In Richard Linklater‘s 2014 film, Boyhood, Ethan Hawk‘s character gives his son a CD-R mix he calls The Black Album. Not to be confused with the Jay Z album, or the legendary unreleased Prince album, this is a collection of solo Beatles tracks combined to make a “new” Beatles album. This is something I’ve been toying with since the days of cassette. I remember in the early days of Microsoft Paint, at around age 12, I made an updated version of the Let It Be cover, with the 4 squares with each Beatle – but using pictures from the 1995 Anthology era (and a 1980 picture of Lennon). Nerdy. There wasn’t even music involved. But just seeing all the guys together gave me some form of continuity, or even comfort. And I remember attempting my own CD-R mix in my early 20s. But I had very limited resources, as I didn’t have many of their solo albums. I’ve always been a Lennon guy, so I had those, but didn’t have much for the others. But now with Spotify, it’s become WAY easier to really take on an ambitious Post-Beatles collection.
Unlike Ethan Hawk’s mix, I put a number of rules on the project, to try and lend some credibility to the endeavor. First of all, John died in 1980, so I think it’d be unfair to include tracks from the other guys after that. This collection presupposes that the band kept going for one more decade. Second rule, no major hits. Again, unlike Ethan Hawk’s mix, you’re not gonna hear My Sweet Lord next to Imagine next to Live and Let Die. As tempting as that would be, it would completely take me out of the idea that this is an album. It would merely feel like a hits collection. And one of the great things about the Beatles was they had singles and then they had albums, and they rarely crossed over. And collectively the guys all had a lot of hits in their solo years, so this restraint actually helps narrow the focus. Another rule was giving each Beatle equal space. This ultimately was a big factor on the Beatles break up, there wasn’t enough space on an album for all of John, Paul and George by 1970. They were all on major writing streaks, and even Ringo brought in his best original with Octopus’s Garden on the Beatles swan song, Abbey Road. George only got two songs on that album and they were two of the best tracks on the album, Here Comes the Sun (the most streamed Beatles song on Spotify) and the majestic Something, the most covered Beatles song other than the ubiquitous Yesterday. So this collection gives each Beatle more space than any Beatles album. Going in the order of Ringo, George, John and Paul.
A couple things of note – you’ll notice Ringo only has 9 songs, while the others have 11 each – there was only so many great/good Ringo songs, and this felt like a more than fair amount of Ringo compared to a typical Beatles album containing 1 each (or 2 for the White album). But I bring him back at the end of the mix with “Dream” arranged by George Martin, which felt like a very Beatles thing to do. And of course, he’s represented as a drummer on a number of John and George’s songs. I broke the rule on no hits for Ringo too because even his popular songs aren’t as familiar to modern ears as Lennon, McCartney or Harrison’s big hits of the era. I bent the rule of nothing past 1980 a couple times with George. Including 1982’s recording of Circles, I validate that because he wrote the song in 1968 in India, so it would have been a song in the running for all of his (or potential Beatles) albums of the 1970’s. And also I chose George’s 1992 re-recording of This Guitar (Can’t Keep from Crying), which is a much better vocal performance, and a more Beatle-esque recording than the original from 1975’s Extra Texture. So the hard work has been done for you, I’ve weeded through all the 70s solo albums, and these are the choice (mostly lesser known) nuggs. With 42 songs, this would be the equivalent of them putting out an album every couple years throughout the decade, about 3 or 4 albums. Enjoy!