The Beatles

Artifacts, 1958-1970

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One strongly suspects that the existence of this five-CD box, in tandem with a handful of other packages of this type, was largely responsible for getting Paul McCartney (and others) to take a serious look at what was in EMI's vaults, resulting in the release of the Beatles' Anthology series. In 1993, however, this was the only game in town: 124 choice outtakes, live concert tracks, demos, overdub sessions, and rehearsals covering the group's known recordings from 1958 through 1970 -- it's essentially a best-of the Beatles' unauthorized output, from what were then the best-known sources of every track represented. The motto of "Big Music," whoever they were, was "Ain't No Limits," and they proved it on most of this set, which generally showed excellent selections and superb tape research, a true rarity for bootleg releases, especially on this scale -- up to this time, the usual assumption by almost any producer had been that, with a box like this, people would accept quantity in lieu of quality, but on Artifacts were was no compromise of that type. From the earliest known recording of the pre-Beatles' Quarrymen, doing "That'll Be the Day" in 1958, to "I Me Mine" from their final sessions in January 1970, the best tapes are used. Even better, and just to rub EMI's face in it, all of the outtakes from the Please Please Me and With the Beatles albums are in stereo, which the authorized CDs aren't. Moreover, the makers included individually notable live and broadcast songs, such as the Royal Command Performance of "Twist and Shout" (with John Lennon's "rattle your jewelry" introduction) and "Shout" from the Around the Beatles British television presentation. Even the Ed Sullivan live performances are from high-quality sources, and the concert numbers all pretty much come up to that standard -- the only real lapse among the first two discs is the ragged sounding demo of "If I Fell" from early 1964. The box comes with a fully illustrated and annotated booklet providing information (where known) about each song and each performance. Not all of this material will be of interest to casual fans, and a lot of this didn't make it onto the authorized Anthology series -- the brass overdub session for "Penny Lane" or the rehearsal for "Day Tripper" with mistakes intact are for completists, but even ordinary fans will find a lot of it fascinating to hear at least once, as a representation of the way the band's repertory evolved and developed in the studio. Each major era in the group's history is represented on the five discs (each of which has an appropriate and entertaining graphic embossed on its label side) -- "The Psychedelic Years," covering 1966-1967, has the shakiest sound quality and also may prove the most enlightening and the most frustrating, since that material always worked best in its finished form, and sounds notably unfinished here, albeit revealing interesting little details at the same time. (One track not included here, incidentally, is the version of "Penny Lane" with the unedited trumpet ending, as that had appeared legitimately on the Rarities LP). In all, this is six hours of good listening, and total immersion in the Beatles.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Title/Composer Performer Time
1 1:03
2 2:24
3 1:45
4 1:00
7 1:26
8 3:20
9 2:57
10 2:30
11 1:38
12 2:01
13 1:58
14 0:46
15 3:07
16 2:07
17 6:48
18 3:31
19 2:29
20 1:44
21 2:39
22 1:54
23 1:31
24 1:29
25 3:04
26 2:51
27 4:27
28 3:04

Track Listing - Disc 2

Title/Composer Performer Time
1 4:01
2 1:56
3 3:03
4 2:37
5 3:08
6 2:05
7 4:28
8 0:32
9 2:38
10 2:04
11 2:53
12 2:31
13 6:32
14 2:51
15 2:53
16 2:19
17 2:29
18 2:27
19 2:05
20 2:18
21 2:02
22 2:11
23 0:45
24 3:11
25 6:41
26 2:17
blue highlight denotes track pick