The Beatles
Anthology 3
(Capitol 34452)

The third Beatles Anthology is by far the best, unsurprisingly, since it represents the most fertile period of the group's career and also benefits from having the most interesting material to choose from. The band's final two years (1968-70) produced The White Album, Let it Be, and Abbey Road, not to mention the band's best singles.

This collection compiles outtakes from those albums and fortunately is not gummed up by gratuitous live tracks (since they weren't playing live) or "new" songs (which are nice, but admittedly out of place on a set like this). As such, Anthology 3 is quite a lot more like a bootleg than the other two, which strive to be albums. This is pretty much just track after track of interesting alternative Beatles material, with not too much polish or attempt at a smooth flow.

Disc One consists entirely of White Album outtakes, which are wonderful – each member was writing some of his best material ever, and the creativity flows just as much from these demos and alternate takes. Highlights include Paul's "Junk" (not released until McCartney but originally intended as a Beatles track), an acoustic "Honey Pie" that is utterly charming, surprisingly, an alternate mix of "Don't Pass Me By," which has a lot of grit to it, and the great first version of "Ob-la-Di, Ob-La-Da," (well-travelled on Beatles boots, and to my ears, far preferable to the final version – lots of great percussion and less hamminess).

Lots of these tracks come from demos the boys made at Harrison's Esher estate after returning from India, and even though I am not a wide-eyed Beatle fan anymore, I still marvel at how fucking magical it must have been at that point in the band, with everyone coming up with such amazing music. Although they weren't functioning as a unit, as a pure creative force, they were unmatched.

"Julia," "Blackbird," "Sexy Sadie," "Happiness is a Warm Gun," "Piggies," "Glass Onion," "I'm So Tired," "I Will" – hardly a skimpy trawl for a couple months' work. The genuinely haunting acoustic version of "While My Guitar gently Weeps" may be a Beatles boot cliché, but it's a stunning performance, again, far better than the full-on rock version that made the album.

Other bootleg favorites are "Not Guilty," a fully-finished George song that got bumped from the album and was finally released on his 1979 solo album George Harrison, and the drunken "What's the New Mary Jane," which is John/Yoko musical collage madness. In high school I wanted very much to tart that song up as a pop metal tune, which would work pretty well, though nowadays I don't see that it would really be worth the effort.

Another great moment: Paul, midway through a long session for "I Will," performing "Step Inside Love," a song he wrote for Cilla Black – John is on percussion, and the impromptu rendition morphs into a weirdo bit of ad-lib called "Los Paranoias." What I love about this is that John makes Paul laugh, and it's the only time I've ever heard Paul genuinely laugh without seeming like he wants everyone to think he's cute. A great moment.

Disc Two presents material from the Get Back debacle, which could easily have made a rock-solid four-disc set in itself. The selections are well-chosen, though knowing how much great stuff was not included is kinda frustrating. Many of the tracks that have been included are not too different from the Let It Be versions, but a few are gems: "For You Blue" is loose and cool, and "Teddy Boy" is always a great listen.

The best tracks on this disc are three demos George made on his 26th birthday: "All Things Must Pass," "Something," and "Old Brown Shoe," all of which show that he was out-writing both Lennon and McCartney on a pretty consistent basis, even though he wasn't being given the proper outlet for his songs.

"All Things Must Pass" is simply amazing, and "Something" is pretty jaw-dropping in demo form – by comparison, on my 26th birthday I think I probably cranked out thirty scatalogical record reviews. Of the two of us, Harrison is getting more royalties, though I'm getting stabbed in the chest much less frequently.

Paul's solo demo of "Come and Get It" is one of the all-time best Beatles boots – cranked out in less than an hour and subsequently copied note-for-note by Badfinger. The vocal mix of "Because" is a brilliant demonstration of the boys' seemingly effortless harmonic mastery. A loose version of "Let It Be" seems less plastic than the album version, and predictably the disc ends with "The End," as it surely had to (the final chord from "A Day in the Life" is also tacked on to make the diehards cream their jeans).

Anthology 3 is, like its predecessors, far from perfect, though in this case that stems more from what's not on the disc than what is on it. The flow on this one is choppy, but in a good way – it really seems like this one was aimed at the fans rather than the masses. They probably looked at the declining sales and figured, what the hell, let's at least do it up right if it's not going to sell so much.

The principal drawback to this CD is that it necessitates owning the first two volumes, for anyone like me who gets very nervous with incomplete series within a collection. Of the three, this is the only one I listen to with any regularity.

Review by Billy Zan