The Beatles
Past Masters Volume One
(Capitol 90043)

Here is a perfect example of "classic music" that I absolutely never put on. I have owned this CD for nearly 15 years and have probably played it a total of 20 times, all in the first three years of ownership. Most of these songs were my ultimate favorites when I was a kid and the world's hugest Beatlemaniac.

Nowadays I doubt that any song on this disc would rank in my top 500 favorite songs – furthermore, I am no longer shitting my pants, either. Perhaps some things need to be left in childhood, and for me the early Beatles records definitely do.

Which is not to say that these are bad records, by any means. Certainly they are some of the best singles of all time. But even in 1988, when the Past Masters CDs got released, this volume was a bit obligatory for me (I mean, you can hardly have a Volume Two in the ol' collection without a Volume One, right?). It's become increasingly irrelevant with time, that's for sure.

In fact, when a fellow Loud Basooon writer just walked into the room and heard me playing the CD, the reaction was a bemused smile and the remark "I sure didn't expect to hear you listening to this!" It is pretty amusing to listen to this disc now in stark relief to, say, Fela Kuti or King Diamond. The early Beatles stuff sounds so naïve!

For their era, these are titanic songs – it's just that the era is the early 60s. Girl group pop and R&B holds up a bit better, perhaps because it retains its freshness, while the Beatles material always seems a bit artificial in light of their later achievements.

My problem with this disc is essentially one of practicality – there is literally never a point in my life where I feel the need to put on "I Want to Hold Your Hand" or "She Loves You." Past Masters Volume Two holds up better as an album because it contains so many great songs, but Volume One is padded with a ton of covers ("Long Tall Sally," "Slow Down," "Matchbox," "Bad Boy") and the German translations "Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand" and "Sie Liebt Dich," which are mainly notable for just being so odd, and for the potential for imagining Lennon making many Hitler jokes during the sessions.

A couple of the tunes are wonderful: "I'll Get You" (despite harmonica) is a great song, and "Yes It Is" is certainly one of Lennon's better straight pop songs. In both cases you have to clear a bit of headway for Lennon's misogyny, which creeps through his "pain" in very transparent ways. If nothing else, that aspect of his songwriting is the best argument against the idea that Yoko was a negative influence. I mean, before he met Yoko he was writing "Run For Your Life" ("I'd rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man"), and after, it was "Woman is the Nigger of the World" (which admittedly, only brings up a different aspect of John's difficult social attitudes).

At any rate, these are good pop. "This Boy" and "I Call Your Name" are also great Beatles gems that don't get much attention.

The covers are not among the band's best material (though they are good "rock & roll" songs), and "I Feel Fine" and "She's a Woman" are second-tier Good Beatles Songs. "I'm Down" has always been a favorite of mine since I discovered it on the b-side of the "Help!" single and was flabbergasted at its energy. Plus, it had a great picture sleeve featuring the Beatles in assorted beach gear which was very attractive.

One thing I notice listening to this now is that the songs contain tons of sonic drop-outs and noticeable tape edits – great job, George Martin – to say nothing of "charming" lyrical blunders (John's double-tracked vocal on "Slow Down" simultaneously saying "girlfriend" and "boyfriend," etc.).

But it's still impossible to say that these guys were ever going to be anything but the greatest pop band ever – their early stuff is as precocious as their later stuff is challenging. I hardly consider myself a Beatles apologist anymore, but even someone with a jaded attitude toward the group has to appreciate the development from "Love Me Do" to "I Feel Fine" within two years. I mean, check on me two years from now, I'm sure I'll still be reviewing movies and/or tampons.

Ultimately, though, Past Masters Volume One never gets play on my CD player. I'd say it's worth having, especially if you still like the Beatles a whole lot, but even a seasoned fan would have a bit of trouble slogging through Ringo's "charming" "Matchbox" or Lennon's two Larry Williams covers. A bit too much "rock & roll" influence here, done convincingly, but no matter what artist, I don't really sit around listening to music like this, period.

I should say, though, that when I hear these songs on Sunday morning "Breakfast With the Beatles" radio programs, I always leave it on. When free will is involved, though, give me Fela, fella!

Review by Ilya Oonka