to listen to them, but because they seemed a bit reliant on covers and typical early 60s rock style and I was more interested in their later work. Past Masters is a collection of all the Beatles singles that didn't make it onto a regular album, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the first disc, which covered up through the Help! era. I still preferred the stuff on disc two from when I'm better versed in their work, but there's quite a number of good songs on the whole collection. It doesn't all come together into a cohesive vision as well as their better albums, but there's a lot of enjoyable music here, a nice, pretty eclectic collection of tunes in a wide range of styles.

There's nothing really like their absolute heaviest or must experimental work, these were singles after all. But still, before all the drugs and fame, they were a damned competent pop act, and that definitely shows right from the beginning. It starts off with a song I definitely remember but I'm not sure I mentally attributed to the band, "Love Me Do". I knew the title was a Beatles song before I heard it, but the down-tempo sound and memorable harmonica hook were a surprise to hear, and it was a nice introduction of the group to their British fans. Some of the most famous Beatles songs ever are sprinkled through here, including "She Loves You", "I Want to Hold Your Hand", and "I Feel Fine". I don't like all of them the same amount, but they're all pretty hard to dislike at least, and they mix well with the songs I had never heard before. Some of the more interesting ones on the first disc like "Long Tall Sally" and "Slow Down" are covers of more soulful artists, but they're able to pull them off without embarrassing themselves. And by the time you get to stuff like "I'm Down", they're really turning into the true musical geniuses they would become known as.

A few of the tracks on the collection actually do appear on albums, but are still included here because they're different versions, and this becomes more common on disc two, especially when you get to the situation with Let It Be, which had a few singles taken from it before it was shelved and then re-produced before release. Still though, despite the familiar music, there's still a lot to like here. I might like "Revolution" more than The Beatles' "Revolution 1", "The Inner Light" is yet another worthwhile Indian-style experiment from George, and while it's sappy, "Hey Jude" is one of the group's most famous and sing-alongable tunes. Stuff like "Paperback Writer" is solidly good, catchy when the band was more focused on other things, and it ends with "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)" is possibly the group's oddest song, sounding like something the members of Monty Python might record, while still somehow feeling like a fitting B-Side for their last ever single. It doesn't amaze as much as their best work, but Past Masters is about 90 minutes of songs that are definitely worth hearing a few times.

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