We can’t fathom, at a distance of 50 years, just how all-encompassing was Beatlemania during the middle of the 1960s. The Beatles charted a staggering 30 songs in the States between February 1, 1964, and January 2, 1965. And beginning in January 1965, the Beatles would score nine straight #1 albums over the next four years. Nine albums in four years is a lot by modern standards. What’s even more astounding by modern standards is the dozen Beatles albums that charted in 1964 alone. Six of them are relatively famous: Meet the Beatles, Introducing the Beatles, The Beatles’ Second Album, A Hard Day’s Night, Something New, and Beatles ’65. But what about the six other Beatles albums to land on the album charts that year? With one exception, they represent attempts by record labels other than Capitol, the Beatles’ main label, to cash in on the phenomenon. Here they are, in chronological order:
—The Beatles With Tony Sheridan and Their Guests. An MGM release with four songs by Tony Sheridan, backed by the Beatles: My Bonnie, Cry for a Shadow, Why, and The Saints, a version of When the Saints Go Marching In, all dating back to Hamburg. The album contains other tracks by Sheridan with the Beat Brothers—who are not the Beatles on these recordings, although My Bonnie was released as a single in some countries as Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers—and filler from a band called the Titans.
—Jolly What! The Beatles and Frank Ifield on Stage. This was one of several attempts by the Chicago label Vee-Jay, which had released the first Beatles records in the States, to cash in before its rights expired. It’s an insane coupling of four Beatles tracks already released as singles by Vee-Jay with eight songs by Frank Ifield, a British singer who had scored a couple of minor American hits. Despite the title, none of the songs are live performances.
—The American Tour With Ed Rudy. Like several others, Ed Rudy, reporter for something called Radio Pulsebeat News, claimed to be the Fifth Beatle. He also said he was the only reporter to accompany the Beatles for all of their first 1964 tour, which he probably was not. His album is a broadcast documentary consisting of “interviews” with the Beatles, often Rudy shouting questions in the various press gaggles the band held on the road. A second documentary album failed to chart.
—The Beatles vs. the Four Seasons. Another Vee-Jay cash-in, “The international battle of the century . . . each group delivering their greatest vocal punches.” The gatefold album package contained a score sheet and was emblazoned with the words, “You be the judge and jury!” It was Introducing the Beatles, Vee-Jay’s lone Beatles album, packaged with Golden Hits of the Four Seasons, without changing the labels on either disc to reflect the title of the album package.
—Songs, Pictures, and Stories of the Fabulous Beatles. Yet another Vee-Jay reissue of Introducing the Beatles, in yet another cover. Charted three weeks after The Beatles vs. the Four Seasons.
—The Beatles’ Story. An official Capitol release, this is a two-disc documentary album about the band featuring interviews, press conferences, and bits of music.
There’s one other early release of note before Beatles’ releases settle down into a more consistent pattern. In the spring of 1965, Capitol charted with The Early Beatles—their own reissue of the Vee-Jay material that had been put out so many times before.
One wonders how many people bought Jolly What!, Introducing the Beatles, The Beatles vs. the Four Seasons, Songs, Pictures and Stories of the Fabulous Beatles, and The Early Beatles, getting the same music over and over again. Anyone who did, and who has kept the albums may be having the last laugh today. The Beatles vs. the Four Seasons and Songs, Pictures and Stories have become pricey collectibles. Pressings of Jolly What!, with a drawing of the four Beatles on the cover, are among the most valuable collectibles in recording history. A sealed copy was offered for sale a few years ago at $25,000.
(From the archives of my work for the now-defunct WNEW.com, slightly edited.)