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Past Masters is a compilation album by The Beatles, released in 1988 through Parlophone Records (in conjunction with Capitol Records in the US). Released one year after a massive reissue campaign that brought the iconic Liverpool quartet's UK studio album backlog (plus the US version of Magical Mystery Tour) to the Compact Disc format for the first time, it marks the culmination of the first phase of the ongoing second wave of Beatlemania that ensued in the wake of John Lennon's murder at the start of the decade. In this sense, it's the Beatles' version of New Order's Substance singles compilation released the previous year.

So, why does an odds-and-ends compilation have a TV Tropes page, and why might a fan acquire this collection? Here's why:

  • In the British music industry in the 1960s it was commonplace for singles to be released only as singles, not appearing on an artist's albums. So the bulk of the Beatles' singles, including many of their most famous songs such as "She Loves You" and "Hey Jude", do not appear on any of their thirteen studio albumsnote .
  • The B-sides of those singles of course also do not appear on albums. Some of those B-sides are well known, like "Revolution" and "Don't Let Me Down", and others are obscure, like "You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)".
  • A few songs were released as singles with different takes than appeared on studio albums. Past Masters includes the original single version of "Love Me Do" featuring Ringo Starr on drums. It was pulled from the market in 1962 and replaced with another take featuring a session drummer, and that take is the one on Please Please Me. The single mixes of "Let It Be", "Across the Universe", and "Get Back", all of which are different from the Let It Be album versions, are also included here.
  • This collection includes a few other oddities. The band released an EP called Long Tall Sally featuring four songs— three covers and Lennon-McCartney original "I Call Your Name"— which appeared nowhere else. They are included on Past Masters. Additionally, "Sie Liebt Dich" and "Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand", the German-language versions of "She Loves You" and "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" which the Beatles did at the insistence of EMI, are also included here.

Bottom line is, anyone who obtains this compilation along with the thirteen studio albums by The Beatles will have the complete collection of all music commercially released by the band from their 1962 debut to their 1970 break-up. The album was originally issued as two separate single-CD "volumes" and as a Distinct Double Album on LP; from the 2009 remaster campaign onwards, the double-album omnibus release is considered the standard one across formats, with volumes one and two packaged together on CD, LP, and digitally.


Volume One
"Oh yeah, I'll tell you something I think you'll understand..."
Side One
  1. "Love Me Do" (2:24)
  2. "From Me to You" (1:58)
  3. "Thank You Girl" (2:04)
  4. "She Loves You" (2:21)
  5. "I'll Get You" (2:06)
  6. "I Want to Hold Your Hand" (2:27)
  7. "This Boy" (2:16)
  8. "Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand" (2:27)

Side Two

  1. "Sie Liebt Dich" (2:20)
  2. "Long Tall Sally" (2:03)
  3. "I Call Your Name" (2:09)
  4. "Slow Down" (2:56)
  5. "Matchbox" (1:59)
  6. "I Feel Fine" (2:20)
  7. "She's a Woman" (3:03)
  8. "Bad Boy" (2:21)
  9. "Yes It Is" (2:43)
  10. "I'm Down" (2:32)

Volume Two
"Hey Jude, don't be afraid; take a sad song and make it better."
Side One
  1. "Day Tripper" (2:50)
  2. "We Can Work It Out" (2:16)
  3. "Paperback Writer" (2:19)
  4. "Rain" (3:02)
  5. "Lady Madonna" (2:18)
  6. "The Inner Light" (2:37)
  7. "Hey Jude" (7:08)
  8. "Revolution" (3:25)

Side Two

  1. "Get Back" (3:15)
  2. "Don't Let Me Down" (3:35)
  3. "The Ballad of John and Yoko" (3:00)
  4. "Old Brown Shoe" (3:18)
  5. "Across the Universe" (3:49)
  6. "Let It Be" (3:51)
  7. "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)" (4:19)

Principal Members:

  • George Harrison - guitar, backing and lead vocals, bass, piano, organ, tambura, vibraphone
  • John Lennon - lead vocals, guitar, harmonica, organ, harmonium, percussion, bass, maracas, sound effects
  • Paul McCartney - lead vocals, bass, piano, keyboard, organ, drums, maracas, sound effects
  • Ringo Starr - drums, percussion, backing and lead vocals, cowbell, chocalho, tambourine, bongos, maracas

See how they trope:

  • Album Filler: "Bad Boy" was originally recorded solely to fill out the U.S. album Beatles VI. (Beatles VI was an edited release featuring six songs from Beatles for Sale along with some other odds and ends).
  • Alliterative Title: "Bad Boy".
  • Alternate Album Cover: As shown above, the omnibus and "volume" releases feature variants of each other's cover art to distinguish each other; the omnibus cover would eventually become the "canon" one once its configuration was adopted for the 2009 remaster.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: John Lennon's "Don't Let Me Down". Paul McCartney interpreted it as, "I'm really stepping out of line on this one. I'm really just letting my vulnerability be seen, so you must not let me down."
  • B-Side: This album features a lot of them.
  • Ballad of X: "The Ballad Of John And Yoko", about John and Yoko's "Bed-In" activities for world peace.
  • Blues Rock: "Matchbox" a song built around a bunch of Blues motifs, sung by Ringo, the band's resident Blues aficionado. "Revolution", "Get Back", "Don't Let Me Down", "The Ballad of John and Yoko" and "Old Brown Shoe" also count in varying degrees.
  • BolĂ©ro Effect: "Hey Jude" ends with "na-na-na, na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, hey Jude" repeated over and over, first backed by just the band on their instruments, then with an orchestra added, plus Paul shouting a bunch of ad-libs and improvising on the piano along with them.
  • Break Up Song: "Yes It Is".
    I could be happy, with you by my side
    If I could forget her, but it's my pride
    Yes it is, yes it is
  • British Newspapers: The protagonist of the story within a story in "Paperback Writer" has a son working for the Daily Mail.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: The original CD release of Volume One features white text on a black background, while Volume Two uses black text on a white background. This even extends to the disc art as well, albeit with transparency (which reveals the silver color of the disc's reflective layer) in place of white.
  • Colour Motif: "Yes It Is"
    Please don't wear red tonight
    Cause red is the colour that will make me blue
    In spite of you
  • Compilation Rerelease: A compilation of all officially released Beatles material that did not appear on their albums.
  • Cover Version: "Long Tall Sally", a Little Richard cover. "Slow Down" and "Bad Boy", both Larry Williams covers. "Matchbox", a Carl Perkins cover.
  • Distinct Double Album: The albums consists of two volumes: one covering their 1962-1965 singles, and another covering their 1965-1970 singles. Physical copies of the 2009 remaster hammer this in further, with the label art for disc one replicating a Parlophone Records LP label from the era, and disc two replicating the Apple Records LP label.
  • Double-Meaning Title: Actually a Quadruple Meaning Title, intersecting with Punny Title. Literally, these albums are taken from master tapes that were recorded decades before their release, but they're also "passed masters" in the sense that they were the remaining tracks after EMI issued the Beatles albums on CD, and there's also a double meaning of The Beatles having been accomplished "past masters" of Rock music, and, since they broke up in 1970, they were masters of music that was part of the past.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: "Let It Be" was inspired by a dream Paul had about his mother, who passed away when he was young.
  • Enfant Terrible: "Bad Boy", about a bad boy who doesn't want to go to school or cut his hair short. He just puts tacks on the teacher's chair, chewing gum in little girl's chair, fed the canary to the neighbours' cat, bathed the cocker spaniel in mother's laundromat and is only interested in rock 'n' roll.
  • Enlightenment Superpowers: "The Inner Light".
    Without going out of my door
    I can know all things on Earth
    Without looking out of my window
    I could know the ways of Heaven
  • Gratuitous German: The incredibly rare "Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand" and "Sie Liebt Dich", which are the German translated versions of "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You", made in an attempt to crack the German market. The band wasn't particularly fond of the idea and as they already correctly predicted it wasn't necessary at all, because the Beatles' songs effectively went through every language barrier world wide. note 
  • Greatest Hits Album: Sort of, as it collects most of their hit singles, serving as a substitute for the "Red" and "Blue" compilations that were unavailable on CD at the time. But it's actually a compilation album of every Beatles recording that never appeared on a studio album, so it also includes B-sides and other oddities.
  • Important Haircut: The bad little child in "Bad Boy" ought to get an haircut.
    Going tell your mama you better do what she said
    Get to the barber shop and get that hair cut off your head
  • In the Style of:
    • The guitar solo in "I Call Your Name" has a Ska beat, back when the style had just barely arrived in Britain from Jamaica.
    • "I'm Down" was inspired by Little Richard, one of Paul's favorite singers. (A less charitable description might be that it's a ripoff of "Long Tall Sally", a Little Richard cover sung by Paul that is also on this compilation.)
    • "You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)" sounds more like a The Bonzo Dog Band number than a Beatles song, with The Goon Show as an obvious influence as well (the third section is basically John and Paul doing dual Bluebottle imitations).
  • "I Want" Song: "Paperback Writer".
    Because a need a job and I want to be a paperback writer
  • Lounge Lizard: Paul's "Denis O'Bell" character in "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)", who sounds like a cross between Dean Martin and Bing Crosby.
  • Love Informant: "She Loves You".
    And you know that can't be bad!
  • Lyrical Cold Open: "From Me to You", "Long Tall Sally", "I'm Down", "Hey Jude". "She Loves You", "I'll Get You" and "We Can Work It Out" almost count, with a split-second of music before the vocal starts.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: It includes one of the most fun, upbeat songs they ever did—about a guy in a bad relationship, titled "I'm Down".
  • Made Myself Sad: "I'm Down".
    How can you laugh, when you know I'm down?
  • Minimalistic Cover Art: Just the title in a white/black cover.
  • Moral Guardians: Many American radio stations refused to play "The Ballad of John and Yoko" in 1969 because of the chorus containing the word "Christ" and a flippant reference to the Crucifixion. But the pattern of which cities didn't play the song was very unpredictable. Naturally, the Bible Belt didn't go for it, but top stations in New York and Chicago didn't play it either. But on the other hand, it was a #1 hit in places like Salt Lake City and Omaha. The airplay issues, plus being released just as "Get Back" was peaking, explain its modest #8 peak on the Billboard chart.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Invoked in "Paperback Writer", in which a man who wants to be a paperback writer has written a book about a man who wants to be a paperback writer.
  • Non-Appearing Title: The title doesn't appear in any of the lyrics. "The Inner Light"'s title doesn't appear in the lyrics either.
  • Obsession Song: "I'll Get You", "I Call Your Name", where the protagonist's longing for his loved one is reaching Stalker with a Crush levels.
  • One-Man Song: "This Boy", "Bad Boy".
  • One-Woman Song: "Long Tall Sally", "She's a Woman", "Day Tripper" and "Lady Madonna".
  • One-Word Title: "Matchbox", "Rain".
  • Pep-Talk Song: "We Can Work It Out", about the hope of finding a way out of a heavy argument. "Hey Jude", where a sad person is cheered up.
  • Plagiarism in Fiction: The narrator of "Paperback Writer" cheerfully admits his book was "based on a novel by a man named Lear", which really is Not Helping Your Case in trying to pitch a manuscript to a publisher.
  • The Power of Rock: "Bad Boy", in which the bad little boy's only interest is playing "rock 'n' roll music all night".
  • Protest Song:
    • "Revolution", which argues that violence and extremism hurt the cause of social change.
    • "Get Back", aimed at the anti-immigration laws that were under consideration in Great Britain in 1969.
  • Rain, Rain, Go Away: "Rain" is, according to Lennon, a mockery of this mindset and general excessive griping about weather.
  • Refuge in Audacity: At the time "The Ballad of John and Yoko" didn't receive much airplay, because of Lennon's use of the word "Christ!" as a swear word. This lack of commercial attention is probably one of the reasons why it is the lowest-selling Beatles single in existence.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: "The Ballad of John and Yoko", in which John and Yoko's travel everywhere and are met with scorn, disbelief and venom, until they finally arrive back in the UK and people say "it's good to have both of you back".
  • Shout-Out:
    • "The Inner Light" has lyrics taken from the 47th chapter of the Tao Te Ching (see Taoism). The song itself would inspire the title and premise for the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Inner Light".
      Without going outside his door, one understands (all that takes place) under the sky; without looking out from his window, one sees the Tao of Heaven. The farther that one goes out (from himself), the less he knows. Therefore the sages got their knowledge without travelling; gave their (right) names to things without seeing them; and accomplished their ends without any purpose of doing so.
    • The album covers (all three of them) are a noticeable nod to that of Substance, the New Order singles compilation that inspired it. This is especially the case with the Volume Two cover, which features the same black-on-white appearance as Substance.
    • Peter Brown, Brian Epstein's former assistant who was still handling the band's business affairs at the time, is mentioned by name in "The Ballad of John and Yoko".note 
  • Silly Love Songs: "Love Me Do" (a slightly different version than the official studio release), "From Me to You", "Thank You Girl", "She Loves You", "I'll Get You", "I Want to Hold Your Hand", "This Boy", "Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand", "Sie Liebt Dich", "Long Tall Sally", "I Call Your Name", "Slow Down", "Matchbox", "I Feel Fine", "She's a Woman". The genuine silliest must be "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)".
  • Special Guest: Prolific session keyboardist Nicky Hopkins plays the solo on "Revolution", Billy Preston plays keyboard on "Get Back" and "Don't Let Me Down", Brian Jones plays saxophone on "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)".
  • Stock Sound Effects: A water bird flying away across a river at the start of "Across The Universe".
  • Subliminal Seduction: "Rain" features a tape loop where the singing is played backwards.
  • Title Drop: "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)".
  • Unbuilt Trope: In later years, the standard practice for CD reissues would be to add non-album singles and rarities as bonus tracks on the re-releases of contemporaneous albums (in part due to the success of the David Bowie reissues by Rykodisc in the early 90's, which are generally credited with pioneering the bonus track model). Had the Beatles reissue campaign happened in The '90s or later, that would likely have been the route used for these tracks. But in The '80s, with CDs still in their infancy and the Beatles reissues being a big test-the-waters moment for the format, compiling everything onto separate volumes was viewed as the best way to handle the material.
  • The Unintelligible: The mumbling near the end of "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)".
  • Updated Re-release: The 2009 remaster compiles both volumes into a single double-CD package, using the same cover art as the double-LP release.
  • Walk the Earth: "Matchbox".
    I said I'm sitting here wondering
    Matchbox hole in my clothes
    I ain't got no matches
    But I sure got a long way to go
  • World Music: "The Inner Light" not only continues George's use of Indian classical music motifs in his songs, the instrumental track was entirely recorded in India with local musicians.