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Was The Beatles' Blue Album the best Fab Four record?

BY Brendan Sainsbury

30th Jan 2024 Music

4 min read

Was The Beatles' Blue Album the best Fab Four record?
The Beatles' Blue Album was the definitive compendium of their psychedelic era, which has now been remastered with help from artificial intelligence
It’s now over 50 years since the release of what is arguably the greatest “greatest hits” album ever conceived. 1967-70 (alias “the Blue Album”) was one of two Beatles compilations that came out in 1973, three years after the band’s acrimonious split.
Recently re-released in a deluxe expanded edition, it showcases a group whose oeuvre of 213 career recordings is almost entirely devoid of what other bands call “album-fillers”.
For me, and other denizens of the post-Beatles world, the record was a gateway to musical enlightenment, compressing three years of remarkable creativity into four sides of vinyl. Fifty years on, its stature remains undiminished.

A Blue Album guide to the Beatles' universe

The Beatles' Blue Album sleeve cover
Like all Generation X-ers, I’m too young to remember The Beatles first time around. My discovery of the band came ten years later, when the BBC put on a season of their films over Christmas.
As musical epiphanies go, it was life changing. Within minutes of hearing the opening horns and harmonies of “Magical Mystery Tour” blasting out of our black-and-white TV set, I was hooked. The soundtrack to my life was already written.
Procuring the music was my next dilemma. With expensive vinyl beyond the reach of my teenage finances, my father charitably came to the rescue, borrowing a stash of Beatles records from a friend at work and bringing them home to copy onto tape. 
"It wasn’t just the clothes and hairstyles that changed. The music radically evolved too"
Top of the pile was the Blue Album. I vividly recall sitting in our family living room on a cold evening in January listening to our hi-fi illegally copy “Come Together” and “I Am the Walrus” onto cassette.
As John Lennon sang whimsically about “semolina pilchard climbing up the Eiffel Tower”, I carefully studied the iconic photo of The Beatles on the front cover and then flipped it over to scrutinise a shot of the band six years younger on the reverse.
Looking from one and the other, it was hard to believe they were the same people. It wasn’t just the clothes and hairstyles that changed. The music radically evolved too.

From 1962 mop-top to 1967 psychedelia

In contrast to 1962-66, the more commercial half of the greatest hits compilation, 1967-70 presents a snapshot of the band in transition, free from the rigours of incessant touring and eagerly embracing the influences of drugs, Eastern philosophy, and emerging recording technology.
This was the era of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and The White Album, an age of hyperactive creativity when everything that came out of The Beatles’ Abbey Road studio sounded like an epoch-defining masterpiece. 
From the first haunting notes of “Strawberry Fields Forever” to the final orchestral swell of “The Long and Winding Road”, the Blue Album is a consummate anthology of a group at its creative peak.
There are no weak links. Songs that would mark a career pinnacle for other bands were casually tossed onto EPs and B-sides by The Beatles as they navigated their way through multiple genres—blues, reggae, psychedelia, and avant-garde—rewriting musical history as they went.
Gathering up the best bits, the Blue Album marks the apogee of a cultural renaissance, 99 minutes of some of the most polished and perfect pop music ever committed to vinyl. 

Artificial intelligence polishes the Blue Album

To attempt to surpass this magnum opus might seem hopelessly overambitious to fans of the original record. Why mess with genius?  
The answer lies in modern technology. Armed with nine extra tracks, myriad remixes, and a new AI-enabled Beatles song “Now and Then”, the expanded 2023 edition of the Blue Album seeks to improve upon the sound quality of the original 1960s recordings by utilising updated 2020s equipment.
Producer Giles Martin, son of famous soundman, George, is the person behind the magic and he sets about his task like an expert art restorer scraping the dirt off the Mona Lisa. 
The upshot is a bolder, crisper record that adds significant colour to an already magnificent canvas.
The improvements are particularly pronounced on the album’s six new stereo mixes spearheaded by a vastly enhanced version of “Old Brown Shoe”.
"He sets about his task like an expert art restorer scraping the dirt off the Mona Lisa"
One of the more obscure songs in the Beatles canon, this up-tempo George Harrison number—the B-side to “The Ballad of John and Yoko”—has been transformed by Martin into a bright, spirited romp through blues and ska.
The once muddy bass line has been rendered punchier and more audible, while the super-clear background yelps of Lennon and Paul McCartney lend the song a beautifully authentic live-in-the-studio feel.  
Similar wizardry has been worked on “Revolution”, “I Am the Walrus”, “Magical Mystery Tour”, “Hey Bulldog”, and “The Fool on the Hill”, while nine new bonus tracks, including “Dear Prudence”, “Glass Onion”, and “Blackbird” (all off the White Album) are worthy of their place among the greats.  
Remixed at various stages since 2015, all 28 tracks on the 2023 re-issue have been upgraded from their original format. 

Lennon's "Now and Then", the gift that keeps giving

The final song “Now and Then” is an anomaly, a plaintive Lennon melody from the late 1970s, relatively modest by Beatles standards, given extra zest by lush orchestration and pioneering track separation generated by AI.
Marking another Beatles first, it stands as a fitting coda to a band whose ingenuity, influence and talent is unlikely to be emulated.
So, is 1967-70, really the most perfect album ever produced? In many ways, it’s a moot point. The Beatles barely needed a greatest hits album. Practically all their songs were great.
Yet, with its expanded format and ground-breaking music enhanced by the marvels of modern technology, it’s hard to envisage a better collection of songs by one band on one record. 
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