When the Beatles broke up and went solo in 1970, their albums were great, but none of them set the rock music world on fire.
What if the Beatles had stayed together? What if they used their brand to put out albums of solo material (similar to the “White Album”)? When you listen to these sides and pretend that it’s a Beatles album, a certain magic occurs.
A fantasy album is more than a playlist. In this case, the Red Album is an attempt to re-create the album experience of that time, in which songs were related when played in context, and a concept would emerge to unify them. In the early 1970s, the Red Album could have easily been a 6-sided LP (like George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass), with about 25 minutes or less on each side.
Here are the sides in Apple Music/iTunes, and in Spotify:
Apple Music playlists:
Sides 1 and 2 (LP 1)
Sides 3 and 4 (LP 2)
Sides 5 and 6 (LP 3)
What if the Beatles had buried their differences in 1970, and allowed the evolution of their musical styles to come forth, but within the framework of a Beatles album? From this idle speculation, the “Red Album” was born. (Not the greatest hits album with the red border around the cover — the Beatles, if they had stayed together, would not have put out such a thing.)
This is my fantasy of what the Beatles would have put out: a 6-sided album (3 LPs) with solo versions of songs. An LP (long-playing vinyl record) could hold about 25 minutes on each side. For each side, the artist might sequence the songs to express a concept or story. An essential part of the album experience was that you had to get up from your cozy couch and turn over the LP to play the other side. The equivalent today is separating the sides into playlists.
Why these songs?
I’m a Beatles fanatic. I wanted to put the solo songs together in an album context to see how powerful an album it would have been.
With so much rage and emotion expressed in these songs, especially John Lennon’s quasi-political songs, I took the liberty of calling it The Red Album, and giving it a design that mimics the original “White Album”.
I took into account ideas such as giving George Harrison more songs on a Beatle album than ever before (he had been arguing for that). While outtakes of Beatles sessions provided a basis for some of the choices, I chose the finished, solo album versions for all songs. This is supposed to be a real album, folks, not a collection of unreleased material. Besides, these songs are the versions that the artists wanted to create.
Many of the same musicians (such as Beatles side-men Eric Clapton and Nicky Hopkins) played on Beatles solo records, and George Harrison and Ringo Starr played on John Lennon records. The music is very similar to the Beatles because many of the same people played on them.
Try to imagine it is the Fall of 1972, the Beatles haven’t released an album in two years, there was all sorts of bickering in the press, everyone thought they had broke up, the Let It Be album had been a letdown, everyone wanted the Abbey Road Beatles again.
But then, right before Thanksgiving of 1972, Apple releases a new single, ostensibly a Christmas record:
- Happy Xmas (War is Over)/Give Peace a Chance
Heads turn. Has John gone political? Where’s the rest of the Beatles? Then, comes a second single:
- Too Many People/Man We Was Lonely
Well, has Paul gone balmy? These don’t even sound like Beatles songs. The first one uses studio musicians, and in the second, all the instruments were played by Paul. Well, the Beatles have surprised us before.
A few months go by, and more singles flow:
- Power to the People/Oo You
- Cold Turkey/Early 1970
- What is Life/Love
- Wah-Wah/Oh Woman, Oh Why
Now we’ve got Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr, all on singles.
But the biggest surprise comes in June 1973. A triple-album set is released with the Beatles logo and caricatures, all in red, dubbed “The Red Album” and containing two more sides than the “White Album” (to which it is often compared). The first four sides are all new material, while the last two sides collect all of the singles. It is another triumph, and a musical statement for the new decade.
- It opens with John Lennon’s plaintive folk anthem and his howling rocker about karma and how, like the Beatles themselves, “we all shine on.”
- George strums a quick song in tribute to the groupies outside the studio, affectionally called “Apple scruffs”.
- Paul contributes the best song of his solo career, the gospel love song “Maybe I’m Amazed”.
- George wrote “I’d Have You Anytime” with Bob Dylan, and followed it with the mega-hit “My Sweet Lord”.
- John’s “Jealous Guy” is a reworking of “Child of Nature”, a song that was rehearsed in past Beatles sessions.
- George teams up again with Eric Clapton for “Awaiting for You All”.
- Paul recalls the ballroom medley spirit with “Uncle Albert/Adm. Halsey”.
- John’s mega-hit “Imagine” is joined by Ringo’s first real hit, “It Don’t Come Easy”.
- George brings it home with “All Things Must Pass” which had been rehearsed several times in past Beatles sessions.
- “Mother” is John’s scathing song about his parents.
- Paul’s “Teddy Boy” was also rehearsed in past Beatles sessions and was part of the canceled Beatles “Get Back” album.
- “I don’t believe in Beatles,” sings John in “God”. “Just believe in me.”
- Paul provides a snippet of a song, “The Lovely Linda”, to end side 4 and the conceptual part of the album set — just like the snippets used at the end of other albums.
- Sides 5 and 6 present the singles in an alternate order.
Note: If you want to hear the outtakes that inspired my choices, you can certainly get the excellent Anthology series and the bootleg CDs that may still be available in some stores in the U.S., and are still available in places like Italy and Japan.