(Pictured: John Lennon’s handwritten draft of “A Day in the Life,” up for auction in 2006.)
In 1972, a New Jersey-based company called Audiotape, Inc., took advantage of the patchy nature of copyright law to put out a massive Beatles collection called Alpha Omega: four vinyl discs, also available on 8-track tape, containing 60 songs, ranging from “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to solo recordings (“Imagine,” “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” “Bangla Desh”), sourced from American Capitol albums. It was advertised on TV and radio, and plans were made for a second set before the Beatles and their barracuda manager Allen Klein stepped in to stop it. The demand for Alpha Omega led Capitol/EMI to release two official Beatles compilations in April 1973: the red 1962-1966 and the blue 1967-1970.
As I have written before, I just missed the Beatles as a going concern. “The Long and Winding Road” ended its run on the Hot 100 after the week of July 25, 1970 (falling clear out from #21), and I started listening to the radio about six weeks later. I’d heard of them, of course, having watched the cartoon series based on their exploits. heir songs remained staples of Top 40 radio after July 1970, and I undoubtedly heard plenty of them. Beatle music was as ubiquitous as light and air, whether you could remember hearing them as Top 40 hitmakers or not.
I eventually bought the blue album, but I don’t think it was in 1973 because I was still buying only singles then. However, when I visualize first listening to it, I’m in the downstairs bedroom I shared with my brother, but I’m not sure that’s possible, unless we moved to separate rooms upstairs somewhat later than I’ve always believed.
Which songs on 1967-1970 were most familiar to me at that moment I don’t remember. I was fascinated by “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “A Day in the Life,” and I didn’t know quite what to think about “I Am the Walrus,” so I am guessing they were new to me. (My favorite “new” Beatles song, however, was “Across the Universe.”) I was surprised to learn that “Fool on the Hill” was a Beatles song: at that point I knew it only from the 1968 version by Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 that I would have heard on my parents’ radio station.
When The Mrs. and I became Mr. and Mrs. and merged our record collections, she had a copy of 1962-1966. Because it spans the years when the US and UK versions of Beatles recordings were often very different, the vinyl 1962-1966 contains some oddballs, including fake stereo versions of “Love Me Do” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” which were replaced for the CD reissues in 1993 and 2010. (Wikipedia runs down the differences here.) The 1967-1970 album contains less of this kind of thing, although it does contain the first album releases of the single versions of “Let It Be” and “Get Back.”
During the week of May 26, 1973, 1967-1970 hit #1 on the Billboard 200 album chart, taking out Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy. The 1962-1966 album sat at #3, its chart peak. The next week, 1967-1970 would lose its place to Paul McCartney’s Red Rose Speedway, which would be taken out by George Harrison’s Living in the Material World three weeks later.
The top of the Billboard 200 was pretty solid during that Memorial Day week, also including the Edgar Winter Group’s They Only Come Out at Night (with the current #1 single, “Frankenstein”), Dark Side of the Moon, Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies, and The Best of Bread. Also within the Top 20: Talking Book by Stevie Wonder, Elton John’s Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player, The Captain and Me by the Doobie Brothers, and Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy a Thrill. Stevie, Elton, the Doobies, and the Dan would be among the top acts of the next decade, but in the summer of 1973, they all were left in the dust by the top act of the preceding decade.