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Review: The Beatles - The Singles Collection

"The Singles Collection" is a sharp-looking box set containing the 22 singles The Beatles issued in the U.K. between 1962 and 1970, plus the bonus single, "Free as a Bird."

The Singles Collection
Apple/Capitol/UMe (Box Set)

4 Stars

By John M. Borack

Aimed toward the collector rather than the casual fan, The Singles Collection contains no alternate mixes, demos or anything of that nature: rather, it’s a sharp-looking box set containing the 22 singles The Beatles issued in the U.K. between 1962 and 1970. As a bonus, an exclusive single of “Free as a Bird” b/w “Real Love” (both from the mid-'90s Anthology series) is also included. All the tracks were newly mastered at Abbey Road Studios by Sean Magee from the mono and stereo master tapes of the original single mixes and are presented on 180-gram vinyl. (The only stereo tracks are “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” “Old Brown Shoe,” “Something,” “Come Together,” “Let it Be” and the two Anthology cuts.)

Since 45s were not generally released with picture sleeves in the U.K. during the '60s, each single comes housed in a heavy stock cardboard sleeve reproduced from each single’s original release from various countries: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Chile, Denmark, France, Greece, Holland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, U.K., USA (the 1964 “Love Me Do” b/w “P.S. I Love You” 45 on Tollie Records), and West Germany. The result is a visual smorgasbord, although some of the sleeve photos don’t match the time frame in which the records were released: the 1966 Argentinian sleeve for “Eleanor Rigby” b/w “Yellow Submarine” features a pixelated, black and white version of 1964’s Beatles For Sale album cover, while the South African release “Hey Jude” b/w “Revolution” single features the Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles gracing the sleeve.

Of particular note is the Israeli sleeve for “Something” b/w “Come Together,” which not only flips the Abbey Road cover photo (so The Beatles are walking to the left, not the right), but crops it so only John Lennon is visible on one side, with the other three Beatles on the reverse. The “A Hard Day’s Night” b/w “Things We Said Today” (Netherlands) and “Help!” b/w “I’m Down” (Belgium) singles both utilize not-often-seen stills from their respective films, while “She Loves You” b/w “I’ll Get You” (Greece) and “Ticket to Ride” b/w “Yes it Is” (Spain) both feature the same black and white portraits of The Beatles, with the cover design changed up just a bit. The Turkish “Paperback Writer” b/w “Rain” sleeve features the front “trunk” cover photo from the Yesterday and Today LP cover and the Austrian “Can’t Buy Me Love” b/w “You Can’t Do That” sleeve is one of the more garish in the collection, with a bright red illustrated faux mop top placed over a photo of the Fab Four.

Of the 44 original A and B-sides that make up The Singles Collection, 29 were not included on the group’s U.K. albums at that time. As Beatles historian Kevin Howlett explains in the informative 40-page booklet that accompanies the box, this was an intentional move by The Beatles for the U.K. market; he quotes John Lennon as claiming in 1964, “You can’t release singles off an LP after the LP’s been out.” In addition, consumers familiar with the U.S. releases only might be surprised by the exclusion of U.S. number ones such as “Yesterday,” “Eight Days a Week” and “The Long and Winding Road,” all of which were not released as singles in the U.K..

While all the tracks were mastered from the tapes of the single mixes, there has been some consternation regarding the sound quality on some of the tracks. According to the website Analog Planet, three unspecified singles from the box were not cut from tape due to degradation, and this writer noticed some audible distortion on tracks such as “Things We Said Today,” “Rain” and “Lady Madonna.” Overall, though, the vinyl is quiet, and the sound is particularly dynamic on the later period singles. Most will have heard these beyond-iconic songs many times over, so the real draw here is the outstanding packaging.