Anthology 2 is the second in a series of three double albums released by The Beatles in the mid-1990s composed of unreleased musical recordings of The Beatles, the other two being of course Anthology 1 and Anthology 3. Released on March 19, 1996 , Anthology 2 contains fifty five tracks over two discs showcasing the previously commercially unreleased music of The Beatles between 1965 and the earliest part of 1968, covering the albums Help!, Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Magical Mystery Tour.
The audio material on the Anthology discs consists of studio outtakes and live performances melted together in a patchwork fashion.. Many of hese tracks are far from finished works, but instead make up kind of an audio snapshot as the most legendary pop band of all time musically evolves. Anthology 2 is particularly interesting because it charts their progression from "boy band" to established creative musicians and covers some truly amazing albums.
The first disc opens with Real Love, the second "new" Beatles track in the 1990s. Much like its predecessor from Anthology 1, Free As A Bird, Real Love was recorded using a home recording of John Lennon putting together rough draft of a song at his home in the late 1970s. With this home recording, the other three Beatles stepped in with a team of engineers to put together this final track, which featured the rest of the Beatles adding instrumentation and supporting vocals to John's tape, building a complete song out of it. When released as a single, this one managed to reach number two on both the US and UK pop charts in early 1996.
Tracks two through eight provide a glimpse into the recording of the soundtrack to the group's movie Help! The first one, Yes It Is, wound up as the b-side of the group's April 1965 single Ticket To Ride. This track actually mixes together take two and take fourteen, which shows how the song progressed. Take two, which comprises the early part of the track, has John tinkering with some guiding vocals but mostly the song is still in pieces; take fourteen sounds pretty close to the completed product.
Track three, I'm Down, wound up as the b-side of the Help! single. This is a straight up rock number in the vein of Twist and Shout; the version here is pretty close to the final one, in fact. At the end, Paul starts mumbling the phrase "Plastic soul man, plastic soul," which would go on (in slightly altered form) to be the name of their sixth album which would be released at the end of the year.
You've Got To Hide Your Love Away, which wound up on the Help! album, is very interesting here, with some studio banter filling up the early portions of the track and then a very nice version of the song filling up the remainder (albeit missing the distinctive flute which marks the final version, but that makes this one feel all that much different).
If You've Got Trouble, though, is a real gem for fans of the group; this was a song that didn't make the album (even though it seems to be complete) and is presented here for the first time. It's a nice mellow number with the (relatively) unusual touch of Ringo on lead vocal. It is subsequently followed by the also-unreleased version of That Means A Lot, which just doesn't seem to click too well with the group. Paul's vocals seem off and it was clear that this track isn't up to the standard of some of the other gems that would make the album.
Probably the brightest of these gems is found next, with Yesterday. While the master that we all know features a string quartet, this version is merely Paul with his voice and an acoustic guitar. I would argue that this is perhaps the best pop song ever recorded and this is the song stripped to its core.
It's Only Love, which also made the Help! album, is here without the lead guitar from George, who added it later. It seems very stripped-down for someone very familiar with the released version of the track.
Tracks nine through twelve were recorded for the British television show Blackpool Night Out at the start of August 1965: I Feel Fine, Ticket To Ride, Yesterday, and Help!. The first two are merely live versions of their previous two singles, and the fourth is the stage debut of their newest single. Interestingly, the third was never released as a single itself yet is widely considered to be one of their best known songs; hence, it was included as well.
Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby comes from The Beatles' first concert at Shea Stadium, which is represented in poster form on the album's cover. This version is previously unheard, as it was excised from previous releases documenting the concert; it has a very nice lead vocal by George, but the crowd is in absolute bedlam because the group had just taken the stage and this was their opening number.
We pick up at track fourteen with the sessions for their December 1965 album Rubber Soul. Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) is probably the best example that one could point to from the album that the band was truly changing their musical direction. George plays the sitar here as he does on the version that makes the album, marking the first time that the sitar was heard in a "pop" song. This version is a wonderful rendition of the song and is definitely the equal of the released version.
The following track, I'm Looking Through You, is in my opinion better than the one that made the album. It has much more of a hypnotic sense to the whole affair; this one is shorter and clicks together very well in a somewhat droning style that matches the feel of the song quite nicely.
12-Bar Original is an instrumental that The Beatles recorded during the sessions but never released, providing another nice new track for Beatles fans. This track was in fact recorded in early November 1965 after the album had already gone to be pressed out, so it was perhaps some experimentation for an eventual single. Anyway, it's a nice instrumental piece with double electric guitars and a harmonium.
Tracks seventeen through twenty-three on the first disc cover the recording sessions for Revolver, which many consider to be the band's greatest work. They lead off with what would turn out to be one of their most interesting tracks of all, Tomorrow Never Knows, which would conclude the album. This is a pure rock track that, once Paul got done manipulating and skewering in the studio, winds up coming off like almost a rock heavy techno track, definitely a surprise for anyone expecting Love Me Do. This is the original underlying track before the studio tricks were applied; even at its core, it's a good rock song.
Got To Get You Into My Life is light years different than the version that was finally released. This one comes off as much more spacey, with different lyrics and a vastly different feel and sound. Virtually identical comments can be made about the following track, And Your Bird Can Sing as well, although the latter really clicks together almost as well as the released version.
The album's opener was George Harrison's number, Taxman, which many people (myself included) feel was George's first truly strong track. This version comes off a bit different than the master, using the phrase "anybody got a bit of money" for the backing vocal parts rather than the political references used in the final version.
Track twenty-one is merely Eleanor Rigby reduced to nothing but the string quartet; no vocals or anything else. This is largely George Martin's (the group's producer) creation and it sounds as good now as it did then.
Tracks twenty two and twenty three cover the evolution of the song I'm Only Sleeping. The first one merely shows John experimenting with a tune in his head, providing a glimpse of the song as it is being born. The second one shows a later version; in fact, this is what the song changed into after the final version had already been completed. This version is a bit more spacey; it seems to me that the group selected more rock-oriented versions of the tracks to make the album in pretty much every case.
The first disc closes with live performances of two of their earlier tracks, Rock And Roll Music and She's A Woman, recorded live on their tour of Japan in mid-1966. Only two months later would be their final concert, ever.
The two discs perhaps mark the clearest division that can be found in the group's career. For the last half of 1966, the group essentially disbanded, giving each member time to write some new music and go their own way for a while. The resulting two albums worth of material (Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour) were recorded when the group reconvened, after they had given up touring forever and had become a studio-only band.
The first disc opens with three tracks charting the evolution of the hauntingly beautiful Strawberry Fields Forever. The first track is from November 1966, where John, alone at home, is working on the track in anticipation of the group reconvening later in the month to record their next single. This is very stripped down, nothing at all like the version that would be released in terms of both music and lyrics. The second track, which is the first studio take of the song, isn't much more similar than the first to what would finally come out. The third track is much, much closer to the final product, closing with some wonderful drumwork from Ringo, much as the master would. These three tracks are perhaps the greatest example of the true evolution of a song as can be found on the Anthology discs.
Strawberry Fields Forever would go on to be a double a-side single for the group, along with Penny Lane. The version of Penny Lane found here is a combination of several different takes, providing a one shot peek at the evolution of the track. I particularly like this one because the piccolo trumpet is allowed to continue on for much longer than in the final version and for me that is the high point of the track. The single would be released in February 1967, bridging the gap between Revolver and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
The group reconvened in late January as their new single was hitting the shelves to begin work on a new album which would become Sgt. Pepper; tracks five through twelve cover these session. Track five is A Day In The Life, presented in the one-track compilation version that the previous track was done with. The most significant change is the huge echo here in the counting section of the song, which would later be dominated by an orchestral crescendo.
Good Morning Good Morning is very similar to the album version here, only a bit stripped down. The high similarity to the album track makes differences hard to point out here. Much more can be said about the seventh track, Only A Northern Song, which was recorded and completed for Sgt. Pepper but wound up on Yellow Submarine, anchoring that relatively weak album. This version comes off as less spacy and more driven than the final version, still retaining the strong vocal point that the song tries to make (perhaps too straightforward, in fact).
Tracks eight and nine chronicle the evolution of Being For The Benefit of Mr Kite!. The first one shows the song still in its embryonic stage, with John unsure of the direction. The studio banter provides a clear demonstration of the McCartney/Lennon songwriting team. The second track shows a more evolved version of the song with an even more dominant calliope than the album version had.
Much like tracks four and five on this second disc, track ten is a compilation of versions of the track as it evolved. This time, the song in question is Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. The version of the song constructed here comes off as dreamy as the original, perhaps more so due to the more amplified tamboura.
The instrumental for Within You Without You is the eleventh track. The wide mix of Indian and western instrumentation is more evident here without George's distorted vocals dominating the picture, actually making the track much more interesting from a musical perspective.
Track twelve, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise), was the last song cut from the album and probably the simplest. It's a straightforward little rocker, nothing special; the version here differs lyrically from the final album version.
Track thirteen is an example of the group really experimenting. Here is the earliest version of You Know My Name (Look Up The Number), which would evolve for the next two years and finally see release as the b-side of their 1970 single Let It Be. This version is longer than the one finally released, with pieces that wouldn't make the final version and some nice saxophone from Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones.
The Magical Mystery Tour sessions are covered on tracks fourteen through eighteen, starting off with I Am The Walrus, massively stripped down from the audio effects roller coaster that would make up the final track. This is the underlying track with all the extra stuff stripped away, revealing only basic instrumentation and John's playful lyrics and voice.
Tracks fifteen and seventeen are two versions of the song The Fool on the Hill, one of the highlights of the Magical Mystery Tour album. The first version features Paul singing without the lyrics even complete, humming in parts and tinkering with the tune on a piano by himself; it is a true demo. Track seventeen features a largely completed tune, but the lyrics were still incomplete as Paul plays with them even as they're going through the take. These two clearly show a song in evolution.
The track that divides the two versions is Your Mother Should Know. This version has a nice snare drum that distinguishes it from the final album track, contributing a slightly different feel to the waltz-like track.
The final peek at Magical Mystery Tour comes here on track eighteen with a much less distorted version of Hello, Goodbye, presented here with much more stark vocalization.
The last two tracks touch upon some recordings done in February 1968 just before the group went to India to study transcendental meditation. The first was to be their next single, Lady Madonna. This is another single-track compilation of several different versions of the song, this time coming together to actually sound quite similar to the master.
Anthology 2 concludes with a peek ahead of sorts. At the same February 1968 session, the group took a first crack at Across The Universe, which would not be actually released by the group until 1970's Let It Be album. This version has some bird sound effects, some differing vocals, and interestingly, some backing vocals from two teenage girls who were hanging around outside of Abbey Road. A nice way to finish things off, with a look ahead.
This two disc set paints a wonderful picture of the group at their creative peak and is well worth getting, along with the other Anthology albums, if you're a fan of the group. I cannot recommend highly enough their albums of the era ( Help!, Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Magical Mystery Tour) if you enjoyed this one. Also of note about the second Anthology (as well as the other two) is the wonderful liner notes, chock full of comments and pictures, definitely adding something to the finished product.