Yet another trip down The Beatles and their American LP mystery trip… and yes, this one takes a bit of context.
So we’re now in the late 1960s. After the release of the seminal 1966 Beatles album Revolver, the band has decided to assert more control over their music, business ventures, touring (i.e. ceasing touring entirely), look, marketing, appearances, movies… pretty much almost everything. After they basically became a studio band for the remainder of their years together, they also decided on coordinated efforts on all their album releases. UK and USA releases were, up to that point, pretty much entirely different; different album titles, different songs on each album, different sequencing of tracks per album, etc. No more. 1967’s classic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band put an end to that. From that point on, there was parity between the US and UK releases (for the most part, anyhow; Magical Mystery Tour was released as an album in the USA and as a pair of EP’s in the UK).
Nifty, huh? Well it didn’t end there. Former manager Brian Epstein had passed in away in 1967, and he didn’t exactly negotiate the sharpest of business deals on behalf of the Fab Four. Enter infamous business manager Allan Klein, who was hired to take over all business affairs for the band (much to the protest of Paul McCartney, which greatly contributed to their breakup in 1970). He renegotiated royalty contracts for The Beatles to unheard-of rates (for the time) and worked to clean up their Apple Corps business venture which had apparently been bleeding cash. Klein used this to his advantage in the form of “compilation albums”; cashing-in on previous singles and other songs by collecting and re-releasing them on LP records, ensuring a steady stream of income at higher royalty rates.
So to that end, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the February 1970 release of Hey Jude (initially titled “The Beatles Again”) was viewed as little more than a cash-grab by Klein and Company. But as we will see, there’s a lot more to this collection than just a simple grab-bag of popular songs to exploit The Beatles’s catalog for fame and profit.
But before that… a little personal connection from yours truly!
Hey Jude was one of my favorite Beatles LPs growing up. At 10 years old, I had little knowledge as to whether or not it was an “official” album, or that it was a compilation with which the band had little or no involvement. When I saw it at the record store, I could only think to myself that (a) that was a wicked cool album cover, and (b) it had a ton of great songs on it!
Don’t believe me? Check out this track list:
Can’t Buy Me Love
I Should Have Known Better
Old Brown Shoe
Don’t Let Me Down
The Ballad of John and Yoko
That’s a strong set. Even more, while predominantly slanted towards “late-era” Beatles, there were still representations of early- and mid-era iterations of the band as well. Something for everyone, as it were. The fact that it also contained the band’s biggest hit of all time wasn’t lost on anyone, that’s for darned sure.
I loved this album and wore it out completely, but it certainly was, to all appearances, an odd collection of tunes. Not because of the songs themselves; every last one of them is top-notch, even if (admittedly) I’m not entirely as enamored of Lady Madonna as many seem to be. I love the bouncy pop craftsmanship of Can’t Buy Me Love and I Should Have Known Better, but they’re oddly paired on an album with the more obscure (but equally praise-worthy) Old Brown Shoe. The Ballad of John and Yoko is a fine island-infused take on self-aggrandizement as art, but it’s a strange counterpoint to Paperback Writer or Rain.
And they could have used Hey Jude to sell any collection of songs, really. So why these tunes? Because most of them had never been released on an LP until the Hey Jude album.
Paperback Writer and Rain were released as a single on May of 1966. Paperback Writer was the number one song in the USA for the weeks of June 25, 1966 and July 9, 1966 (interrupted for a week by Frank Sinatra’s “Stranger’s In The Night”). Multiple videos and promotional films were shot for both songs as well, a strategy often employed by the band to make “appearances” on various shows like The Ed Sullivan Show or Top of the Pops without actually having to travel or perform anywhere.
Hey Jude and Revolution also had never seen a proper album release. The single was issued on August 26, 1968. The first single from their Apple label, Hey Jude was over seven minutes in length, sold over 8 million copies, and spent nine weeks at the top of the US charts (it also went to #1 in the UK, Canada, Austria, Norway, and elsewhere). Revolution was a faster, more hit-oriented take on the dirge-like Revolution 1 from the album The Beatles (The White Album). While it didn’t chart in most countries, it became a longtime radio staple.
Lady Madonna was released as a single (with George’s The Inner Light as a B-side) on March 15, 1968. It is notable for being the band’s last single to be released by Capitol/Parlophone; all further singles were released by their Apple label (and distributed by EMI). It was a hit in both the US and UK, hitting #4 in the former and topping the charts in the latter. I find it puzzling that the Eastern-tinged The Inner Light wasn’t included on the Hey Jude album; it seems like a perfect fit. As it were, it didn’t see any LP release at all until the UK Rarities compilation in 1978 (released in 1980 in the US).
Wow, don’t the other three Beatles look absolutely thrilled to have Yoko front and center on the cover to this single? Yikes… anyway The Ballad of John and Yoko and Old Brown Shoe single dropped on May 30, 1969. Recorded without the involvement of George or Ringo, featuring only John on lead vocals and guitars, and Paul on bass, drums, and piano, it was a number one smash in the UK and hit #8 in the USA. John’s “Christ! You know it ain’t easy…” line caused much controversy in the US, where many still hadn’t forgotten his “The Beatles are more popular than Jesus” mishegas, and many stations refused to play it. Oy. Old Brown Shoe was the B-side and did not chart, but I think it’s one of Harrison’s best and most underrated tunes.
Don’t Let Me Down was the B-side to the Get Back smash single, released on April 11, 1969. It remains one of John’s most potent, vulnerable, and soulful love songs. A popular song now, it didn’t chart too highly in 1969, only reaching as high as #35 in the USA. It’s interesting to note that the Get Back single was a significantly different edit than that which appeared on the Let It Be album released the following year. It lacks the studio chatter the introduces the album cut, as well as the rooftop vocal outro (“I hope we passed the audition!”). While it could have, for that reason, merited an inclusion here, it was held off for the “proper” album version released a few months later. The single version wouldn’t seen an album release until the 1967-1970 (“Blue Album”) release in 1973.
Finally we have Can’t Buy Me Love and I Should Have Known Better, both of which had seen proper album releases in the USA; specifically, on the A Hard Day’s Night album in 1964. Of course, that album was not released by Capitol records, but by United Artist Records. As such, neither song had ever appeared on a Capitol LP before. Well, this fixes that issue. Interesting to note that this version of Can’t Buy Me Love was the first true stereo release of the song in the USA. The version on the United Artists album, while noted as “stereo”, was altogether mono.
And so there you have it… the mystery behind the 1970 Hey Jude album. Although there’s not a whole lot of mystery to it; it’s “just” a compilation LP, and an out-of-print one at that. When the catalog was released on CD for the first time in 1987, most of these songs would appear on the Past Masters compilation albums (save for the A Hard Day’s Night tracks, which would be returned home to their proper album in proper stereo). For fans in 1970, Hey Jude must have been a most welcome collection of tracks in long-play format. As a compilation, I think it holds together remarkably well, even with the AHDN tracks leading off the album.