B is for Beatles Butchers


If you grew up in Great Britain or many other countries in the 1960s, your collection of Beatles albums looked one way, but if you were coming of age in the United States during that period, your Fab Four LPs looked very different. And, regardless of country, if you are younger, with your first exposure to Beatles albums the 1987-era CDs or later, which followed the British system, those albums made for the American market might mystify.

Here are some cogent facts:
1. The Beatles first (British) album, Please Please Me, on Parlaphone Records, was rejected by its US affiliate, Capitol Records, in the summer of 1963. It was then released, missing two songs, in the US as Introducing the Beatles, on Vee-Jay Records; it was a dud.
2. When the Beatles finally DID make it big in the US, early in 1964, Capitol put out the album Meet the Beatles, featuring nine songs from the Beatles’ SECOND British album, With the Beatles. (The covers are similar, with the lads partially in shadow.)
3. American albums were almost always a) shorter – 11 or 12 songs, rather than usually 14, and b) almost always had to have a single – in the case of Meet the Beatles, I Want to Hold Your Hand plus a couple B-sides – because the American packagers figured the kids wouldn’t buy the albums without the hit song. Conversely, in Britain, the single and the album were largely separate entities.
4. As a result, there were more US albums than British ones. The Beatles Second Album on Capitol consisted of the remaining five songs from With the Beatles, plus various singles – notably, She Loves You, plus B-sides and EP cuts. This is why, when you heard live recordings of the Beatles in the United States, they would inevitably refer to a song as from “our last album” or the “album before last.” They knew the package they had put together was going to inevitably be rearranged in the States.
5. Even albums with the same NAME didn’t always match up. Help! in the UK had 14 songs, seven from the movie (on Side 1, for those of us old enough to remember vinyl) and seven others (on Side 2). Help! in the US included only the seven songs from the movie, interspersed with instrumentals from the movie soundtrack. Some of those other songs landed on an earlier US album called Beatles VI.
Rubber Soul, US and UK, had 10 songs in common. The US version included two songs from Help!
Which brings me to an album that did not exist at all in the UK, Yesterday and Today (or “Yesterday” …and Today, as it was often rendered. It is the very first album I ever bought in a store; previous albums I got from the Capitol Record Club, by mail. It cost $2.99 at the Rexall drug store/pharmacy.

Here is the song list (with YouTube links that I know all of you unfortunately cannot access); all songs by Lennon-McCartney, except as noted:

Side one
Drive My Car (from Rubber Soul) – 2:30
I’m Only Sleeping – (from Revolver) – 3:01
Nowhere Man (from Rubber Soul; also released as a US single) – 2:45
Doctor Robert (from Revolver) – 2:15
Yesterday (from Help!; also released as a US single) – 2:08
Act Naturally(Morrison-Russell) (from Help!; also released as B-side to “Yesterday”) – 2:33

Side two
And Your Bird Can Sing (from Revolver) – 2:01
If I Needed Someone (George Harrison) (from Rubber Soul) – 2:24
We Can Work It Out (released as a single) – 2:15
What Goes On (Lennon-McCartney-Richard Starkey) (from Rubber Soul; also released in the US as B-side to “Nowhere Man) – 2:51
Day Tripper (released as flip side of “We Can Work It Out” single) – 2:50

That’s right. The Capitol compilers cynically took three songs from the NOT-YET-RELEASED Revolver album to fill out this package. Worse, they took three Lennon songs of the 14, leaving John only two lead vocals on the 11-song US Revolver album. I had wondered about that at the time.


Which is why, when Yesterday and Today was released with the cover that looked like what was pictured on the left, it was thought that the Beatles were rebelling against the folks at Capitol for butchering their albums. This was NOT the case. As the Wikipedia narrative suggests the Beatles were merely tired of doing another set of conventional pictures and agreed to photographer Robert Whitaker’s ideas for more avant garde imagery.

The covers were printed, and at least a few were sold before Capitol pulled the album. They made replacement pictures that went over the controversial image, but they weren’t flush with the cover underneath. Thus the “butcher cover” has become very valuable. The album lost money for Capitol because of all the extra work and expense.

I recall reading in some pop music magazine of the time that John Sebastian, then from the American rock group The Lovin’ Spoonful, said that his favorite song on Rubber Soul was Drive My Car. Well, I snooted, EVERYBODY knows that Drive My Car was on Yesterday and Today. Yes, I was right, but so was John Sebastian, who must have had access to the UK version.

I liked Y&T well enough, though TWO Ringo leads (Act Naturally AND What Goes On) was one too many. But in retrospect, I wish Capitol Records had put other songs on there instead of the songs from Revolver, such as I’m Down (B-side of the Help! single), and/or the single Paperback Writer/Rain, or even earlier songs that had never shown up on a Capitol album prior to the band’s breakup, such as There’s A Place, Misery, From Me To You, or A Hard Day’s Night.

It should be pointed out that the Beatles were not the only British artists to receive this treatment from their American label. Donovan also had his catalog altered, as did the Rolling Stones. Check out the playlist for the different versions of the Stones’ Aftermath album, for instance.

Interestingly, after Revolver, Capitol started putting out the UK albums (Sgt. Pepper, the white album, Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road and Let It Be) as the Beatles had originally imagined them. Perhaps they were finally realized the albums weren’t just commodities.

There were two box sets called The Capitol Albums. The 2004 release contained the first four albums, and the 2006 edition the next four. Y&T was the ninth Capitol album. I never knew why they didn’t release the first FIVE albums, then the second FIVE.

ROG

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. i hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

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