50 Years Ago: The Beatles Release ‘Meet the Beatles!’
It may have taken Capitol Records a year to decide to distribute the Beatles in America, but when it did, the label quickly flooded the market with music. The first entry, ‘Meet the Beatles,’ reached shelves on Jan. 20, 1964.
Even though it bore the subtitle ‘The first album by England’s Phenomenal Pop Combo,’ ‘Meet the Beatles!’ wasn’t the first Beatles album to be released in the U.S. That honor goes to ‘Introducing . . . the Beatles,’ which came out on the Vee-Jay label 10 days before Capitol’s record. Starting in early 1963, the Beatles’ U.K. record company, Parlophone/EMI, had been trying to sell Capitol in the U.S. on the group but with no luck. Instead, the company made a deal with Vee-Jay, a Chicago-based label that specialized in R&B, to put out a slightly modified version of ‘Please Please Me‘ that summer.
Vee-Jay was forced to shelve the record on the eve of its release due to financial problems. But toward the end of 1963, Capitol finally relented and made a big marketing push behind ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand.’ Vee-Jay noticed the song’s success and rushed ‘Introducing’ into stores, beating Capitol to the punch by a week and a half.
Capitol fashioned ‘Meet the Beatles!’ by taking nine songs from the band’s most recent album in the U.K., ‘With the Beatles,’ and adding the hit single ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ and both its U.S. (‘I Saw Her Standing There’) and U.K. (‘This Boy’) B-sides. Even Robert Freeman’s famous photograph of the four members was toyed with, given a blue tint to add some color to the strikingly arty black-and-white shadowed shot found on the original cover.
This created a precedent for Capitol of creating Beatles albums out of the band’s leftover tracks and most recent singles. The group was never happy with Capitol’s actions, so, beginning with ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,’ their releases became the same on both sides of the Atlantic.
‘Meet the Beatles!’ was mostly lost to history when the band decided to put out only the U.K. albums on CD in 1987, but the record still has plenty of fans. In 2007, veteran power-pop band the Smithereens released a virtual note-for-note cover of the album called ‘Meet the Smithereens!’