The Beatles

The Beatles: Unplugged

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Just when you thought that everything that could be said that was new, fresh, or unusual about the Beatles' later history was already out there, along comes The Beatles: Unplugged, a bootleg CD so good that the folks at Apple and EMI ought to be kicking themselves for not thinking of it first. This disc (which is sort-of subtitled "The Kinfaun-Session," referring to George Harrison's Esher home) pulls together the 23 songs that Harrison, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney recorded as works-in-progress at Harrison's home in May of 1968. Most of what's here was eventually heard either on The Beatles [White Album], or various solo works ("Child of Nature" surfacing with new lyrics as "A Jealous Guy," etc.) or B-sides ("What's the New Mary Jane"), and on various bootlegs. What makes this presentation better than most is that it's part of that "digipak" bootleg series that's been coming out of Europe since late 2000 and generally knocking listeners out with its quality. The production here is a match for any legitimate release, not just in sound quality but also the care that went into the selection, order, and editing of the tapes; there's some hiss here and there, to be sure, and a few tracks are close to overload on the sound, but there's nothing here that will make you jump to lower the volume or skip to the next cut -- in fact, chances are most of the songs here will get repeated more than once. It's a lot like listening to an "unplugged" version of The Beatles (even re-creating The Beatles [White Album]'s packaging), since most of it is represented here, and in excellent form. Indeed, the version of "Revolution" on this disc -- just to cite one example -- is as good as the released one, only brighter, and, if you will, bouncier, as the trio has unbridled fun with the lyric, the beat, and the rhymes without the need to pump up the wattage or the seriousness of it all; if the finished song is John Lennon's message to the world about politics, hate, and manipulation of the Beatles, this is his handwritten draft of that message, with all of his momentary digressions and mental edits left in. McCartney and Harrison's songs are just as well represented, and the only thing missing is a contribution by Ringo Starr, who didn't participate in these recordings. The curious element is that it's the hard-rocking songs -- "Yer Blues" and "Back in the USSR" -- that come off the best, even though they're the most different from the finished versions; the demo of "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" is just as entertaining, as the trio plunges headfirst into reggae armed with just their guitars and some good intentions. As the notes point out, whatever stresses the group may have been experiencing as a formal entity, the three guitarists had some productive and harmonious sessions and they still sounded as cool, creative, and cutting edge as they ever did. As bonus cuts, the makers have added "Helter Skelter" from a studio run-through, and thrown on "Spiritual Regeneration," the Beatles/Beach Boys ode to the Maharishi (which segues into the Beatles' birthday greeting to Mike Love) and a somewhat less-entertaining, informal, acoustic medley of traditional songs, all tracks recorded in India.