In my brief (very brief) survey of the current stream-everything, digital rules pop landscape its fascinating to see how the single, non-album track has become prominent. Fascinating because though a lot of fingers point to streaming and digital as primary reason, you can go back over 40 years and see the same reliance on singles. Collected as a two-disc set, Past Masters not only shows how adept The Beatles were at the form, but also boggles the mind with just how many “hits” in the pop consciousness weren’t actually collected on the studio albums.
My primary use of Past Masters is when I want some catch-all Beatles music but don’t want to necessarily grab one of the proper albums. It’s rare that I reach for a lot of the early stuff, so getting an earful of massive hits like “Love Me Do,” “I Wanna Hold Your Hand, ” and the 50s rock swagger of a song like “I’m Down” remind me of the power the band had straight from the get-go.
But where Past Masters really shines is in the later tracks. “Day Tripper” is a stone cold classic, that opening guitar line so recognizable and surgical in its ability to crawl into your head. You can put some sauce it like Hendrix does in his cover, but there’s not much you can do to alter the power the simple structure brings. Likewise monster tracks like “Don’t Let Me Down, “We Can Work It Out” and “The Ballad of John and Yoko” show that the band never lacked for ideas.
Do I come to Past Masters often? No. Do I think it’s essential when considering the Fab Four’s canon? Absolutely.