PASSING THE AUDITION The Beatles’ Box of Vision

Designed to house all
your Beatles CDs – and maybe a couple generations’ worth of memories, too.

 

BY FRED MILLS

 

While it may be a cliché to invoke the whole “through the
eyes of a child” notion, there’s a reason the phrase became a cliché: it’s
grounded in real-life experience. Such was the case the other night when I
unpacked my limited-edition copy (numbered #0195 of 7,200 total manufactured,
if anyone cares) of The Beatles’ Box of
Vision
, a 13″ x 13″ x 4″ box ostensibly designed to house all the digipaks
and discs of the new Apple/EMI Beatles stereo remasters but – with its
elaborate design, massive 200-page hardcover book featuring full-sized
reproductions of all the original Beatles LP sleeves, and an additional 28-page
“Catalography” discussing the entire official Beatles discography – is far more
than just a product-holder. It’s a bonafide contraption,
and a damned artful one at that.

 

When Box of Vision was
first announced a few months ago, creator Jon Polk (Executive Vice
President/Chief Operating Officer for Capitol Records during the period in
which Love, Let It Be… Naked and The Beatles Capitol Albums Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 were released) explained, in a statement, “The Beatles invented the rock
album format and it was my goal to help ensure that fans can continue to
discover and appreciate this single greatest catalog of music the way it was
originally created. I have always been frustrated with the available options
for organizing and storing CDs. And, I hated the fact that the beautiful LP
artwork I grew up with was reduced to almost postage stamp size on CDs. The Box
of Vision
gives fans the best of all worlds.”

 

It sure does. First off, it provides flexible plastic compartments
into which you slip, separately, your discs and your digipaks, thereby ensuring
(in theory) you can’t misplace or misfile your favorite Beatles CD; meanwhile,
with the accompanying book, you can stare at 12″ x 12″ page after page of
Beatles LP artwork (both U.K. and U.S.) until you go glassy-eyed. But as luscious
a piece of Beatles swag Box of Vision is – we’ll get to the nuts and bolts of the description momentarily – it took
my young son to drive home one of the central reasons it exists in the first
place. With a simple, “Can we listen to some Beatles and look at that book
tonight?”, he helped me recover, if just for a moment, the same sense of
wonderment and awe I must have felt back in the days when I was buying Beatles
records at the local five-and-dime and playing them to death on my battered old
Magnavox drop-down record changer.

 

More than one reviewer has suggested that such a
fresh/naïve/innocent feeling can’t be replicated any more than you can lose
your virginity a second time, although they also point out that the Beatles
remasters will get you about as close as is humanly possible, and based on my
own listening sessions over the course of the last week or so, I’d have to
agree. If you add to the auditory experience
of rediscovering the Beatles the tactile and visual components, however, you
venture even closer.

 

And for my kid who’s heard plenty of Beatles music in his 8
½ years but never really spent much time sitting cross-legged on the floor in
front of the stereo speakers, flipping an album cover over and over in his
hands, reading the credits and liner notes? He’s
there.

 

I’ll just give you one example. With Sgt. Pepper’s blasting at a non unreasonable volume, we paged
through the BoV hardback, checking
song titles, pausing here and there to note John, Paul, George and Ringo’s
ever-evolving hair styles and attire, etc. He’d seen most of the albums’ front
and back cover art before as we have all of the 1987-edition CD reissues in the
family collection. When we got to the section displaying the Sgt. Pepper’s sleeves (front, middle
gatefold, back), however, he was transfixed: he’d never seen the insert, also
reproduced in full size here, of the Sgt. Peppers Band [sic] cutouts. I explained to him that when the album first came
out, purchasers could literally clip the badges and the military stripes and
affix them, paper doll-style or with the aid of glue and staples, to their
shirts. “And you could just stick the mustache under your nose and look like
Sgt. Pepper,” I advised him, adding quickly, “Not that we’re cutting anything out of this book.” (I’m only willing
to let him and that so-called sense of wonderment go so far.) He glanced at me
just to check whether I was serious, then returned to his gawking, running his
hands over the cartoony images on the page.

 

Needless to say, you don’t get a 12″ x 12″ insert with a CD,
and you definitely don’t get a cut-out mustache when you download an album at
iTunes.

 

Oh yeah: he started hooting when we got to the Butcher Cover
sleeve for Yesterday And Today. Say
what you will about the merits of the U.K.-issued albums’ tracklistings versus
those for the original U.S.
releases: I’ve always felt that the Capitol LP sleeves kicked the asses of the
ones Parlophone/EMI came up with. The first time I saw a picture of a Butcher
Cover my eyes popped out, and so did my kid’s.

 

***

 

Box of Vision (www.boxofvision.com) seduces from the
outside in. The outer box has a hinged hardback exterior- clothbound, tactile –
with embossed Beatles logo plus an inlay of the iconic With the Beatles/Meet the Beatles Robert Freeman-shot cover image.
The top, bottom and right spines depict a photo of, you guessed it, Beatles LP
spines (whoever owned the copy of Abbey
Road
used for the shoot didn’t take all that good care of it, judging from
the bumps and abrasions… tsk, tsk). Open it up and it folds out on the hinge to
reveal 8 two-sided plastic sheets, each side marked with an image of a Beatles
LP; as noted above, it’s designed to let you slide in the CDs and the digipaks
in their appropriate spots, and a helpful instruction insert advises how best
to deal with The White Album digipak,
which of course comes in its own exterior slipcase that has to be dealt with
separately. Note that room has only been provided for the stereo reissues; the
mono reissues come housed in their own box and are not presently sold as
individual discs. Previously purchased titles such as Live at the BBC and the three Anthology volumes that came in jewel cases will obviously have to be broken down in
order to fit the CDs, booklets and tray inlays into their appropriate spots,
but speaking as someone who’s always detested the space-wasting size of the
so-called “fatboy” jewel case, this strikes me as solution, not problem.

 

Of the hardback book collecting the LP sleeves, the
following note supplied to the press is illuminating:

 

 

“The book
alone is an LP size book with all of the Beatles UK and US album artwork (not just the
front covers– almost 200 pages of art) and all newly restored art prints. LP
artwork in the 1960s in particular was very poorly printed, and not much care
was taken for color correctness or consistency across printings. Shockingly,
the original negatives no longer exist and what has been used from very early
was poorly cared for negatives and copies that picked up dirt and
imperfections, yet were still used to print from for years.  Jon Polk
has spent almost a year and half cleaning everything up, color correcting
and recasting it all into pristine, beautiful art prints.  It is stunning
[and] the best version of any Beatles LP art you have ever seen.”

 

 

Well, that’s no hype. I mean, with the exception of an
actual Butcher Cover and those latterday titles such as Let It Be… Naked and the three Anthology volumes which I purchased on CD, I’ve got all the LPs depicted here, and
even I’m knocked out by the visual clarity on display. The book practically demands that you kick off your shoes and
plop down to spend some time with it.

 

That, I can assure you, my son and I most certainly did. To
those of you thinking to yourselves, “Why not just give your children copies of
the actual LPs rather than a facsimile?”, not every kid has a parent who’s been
collecting records since the ‘60s, and not every town has a store that stocks
used albums. Plus, have you checked the going price for a Butcher Cover on eBay
lately?

 

The 28-page “Catalography” is indispensible as well,
offering up a crash course in Beatles record label lore. Preeminent Beatles
historian Bruce Spizer, who’s written numerous Fab Four books (including those
visual orgies The Beatles On Capitol and The Beatles on Apple), provides a
detailed essay on the way the Beatles albums were respectively issued in
England and America and why initially they differed so radically from one another.
For example, everyone is familiar with Magical
Mystery Tour
, and a lot of people in the U.S. know that it originally came
out in Britain as a pair of 7″ EPs; but not everyone knows that the reason
Capitol released it Stateside as an LP was because the label understood how the
EP format never really took hold here as it did overseas. It was a marketing
decision, pure and simple, and in this instance, an aesthetically sound one
too, for the resulting U.S.
MMT included, in addition to the EP
tracks, several Beatles singles. (In the U.K. the Beatles has a general
policy of not including singles on
LPs as they felt they shouldn’t make fans purchase the same material twice.) Try
to imagine listening to the album and not getting “Strawberry Fields Forever” or “All You Need is Love.”

 

Following that general essay, Spizer traces the group’s
trajectory album-by-album (images of U.K. and U.S. editions and variations are
also displayed side by side) via further track notes; more recent fare like The Beatles 1 and Love don’t merit much commentary, but it’s still a comprehensive
overview of the group’s officially released longplayers. A song/album reference
appendix rounds things out.

 

Oh, for the last page, there’s a reproduction of the back
sleeve of Meet The Beatles
autographed by all four members. Wow. That’s not something you see every day.

 

In a press release, BoV creator Polk indicated the project’s title comes from the Tom Russell song “Box
of Visions.” It is “a song from a father to his daughter, wishing he could give
her a box with all the answers in it.  [Polk put BoV together] with the dream that a parent could give this to a
child to start their appreciation of the Beatles: in context of the complete
body of work– not just as a bunch of hits from their parents’ era –
and alongside the LP size artwork and enough history to really engage and
encourage their sense of discovery.”

 

I’d say Polk passed the audition. 

 

Soon enough, I’ll be clearing a space on my record shelf for
Box of Vision, in the “B” section
adjacent to my battered copy of Beatles
’65
, that found-at-a-yard-sale mono copy of Magical Mystery Tour and my pirate edition of the Vee-Jay Introducing the Beatles. But first, my
kid specifically asked that I not haul my remasters and my BoV down to
my record room in the basement just yet. I suspect more listening sessions
await us. Maybe I’ll even pull out my bootleg DVD of the Let It Be film for good measure…

 

***

 

For a “virtual tour” and more information on Box of Vision: www.BoxOfVision.com

 

 

Related reading (1) our
album reviewer A.D. Amorosi examines the concurrently released Beatles
remasters. Go HERE.

 

Related reading (2)
journalist Rick Allen assesses the Fab Four’s lasting significance.
Read”Biggest Band in the World” HERE.

 

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