If my OCD would allow it, I would gladly get rid of this disc, which is fascinating in many respects but not something I ever, ever, ever listen to. But since I want to keep the other two volumes in the series, it just would never do to not have the first one that's like, crazy madness, man.
Anthology 1, released to (too) much fanfare, suffers from a lot of flaws: it's presented in documentary format, with gratuitous spoken bits here and there; it's got several live tracks that further muck up the flow; and the music is much more "historically important" than actively listenable. Case in point: the early demos and home recordings dating from 1958 through 1960, which are barely audible and sound scarcely better than anyone's high school band tapes.
Except that this band ended up actually making it, rather than getting fat and bitter like most high school bands. Well-traveled Beatles recordings like the Tony Sheridan tapes (featuring the band backing an otherwise unremarkable pop singer) and the Decca demos (that didn't get them signed) make their obligatory appearance.
When I was really young, I actually loved the Decca stuff the Beatles sound so young and eager on those ("Searchin'," "Three Cool Cats," etc.), but I'm finding these songs of marginal interest at this point. Well-known boot songs like "How Do You Do It" and the original "One After 909" are presented in great sound, which is the primary reason to have this set. Lots of these songs are available on more interesting collections (boots) but never in such good sound.
If you haven't heard this stuff before, there's probably a greater surprise factor, but even so, this is by far the least interesting portion of the Beatles' career anyway, so hearing previously unreleased bits is only going to be so intriguing until it just gets tedious.
The preponderance of live tracks does not help, though it does give you a good idea of the energy and mania that was surrounding these guys. Again, that's more of a "historically important" thing than a "Damn, that's good listenin'" thing. This really seems more like an AudioBook. If I hear that Ed Sullivan soundbite one more time I may have to start swinging.
Disc One is pretty much a washout, and things don't start cooking until halfway through Disc Two, when some cool studio outtakes crop up, like a roughshod "You Can't Do That" and a very different arrangement of "All My Loving" that sounds darker and heavier, much less sweet than the famous version. Their version of "Shout" is much better in theory than actuality. "I'll Be Back," awkwardly done in 3/4 time, is moderately interesting.
A forgotten George song, "You Know What to Do," is a pleasant trifle, and a typical early-Beatles treatment of "No Reply" is pretty cool. "Mr. Moonlight" was bad enough to begin with, so I'm not sure why they thought anyone would want another version. A couple of "Eight Days a Week" outtakes are the brightest moments to be found on this whole set, and they're so good that I'd almost say it justifies owning the disc apart from just needing the "Volume 1" to complete the set.
Considering the heavy marketing behind the release of this CD, it's a shame that it's so boring. I mean, if I'm bored with it, the average casual fan must have thought it was pretty worthless. That explains the decline in sales with the following volumes, which actually get better in direct inverse proportion to how much they sold.
As for "Free As A Bird," the "new" track on here, it is what it is. Quit your crying, you've definitely heard worse shit in your life.
Review by Joseph G. Millionaire