Why the skimpy bonus material on the ‘Abbey Road’ deluxe box?

Beatlefan reader Mike Edsall discusses his mixed feelings about the “Abbey Road” 50th anniversary deluxe edition.

The “Abbey Road” 50th anniversary set.

First, let me state where I’m coming from. I am a first-generation Beatles fan who owns close everything they’ve ever released, both group and solo, and I’ve read several hundred books about them.  So, I know a lot, but, admittedly, I do not know everything. I’ve been buying bootlegs since 1972, I loved the “Anthology” collections, and, I totally get off on between-takes dialogue, outtakes, alternate mixes, etc.

A long-time prayer of mine (since I read Mark Lewisohn’s “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions” book) was answered by Apple Corps when they included the “Go a bit faster, Ringo!” and “OK, George!” exchange between John and Paul, respectively, with “The Ballad of John And Yoko” in the new “Abbey Road” Super Deluxe Edition.

Yes, I absolutely love the content found in the box set. It truly is thrilling to listen to, and, I am grateful it has been made available.

Box set producer Giles Martin, son of Sir George Martin. (Photo: Alex Lake)

Yet, I do not believe that Apple, Giles Martin and Sam Okell deserve an automatic pat on the back.

True, it’s incredible to listen to this “Abbey Road” material, and, yes, it sounds fantastic. The sound quality is undeniably superb. But, I feel that the quantity of “sessions” material is lacking.

Overall, regarding content for price, I’d rate the “Abbey Road” Super Deluxe Edition as being good, but not great.   Despite the wonderful material, it’s disappointing.

I believe that the Super Deluxe Edition could have, and should have, been much better. I really think that this was a missed opportunity.

For the White Album Super Deluxe Edition box set, we got two CDs for the album itself, a CD with the Esher demos (which clocked in at a healthy 75:22), and three CDs of sessions material, with those discs clocking in at 52:03, 50:49 and 55:34, respectively. Note that those three sessions CDs could have fit comfortably onto two CDs. So, while I loved what I heard, I just wanted more of it.

For me, this time around, it’s the same story. But, it’s worse.

The “Abbey Road” box has the remixed album on CD1, and CD2 and CD3 give us sessions material. Those two discs clock in at 43:47 and 42:16, respectively, with their combined time being a paltry 86:03; that is just 6 minutes beyond the capacity of a single CD!

Sorry, but that is chintzy and skimpy. Apple at least should have maxed out those two sessions discs.  We could/should have been given an additional 74 minutes (or so) of alternates.

Box sets by other artists are far more generous with content quantity.

Beatles fans are willing to pay for what they want.

Just so you don’t get the wrong idea, The Beatles are one thing that I truly don’t mind throwing my money away on! However, I do mind feeling that I am being short-changed. It shows a lack of respect for Beatle fans.

Here is one way to look at it:

If you buy the “Abbey Road” Deluxe Edition  (the 2-CD set), you get a CD2 (basically an alternate “Abbey Road”) that has sessions content totaling 51:53, which is drawn from the two sessions CDs included with Super Deluxe Edition box set.

The only content exclusive to the Super Deluxe Edition that purchasers of the Deluxe Edition are missing is:

  • Seven tracks that clock in at just over 34 minutes (half of that is “The Long One,”, which is fantastic, of course!)
  • The book (which is beautiful)

The Deluxe Edition currently is selling for about $20, while the Super Deluxe Edition’s price is about $85.

Is the latter actually worth the difference in cost? Are those seven extra tracks plus the book worth the extra $65?

Please don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that fans should not purchase the Super Deluxe Edition. It clearly is a must-buy for any Beatles fan, and, there was absolutely no way that I would not have bought this new release!

The point that I am trying to make is that the Super Deluxe Edition could have been much better. It could have been great.

It makes you wonder: Does Apple have a self-imposed policy/rule where only one alternate version of a particular song can be given to us in a box set?

It sure seems that way. (Yes, I realize there are a few exceptions in this new box.)

In that light, here are some examples of what I am complaining about:

Working on the album that became “Abbey Road.”

“I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” is a hybrid fabrication that combines a Trident Studios take with a later reduction mix. Why not just give us a Trident Studios version plus the reduction mix? (Note: My own rule is this: authentic, nonfabricated takes of songs are always preferable.)

I love having the complete George Harrison demo of “Something” (since the “Anthology 3” version mixed out the piano), but I don’t think that it should have been used as the alternate representation of the song. The Feb. 25, 1969, demo is George’s one-man-band demo of the song. The box set also should have included a full-band take of “Something,” such as Take 37 (without the later-overdubbed orchestration), which evolves into a (OK, not so great) jam, a take that has been bootlegged for decades (albeit in mono and minus the jam).

Ringo’s “Octopus’s Garden” was shortchanged on this release. What we get is a partial take that, while it clocks in at 1:43, actually has only 1:10 of music before it breaks down after Ringo messes up the lyrics. I do like this version, but, why not also give us a later complete take, such as the one that’s been bootlegged for decades (again, only in mono), which has a single-tracked lead vocal and no backing vocals or sound effects yet in place?

Over the past 10 years, as a consequence of the release of Rock Band, many creative Beatles fans have made available, via the Internet, their own alternate mixes of “Abbey Road” songs. Some sound very close to the original mixes, while some do not. The latter mixes could have been used as a guideline to provide us with other ways to hear — and, better appreciate — the music of “Abbey Road.” And, since Apple created the Rock Band Beatles mixes itself by providing discrete channels (i.e., they have the raw material that the mixes are derived from), they easily could have mimicked or even outdone those creative folks on the Internet.

For example, the box could have an instrumental mix of “Here Comes the Sun” that allows Harrison’s Moog playing to be heard clearly, and, its subtlety more appreciated. (I would have loved an instrumental “Abbey Road” CD in the new box set!)

It also could have included a mix of “Here Comes the Sun” with only acoustic guitars and vocals; a stripped-down mix of “Something,” with, say, just the vocals and Paul McCartney’s great bass guitar; an instrumental version of the complete Side 2 medley; a vocals-only version of the medley; a vocals and piano version of “You Never Give Me Your Money”; a mix of “Oh! Darling” with vocals, bass, and drums only; perhaps even some session highlights blocks for a few songs, as in the “Pet Sounds” and “Smile” box sets.

There are many other possibilities but, then again, I’m not looking for that much more. I’m not looking for something akin to a Bob Dylan “Bootleg Series” volume where every possible take for every song is represented. That would be overkill, and not commercially viable.

My expectation was simply this: The sessions CDs would be maxed out at close to 80 minutes. What we were given is not even close to that!

What gives, Apple? Do you think that was generous? It isn’t!

I am sure that some people reading this will dismiss it by playing the old some-people-are-never-satisfied card. But, I really don’t think what I’ve suggested above is that unreasonable.

My expectations were simple: If you’re going to give us two sessions CDs, you should fill them up.

Yes, I am grateful to be given the opportunity to hear these “Abbey Road” alternates and outtakes.

But, seriously, we get two sessions CDs that are each just a notch over being half full?

Other artists routinely seem to be able to max out their box set CDs’ contents. Why not The Beatles?

Mike Edsall is hoping for better decisions with the “Let It Be” anniversary reissue.

Surely, there must’ve been additional — and very worthy — material available for the sessions CDs in the Super Deluxe Edition box.

I am hoping that Apple will do a better — and a more complete — job with the (likely) upcoming “Let It Be” box set.

At a minimum, that set should include the Glyn Johns “Get Back” album, which was scheduled for release in July/August 1969, and actually was announced to the media. Not a single note should be changed on it! “Get Back” also doesn’t need to be remixed; just give it to us as it is!

(Many of us have had the “Get Back” album on bootleg for three-plus decades. That iteration of the album was detailed by Mal Evans in the July, 1969, issue of Beatles Monthly, and then reviewed by Frederick James (aka Tony Barrow) in the August, 1969, issue of the same magazine. That version of the album is the only legitimate version, and should be included in a box set.)

Another item that’s a must for the box set is Ethan Russell’s “Get Back” photograph book, which was included in the original U.K. boxed edition of the “Let It Be” album in 1970.

I think we all realize that the “Abbey Road” Super Deluxe Edition box is intended to be the definitive representation of the album.  While I love the sessions material that’s included, I just don’t think we were given enough of it.

I am keeping my fingers crossed for a great “Let It Be” Super Deluxe Edition.

Mike Edsall

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2 Responses to Why the skimpy bonus material on the ‘Abbey Road’ deluxe box?

  1. Andru J. Reeve says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Mike. I thought the exact same thing as you when I got the Super Deluxe. Why so skimpy? I really, truly thought they’d include the wonderful (and oft-bootlegged) take of Paul fooling around with an echoplex on his voice as he rehearsed “Oh! Darling”. Where is that? Of course, on the White Album Super Deluxe, I also found the pickings lacking. Where was the COMPLETE take of “Revolution 1” with the extended improvised “Mama/papa” vocalizations? Alas, our Beatles ship has sailed on these collections. That’s why I will never part with my bootlegs. Still wonderful to have as much as Apple has given us. I’m happy to own both sets. I just wanted MORE, and to own it legally. Y’know — so the proper people get my money!

  2. Anthony LoGuercio says:

    Hi Mike, i agree with you on the skimpyness (apparently not a word) of the bonus discs on the Abbey Road Super Deluxe set. Unfortunately i don’t think we will be any happier with the Let It Be collection. From what i’m hearing it isn’t even going to be a “Let It Be” 50th anniversary reissue. Firstly i hear it isn’t coming out this May, 50 years after the original Let It Be record was released, but in October when the Peter Jackson film is being released. It is being called the “The Beatles Get Back” so the book, the movie and the record release will probably all have the same title much like they did on “Eight Days A Week” a few years ago. There is no secret that Paul never liked the original movie or record. Thus the “Let It Be Naked” project. I just don’t have any confidence (and you’ve detailed why perfectly) that they will do the right thing in this release. There is SO much they could include especially outtake video! lets keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.
    Thank you
    Tony LoGuercio

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