While the Beatles‘ first Anthology, released 20 years ago this month, isn’t exactly canonical Fab Four, it’s worth remembering how momentous the compilation seemed at the time. Perhaps you were among those whose minds were blown in anticipation of new Beatle baubles, demos, outtakes and live cuts that went beyond what even the most rapacious bootleg collector would have been able to gather up.
Would it feel as if one were present at Abbey Road, beholding an impassioned conversation before the next masterpiece was commenced? Would there be takes to challenge the known, canonical ones for “best ever” versions? Would one discover a fresh McCartney vocal to claim as a favorite going forward, some new delight that would repay hundreds of listenings, just as the old Beatles records always had?
Upon its November, 1995, release, Anthology 1 was a huge seller, as if there was any way it could not be. Posthumous round-ups of rarities were normally geared toward the obsessives, but as we’re talking Beatles, Fab Four diehards form their own kind of widespread subculture, and thus a listening majority.
And it’s not hard to imagine fans agog over performances like a live cut of “This Boy” from The Morecambe & Wise Show, which torches the official B-side, thanks to a Lennon vocal on the middle eight that explodes with the same intensity of “Money” and “Twist and Shout,” only with more finesse, and perhaps more heart.
The idea that Beatles masterworks — or eventual masterworks, to be technical about it — could morph so drastically as to go from quirky Buck Owens pastiche to scream-your-balls-off rock & roll adrenaline-fest is, of course, part of the purpose of the Anthology, but the series, and its first component in particular, poses the neat challenge of determining just where a performance like this fits in with everything else. Beatles albums tend to be ridiculously of a piece, even for the variety each may contain. They work as wholes in oft-impeccable ways, a Beatlesesque knack that even extends to the best Beatles bootlegs and various post-career sets like the BBC albums.
There’s a prevailing spirit to Anthology 1, which is tantamount to “We are coming for you, world.” This is the sound of youth, the sound of confidence where maybe others think that that self-belief is a tad — or a ton — over-estimated, and then the sound of full-on delivering the goods.
Which occurs around the time you get to the end of Anthology 1‘s first disc, with the Beatles in Sweden in October, 1963, playing what is arguably one of the finest concerts anyone ever gave, complete in this form with a voiced-over line from John Lennon saying, in effect, that the Beatles, as a stage band, were the best in the world. And, what do you know, that wasn’t even close to the best thing about them.