With the November 2000 release of 1, the 27-song CD collecting all of their U.K. and U.S. chart-topping hits, The Beatles threw an extra coat of laminate on their license to print money. This was a trick more impressive than tumbling through a hogshead of real fire. Here was a set of immensely popular songs already available on the original Beatles albums and on various compilations in numerous formats. Unless you were Amish, allergic to joy, or some kind of sociopath who shouldn’t be allowed near a Best Buy to begin with, you owned most of this stuff in one form or another.
Yeah, the audio had been remastered, and yeah, yeah, yeah, the material had never been sequenced in this order or packaged with this groovy red and yellow artwork, but were we really buying “Love Me Do” and “Yesterday” again?
“If there’s any complaint, it’s that even if it’s nice to have something like this, it’s not really essential,” wrote Stephen Thomas Erlewine in his five-star AllMusic review. “There’s really no reason for anyone who owns all the records to get this too.”
Reason or not, plenty of people did get 1, which went toppermost of the poppermost around the planet and became the bestselling album of the ’00s. It’s sold more than 31 million copies, and by the look of things, Ringo won’t have to get a paper route anytime soon.
That’s because this month saw the release of another 1, this one boasting fresh stereo mixes overseen by Giles Martin, son of Beatles producer George Martin, and a Blu-ray/DVD of live performances and promo films, all restored to 4K resolution. (There are also liner notes by writer Mark Ellen and video intros from Paul and Ringo.) The three-disc 1+ offers 23 additional clips, not all of which are linked to those 27 songs that reached No. 1 and ostensibly gave the original 1 its reason for existing.
It won’t sell like 2000’s 1, since CDs and DVDs barely get endcaps at big-boxes these days, but for holiday shoppers pondering what to get the aging boomers and budding music lovers in their lives, this reissue is a sure thing. It’s filled with exquisitely crafted, timeless pop-rock tunes that take real effort or stubborn naysayer nerve to dislike, and priced at roughly $50 for the Cadillac version, 1 Mach 2 is a winner gift that doesn’t require much thought or dough.
John, Paul, George, and Ringo just saved your ass a trip to the mall. Or they tricked you into shelling out for songs you bought for the fifth time 15 years ago and a bunch of videos you’ll watch once before going back to Netflix, depending on who you ask.
“It’s absolutely not a cash-grab,” defends Chris Carter, host of Breakfast With The Beatles, America’s longest-running Fab Four radio show. As the proud owner of an 86-CD Let It Be bootleg box set—one of the many, many bits and bobs he’s amassed since falling for the band at the age of 7—Carter has a higher tolerance than most for Beatles product. Still, if there is a point at which the group might conceivably cross the line and squeeze fans too hard, he says, this 1 reissue isn’t it. The DVDs alone, he says, make it worthwhile.
“Back in the day, it was guys like me trading VHS tapes: ‘You’ve got a better copy of The David Frost Show?’” Carter tells The A.V. Club, referencing the September 1968 television broadcast in which the Beatles navigated a British Musician’s Union ban on miming by singing over prerecorded backing tracks of “Hey Jude” and “Revolution.” (The former is on 1; both are on 1+.) “Now, it’s fantastic to have it all in the same place, and visually, it’s up to 2015 quality level.”
As Carter says, the 1 clips are a reminder of what a visually innovative band the Beatles were. Years before MTV, they made funny little films—don’t dare call them “videos”—to go with their songs. Some, like the black-and-white Twickenham Studio “Day Tripper” and “We Can Work It Out” lip-synch jobs, are pretty bland. The trippier “Paperback Writer” and “Penny Lane,” however, show the lads experimenting with weird camera angles and bad facial hair, edging into the psychedelic era without affecting edginess or losing their goofy Liverpudlian likability.
“When you listen to their records, they’re like gods, but when you watch them eating fish and chips, it humanizes the band a little bit,” Carter says. “They didn’t wear makeup and stuff. They were very natural. Spots and all, you get to see them.”
Carter makes a good point, and if the 2015 1 is worth the money, it might be because of the films. While much has been made about the sound, non-audiophiles—fans who don’t swear by mono or read 15,000-word blog posts detailing A/B sound comparisons of remastered CDs vs. vinyl pressings vs. the FLAC 44.1 Khz 24-bit digital offerings found on the limited-edition 2009 USB box set—might not notice a huge difference between this 1 and the one that came out in 2000 or even 2011.
That’s right, this is the second 1 update; the first swapped out the 2000 remasters for the ones rolled out in 2009, when the entire Beatles catalog got a long-overdue CD upgrade and finally landed on iTunes. (The 2009 reissue campaign also begat The Beatles: Rock Band and a bunch of box sets, including The Beatles In Mono and The Beatles: Stereo Box Set.) These new 2015 tracks are remixes, not remasters, which means that instead of just cleaning up the recordings everyone’s been singing along to for decades, Martin and his team created new versions that “gain clarity, punch, and presence,” as Randy Lewis wrote for the LA Times.
Lewis isn’t wrong: The redone 1 sounds fantastic, and switching back and forth between the two CDs, it’s not hard to hear Giles’ “She Loves You” and “Day Tripper,” to pick a couple of random tracks, as brighter and more propulsive than their 2000 counterparts. But that’s when you’re listening for it on decent headphones or speakers, which is not how everyone consumes music.
The 1 reissue has fueled speculation that Giles might next remix the entire Beatles catalog. Since The Beatles are staying out of the streaming game, much as they resisted iTunes for all those years, new mixes of all the studio LPs and comps would mean a whole lot more CD and vinyl sales. And that’s just one way the band might continue selling us stuff for the foreseeable future.
According to Carter, the next logical candidates for physical releases are Let It Be, which hasn’t been available since the ’80s, and a Christmas album comprising the annual holiday tunes the band distributed via flexi disc to their U.S. and U.K. fan clubs.
With respect to Let It Be, Carter says the band’s democratic power structure—all four members or their heirs must agree on any new project—may keep the 1970 film from receiving the deluxe reissue treatment already given to A Hard Day’s Night and Help!
“From what I heard, George was never a big fan of Let It Be,” Carter says. “It was all ready to go when Let It Be… Naked was released. They were going to put out the DVD, just like they were doing with all the films. But that one got shelved after George passed away. I’d imagine if George didn’t want it to come out, his family would abide by those feelings.”
Speaking of Let It Be… Naked, Carter defends Paul’s decision to scrape away all the Phil Spector goop and present the Beatles’ penultimate recordings (Abbey Road happened later but hit shelves first) as they sounded in the studio. He’s also pro-Love, that 2006 remix album created by George and Giles Martin for the Cirque Du Soleil show of the same name. “Love was crafty, when you think about it,” Carter says. “Not every time did they hit a winning note, but it’s fun to listen to. For the purposes of the show, it worked really well. If there was not show to go with it, I would question it: Do we need this?”
Even with the show, some might argue the answer is “no.” Love offered fans a chance to engage with super-familiar material in a fresh way, but it’s a novelty no one reaches for when they need a Beatles fix. Like Let It Be… Naked, it’s a curious artifact fans dutifully purchased, spun a few times, and promptly forgot about. Isn’t that the very definition of being snookered?
Not if you ask Carter. He’ll take more product, please. “Where is the 50th anniversary Rubber Soul box set?” he asks. “If you put me in charge of marketing, I’d milk it to no end. [Laughs.] Rubber Soul is such a great album. Wouldn’t you want a nice box of that with a little booklet or some vinyl—something? You wonder why these things don’t happen. It happens for lesser groups. Genesis or Rush, they have anniversary editions for every album they’ve put out.”
In calling for such deluxe packages, Carter argues that the only people who’d actually plunk down for such things are hardcore Beatles freaks like him—a guy for whom the debate isn’t so much vinyl vs. CD, but vinyl vs. reel-to-reel, his preferred method for listening. Maybe so, but isn’t forgiving Universal Music for bilking diehards a bit like absolving drug dealers on the grounds they’re merely giving addicts what they really, really want?
Going back to that question of formats, if the industry ever figures out another way to sell physical music, it’s a safe bet Sgt. Pepper’s and Abbey Road will be among the first records available for surgical implantation into the brain or delivery into the bloodstream via nanobot. And if history is any indication, people will happily pay.
“That’s the magic of the band,” Carter says. “You’d be hard-pressed to find another case where a 6-year-old kid, an 18-year-old, and a 45-year-old man like the same band. My mother loved ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ and ‘Michelle.’ The coolest kid in college loved Rubber Soul. And when I was 7, I loved Rubber Soul. That didn’t happen with The Stones. There’s no 9-year-old kid singing ‘Sister Morphine.’”
In other words, we’ll always give them our money; they’ll always give us this conversation about when enough becomes enough.