What do you get the Beatles fan who has nearly everything? Well there are certainly plenty of options vying for your wallet’s attention, but if your budget doesn’t quite extend to original Butcher covers, autographed albums, handwritten lyrics or old instruments, here’s another option.
Vision is not a too grandiose term for this beautiful artefact, which was the brainchild of Jonathan Polk, a US music industry veteran who previously worked as an executive for Capitol Records at the time of Love, Let It Be… Naked and the Capitol Albums box sets.
The Beatles invented the rock album format and it was my goal to help ensure that fans can continue to discover and appreciate this single greatest catalog of music the way it was originally created.
I have always been frustrated with the available options for organizing and storing CDs And, I hated the fact that the beautiful LP artwork I grew up with was reduced to almost postage stamp size on CDs. The Box Of Vision gives fans the best of all worlds.
Opening the Box Of Vision for the first time is a joy. Enclosed in a white outer cardboard container bearing The Beatles’ logo, it’s clear that the box was designed and made with great amounts of love and care. It’s heavy, too, weighing over 4kg without any of the music.
The first thing you’ll notice is the quality and attention to detail. The 13″x13″ box bears the iconic Robert Freeman photograph first used on With The Beatles and its US counterpart Meet The Beatles. The four-inch-wide spine bears the group’s logo embossed on black linen, with the other sides showing the spines of the original UK LPs.
Inside the box are three sections: a book, the Catalography, containing information on The Beatles’ US and UK albums; a patented storage device for holding The Beatles’ CD catalogue, including digipack cases; and a 200-page LP-sized hardback book showing restored prints of the group’s album artwork from Please Please Me to Love.
The Catalography revisits The Beatles’ UK and US releases in chronological order, with thumbnail pictures of each album and explanations of when and why they were released. There is also an essay by Bruce Spizer, perhaps the world’s leading authority on the group’s US releases, in which he explains how Capitol was able to tailor The Beatles’ albums for the American market.
The book is a useful reference guide, though it fails to mention why Yesterday And Today was first released with the notorious Butcher cover, and later with the replacement ‘suitcase’ version. It also contains a reproduction of the White Album poster, which curiously omits the pubic hair from the crude cartoon of John Lennon and Yoko Ono – presumably that’s how US audiences originally saw it.
The storage book
The Box Of Vision ‘storage book’ is actually a non-removable display mechanism for 32 CDs of The Beatles’ canon. Each page sports vinyl envelopes for four discs and the booklets or, at a squeeze, digipack covers, with prints behind each one to make clear which album belongs where.
The storage section includes space for Please Please Me to Let It Be, plus Past Masters volumes 1 and 2 (the box was presumably designed before the remasters artwork was revealed), the 1962-66 and 1967-70 compilations, although why fans would need these if they had the stereo box set is unclear; and the later releases – Live At The BBC, Anthologies 1-3, Yellow Submarine Songtrack, the 1 compilation, Let It Be… Naked and Love.
While the storage looks great when completely filled, it’s not the most practical way to access discs, although they are well protected. Additionally, although the digipacks can be squeezed into separate envelopes above the discs, it’s not the most comfortable fit, and it’s hard to see most Beatles fans preferring to remove their collections from the stereo box sets.
The artwork book
The LP-sized artwork book is perhaps the best part of the Box Of Vision. A hardback book embossed with The Beatles’ logo in black, it’s a classy object which shows just how beautiful the group’s LP artwork was before the miniaturisation of the CDs era.
Each page is devoted to a front or rear cover of all The Beatles’ US and UK releases, plus gatefold artwork and the four portraits from the White Album. Interestingly, the artwork which really comes to life is Klaus Voormann’s Anthology triptych, which was always compromised by being reduced for the CD versions. All the liner notes from Anthology and Live At The BBC are reproduced, as are the extensive liner notes from Let It Be… Naked and Love’s Cirque de Soleil graphics, spread over 26 pages. It’s a real joy to see these in their full glory, and a far cheaper option than buying all the albums on vinyl.
It’s a real joy to see once more the Meet The Beatles! artwork, with its mentions of the group’s successes in Newcastle, Portsmouth and Carlisle, places which would have had little meaning to American audiences in 1963. The reproduction of the rarely-seen United Artists artwork for the US A Hard Day’s Night soundtrack is also a treat, containing as it does photographs which are unavailable on any other release.
It’s hard to fault the selections in the book, although there is no room for The Beatles’ Story, Capitol Records’ documentary double-LP released at the height of Beatlemania which contained little music. Missing, too, is the UK artwork for Magical Mystery Tour; no EPs were included, although the US album version is included in the UK section.
So, is the Box Of Vision worth the money? There’s no doubting it’s an expensive purchase, particularly for UK and European fans of the group (at the time of writing it retails at $90 or £100). There’s also some doubt as to whether fans will want to store their music collection in the slightly fiddly vinyl pockets, when it’s far more convenient to keep the CDs on a shelf.
Additionally, although solidly built, frankly the box is too beautiful to warrant day-to-day handling, and it’s perhaps best left as an object to admire and treasure.
But as a gift for the Beatles fan who has almost everything, the Box Of Vision is a marvellous idea. It’s classy, elegant and an object of desire which would be a talking point in any music-loving household. Go on, please your Beatles-loving family and friends and make their year with a wonderful gift.
Jonathan Polk also keeps an illuminating blog at boxofvision.wordpress.com in which he explains many of the decisions behind what was included in – and left out of – the box.