Beatlefan Publisher Bill King looks back on the past 12 months in the Beatles world. …
Any year where you get to see two of The Beatles live in concert in your city has to be considered an above average time for a Beatles fan, and that was the case for me in 2017.
But, the year proved to be notable for fans in other ways, too.
The biggest event in Beatledom this year (or, arguably, in many years) was the much lauded 50th anniversary edition of the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album.
This one checked off just about all the fan “wants” when it came to reissues, as it was put out in multiple configurations featuring new Giles Martin mixes in stereo and 5.1 surroundsound, had bonus discs with previously unreleased material and video features, was presented in lavish and thoughtfully prepared special packaging.
I think it’s safe to say the 6-disc Super Deluxe Edition is the all-round best Beatles reissue ever, and a rare instance of Apple Corps hitting one out of the ballpark. (Conversely, the release of The Beatles’ Christmas recordings late in the year deservedly drew a much more muted response sine it came out only on vinyl and did not feature any bonuses. And, Apple Corps missed an opportunity by ignoring the 50th anniversary of “Magical Mystery Tour.”)
Meanwhile, the “Pepper” 50th anniversary also brought forth several documentaries (one of which was shown on PBS in America) and a number of new books about the album and its times, including Bruce Spizer’s “The Beatles and Sgt. Pepper: A Fans’ Perspective,” to which I was honored to contribute.
Also on the plus side, another notable event of 2017 was publication of an expanded edition of George Harrison’s “I Me Mine” book, spanning the complete length of his career in music. This volume was his musical story told largely in his own words and featured 141 songs with handwritten lyric sheets reproduced in full color.
However, not nearly as enthusiastically greeted was “George Harrison: The Vinyl Collection,” which consisted of 180-gram vinyl reissues of all 12 of George’s studio albums, from “Wonderwall Music” through “Brainwashed,” plus “Live in Japan” and two 12-inch picture discs of “When We Was Fab” and “Got My Mind Set on You.”
While Harrison fans wanting some, but not all, of these new vinyl reissues didn’t have to fork out for the entire box set, since the individual LPs also were available separately, the fact that the releases used the original analog master tapes, rather than new remixes, and did not include any bonus material drew a lot of flak from fans … and made them less than an essential purchase.
Much more successful, but still controversial, was the release of Paul McCartney’s “Flowers in the Dirt” album as part of his archive series.
The excellently remastered album was made available as a 2-CD special edition, a 2-LP vinyl set and a deluxe edition box set that included 3 CDs (with 18 bonus tracks, including previously unissued demos) and a DVD with all the music videos from the album, other short films and the “Put It There” documentary; plus a booklet of handwritten lyrics, a photobook and a 112-page book with the complete story of the album told through interviews with Paul, Elvis Costello and other contributors.
However, the decision to issue an album’s worth of additional bonus tracks, including B-sides, remixes and single edits, as digital downloads only drew heavy fan criticism, as did the fact that the “Flowers” reissue carried a much higher list price than previous Archive Collection releases.
The other major high points of the year for Beatles fans were the previously mentioned concert tours by both Paul and Ringo.
Macca’s One on One tour stretched through much of the year, starting with shows in Japan and moving on to two legs of U.S. dates (including a bunch in the New York area that saw Macca joined onstage by Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen), shows in South America and Mexico City, and his long-awaited return to Australia and New Zealand in December.
While he didn’t shake up the set list much, and there still were the occasional problems with his voice, McCartney’s nearly three-hour show wowed audiences and left concertgoers with a big smile on their face wherever the 75-year-old legend went.
Also, he continued to show a superb command of the stage and a good feel for audience interactions. He frequently brought fans up onstage and sometimes — as with the July 13 Atlanta area show, where he helped a young woman named Becka Philips tell her family she’s gay — these fan moments were high points of the evening.
Another highlight of my Macca concert experience was having my longtime friend John Sosebee travel over from Alabama to join me and Leslie at the show. It felt a lot like old times, and we all enjoyed the concert thoroughly, even the familiar parts we’ve seen numerous times before. As I noted in my blog and Beatlefan article on the show, I think my friend Melissa Ruggieri of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution got it exactly right in her review when she wrote: “There might not be a more beautiful sonic live experience than the moment ‘Something’ shifts from McCartney on ukulele to the full band kicking in like an exploding rainbow. It’s a moment worth revisiting a hundred times.”
The fact that I also got to see Ringo in concert just four months later was the cherry on top when it came to 2017’s treats. Leslie is still upset that she was under the weather at the time and missed Ringo and the All Starrs’ show at Atlanta’s beautiful Fox Theatre, but our daughter Olivia joined me, and it was a fun evening. Ringo was in fine voice and humor, Todd Rundgren played the class clown as usual, and the band members obviously were enjoying themselves as they jostled and poked each other during their rundown of classic rock hits.
The only real disappointment was Ringo not doing any song from his most recent album release, “Give More Love,” with the title number dropped from the set list shortly after the opening stint in Las Vegas.
With Ringo shaking up the band’s lineup for a forthcoming 2018 European tour, many of us hope that, perhaps, he’ll bring back “Oh My My” (done with the All Starrs in 2008) or finally do “Octopus’s Garden” (which he’s previously only done live a few years back with his part-time group, the Roundheads).
I’d also love to see a live version of his hit cover of “Only You,” but I’ve pretty much given up hope of that.
Other 2017 Beatles-related highlights this Beatles fan included: the Avett Brothers’ terrific version of George’s “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth),” which they debuted on “The Late Show with Steven Colbert” and included in their concert sets … the voluminous “A Is for Apple Volume 2” book continuing the authors’ very detailed look at the early days of Apple Corps and and Apple Records … and the launching by SiriusXM of The Beatles Channel, which surprised many fans by including relatively obscure solo album tracks in its mix of familiar Beatles hits.
Sad moments during the year included the deaths of John Lennon’s pal Pete Shotton (with whom I once spent a delightful evening), Harrison buddy and fellow Traveling Wilbury Tom Petty and The Beatles’ first “manager,” Allan Williams. And, for us personally at Beatlefan, 2017 unfortunately will be remembered for the sudden loss of our longtime Japan correspondent, Gen Onoshima.
Overall, though, a 6-disc “Pepper” retrospective with lots of previously unissued bonus recordings, and fresh chances to see both Paul and Ringo perform onstage made 2017 one of my favorite Beatle years in quite a while!
Feel free to share your own thoughts on the latest Beatle year. …
— Bill King