Leave it to a music conglomerate like Capitol Records not to miss the opportunity an anniversary can present.
To commemorate the arrival of The Beatles on U.S. shores — 50 years ago this weekend — Capitol is issuing, for the first time, the U.S. edition of every Beatles album on individual CDs. (They became available as a boxed set in 2004.) The songs have always been available in longer British versions and in innumerable anthologies, but individual editions of the band's domestic releases have been unavailable in any format since the late '80s, when vinyl supposedly was becoming extinct.
Our focus here goes on the first two Capitol releases, Meet The Beatles and The Beatles' Second Album, which were released less than three months apart at the beginning of 1964. Bolstered by the mammoth popularity of the band's first No. 1 single, I Want to Hold Your Hand, in February, Meet the Beatles stayed atop American charts for 11 weeks. It was unseated by The Beatles' Second Album, which remained at No. 1 for a month. That doesn't even take into consideration the third Capitol album, A Hard Day's Night, which ruled the charts for much of the summer and fall of 1964. That's how inescapable Beatlemania was 50 years ago.
Each album is a scant 27 minutes long, but the Capitol recordings represent two distinct sides of what was already a booming pop profile.
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Meet the Beatles is essentially a shorter version of With the Beatles, the band's simultaneously released second British album, and it leans heavily on original songs. Kicking off with the brilliant guitar riff that ignites I Want to Hold Your Hand, Meet the Beatles runs through John Lennon's vibrant vocal charge on It Won't Be Long, Paul McCartney's jubilant lead on All My Loving and George Harrison's discreetly moody Don't Bother Me (the last proving, even then, that there were three masterful songwriters in the band).
The Beatles' Second Album was the party record, a platter dominated by hearty covers of pop, rock and even Motown staples (the band makes the 1963 Marvelettes hit Please Mr. Postman very much their own). But the closing one-two punch I'll Get You and She Loves You affirms the composition prowess of the Lennon-McCartney team.
These records hardly mark the beginning of The Beatles. But as far as the American chapters of the saga are concerned, they remain the albums that opened the floodgates of Beatlemania.