In a woodsy, manufactured-home park in Novi sits one of the most complete Beatles music collections in the country, maybe even the world.
We spent Sunday afternoon treating our ears to glorious Beatles outtakes, rehearsals, demos and in-studio monkeyshines. The collection is so extensive, in fact, that there is only one Beatles collection that Fab Four authority Michael Anderson concedes betters his own.
“I know ‘Three’s Company’ actor John Ritter is a huge Beatles collector,” Anderson says. “I know his is bigger than mine, but I’ve never met anyone with a bigger collection than my own.”
Anderson’s assemblage runs the Beatles gamut, starting from unreleased tapes of the Quarrymen, to the Silver Beatles, to the Beatles, to solo Beatles. All Beatles, all the time.
The vinyl-and-CD collection was recently appraised at more than $60,000. There are thousands of pieces from around the globe: A Russian mint copy of Rubber Soul; Paul crooning “Get Back” in both French and German; a German version of Magical Mystery Tour; a vinyl version of McCartney’s Flowers in the Dirt, complete with the bassist’s personal etchings on one side of the album; campfire versions of White Album songs recorded in George Harrison’s living room; green and orange apple-shaped picture discs; George Martin coaching McCartney on his sinuous manner of phrasing a lyric, and on and on.
Anderson owns two copies of the Beatles’ crown jewels — both the mono and stereo Yesterday and Today baby butcher covers. Each on the current market would fetch $10,000-$15,000. Anderson keeps the copies in a safe deposit box at a nearby bank.
“I bought one of those for a quarter at a garage sale,” quips Anderson. “I said, ‘How much do you want for this old Beatles record? The guy goes, ‘Oh, give me 25 cents.’”
He is wearing a gray T-shirt with “Army” emblazoned across the front. The shirt isn’t ironic. Turns out the Beatles maniac, who works nights in a factory, might see active duty in about “a month or so” should George W. decide to shoot seed all over Iraq. He’s part of the military police in the Michigan National Guard.
The 42-year-old has penned articles on the Beatles for music collector magazine Discoveries. He’s been hoarding Beatles music for 32 years and he dotes on his collection like a proud papa.
Anderson’s family includes his wife of 10 years, Christine, and two children — Sarah, 6, and Justin, 5. At one point Justin strolls into the living room and sings along to a blasting “Paperback Writer,” his face beaming a world-revolving grin.
Does Anderson’s obsessive Beatles collecting — which is a never-ending process — ever clash with his fiscal duties as a parent?
“I look at it [the collection] and think what I could have,” says Christine with an uneasy laugh.
Anderson is vague when asked how much he’s paid for certain items. Sometimes he just smiles. He gets stuff from all over the world. He says he trades with a one-time Capitol Records exec and also has connections with a former Abbey Road employee.
“There are a couple of people here in Detroit that deal with the stuff. I meet them at a mall, have a few drinks. Of course, I can’t give you their names.”
Master reels stolen straight from the Abbey Road studios in the ’60s reveal a mother lode of insight into the mechanics and song workings of the Fab Four.
Pre-George Martin renderings of Beatles songs are far more in your face, more slap-racket rock ’n’ roll, with a whimsy that is absent on many of the legitimately released recordings. Anderson cranks the unreleased third version of “I Got a Feeling” from the Beatles self-imploding Let It Be rooftop gig. You can hear the wind in the vocal mics. “Hear Preston! Listen to George’s guitar at the end!” He nods his head proudly. “I just want the world to hear this stuff.”
On a George Harrison boot of All Things Must Pass outtakes — an elaborately packaged, completely remastered, original-source CD — we hear the quiet Beatle composing the autumnal “Wah Wah” in fits and starts. It’s a mess of innocence, trial and error, with only an acoustic guitar and Klaus Voorman plodding along on bass.
“All the Beatles believed that the music came through them,” continues Anderson with the finesse of a late-night 1970s FM free-form DJ. “You got to remember this was the ’60s, and music then wasn’t so locked away.”
But the fleeting nature of bootleg labels and the recent FBI crackdown on illegal recordings make it nearly impossible for bootlegs to maintain any sort of shelf life.
Says Anderson, “75 percent of what I have is irreplaceable. I don’t even play my vinyl anywhere. It’s too rare.”
In the late ’80s, Anderson hosted a popular radio show on 94.7 FM WCSX called “Beatle Boots.” He would spin booted Beatles material 15 minutes a day. At one point, he says, the station received a cease-and-desist order from Capitol Records. To appease the label, the station had to prove that the show was commercial-free. It did. The label reluctantly gave its OK.
The show lasted a year before Anderson walked for personal reasons. Now he’d like to see the show back on. He claims WCSX is far too corporate now and lacks the balls to air such a show, saying, “CSX needs a kick in the butt.”
Anderson maintains that he has met all four Beatles, even Lennon, whom he met during Lennon’s reclusive Dakota days. He once played McCartney a version of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” from an acetate that was stolen from McCartney’s St. John’s Wood home. The song’s rarity is telling; it was recorded when Harrison was in the hospital. The demo features Lennon on bass with McCartney on guitar singing Lennon’s lead vocal. McCartney wanted to buy it.
Could Anderson be accused of irrational fandom?
“You know, everybody needs to do something or they’ll go crazy. Getting rid of the collection would be like cutting off one of my arms. With this, it’s the closest way I can get to be in the studio with the Beatles.”
Rather than fielding offers from bootleg labels for release deals, Anderson says that he’s perfectly happy cutting his own CDs and “selling ’em for 10 bucks.” Which he does. He sells the CD-Rs at record shows.
“I want to share this with the outside world.” He stops, contemplates what could be an internal strife and adds, “I say I have morals, but I have boots.”Brian Smith is the Metro Times music editor. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org