I remember the first copy vividly.
Bentleigh Sewing and Records, that oddest of retail combinations, lurked down the western end of Centre Road, owned by veteran sole-trader Bill McAndrew. Those entering his domain seeking records had first to negotiate the labyrinth of sewing machines and associated paraphernalia that crammed the front of the shop. As you wove in and out of the machines—Singers to the right of you, Husqvarnas to the left, a phalanx of Janomes dead ahead—you entered an uncertain zone where haberdashery mingled with cassettes. That’s where I first stole from Mr McAndrew, slipping a mediocre Elvis cassette into the inner pocket of my parker… but that’s another story.
Further south, music asserted its dominance with grey metal bins jammed so full of LPs that it was impossible to leaf through them. Early jazz was a speciality of the house; the owner imported them from the US to serve a small but dedicated clientele. Against the back wall were a couple of trestle tables loaded with second-hand records. I cannot now recall whether they were in any kind of organised state, but given the general chaos of the shop, it seems unlikely.
On the right was a tiny desk with a telephone and a pile of papers. Here sat the owner when he wasn’t showing customers the latest in over-locking sewing machines or talking early jazz with a grizzled collector. Out the back was an equally disorganised galley, but I didn’t see that until I started working at Bentleigh S and R part-time year or so later. By that time I’d graduated to filching Mr McAndrew’s records, but that’s another story.
The purchase I’m looking at as I write—five dollars and ninety-five cents, if memory serves—is a well-played copy of The Beatles, an Australian numbered copy pressed in 1969. A visual inspection showed that it had been played a lot before it came home with me, but I wasn’t fussed. The speakers on my first stereo were neither high (being only 50cm tall) nor did they exhibit any noticeable signs of fidelity. The album still had the poster (with the collage and the lyrics) even though the portraits must have remained taped to someone’s bedroom wall.
The Beatles was a revelation. I could sense some songs were really lovely, in particular George’s ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, though at the time I was drawn more to the simpler, rockier tracks: ‘Birthday’, ‘Yer Blues’, ‘Revolution 1’. The experimental ‘Revolution 9’ I found, I must confess, quite scary. Side four was played less.
Years passed, compact discs appeared. Being an inveterate bargain hunter, I was well-acquainted with JB Hi-Fi, a much smaller concern back then than now. Legendary for its mark-down policy (if it isn’t selling, slash the price), JB was a major source for my burgeoning CD collection. So when I found—one hot January day, as I recall—the complete Beatles on compact disc in the wooden roll-top box, at a price too good to refuse, well I did not walk away. After all, I didn’t have all the albums. An incomplete Beatles collection? No way.
It was the late eighties; I’d just started working as a counsellor in a TAFE college. I was unattached following a disastrous first attempt at co-habiting. Hearing all those White Album songs in two long sets was almost overwhelming. Seventeen tracks on the first disc, thirteen on the second. I remember loving ‘I’m So Tired’ and cursing Sir Walter Raleigh. ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ seemed sexy and suggestive, as did ‘Why Don’t We Do It In The Road’. I really wanted to find another relationship, but that would take a while yet.
How did I justify purchasing the mono CD box set? Probably the fact that I’d never owned much in mono and it was well-known that was the way to hear the early albums. The stereo mixes were an afterthought. But that wasn’t the case for The Beatles in late ’68. Whatever. I found a Japanese edition on-line for a good price and put in the order. It was 2009, probably late at night.
The CD facsimile of the White Album was nice, but not very robust. The cover seams came unglued the second time I extracted the discs. Disappointing. And the Lennon photo portrait was missing. Double disappointing. I thought about complaining but gave up the idea almost immediately and focussed, once again, on the music. I remember enjoying ‘Revolution 9’. I remember filling up when ‘Goodnight’ closed out side four because I’d been singing it to the boy as a goodnight lullaby for all four years of his life.
When The Beatles vinyl box set was released, with much fanfare, in 2012, I was tempted. But it was an expensive ticket. Then, a miracle! Ms Connection’s mother made a substantial donation to the VC coffers and Shazam! Box set ordered. ‘You say it’s your birthday, it’s my birthday too, yeah’. I sent her a photograph with a thank you note.
When I first took out The Beatles I remember thinking, ‘Now I’ve got all the White Album photos’. Proper size too. I also remember thinking, ‘That’s four copies.’ Felt a bit embarrassed. It’s not as if I’m doing an art installation of the damn thing.
And when the jet faded from ‘Back In The USSR’ into ‘Dear Prudence’ and when that superb song slipped into ‘Glass Onion’ I almost forgot how much I hate ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’. Don’t like ‘Piggies’, either. Seems a bit rich for a millionaire rock star to be pointing the satirical finger at the bourgeoisie. You know, those upstanding types owning multiple copies of things and having a history of petty crime. But it’s the White Album and there’s always something new to notice. This time it was the exquisite pair ‘I Will’ followed by ‘Julia’. And ‘Savoy Truffle’ being better than I remembered.
It’s the end of 2018; there’s a fiftieth anniversary re-issue of The Beatles. The buzz is loud. and the business I write for has been shifting serious units of The Beatles’ ninth studio album. I found myself offering to write a post in exchange for the 4 LP boxed set. I mean, it’s the first time the Esher Demos have seen official release.
You can never have too many White albums.
[Read more about The Beatles and the Esher Demos in VC’s Discrepancy review, here]