Beatles Boxed Sets Show Capitol Butcherscarved Choice Cuts

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American record executives were pop-culture assassins because of the way they sliced, diced and re-formatted the Beatles' British albums in order to multiply the number of U.S. releases.Or so goes the prevailing wisdom

among rock critics and Beatles fanatics.

By issuing albums with only 11 or 12 tracks instead of 14 (as in Britain), by tacking on singles and EPs (usually omitted from the British albums) and by substituting orchestral music for Beatles' numbers on soundtracks, the label bosses (primarily at Capitol Records) stockpiled tracks for "extra" albums invented in corporate boardrooms.

And yet, despite being motivated by greed, the label hacks also created some inadvertent gems. With the recent release of "The Beatles Capitol Albums, Vol. II," the time is ripe for a little historical revisionism regarding the Fab Four's American catalogue. These releases are more than a nostalgia trip - they are a restoration of pop-culture history.

(Of course, for those who prefer to maintain their music collections in cyberspace, this is all mere trivia. For them, the real news is that Apple Corps has announced it will be making Beatles music available for download from the Internet. These fans could care less about what sound bites come embedded in a piece of plastic, and whether it is emblazoned with Capitol's 1960s "rainbow" label or that the CDs come with a beautiful booklet. We can only pity such people, try to avoid making eye contact and walk past them as quickly as possible.)

Let's begin with a little history: Between "Please Please Me" in 1963 and "Let it Be" in 1970, the Beatles produced 12 albums of original material for Parlophone records in Britain. But in the United States, 19 albums were released in the same time frame.

The Beatles viewed the Capitol executives as butchers for what they did to their records. So, in 1966 when the label asked for a cover photo for "Yesterday ... and Today," they responded with the infamous "butcher block" photo showing the four festooned with dismembered baby doll parts and slabs of raw meat. Hail to the butchers.

The album was quickly recalled, and a more acceptable photo was pasted over the offensive artwork, making a valuable collector's item for those lucky enough to nab that first pressing.

With the advent of the CD revolution in the mid-1980s, the surviving Beatles made it clear that only the original Parlophone albums were to be issued. But a funny thing happened on the way to the pop-culture trash bin for the Capitol catalog.

Many Americans who grew up listening to Beatles albums could never quite get used to the British releases. For example, "With the Beatles," which was closely shadowed by the American "Meet the Beatles," sounds utterly wrong when it kicks off with "It Won't Be Long" instead of "I Want to Hold Your Hand."

Indeed, the song that introduced most Americans to the Beatles never graced a British album until included on a hits package.

So why not give Americans a choice of formats? The powers that be finally relented, and in 2004 "The Beatles Capitol Albums, Vol. I" was issued in a box containing: "Meet the Beatles," "The Beatles Second Album," "Something New" and "Beatles 65." Volume II, released April 11, also houses four CDs: "The Early Beatles," "Beatles VI," "Help!" and "Rubber Soul." Each CD comes in a miniature of the original sleeve and includes the stereo and mono versions.

These releases remind us that the butchers' worst crime against humanity was the chainsaw massacre inflicted on the "Hard Day's Night" and "Help" soundtracks. Each was bursting at the seams with 14 tracks of pure Beatle audio magic in Britain. But Americans got a paltry seven Beatles songs on each, the albums being fleshed out with schmaltzy (although not utterly charmless) orchestral background music from the films. …