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Monday, 29 September 2014

The geography of collecting the Beatles

Australian pressing
The Beatles is, of course, history. But when I grew up and started to assemble my Beatles collection, it was also geography. In the late seventies I started collecting Beatles and solo-Beatles records. Since I was in my home country, Norway - you might be forgiven to think that the records I collected were pressed and printed in Norway.
Not so. EMI in Norway had ceased to print their own records for the domestic market, and relied on imports. Most of these were from Sweden, since EMI for a while kept up producing records there, but after a while they closed that pressing plant. So EMI Norway started importing records from Holland.

Meanwhile, the Polygram distribution company was still printing records in Norway, so for some Ringo, George and John titles, Norwegian pressings were available. Those were albums like "Ringo the 4th", "Somewhere in England" and "Double Fantasy". There was even a "McCartney II" record with a sleeve printed in Norway, if I remember correctly. The record inside, however, was imported from Sweden.
Even if I had been staring to collect records back in the sixties, my collection would have been a mix of domestic and foreign pressings. "A Hard Day's Night" was the first album pressed in Norway. Prior to that, I would have had to buy Swedish, Danish or UK imports of "Please Please Me" and "With The Beatles". Even when they did start printing and pressing Beatles albums in Norway, they didn't do that with all of them. "A Collection of Beatles Oldies" would have been a foreign pressing, as would "Magical Mystery Tour", "The Beatles" and "Yellow Submarine". As for EP's, only three of those were domestic pressings, the rest of the EPs found in record shops were from Sweden or the UK.

Now singles was one thing we did press in Norway, and in abundance. I believe there were 34 different Beatles singles released here, all pressed domestically and with individual picture sleeves. But that only lasted up until around 1975. "Mrs Vandebilt" / "Mamunia" was the final domestically pressed single from EMI, from then on they imported singles from Sweden, and after that, from the Netherlands.
The most sought after singles were from the UK, because their covers were more cardboardy than their Dutch or Swedish counterparts. Even the albums had a stiffer cardboard than those flimsy Swedish sleeves. But UK imports were few and far between, in most cases you'd have to go to the UK to find them. I was able to complete my Beatles album collection, but the albums were mainly from Sweden.
EP from France
When it came to solo albums, that was a completely different story altogether. Did you know that in the late seventies, Paul McCartney's (arguably) first album, "The Family Way"  was all out of print everywhere, except for in one country in the world? That's right. If you told your local record shop to get you that album, they would get it - from Australia. So that's the reason why many of us fans in their fifties will have the Australian "Family Way" in their collections. The same went for George Harrison's album "Wonderwall Music". Out of print in every single country in the world, except Germany. So we all have the German edition of that album. John and Yoko's experimental albums, "Life With The Lions" and "Wedding Album" were only kept in print in Japan, and the same applied to George's "Electronic Sound". Although USA pressings of that album wasn't uncommon to find. Fortunately, one of my mother's tenants, a woman who was a few years older than me, had the original UK pressing of "Life with the Lions". I swapped it for my newly acquired Japanese reissue. She didn't care about which country her records came from.

LP from Germany
"Two Virgins"? Forget it. That one wasn't kept in print anywhere, except for with the counterfeiters. My generation all have counterfeits of that album.

But those were the tricky ones. And often they were the final ones you had to get, and only to have a complete collection. You wouldn't actually play them, not more than once, anyway. Except perhaps "The Family Way". One album I was lucky to find in the bargain bin was "Holly Days", a Wings album in all but name. Not to mention "Thrillington", another lucky find. Most people didn't have those. But the rest were easy peasy, mainly Swedish pressing, a few German ones, some USA ones and only the lucky would find a few UK pressings.

As my collection grew and I had them all in stereo, I had to get the Beatles albums again, now in mono. A few trips to London later, I had most - and completed the collection when the mono albums were rereleased in 1982.
Oh, Canada
With the UK album collection completed, my next task was to et a full collection of the USA albums. And. like an answer to my prayer, a record shop in Oslo started to import the cheaper Canadian albums. So I got those, including those early Canadian only releases.

In 1984, I bought my first CD player (thanks to Paul McCartney releasing a CD of Give My Regards To Broad Street with an extra song that was neither on the LP, nor on the cassette), and that resulted in having to get the collection again - this time in that new format. And for some strange reason, I again had to get my collection together from different countries. The solo Beatles albums were released on CD, but some in USA pressings only, and some from the UK. And not the same titles, so you had to cross shop to get them all. And then of course, you had to get both the UK and USA pressing of McCartney's "All the best" because of the different track lists. And you had to get the USA "Band on the run" for "Helen Wheels".

Italy has some of the nicest looking Beatles singles covers anywhere.

Along the way, you'd come across foreign records with nice picture sleeves, and you'd pick up those if you could afford them. The French EPs suddenly appeared at a used records shop in Oslo. I wanted them all, but could only afford one. And the next day, they were all gone.

Now and then, German albums would be available in some shops. And you'd pick them up if you had the money there and then. And everyone was always bragging about how much better the vinyl on the Japanese pressings was, so you'd sample a few of them, as well.

Beatles singles from all over the world.

Along comes ebay, and now you have a smorgasbord of Beatles releases from all over the world to choose from.


George Armstrong said...

The Family Way soundtrack LP went out of print in Australia too, but in 1980 EMI Australia (licensee of UK Decca catalogue)re-released it at around the same time as the McCartney II album. That's the vinyl LP issue most people have.

Tom said...

Fascinating story, Roger! A unique perspective. Shows the lengths that fans will go to collect what they want, and everyone has their own rationales for why they collect what they do.

I didn't get a CD player because of "Broad Street," although I knew about the extra track. It was the 1987 CD releases of the Beatles' catalogue that finally pushed me to go digital.

Sean Roper said...

I'm fascinated with foreign releases. There was a book released a few years ago you posted about, i think it was called The Beatles Covered? Mn I would have loved to have gotten that.

Mr. Paul said...

Here in Australia, the greatest difference in terms of LP releases and covers is the static shots of the June '64 show replacing the glorious gatefold of their 4th " For Sale" album.
See a book by Jaesen Jones on Australian Beatle releases - called "An overview of Australian Beatle releases"