The Beatles
Past Masters Volume Two
(Capitol 90044)

Recently I met a young fellow who was interested in hearing The Beatles – because he was a huge Oasis fan and wanted to see why people thought they ripped off the Beatles so much.

Somehow I was able to prevent my brain from imploding from pondering how anyone could have gotten through their life without having heard a Beatles album, and then came the realization that the generation has finally materialized that doesn't necessarily have the Beatles as a point of reference.

The Beatles are history, whether you take that to mean that the Beatles are officially a historical entity that needs to be discovered, or me in faux drunken punk rock mode shouting "The Beatles are HISTORY!" while throwing a Seagram's wine cooler bottle at Ringo Starr's car.

Kids growing up today will not necessarily be exposed to the Beatles without seeking them out, as surprising as that may seem. Perhaps it's time for a Yellow Submarine anime series.

Anyway, this young fellow's predicament got me to thinking about where a total neophyte to the Beatles should start in trying to understand why The Beatles were the shit. You clearly don't start with the early albums, which would be like recommending a Ricky Nelson to a 17-year old and expecting them to think it was da bomb.

And certainly not Sgt. Pepper, which most dumb critics will immediately declare as the greatest album of all time – it's probably the least representative release in the group's eclectic catalog, aside from perhaps Pokémon's Pepperland Adventures – Original Cartoon Network Soundtrack. Similarly, The Beatles, Revolver, Let it Be, Rubber Soul and Abbey Road offer limited portraits of the band even as they are for the most part great albums.

And that got me thinking: no one ever considers the Past Masters CDs as great Beatles albums. In fact, I can't think of any point since the two volumes were released in 1988 where I've so much as seen them referred to in any context but simple discographical listing. Which is odd, because these discs contain all of the Beatles' singles and, track-for-track, feature more well-known songs than most of the albums. I mean, Joe Jackass On the Beat would probably not know "I'm a Loser" from, say, "Loser," but he would probably recognize "Paperback Writer" if you hummed a few bars and perhaps bought him a beer.

Since the Beatles did not include their singles on their albums, these volumes are essential if you want to have a lot of key tracks – for most, those tracks are the likes of "She Loves You," "Revolution," "Get Back," and "Hey Jude," although for me I'm thinking more along the lines of "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)," "We Can Work it Out," and "The Ballad of John and Yoko."

Lots of their singles were amazing and audacious, but most of their b-sides are truly great, and are generally less overplayed than the classic rock radio tracks. Past Masters Volume Two features the uncollected Beatles tracks from 1965 on, showing the progression from edgy but safe stuff like "Day Tripper" (one of the decidedly tired tracks on this CD) to epic stuff like "Hey Jude" and "Let it Be" (also tired, but undeniably great songs).

Whether you buy into the mythos or not, you have to acknowledge that the Beatles were pretty damn experimental for a pop band, especially for the biggest pop band ever. I mean, when you've made your name on fluffiness like "From Me to You" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand," it takes some real self-confidence to get to things like "Revolution" and "The Ballad of John and Yoko" and expect anyone to follow you.

In this respect, I'd say that Volume Two is perhaps the most representative collection you can get by The Beatles, even though it hardly covers all the bases. What it does do is document the period of the band's greatest growth without any pretention – it's a simple document of singles, essentially – but the fact that it is not an Album with a big British-press capital A makes it all the more listenable.

That said, there are certainly songs on here that need to be officially retired. "Get Back" needs about 35 years of solitary confinement before it becomes enjoyable again, but at least the version on this disc is the superior one with the great outro. "Rain" is about as unconvincing a song as John ever wrote (oh, wait, he also wrote "Meat City").

And I can't listen to "Hey Jude" with any sincerity at this point, having made fun of it so much for being artificial and plastic, but I could never argue that it's not a brilliant pop song. I think Paul himself is responsible for killing that one over the last 30 years – anyone remember that mid-90s "Saturday Night Live" performance? Yuck. But what did you expect, he was going to do "Bip Bop?" I wish.

The great songs far outnumber the tired ones here, though – "Old Brown Shoe" is probably Harrison's most forgotten Beatles song, but it's a great one; "Across the Universe" is always good (this is the version with the bird sound effects); "Lady Madonna" always works. "The Ballad of John and Yoko" is way up there among my favorite Beatles tracks (it's just John & Paul cranking out a great single – a great demonstration of their comeraderie despite what years of hindsight have taught us to believe).

And "You Know My Name" remains hilarious time and again – they actually almost released it as a single with the even zanier "What's the New Mary Jane" as the b-side. Easily would have been the most baffling single of all time, unless I realize my dream of having the Olsen Twins cover Lennon's "Mother."

So that's my shout-out to the music world to stop ignoring the Past Masters CDs! Just because you were 40 when they came out, that doesn't make them "not real albums." Some of us were 15 when they came out, and it's our turn, anyway. You better believe I'll relinquish the reins when the Oasis fan ends up reviewing albums – in fact, I'll enjoy seeing Sgt. Pepper get a "blank stare," and Rubber Soul getting a two.

Review by Ilya Oonka