There have been countless books, blogs, videos, documentaries and what-have-you about the start of Beatlemania, so I’ve decided to do a little something different here and focus not on the fans, but the business. Admittedly, it’s less of a thrill ride, but it’s equally as fascinating, considering the sheer number of Beatle-related titles that were released in the six months between that first Capitol single and their soundtrack for A Hard Day’s Night.
Officially, it wasn’t until the “I Want to Hold Your Hand”/”I Saw Her Standing There” single was released the day after Christmas in 1963 that Beatlemania finally kicked off in the United States. Just over a year after their debut Parlophone single in the UK (and just shy of two years after their “unofficial” recorded debut with the “My Bonnie” single), Capitol Records in the US finally realized they had a potential moneymaker on their hands and chose to jump to it. For varying reasons, however, they decided to retain some semblance of control and made their own decisions as to how they’d go about making that money. Like Elvis Presley and many other rock performers of the day, if they could get away with repackaging the same albums and singles in slightly altered formats, and especially if the young listeners out there kept buying them, then they saw no problems.
Backing up a little here, we should probably mention that the smaller independent labels were in fact trying to do what they could to release everything the band had recorded thus far. Vee Jay did in fact release the first few singles, “Please Please Me”/”Ask Me Why” and “From Me to You”/”Thank You Girl” on 25 February and 27 May 1963 respectively, though they didn’t really do much of anything on the charts. Brian Epstein had also made sure that he didn’t make the same mistake with Vee Jay and made sure any future singles or albums not released by Capitol were on a single-title basis. By the time “She Loves You”/”I’ll Get You” came out, it was instead given to the small Philadelphia label Swan Records. Swan managed to luck out here, as this was the single that kicked off the firestorm in the UK–they might have only owned one Beatles single (technically two, as they were able to also release the German-sung “Sie Liebt Dich” on 21 May 1964 as well), but by the time “I Want to Hold Your Hand” came out, “She Loves You” finally shot back up the charts (and eventually hit Number 1). That one single alone saved the label’s business for at least a few more years.
Vee Jay finally released their version of the American debut album under the name Introducing the Beatles, on 10 January 1964, ten days before Capitol released its “American debut” of the Beatles, Meet the Beatles. Sadly, Vee Jay’s story is a long one of legal troubles, both internal and external. They were an extremely small independent label with insignificant releases and very few big names; their company president Ewart Abner had spent a sizable portion of the label’s finances on gambling and personal debts; and by the middle of 1963, when they’d originally planned to release the album, they instead put it on hold when it seemed there was insufficient demand. However, by the end of 1963, they had a change of mind. Capitol had instead come out guns blazing, informing that they were going to release an all-out blitz campaign for the band. Vee Jay’s board of directors knew they had a full album on their hands, and given their current financial woes…was it worth tempting legal fate by releasing what they had and raking in as much money as they could? Evidently, yes–and multiple times throughout 1964:
–10 January: Introducing the Beatles album (Please Please Me minus “Please Please Me” and “Ask Me Why”)
–27 January: Introducing the Beatles album with a slightly different lineup (the two above songs replacing “Love Me Do” and “PS I Love You” due to Capitol’s first of many legal volleys to stop the label from releasing tracks multiple times)
–30 January: “Please Please Me”/”From Me to You” single
–26 February: Jolly What! The Beatles & Frank Ifield On Stage album: a shameless compilation of Ifield studio tracks (he was a country singer with minor hits in the UK) with both sides of the “Please Please Me” and “From Me to You” singles sprinkled throughout. No tracks at all were in fact “on stage.” The label would also reissue this album later in the year with a different cover.
–2 March: “Twist and Shout”/”There’s a Place” (under the subsidiary Vee Jay label “Tollie”)
–23 March: “Do You Want to Know a Secret”/”Thank You Girl” single
–23 March–Souvenir of their Visit to America EP (“Misery”/”A Taste of Honey”/”Ask Me Why”/”Anna (Go to Him)”)
–27 April: “Love Me Do”/”PS I Love You” (on subsidiary Tollie)
–10 August: reissues of the “Do You Want to Know a Secret”, “Please Please Me”, “Love Me Do” and “Twist and Shout” singles under their “Oldies 45” subsidiary label
–September: Hear the Beatles Tell All interview album (interestingly, Capitol had no legal rights to this one)
–1 October: The Beatles vs the Four Seasons album: the Introducing… album, packaged with a recent Four Seasons’ hits album Vee Jay had released
–12 October: Songs, Pictures and Stories of the Fabulous Beatles album–the same Introducing… album under a different name and cover.
Amazing how one label could stretch one album’s worth of songs into four albums, four singles, an EP, four reissued singles, and two reissued albums, all within the space of ten months. Certainly, the label had absolutely no shame in wanting to scare up as much money as they could while they still had hold on the fourteen songs. A small section of the public was willing to spend that money on the same album multiple times, but by the end of the year, those later titles sank without a trace quickly. On 15 October 1964, all legal battles between Vee Jay and Capitol put to rest, all the masters on Vee Jay reverted to Capitol…
…who would then release their own version of these same songs on 22 March 1965 as The Early Beatles. This was most likely more out of completeness’ sake than anything else, just so they could say they released every Beatles song on Capitol. By that time they had also taken ownership of the “She Loves You” single that Swan so briefly owned, placing it on The Beatles’ Second Album on 10 April 1964. It was repackaging taken to ridiculous extremes…but if anything, The Early Beatles remains the official release in the US Beatles canon.
The repackaging of Beatles albums went on for a few more years, up until Revolver in late 1966. For some reasons it made sense, at least to the labels–while a fourteen-track album was not anything surprising in Britain, in the US that was considered a relatively long album, and most of them were cut down from fourteen to ten or eleven tracks. These extra songs would pile up alongside new songs and singles that were popping up in the UK. Capitol made good with these by creating US-only releases that did not have any UK analogue. There was also the fact that both A Hard Day’s Night and Help! were released in the US as full soundtracks–instead of releasing half-soundtracks like in the UK (side one was the soundtrack, side two was non-movie songs), the US versions contained the scores instead.
But consider this: in the space of two years, Capitol was almost as bad as Vee Jay, splitting seven UK albums and various singles across eleven US albums and singles.
—Meet the Beatles! (20 January 1964) took half the tracks (and the cover) of With the Beatles alongside various single sides.
—The Beatles’ Second Album (10 April 1964) took the other half, plus more single sides and half of the Long Tall Sally EP.
–The EP Four by the Beatles (11 May 1964) featured songs from Second Album.
—A Hard Day’s Night (26 June 1964, released on United Artists Records) featured the movie’s songs plus the score.
—Something New (20 July 1964) took the non-soundtrack songs from A Hard Day’s Night, the other two Long Tall Sally EP tracks, and “Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand”.
–“And I Love Her”/”If I Fell” and “I’ll Cry Instead”/”I’m Happy Just to Dance with You”, both US-only singles from A Hard Day’s Night (also released on 20 July)
–“Matchbox”/”Slow Down” single (24 August 1964), originally half of the Long Tall Sally EP
—Beatles 65 (15 December 1964) contained all but four tracks from Beatles for Sale, one leftover from A Hard Day’s Night, and the “I Feel Fine”/”She’s a Woman” single.
–The second and last Capitol EP, 4-By the Beatles (1 February 1965), featured tracks from Beatles 65.
–“Eight Days a Week”/”I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” (5 February 1965), two tracks from Beatles for Sale
—Beatles VI (14 June 1965) contained the remaining Beatles for Sale tracks, plus various single sides and “Bad Boy”–the one Beatles song specifically recorded for the American release.
—Help! (13 August 1965) featured the movie’s songs plus the score.
–“Yesterday”/”Act Naturally” (13 September 1965) from the UK Help! album, a US-only single that would become one of their best-selling songs.
–“Nowhere Man”/”What Goes On” (21 February 1966) from Rubber Soul, a US-only single and a radio favorite.
—Yesterday…and Today (20 June 1966) was the last of them, which featured leftovers from the non-soundtrack side of Help!, various singles and tracks missing from the US versions of Rubber Soul (16 December 1965) and Revolver (8 August 1966).
By that time, the Beatles had had enough of Capitol butchering their albums (and yes, this is precisely why Yesterday and Today had the infamous butcher sleeve that it did when it was first released) and made sure that future releases would not suffer the same fate. Thankfully, no more Beatles albums would be torn apart this way in the name of making money off of new albums every three months, with only one album (Hey Jude on 26 February 1970, a compilation of singles sides) being the exception. Capitol relented, having realized that their relentless publicity had paid off in spades. They were one of the label’s biggest-selling bands, their name big enough that they could release anything at this point and it would sell.
Most of these label shenanigans were not watched by the band themselves, of course. They paid attention to their own UK releases, but when it came time to the US, they found they couldn’t even begin to make heads or tails of it. John Lennon was known to introduce a song when they played live by saying something along the lines of “here’s a song that’s from our new album…record…single…I think.” Many of the releases were even remixed differently–the most interesting difference being on Beatles 65, which for some reason was drenched in reverb, giving songs, especially “I Feel Fine” and “She’s a Woman”, an extremely heavy echo. While the real masters had been mixed and maybe occasionally touched up by George Martin himself, Capitol had been the culprit behind these not-quite-professional tweaks. You can hear them on the two box sets that came out in 2003-4, The Capitol Albums Volumes 1 and 2 (which is also the only place you can find the US version of Help! with the score intact). The members of the band have often stated they weren’t exactly happy with these remixes, let alone the mangling of the albums themselves, but despite all that, the American releases did their job, and did it well. The constant issuing of new material alongside previously released tracks had kept the band in the sights of the US throughout the first half of the sixties, helping them define an era in American rock and roll.