Friday, December 4, 2009

Beatles 25: Live At The BBC

An Italian bootleg company called Great Dane had already established a fine reputation for especially reverent multi-disc packages of artists’ live material (which supposedly fell into the public domain gray area sooner than studio outtakes), when they outdid anyone’s expectations with a nine-disc box of every Beatles recording for the BBC then known to exist, in chronological order and best-yet sound. It was as lavish as any label’s official box set—truly a labor of love. So we were very surprised, not to mention skeptical, when Apple announced the imminent release of a two-disc collection of BBC recordings compiled and directed by George Martin. It appeared as promised, and was only held out of the #1 spot by the Pearl Jam album that came out the same day.
Not even trying to replicate the Great Dane set, Live At The BBC supplies all but six selections the boys recorded for radio that were never attempted at Abbey Road, along with live-in-the-studio renditions of songs we know and love, interspersed by witty banter and antics, all in glorious mono. Most of the recordings come from the busy year of 1963, with many covers of their favorites by Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and so forth. The first disc alone includes “Keep Your Hands Off My Baby”, a recording that predates Please Please Me; “I’ll Be On My Way”, a Lennon-McCartney hit by Epstein protégé Billy J. Kramer; a superior rendition of “Baby It’s You”, complete with cold ending and a vocal not hampered by the cold John had during the first album’s sessions; and the stellar “Soldier Of Love”, another gem by John’s favorite songwriter at the time, Arthur Alexander.
The second disc begins with the boys describing their experience making their first film, followed by the title song. This version has the piano break rather obviously dubbed in from the record, with a joke fade that’s priceless. The rest of disc is almost as enjoyable as the first. Another string of rarities from July 1963 begins with a song John would revisit in the ‘70s, “Sweet Little Sixteen”, “Lonesome Tears In My Eyes” includes the riff he pinched for “Ballad Of John & Yoko”, George plows through a fun “Nothin’ Shakin’” and Paul screams another classic that never was, “The Hippy Hippy Shake”. “Kansas City/Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey!” and “Matchbox” are unique for being performed on the radio a full year before either was recorded for EMI, and “Honey Don’t” is sung here by John, not Ringo. The sound quality of “I Forgot To Remember To Forget” leads one to think that Apple used the bootlegs as their source for this collection.
There’s a lot of music here to take in at once. Considering how many times they did some of these songs on the BBC, some contenders certainly had to be left out. We would have preferred fewer songs that sound identical to the standard versions. But as it turns out, the success of the official Live At The BBC gave all concerned the confidence that the next archival project would be just as lucrative. (And it was, though it would be another two decades before another BBC set was compiled, which coincided with a revamp of this one. Some of the songs were upgraded, and the crossfades were less obvious; they also added a speech snippet, replaced another, and stuck on a “closing theme”.)
From a fan’s standpoint, it was great to have some “new” Beatles music, and just in time for Xmas, too. Listening to Live At The BBC, one couldn’t help being swept up by the overall sense of fun and excitement in each and every one of the tracks, and particularly the interview snippets. And that, of course, is just another reason why the Beatles were so special. They still make us happy.

The Beatles Live At The BBC (1994)—4
2013 remastered CD: same as 1994, plus 3 extra tracks (and minus 1)

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