Monday, May 4, 2009

Beatles on cassette.

I've mentioned briefly before that my first introduction to the Beatles was on cassette, because in the early '90s when I was a young teenager beginning to collect the albums, a tape player was what I had. I've also mentioned that the order of the songs on the cassettes was incorrect, which I didn't even learn until I started reading books that educated me on the correct order of the songs, which I've since embraced. Still, though, I got so used to listening to a version of Revolver that began with "Good Day Sunshine" that it still affects the way I feel about the album. (That, to me, was one of the most egregious order changes. Because it is SUPPOSED to be "Taxman," and "Good Day Sunshine" is, like, the opposite of "Taxman.")

So today at A Beatles' Hard-Dies' Site, there's a summation of the song orders on the first edition of UK-released cassettes. Apparently, they mangled the order mainly because cassette tapes work better when there are two sides of equal length-- that way you don't flip to side B and find yourself in the middle of a song. So, okay, fine. Dumb, but fine. Weirdly, though, these UK cassettes don't match what I was listening to in the US in the '90s. Please Please Me looks roughly the same. (Can you believe it started with "Misery"? I shit you not. Can you imagine that album beginning with anything but the sublime 1-2-3-4 count of "I Saw Her Standing There"? By the way, the latter song was still on side A, at track 5, so I FAIL TO SEE HOW that helped keep the tape the right length.) But I know the White Album is off-- my White Album definitely ended with "Good Night" as God (and the Beatles) intended it to. And there are other differences too. So now not only does it seem that the cassettes were put out wrongly, but they were then CHANGED AGAIN and put out in a version that was wrong in a DIFFERENT way, perhaps just for the US market. None of this was corrected, by the way, until the CD releases.

If anyone has any light to shed on this mysterious flurry of stupidity, I'm dying to hear it.


  1. I thought I remembered reading in that piece that something like you describe with I Saw Her Standing There happened because the track listings were first vivisected for 8-track, where you needed four different 'programs' to have roughly the same length. I'd need to know exactly what your track listing was to say for sure, but I can try to give a hypothetical. The first three tracks add up to about 8 minutes, the next four to almost 10. Side 2, the first three tracks add up to 7 minutes, the last four to 8:30 or so. If I swapped out, say, Love Me Do and P.S. I Love You for Chains and Boys, the second half of side 1 now is about 9 minutes, the first half of side 2 about 7:30.

    If I'd stayed with the original running order, on my 8-track, the second 'program' would be three minutes longer than the third. Now that I've screwed with things, the difference is about 1:30. So I save 1:30 of tape, possibly times four (for each program), times whatever number of 8-track cartridges I sell, which I would ballpark at somewhere around "a kajillion."

    I thought I remembered that piece saying they didn't know why the labels didn't rearrange again for cassette, so don't ask me. But again, just looking at the original track listing, side 1 is two minutes longer than side 2. If I switch out two of the longer songs from side 1 with two of the shorter songs from side 2, I can give myself a big bonus. I bet you could think of a way to reorder the songs less disruptively, but back then, albums were just collections of songs, and consider that you care about this way more than the average record label guy did back then. The Beatles were a fad, remember?

  2. Oh, you know, you're right-- I wasn't really reading closely before. So it's all because of 8-tracks. 8-tracks and GREED. (Which would be a good title for a novel.) Well. Harumph. It DOES make some kind of sense, but I guess I still don't get why the order changed again in between the original cassette release and 1993. Was there some boom in 8-tracks that I missed there? That's rhetorical.

  3. Months late to the party (I've been going through the archive in order, so I didn't see this follow-up when I commented about this cassette issue before)... but I don't think this explains everything. To use a non-Beatles example, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me by The Cure has a very different running order (and different songs in some instances) than the other editions. But I'm about 99.999999999% sure that there wasn't an 8-track edition of this 1986 album.

    I think w/r/t the Beatles, both things were in play, e.g., some of the reordering had to do with cassette side length considerations/balance; then order within a side itself was a hangover from the 8-track considerations.