First released in 1973, the so-called Blue Album brought together 28 highlights from The Beatles’ back catalogue, from their 1967 single ‘Penny Lane’/‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ to ‘Let It Be’.The Beatles 1962-1966, the Blue Album was brought to production swiftly as a response to an illegal two-volume, 120-song bootleg titled Alpha Omega which had been issued earlier in 1973.
Alpha Omega had contained songs from The Beatles’ back catalogue, along with several songs from their solo careers. The set was marketed by a New Jersey company called Audio Tape Inc, and sold only via TV mail order. Apple quickly shut down the production and distribution of Alpha Omega, and brought out their own compilations.
Allen Klein drew up a list of songs to include on the Red and Blue albums, and offered to give the former Beatles the chance to veto the selection. Unlike 1962-1966, the Blue Album contained songs written by George Harrison and Ringo Starr, as well as those by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
I didn’t want lousy versions going out, I wanted them to be as was. And I asked Capitol/EMI, or EMI/Capitol whichever, please ask George Martin would he take care of this, so at least he knows what to do. I didn’t want some strange guy, you know, making dubbed versions of it and putting it out, because of the versions that were going out [on other compilations] the reissues were pretty poor. I hadn’t even listened to them, because I just presumed they’d take the tape as we made it and make a master and put it out again, but they didn’t, they’d been screwing around with a few of the early ones. I didn’t know that until it was too late. So on that last package where they had Beatles 60… different periods – that one. I made sure. The Red and The Blue, that one. I made sure George Martin was there and I made sure they put that picture which I got Linda [sic] to take of the same pose as their very first album over the Abbey Road… No what is it that… EMI office in some other place, some square? Manchester Square. So I was involved in that respect, in that package making sure that the cover was what I wanted and that the sound was done by George Martin. So I don’t mind that one. Checked the remix after he’d done it, it was as good as you could get out of whatever mono recording we did then.
The Lennon Tapes, Andy Peebles
The front cover of 1967-1970 featured a photograph of The Beatles taken in 1969. Originally intended to adorn the unreleased Get Back LP, which was repackaged as Let It Be in 1970, the shot featured the group recreating their pose on the cover of their debut UK album, Please Please Me.
The photographs were taken as The Beatles looked down from the stairwell at EMI House, the label’s headquarters in Manchester Square, London. An outtake from the Please Please Me shoot was used on the rear of the Blue Album, and on the front of the Red Album.
The gatefold covers of both albums featured a photograph of The Beatles and fans taken during the ‘Mad Day Out’ in London on 28 July 1968.
Unlike the 1962-1966 collection, the Blue Album was largely the same in the US and UK, although there were some variations. The US edition had both ‘Penny Lane’ and ‘Hello, Goodbye’ in mono, and ‘I Am The Walrus’ with a four-beat electric piano introduction; the UK version had the more common six-bar beginning.
The albums had several other variants and anomalies. ‘Get Back’ was described as the album version in the US liner notes, although it was in fact the single version.
In both countries, ‘Hey Jude’ was around nine seconds shorter than it had been on the original single, although the full length was restored for the 1993 compact disc edition.
The original vinyl version faded in during the crowd noise at the beginning of ‘A Day In The Life’. The original compact disc edition, meanwhile, featured a clean version previously heard on the Imagine: John Lennon soundtrack album in 1988.
The Beatles 1967-1970 was released in the United States on 2 April 1973, simultaneously with the 1962-1966 album. Its original retail price was $9.98, which was considerably higher than the conventional price of $5.98 for a single album.
Despite criticism in some quarters, however, the Blue Album topped the Billboard chart, and has since sold more than 8 million copies.
In the United Kingdom it was issued on 19 April 1973, and reached number two on the charts.
Remastered versions of The Beatles 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 were both released worldwide on 18 October 2010 (the following day in North America). The remastering was done by the same team led by Allan Rouse which had remastered The Beatles’ entire back catalogue for 2009.
The reissues were both double-CD sets, and included expanded booklets with new essays written by Bill Flanagan, and rare photographs of The Beatles.
I bet Alpha Omega is worth a lot now.