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1967-1970 (Blue Album)

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Beatles 1967-1970 ("Blue Album") cover art
The Beatles 1967-1970 (universally known as 'The Blue') was first released — together with its Red 1962-1966 companion — in April, 1973. The two doubles, as implied by their official titles, provided a pretty comprehensive chronological overview of the band's career: twin volumes, right down to their sleeve art — save the colouration and the switching of the Please Please Me/Get Back balcony shots.

They also represented the first compilation of the band's work to be released by Apple and, until Past Masters came along, they remained the definitive Beatles collections. All of the A-side singles from the period are obviously included, along with a few Bs and a smattering of album tracks: 28 songs in all (13 Pauls [very lucky!] 8 Johns, 2 mutuals, 4 Georges and a Ringo; for those who like to keep score).

Beatles "Alpha Omega" bootleg Italian record cover from 1973

The bootleg 4LP box set Alpha Omega that inspired the official Beatles compilations in 1973
Allen Klein was responsible for the selection, still having administrative control of The Beatles, Inc. Characteristically, their issue was as much a financial consideration as an artistic one, an official response to an Italian bootleg collection called Alpha Omega which was being advertised for mail order on British TV. Neil Aspinall, roadie turned Apple exec, was also closely involved in the project: indeed, one can only imagine that it was he, not AK, who negotiated Paul's permission... The other three Fabs also gave their disincorporated consents for the releases.

Neil actually envisaged the two volumes as the soundtrack albums for a documentary film of the group's career, provisionally entitled The Long And Winding Road. Although rumoured to be virtually completed even back then, the movie has still to see the light of a projector, for reasons unrevealed. My guess would be that, given his fury over Phil Spector's production of the song of the same name — one of his reasons for announcing his departure from the band — the composer was less than happy with the idea of its title representing their whole story. The song, nevertheless, their ultimate and posthumous 45, served as a fitting finale for The Blue.

Side One, however, takes things back — sorry, 'down' — to happier times, starting '67 with the Strawberry Lane double-A. And, just as it had paved the way to the Pepper album, so it does here — straight into the title track and segueing to The Singer (sic). The selection of Lucy and A Day In The Life was, perhaps, a smirk at the good old BBC, who had banned them both... while simultaneously commissioning the following song, the equally iconic All You Need Is Love.

In fact, their incursions into album territory are precisely what has made The Blue and The Red such popular and enduring collections. On a personal note, they were where I first cut my teeth on the band. They highcharted on both sides of The Pond on initial release, sold a shedload more when reissued on coloured vinyl in '78 , and did it again on CD in 1994 — despite the existence of Past Masters. The black on blue lyrics are smaller and even harder to read than they were on the record, though the 'special edition' came in an LP-sized box, 'with booklet' (cursory songnotes and a fine selection of Mad Day Out and Tittenhurst shots). By the time you read this, the remastered edition will be available.

But back to the music, and 'The Christmas of Love' aboard the Mystery Tour. John finally got things his way, with The Walrus coming ahead of Hello, Goodbye. The Fool, mind you, maintains his vigil and the trip concludes with its main theme fanfares. Madonna opens '68, with Jude hanging onto her apron strings. The Revolutionary B-side is also counted 'in'.

Side Three (or Disc 2) lands us Back In The USSR and, briefly, The White Album. (Lennon's decidedly uncommercial contributions are conspicuous by their absence). George and Eric's Guitar fully merited inclusion, while the other track is Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da... Life then goes onto the Apple rooftop with Get Back b/w Don't Let Me Down. John's Ballad and George's Shoe conclude.

A possible criticism of The Blue — and, indeed, the prequel volume, which includes Revolver in its timespan — is the conspicuous absence of anything remotely Indian by the Quiet One, given the enormous impact his incursions made both within and without The Beatles, musically and ideologically. Perhaps a case could've been made here for The Inner Light, having been the first B-side he'd been conceded.

That said, Mr Harrison it is who opens the final chapter, Here Comes The Sun crossing us over into Abbey Road. The Come Together/Something double-A single is naturally on the itinerary; then — here he is! — Our Ringo, in his Octopus's Garden, finally stepping out of the shade. Faithful to release chronology, rather than recording dates, the Let It Be album is represented by its title track (though it's actually the 45 mix which is included). Across The Universe is Spector's LP version, however: strings 'n' choirs 'n' all. Which neatly leads us back to The Long...

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