The U.S. Albums
Back in 2004, Apple/Capitol released The Capitol Albums, Vol. 1, a four-disc box that issued the Beatles' original U.S. albums from 1964 (Meet the Beatles!, The Beatles' Second Album, Something New, Beatles '65) on CD for the first time ever. A second volume, released roughly 18 months later, collected the 1965 records (The Early Beatles, Beatles VI, Help!, Rubber Soul), but a third volume rounding up the rest of the U.S.-exclusive albums -- Yesterday...and Today and Revolver, both from 1966, plus the odd 1970 compilation Hey Jude -- never materialized. Three years after The Capitol Albums, Vol. 2, a lavish reissue campaign of superb remasters of the Beatles' U.K. catalog appeared, the first true sonic upgrade to the Beatles' catalog since their initial release in 1987 -- remasters that easily overshadowed the somewhat better sound on the Capitol Albums boxes. The 2009 remasters were a rousing success, especially the Beatles in Mono box, which offered mini-LP replicas of every mono album from the Fabs, and that opened the door for the 2014 release of The U.S. Albums, a 13-disc box that has mini-LP replicas of all eight albums that appeared on the 2004 and 2006 boxes, plus the three aforementioned stragglers and two 1964 oddities: the United Artists release of the soundtrack for A Hard Day's Night and the pseudo-documentary LP The Beatles Story. Here's where things get interesting for trainspotters. Apart from The Beatles' Story, which has been drawn from existing masters in the vaults, nearly everything here has been brought up to the 2009 standards, usually using those celebrated remasters instead of the cavernous echo that characterized the Americanized albums shepherded by Capitol exec Dave Dexter. Fun, interesting alternates remain -- notably the botched intro to "I'm Looking Through You" on the stereo mix of Rubber Soul -- but the terrible fake stereo mixes that characterized the original U.S. releases and were indeed preserved in the Capitol Albums box sets have been replaced with tapes that sound excellent. This may not pull on the heartstrings for nostalgic baby boomers -- they'll have to settle for the set's exquisite packaging, including a Yesterday...and Today with a peel-away cover that reveals the original butcher cover -- in the way that the Dexter-ized mixes would have, but it's hard to argue against the use of the 2009 remasters, as this is the best the Beatles have ever sounded. And not only does this sound good, it looks good, so it's a handsome way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Beatlemania, although anybody who owns the 2009 boxes in addition to the 2004 and 2006 sets may find it hard to justify another purchase.