When they were first released 50 years ago, The Beatles’ Red and Blue albums became the ultimate greatest hits compilations.
The two double LPs encompassed the highlights of the Beatlemania era (the Red album, 1962 to 1966) and the magical twists and turns of the late 1960s (Blue, which took the story up to the group’s demise in 1970).
The band showed little interest in them at the time, with John, Paul, George and Ringo all launching solo careers and squabbling over their business affairs, but Red and Blue remain the perfect introduction to the songs that changed pop. Noel Gallagher says they ushered in his lifelong love of the Fab Four.
With the ‘last’ Beatles song, Now And Then, set to give the band a first No.1 single since The Ballad Of John And Yoko in 1969, the two retrospectives are now getting the deluxe reissue treatment, with 21 newly-added tracks and a fresh production sheen that uses the same ‘de-mixing’ technology that polished up the decades-old demo of the new single.
This reissue is oddly timed, though. Over the past six years, archivists have painstakingly worked their way through The Beatles’ catalogue, curating expanded editions of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (2017), The White Album (2018), Abbey Road (2019), Let It Be (2021) and Revolver (2022).
Over the past six years, archivists have painstakingly worked their way through The Beatles’ (pictured) catalogue, curating expanded editions of several albums
The newly remastered albums employed by filmmaker Peter Jackson in making 2021’s Get Back documentary
The Beatles’ Red Album was one of their definitive greatest hits compilation, along with the Blue Album
The obvious next step would have been to move on to 1965’s Rubber Soul. They’ve gone down this route, one suspects, because it allows Now And Then to be added to Blue (to make it even more enticing).
But, of these new packages, Red is the more compelling, offering a satisfyingly heady rush through early singles, from Love Me Do to Eleanor Rigby and Yellow Submarine.
The drawback with Blue is that many of its new mixes featured on previous reissues.
Remarkably, the original Red album contained only John Lennon and Paul McCartney compositions, an oversight that’s now been remedied with the addition of two George Harrison tracks in Taxman and the jangling, Byrds-like If I Needed Someone. It’s the new versions of the early singles that catch the ear, though.
Using the tech employed by filmmaker Peter Jackson in making 2021’s Get Back documentary, producer Giles Martin (son of Beatles producer George) has ‘isolated’ individual instruments from old tapes and remixed them, staying faithful to the existing arrangements but underlining the impression of a young rock band playing live in the studio.
The results are impressive. McCartney’s bass and Lennon’s harmonica are more vivid on Love Me Do, and there’s a renewed punch to Ringo Starr’s drums on Can’t Buy Me Love and A Hard Day’s Night.
The string quartet on Yesterday sounds richer. If you can handle treasured memories being slightly tampered with, there’s plenty to admire.
The revamped Blue album, which opens with Strawberry Fields Forever, chronicles the years when, according to McCartney, The Beatles took off in ‘new directions without a map’.
Despite new mixes of Revolution and three numbers from 1967’s Magical Mystery Tour EP, this version doesn’t have the same ‘wow’ factor as Red, although the reflective, emotional Now And Then doesn’t feel out of place.
If the latter tops the singles chart today, it will give pop’s greatest saga the happy ending it deserves.
Chris Stapleton (pictured) has worked with Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift and Justin Timberlake
The go-to American country star for mainstream singer-songwriters, Chris Stapleton has worked with Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift and Justin Timberlake.
He sang with Pink on this year’s Trustfall album and duetted with Adele on a version of the latter’s Easy On Me. She describes his voice as being ‘like caramel’.
Despite that — and the fact tickets for next year’s UK arena tour are selling fast — the Kentucky musician has yet to make a major chart breakthrough over here.
His fifth album, Higher, will certainly help his cause: it challenges conventional Nashville wisdom by allowing the bearded 45-year-old to branch out into soft rock, tender R&B and acoustic Americana.
Overseen by A Star Is Born co-producer Dave Cobb and Stapleton’s musician wife Morgane, Higher taps into country’s storytelling traditions.
There are whisky-soaked, guitar-driven heartland rockers about hitting the road and leaving broken hearts, including his own, behind. South Dakota, according to a track of the same name, is where ‘trouble ain’t hard to find’.
He can do tender as well. The Day I Die and Weight Of Your World are tear-jerkers, and bar room ballad It Takes A Woman sees Stapleton embracing his inner soul man.
It takes a woman, he ventures, to make him ‘feel like a man’. His live show should have them dancing, and weeping, in the aisles.
From winging samba to breezy bossa nova, Liverpool band Baiana put a homegrown spin on Brazilian styles on their self-titled debut.
Produced by Latin percussionist Snowboy, the record draws on singer Laura Doyle’s experience of working in Rio, where she learnt Portuguese and immersed herself in local Carioca culture.
The grooves are relaxed and sun-kissed, adorned by strings on the easy-listening You Brought Me You, brass on Bossa Nova Dream, and rhythmic vibraphone on The Birds And The Bees. Doyle evokes the torch singers of the swing era with an affectionate, heartfelt spirit.