Saturday, August 01, 2009

Beatles VI

I love this album. Critics dismiss the 'American' versions of the Beatles' albums, but growing up with them, I actually prefer the Capitol LPs.

I was lucky enough to live in a household that bought every new Beatles record within days of their release. There was always alot of buzz and excitement when we brought home a new piece of Beatles plastic. Some of those albums and singles really stand out in my memory. Beatles VI is one of them.

I remember how the back cover didn't list the songs in sequence and it said 'see label for correct playing order'. Which is ridiculous, since the time when you want to see the 'playing order' is when you are playing the record. Hard to read a label when it's turning at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute.

It was always kind of frustrating. Later versions did list the usual Side 1/Side 2 sequence, but if you had an original pressing like we did, it was 'like a box of chocolates'. Eventually we had the album memorized so it didn't matter.

The title of the LP was probably my first exposure to Roman numerals. A kid could learn a lot listening to the Beatles. Even so, I always thought that it rates as the worst title of any album because when you lined up your Beatle records, it certainly wasn't the 'sixth'. More like the eighth or ninth. Capitol was dismissing the UA release A Hard Day's Night and VeeJay's Introducing The Beatles, not to mention their own documentary album The Beatles' Story.

The cover always fascinated me. What are the Beatles holding? I later found out that it's a carving knife and the full picture shows them cutting a birthday cake (I think it was John's birthday). But the angle makes the blade look like a piece of string or a microphone cord. And I would wonder, why are they laughing and so happy holding whatever the thing is?

I also really dig the back cover. John (again, holding some unknown object. Looks like a small fire extinguisher) looking super cool in his shades and holding a ciggie. Paul smiling at the piano. George with his guitar ready to do a solo, and Ringo at the kettle drums (which you can hear on 'What You're Doing') appearing a bit apprehensive about being away from his kit. The pics really capture how we thought of them back then. John the cool 'in charge' leader, Paul the bubbly showman, George the serious loner and Ringo the slightly confused but happy sidekick.

Regarding the music, it was the end of an era. This was the last time they would have 'cover' songs on an American album. Four of the eleven songs are covers and it's the only time they did a Buddy Holly tune ('Words of Love'). Considering Holly was one of their biggest influences, it's nice to have at least that one. And it's a great version. The other covers are rockers ('Kansas City', 'Bad Boy', and 'Dizzie Miss Lizzie') while the originals all have a sweet quality to them. A mellow group of tunes. The end of the Beatles' innocence in a way.

Also notable, no Ringo song. The British albums always had a Ringo number (with two exceptions), but for the Capitol versions, this was a dry spell for Richie. Three albums in 18 months without a Ringo tune (I'm not counting 'Boys' from the Early Beatles. We didn't buy it cuz we already had all of the songs on other records. It's basically Introducing the Beatles all over again).

However, Ringo did have the B-Side of one of their biggest selling singles during this time: 'Yesterday'/'Act Naturally'. Also, he was the 'star' (pun intended) of Help! and the central character in most of the episodes of their ABC Saturday morning cartoon shows as well.

So while Ringo was missing from the albums for all of 1965 and half of 1966, he was still a big presence at the time.

I also associate Beatles VI with the summertime. It came out in June 1965, and although I can't recall any specific moments, my brother and must have spent many hours listening to it in our hot little southwest Portland apartment .

Little did we know that after the Help! album, released a few months later, Rubber Soul was just around the corner. And 'the boys' would never quite be the same again. The fun loving innocent mop tops would start singing about more grown-up and sophisticated subjects. Which is a good thing, but so was that last gasp of innocence I remember when I hear Beatles VI.


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