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CD REVIEW / POP : Meet the Beatles, All Over Again

TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

THE BEATLES “The Beatles Anthology 1" Apple ; *** 1/2

*

The most marketable and appealing thing about “The Beatles Anthology 1,” a two-disc retrospective, is its timing. If these rarities from the Beatles’ early days had been released between, say, the group’s classic “Revolver” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” albums, they probably would have been viewed as quaint but hardly essential.

Today, the album carries the weight of being the most wide-ranging collection of new and never-before-released music from the Beatles in 25 years. We hear alternative versions of hit songs, raucous studio and live versions of ‘50s rock standards and early Lennon-McCartney songwriting attempts.

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The album opens with its most celebrated feature, “Free as a Bird,” the song that Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr completed last year from a tape recorded around 1977 by the late John Lennon. It is a slow, wistful, hazy track whose lyrics (“Whatever happened to the life that we once knew? . . . Can we really live without each other?”) push enough emotional buttons to give it a chance to soar high onto the pop charts. However, it’s hardly “In My Life” or “Let It Be.”

Things get more involving as the album moves into the vintage material, starting with a spirited version of Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day” by the pre-Beatles Quarry Men.

But the jewel is a 1960 home recording of a Lennon-McCartney song, “You’ll Be Mine,” which is served up as a good-natured spoof of the type of dramatic recitation that Elvis Presley did in “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”

“Anthology 1" proceeds through five numbers from the Beatles’ unsuccessful 1962 audition for Decca Records, followed by early EMI recordings and five selections from a 1963 Swedish radio broadcast that Lennon once said showed the band at its raw best.

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Disc two showcases music from some celebrated Beatles moments, including the 1963 Royal Command Performance and the 1964 “Ed Sullivan Show” debut. It also features alternative versions of numerous tunes found on regular Beatles albums.

The album, the first of a series of three two-disc sets, provides an engaging look at the band in the early stages of its development. The real rewards, presumably, will come when “Anthology” lets us explore sidelights of the creative explosion that was just around the corner.

*

New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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