Past Masters reissue brings sweet Beatles nostalgia in stereo

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ORIGINALLY POSTED ON STRAIGHT.COM, NOV. 2, 2009

By Steve Newton

I’ll never forget the day I got my very first record. I was six or so, visiting my grandparents at their home in Point Grey, and my mom took me on a walk to a music store on 10th Avenue. I came back with a Beatles 45 that had “Please Mr. Postman” on one side and a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” on the other. I’m not sure which was the single and which was the B-side, but it didn’t matter; I played both sides of that sucker until I was kindly asked to give it a rest.

Others with similar childhood experiences can relive those joyous feelings of Fab Four discovery with Past Masters, which—while not an iconic title along the lines of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Abbey Road—is crucial listening for Beatlemaniacs. But it only exists because of the way the group was marketed differently in Britain and North America in the early ’60s.

In England, Beatles albums were often released with various singles missing, so that fans would be tempted to purchase both 45s and longplayers. Simultaneously, Capitol Records would release its own versions of the albums in the U.S. and Canada, often with different titles and artwork, and often including the hits that were left off the U.K. pressings.

That was all fine and dandy until the late ’80s, when the then-ballyhooed (and now more or less irrelevant) compact-disc format came of age. Capitol decided to rerelease all the British versions of the Beatles’ albums worldwide on CD, but they needed a home for the singles and B-sides that weren’t included on them in the first place, so in 1988 they gathered them up and issued them as Past Masters: Volume 1 and Past Masters: Volume 2.

To coincide with the recent release of all the British Beatles albums on CD again, this time in remastered form, the Past Masters have been combined as a 33-track, two-disc set, complete with foldout packaging and 32-page mini-booklet. It’s pretty sweet nostalgia-wise, starting with their first hit, 1962’s “Love Me Do”, and ending with the 1970-released “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)”, the kooky B-side to “Let It Be”.

In between you’ll find everything from the early tunes that helped break the moptops worldwide—like 1963’s “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand”—to stone-cold Beatles classics like “Lady Madonna”, “Revolution”, and “Hey Jude”.

For all the Bavarian Beatles freaks out there, Past Masters includes rarities such as “Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand” and “Sie Liebt Dich”, German-language versions of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You”. Those on the front lines of the mono vs. stereo war should note that all but four of the tracks on Past Masters are in stereo, but whatever your aural preference, there’s no denying that the remastering has seriously enhanced the sound of these tunes.

Up until now I never realized that there were conga drums on “I’m Down”, and I must have heard that song at least 100 times over the years. On “Paperback Writer”, who knew that those high-pitched vocals in the background were actually someone singing, for whatever reason, “Frere Jacques”? And make sure not to blast “I Call Your Name” too loud down on the farm, because the sonorous clang of Ringo’s cowbell just might cause a stampede.

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