Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Beatles - Rock n' Roll Music (1976)

Don't look for this 1976 Beatles double compilation album in one of the few remaining brick-and-mortar record stores left unless it sells rare vinyl releases; it has never been issued on compact disc or in any other digital format.  But its existence serves as an example of both how and how not to present the Beatles' music in new anthologies.
Released in both Britain and America, Rock n' Roll Music was the first Beatles compilation assembled by EMI after the group's 1967 contract expired and Apple Corps' record label went into hibernation.  It's an interesting hybrid of the group's heavier original numbers and their harder-edged covers of American rock and roll and R&B tunes, aimed at two phenomena of the mid-seventies - AOR radio and the fifties nostalgia craze, the latter having been sparked in America by TV's "Happy Days" and the Broadway musical Grease (soon to be a movie).  But, while EMI may have had some jumbled idea of presenting the Beatles as a bridge between the rock and roll of their own youth and the hard rock and heavy metal of the 1970s, the idea doesn't quite come off.
The music is more or less presented chronologically, opening with "Twist and Shout," originally recorded as an album closer, and including Lennon-McCartney songs such as "I Saw Her Standing There, "I Call Your Name," and "Any Time At All," songs that contained some of the toughest playing and the hottest licks the Beatles got in the moptop years. Covers from fifties performers such as Chuck Berry (including "Rock and Roll Music," the compilation's putative title track), Little Richard and Larry Williams dominate this record, though - side two is nothing but covers - and the overall effect suggests that the Beatles were primarily a fifties nostalgia band in their early years, with their AOR-friendly tracks from the late 1960s getting short shrift.              
In the end, Rock n' Roll Music was pure product, its attempt to cash in on the fifties craze of the time, made all the more obvious by artist Ignacio Gomez's garish LP-sleeve artwork, from the silver-metallic chrome backdrop and neon-light lettering to the gatefold's depiction of Eisenhower-era artifacts such as a 1957 Chevrolet and Coca-Cola in an iconic Coke glass.  The artwork nauseated both the Beatles (who, being British, did not have the same teen experience in the fifties that their American counterparts enjoyed) and Beatles fans.  The hideous thumbs on the sleeve suggest that the Beatles were there for anyone to take in their own hands and recycle any way they wanted.  
This is a shame, because a hard-rock-oriented Beatles compilation, with a different track list that contained more originals and featured different artwork (John Lennon even offered to design a cover for this compilation but was refused), would have been a more durable collection.  The album did have some good points - it featured the entire contents of the British EP Long Tall Sally (marking the first time they appeared on an LP in Britain), it marked the debut of "I'm Down" on an LP in either Britain or America, and George Martin remixed the 28 songs here to given them a meatier sound.  One of its tracks, "Got To Get You Into My Life," even became a hit single in America in 1976, leading many unsuspecting Top 40 radio listeners to think they were listening to the latest Paul McCartney and Wings single.  But while Rock n' Roll Music (which was deleted just a few years after it was issued) made money for EMI, the lesson here is that a Beatles compilation should be driven by integrity as much as by profit.  Otherwise, it's likely to become just as much a relic from the past as chrome-laden sweet shops and big cars.      


Unknown said...

Nice summation!

Steve said...