Ringo Talks Beatles CDs

U.S. versions of early albums on CD for the first time -- should you care?

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In the tradition of last year's Let It Be . . . Naked and 2000's Beatles 1, Capitol Records is repackaging the Beatles' back catalog just in time for Christmas. This year's project is a box-set reissue of the first four U.S. albums -- Meet the Beatles, The Beatles Second Album, Something New and Beatles '65 -- which many consider inferior to the original British versions.

When the Beatles invaded America in 1964, Capitol split the first three Beatles albums across four U.S. discs. "America had that crazy way of only putting ten tracks [on a record] and they always ended up with extras," Ringo Starr says. "And then suddenly we'd have some new album in America." The Beatles made the British versions definitive in 1987 when they were reissued on CD.

Capitol says there is a market for these discs among Americans who want to hear the music as they first encountered it. "I distinctly remember sitting in my cousin's basement listening to Beatles '65, hearing 'No Reply,' 'Baby's in Black' and 'I'm a Loser' -- in that order," says Andrew Slater, Capitol's president. But Martin Lewis, British producer of the Hard Day's Night DVD, calls it a "regrettable flip-flop on a declared policy," adding, "Ultimately it indulges American baby-boomers, who are in effect saying, 'I remember first seeing the Mona Lisa with five inches of grime on it -- so I'd like to see it that way again.'"

In other Beatles news, in 2006 a Cirque du Soleil show using Beatles music will premiere at the Mirage casino in Las Vegas. The as-yet-untitled show, which will be supervised by Beatles producer George Martin, grew out of a friendship between the late George Harrison and Cirque founder-president Guy Laliberte. Later, the two met again at Harrison's home near London. "That basically planted the seeds of a dream," Laliberte explains.

And will the band finally release its catalog online, via music-download services? "It does appeal to me to have the Beatles' music available online somehow," Starr says, adding that the move may depend on the outcome of a pending copyright lawsuit between Apple Computer and the Beatles' Apple Corps record company. "We have to move with the day. It's part of life. It's like when people were saying, 'Stereo will never make it' or 'Vinyl is the only way to go.' I love to listen to vinyl, but I'm afraid we've moved on since then."