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ONE FOR THE CYNICS November 17 2000

The Beatles 1 (Apple) £14.99
Reveiw: John Aizlewood


A greatest hits by any other name, but with a title only Elvis Presley could share, the 27-track 1 delivers what it promises: all the Beatles' British and American number one singles, from Love Me Do (one American week on its belated release there in 1964, but still 1's opening track) to The Long and Winding Road, which spent a fortnight on top of the American pile in 1970.

That means 24 chart-toppers, plus three that made up double A-sides. This also means no Strawberry Fields Forever, a British number two that was relegated to Penny Lane's B-side as it climbed the Stateside charts. By virtue of the Beatles' extraordinary American popularity, there are berths for Eight Days a Week, Yesterday, Penny Lane, Come Together and Let it Be. The Americans were slow to catch on, but they were equally reluctant to let go.

1 also equates to an ersatz history of popular music. Of course, this music is mostly wonderful, if over-familiar, but its qualities cannot prevent 1 from being a cynical exercise. We learn nothing new, except that the Beatles both trailblazed musically and established the career template for successful pop groups. Bumbling beginnings (From Me to You is sub-Searchers); hitherto undetectable blossoming (Help! and Eleanor Rigby seem to be the work of a different band entirely); a slide into self-indulgence (not even hindsight can help The Ballad of John and Yoko); the final disintegration - these would be mirrored by almost every subsequent major band. Few, however, would take just eight years to complete their journey, and fewer still would resist the temptation to re-form.

While preferable to unearthing yet more inferior Anthology-style offcuts, 1 remains unnecessary. They were a great singles band, but they were also the first band to understand albums. Their golden period was not just Help!, Eleanor Rigby and Lady Madonna, it was In My Life, Tomorrow Never Knows and Back in the USSR, too. Not that you'd know it from 1, a bowdlerisation that fails to understand the Beatles' legacy.

All of the proper Beatles albums are still available for purchase and all, after Beatles for Sale, tell a more rewarding tale than 1. For completists, the "red" 1962-1966 and "blue" 1967-1970 collections may be skimpy individually, but jointly they are Anna Karenina in comparison to the Jeffrey Archer-esque 1.

Surely the Beatles are a barrel that should not have to be scraped. Treat yourself: buy Revolver or The Beatles (aka the "white" album) instead.

SOURCE: Guardian Unlimited