Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Capitol Albums, Vol. 1

Mark our words: These guys are gonna be huge . . .

In any self-respecting Beatles discography, these four 1964 U.S. albums--two absolutely superb, one classic, one damn close, all on CD for the first time--don't exist. Snobs define the Beatles canon by the U.K. catalogue, because the LPs were systematically shortened and reshuffled for U.S. sale.

Only benighted Yanks remember the Americanized Meet the Beatles! rather than With the Beatles and Beatles '65 rather than Beatles for Sale--makeshift albums that, as hagiographer Mark Hertsgaard sniffs, "did not reflect their musical development." We're such oafs.

And okay--in those cases the Brit versions rule. With is a fairer introduction than Meet, which hid Paul's goody-goody Music Man cover "Till There Was You" amid 11 originals. But soon Yanks got The Beatles' Second Album, which proves in 28 minutes how indelible the band was from the start.

Five magnificent covers--George replicates Chuck Berry, John does justice to Smokey Robinson and, on a track that was a U.K. EP-only, Paulie smokes Little Richard--join the wildest and most joyful early Beatles single, "She Loves You." This landmark, like the EP-only "I Call Your Name," and every other Lennon-McCartney original on Second Album, was never included on any canonical album in a '60s U.K. where it was considered bad form for LPs to reprise singles.

Second Album established them as a seismic force, and the other prize, Something New, showed they could do no wrong. It's a glorious hodgepodge of singles (including Ringo's "Matchbox" b/w John's "Slow Down") and songs from A Hard Day's Night, which United Artists controlled in the U.S., but the crowning touch is a German dub of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand." Ten months after the Beatles invaded, it made that instant chestnut something new again. Kinda like this box.

Blender, Jan. 2005