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September 29, 2008 | by  | in Music |
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The Beatles – 1

Back in the day when I still had a ‘favourite band’, The Beatles were my favourite band. I’m over that phase now, but they still hold a very special place in my heart, and in my CD collection. And if I had to admit to being nerdish about anything, the Beatles are surely it. It’s embarrassing how many obscure song lyrics and trivial facts I know. But hey, they were the most groundbreaking band of the 20th century.

This collection of all the group’s UK and US number one hits, arranged in chronological order, is simply titled 1, which makes life pretty confusing when you’re trying to talk to someone about the album. It was released in 2000, so it’s been sitting in my CD pile for a while now – and while it used to be a favourite, in recent years it’s been floating to the bottom of the stack. Occasionally I pull it out to play a track or two, but I rarely listen to the whole thing.

It’s not because the songs are bad – they of course represent some of The Beatles’ best work. They’ve just been arranged in a way that is totally unsympathetic to how they actually sound side by side. The selection criteria for the disc aren’t really related to taste or musicality in any way. It’s almost like a reference book, an encyclopedia, as opposed to a novel: it doesn’t play like an album. It has not been arranged to draw you in, to comfort and surprise you at the right moments.

Whether track order matters or not is a continual source of debate, but 1 provides convincing evidence that it’s of vital importance. All of the most popular band ever’s most popular songs ever, in the order that they were released, and they just don’t work as an album. Of course, there is no set method for compiling an album or ordering tracks, but there is a particular sensitivity that must be applied to do it properly, and this is blatantly lacking in 1. It may sound strange, but I think that this album is almost too much of a good thing – it’s presents all of the Beatles’ most catchy, accessible and well known tracks, and there’s nothing darker or more challenging to balance it out.

Also, as a comprehensive picture of the Beatles’ career, 1 fails to satisfy. There’s so much that isn’t covered – the seminal White Album isn’t represented at all, and classic tracks such as ‘Strawberry Fields’, ‘Nowhere Man’ and ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ don’t make the cut either. There’s too much similar-sounding stuff from their early days and not enough from their crazy drug-fucked era.

Of course, no Beatles – or other artist’s – ‘Greatest Hits’ collection could ever be said to be definitive. Every fan has their own idea of which tracks are essential. The only thing that ‘Greatest Hits’ are good for is introducing you to a band, as a stepping stone to getting an album. But if you’re not familiar with the Beatles and need a starting point, I’d suggest skipping this step altogether. Just go ahead and buy a random album – Revolver is a good starting point – because they’re all brilliant. You can’t really go wrong.

So the moral of the review is: down with ‘Greatest Hits’ collections, singles, and downloading single songs! Up with albums – still a relevant art form in the 21st century!

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