Beatles at the Beeb
Kevin Howlett is one of the foremost Beatles experts in the world. He wrote the liner notes and is one of the executive producers of the latest double-CD sets Beatles Live at the BBC and compiled and edited Let It Be Naked, which came out in 2003. The first official Live at the BBC reissue was released in 1994 (and just reissued using new sound sources for some tracks) and the newest On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2 came out at the end of 2013. Howlett is the author of the recent book The Beatles: The BBC Archives: 1962-1970 (Harper Design) which looks at the group’s appearances on the BBC and its entire history. The beautiful coffee-table book is housed in a 12-inch, replica tape box and also includes memorabilia connected to the group’s appearances. Unlike the BBC CDs, which primarily cover the group’s earlier period, Howlett’s book covers the group’s entire history. Howlett spoke about his long tenure as the primary curator of the Beatles’ BBC recordings, which dates back to his legendary production of the “The Beeb’s Lost Beatles Tapes,” broadcast in 1988.
SM: Your book covers the entire history of the Beatles BBC radio and television broadcasts, yet the two BBC sets thus far released by Apple only cover up to 1966. Will Apple continue to release more BBC discs without waiting so long and will Apple eventually release all of the appropriately significant performances of good enough recording quality?
KH: I have not heard of any plans to release more discs of BBC material.
SM: The availability of pristine vinyl transcriptions would seem to be one of the best sources for these kinds of projects. Have all of the BBC broadcasts that were pressed on vinyl been uncovered and used as much as possible on the two projects?
KH: All of the songs on the BBC Transcription vinyl discs have been included on the two volumes of Live At The BBC.
SM: The Beatles first U.S. television exposure was on the Jack Paar NBC Tonight Show in January of 1964 of a clip of “She Loves You” from the BBC “Mersey Sound” program. Was there any other Beatles U.S. television exposure of a full performance clip prior to their appearance on Ed Sullivan in February?
KH: I have seen no information that indicates a full performance by The Beatles was shown on U.S. TV prior to the group’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.
SM: Were there any BBC broadcasts in particular that were not included on the first two sets because a good enough sound source has not yet been discovered that you’re still hoping to find and conversely what is your own favorite broadcast performance thus far included?
KH: With the release of the second volume, it is now possible to own 81 of the 88 songs recorded by The Beatles for BBC radio. The missing songs are: “Besame Mucho,” “Dream Baby,” “I Call Your Name,” “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You,” “I Should Have Known Better,” “The Night Before” and “A Picture Of You.” Some of the 88 songs were performed many times, but each of the missing seven was only performed once at the BBC. I have heard recordings made from radio broadcasts of all of them, but my co-executive producer Mike Heatley and I agreed that they fell below the audio quality threshold we had set for On Air – Live At The BBC Volume 2. We would be thrilled to discover good sound quality versions of those seven songs. Interestingly, three were recorded in 1964 and “The Night Before” is from their last ever music session for the BBC broadcast in June 1965. I find it astonishing that even by mid-1964 and 1965 no one at the BBC thought it worthwhile preserving these recordings.
It’s impossible to pick a favorite broadcast performance from the two albums – there are so many gems. However, hearing “Soldier Of Love” for the first time when I began researching this material for the 1982 radio special “The Beatles At The Beeb” was enormously exciting. That Beatles cover version of Arthur Alexander’s record could have graced any of the early U.K.-released Beatles LPs like With The Beatles or Beatles For Sale. It is a great example of the group finding a song that was so obscure in the U.K. and brilliantly re-arranging it for their beat group line-up. John’s vocal is wonderful – passionate yet tender, really soulful. From On Air – Live At The BBC Volume 2, I love the energy and spirit you hear in “Lucille,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Anna” and “Money.” Hearing “I’ll Get You” without the harmonica parts that are on the record is also great. The BBC albums prove that the Beatles were so proficient, dynamic and exciting as a live group.
SM: A new reissue of the first BBC set has been released with some of the tracks taken from better sound sources. What tracks were significantly upgraded?
KH: “Things We Said Today” on the original 1994 release of Live At The BBC was taken from the BBC Transcription radio show Top Of The Pops and has Brian Matthew talking over the introduction. The re-mastered album uses a tape of the song broadcast on the BBC Light Programme show Top Gear. This does not have Brian talking over the introduction, but is the same musical performance recorded on July 14th, 1964. You’ll notice a great improvement in the sound quality of “I Forgot To Remember To Forget.” Two additional speech tracks have been added to the Live At The BBC set. Placed before “Soldier Of Love,” “What Is It, George?” is the original broadcast introduction of George Harrison reading a listener’s request during Pop Go The Beatles. “Ringo? Yep!” restores the original introduction to “I Wanna Be Your Man” heard in the 1964 radio show From Us To You.
SM: There are a great deal of early rock ‘n’ roll and R&B covered through the years, as well as a healthy amount of Buddy Holly and some girl group music. There was only a cover of one Spector-related song. Was the heavy production of Spector productions the reason the group did not cover more of his works?
KH: There is no doubt that they adored records by girl-groups such as The Shirelles, The Marvelettes, The Donays and The Cookies and the way they covered them had a big influence on the formation of The Beatles’ sound. They loved recreating the harmonies on Spector’s song “To Know Him Is To Love Him.” Never underestimate The Beatles’ love of harmony vocals and their great ability when singing harmony themselves.
SM: There are interview discs mentioned in your bibliography. Are they all still available and are they legitimate releases and if so, why weren’t they issued by Apple?
KH: The two Audio Go releases – Paul McCartney – In His Own Words and John Lennon – In His Own Words – are legitimate releases with all the material officially licensed. I am not sure if The Beatles Tapes is still available, but it was released by a major record company – Polydor – on LP in 1976 and on CD in the 1990s.
SM: Were there any BBC broadcasts that included Stu Sutcliffe?
SM: There are a number of Beatles releases that are still not available such as Let It Be, The Beatles at Shea Stadium, The Beatles Story, The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl and even the Christmas messages. Are there any plans to reissue any of these projects and if so are you involved and/or have any particular insights or rough release dates that you could discuss?
KH: I have not heard of any current plans to release them.
SM: There have been BBC broadcasts from other groups from many musical eras released commercially in the past several years. Do you anticipate any releases from other British Invasion or Mersey-beat artists released or a compilation of the best-of these recordings ever released?
KH: The material is really good so I hope such recordings might be released in the future, but I am not aware of any scheduled releases.
SM: Are there any plans to issue a full performance or compilation project of television broadcast performances?
SM: Of all the venues/studios the BBC recordings are taken from, other than Broadcasting House, what venues/studios are still around and feature live concerts or host recording sessions?
KH: The only BBC London radio studio used by The Beatles that is still used to record music is BBC Maida Vale. In fact, Paul McCartney and his band performed there for BBC Radio 2 and BBC 6 Music on October 16th, 2013.
Beatles for Sale
With February of 2014 being the 50th anniversary of the Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show and their first U.S. concerts and visit, a myriad of recent CDs, Blu-ray’s, DVDs and books, on the group have been published. Not all the projects deal directly with the 50th anniversary.
As we discussed above in detail, another double-CD Beatles BBC project has been released, entitled On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2 (Apple). The original 1994 Live at the BBC has also been reissued with new packaging and in some cases tracks with better sound sources used. This new set is wonderful and picks up where the previous release left off in terms of delivering exciting and in many cases rare recordings of the Beatles performing their own early compositions and a myriad of cover versions. All the tracks were originally broadcast by the BBC and were taken from various sound sources, as the BBC wiped most, if not all of the Beatles appearances from this period, which runs roughly from their earliest days with Ringo Starr as their drummer, through 1966.
The other big Beatles reissue project from Apple is the release of the group’s albums as they appeared on Capitol Records in the United States. The project is available as a box set, or as separate albums. The series contains 13 albums in the box and 12 can be purchased as separate discs. This upgrade is a vast improvement over the original two box set reissues, with the superb individual disc packaging. The fact that the original double album, interview recording The Beatles Story is not available apart from the box is a challenge for budget-conscious collectors. Also, the entire controversy over the way the Capitol discs were edited, packaged, remixed and presented both originally and when they were first reissued remain entangled in debate. The debate pits the purists, who prefer the original British releases against those who first remember hearing the Beatles in America in the way they are presented on these discs and the original albums. Nonetheless, since the discs are presented in stereo and mono and boast excellent packaging, hardcore Beatle collectors will want to own some or all of these reissues.
The Beatles: Six Days That Changed The World (Rizzoli) featuring the photography of Bill Eppridge focuses solely on the Beatles initial weeks of their first U.S. visit. This beautiful coffee-table book captures the exuberance, frenzy, joy and madcap spirit of the Beatles, their fans and much more and is one of the best new books out on the 50th anniversary of their initial stateside invasion.
The Beatles Solo (Race Point Press) by Mat Snow is a beautiful gift-book package that will delight fans of the group’s solo period. The coffee-table gift set consists of four individual hardcover books housed in a slip-case. The books give a brief survey of each member’s life and career and boast an array of photos.
Three recent books look almost exclusively on the group’s early days. Tune In: The Beatles: All These Years Vol. 1 (Crown/Archetype), by Mark Lewisohn, is the kick-off of Lewisohn’s definitive trilogy of the group. Comprising more than 900 pages, the book covers the history of the group up until 1962. Lewisohn, who is perhaps the most respected Beatles expert in the world and the author of the indispensable The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, also published a longer version of the book in the U.K. that has surprisingly sold out several editions. When They Were Boys (Running Press), by Larry Kane, looks at the meteoric rise of the group in a condensed and breezy style. Kane is a Philadelphia-based broadcaster and journalist who spent a considerable amount of time interviewing the group early on, which he chronicled in his book Ticket To Ride. Changin’ Times: 101 Days That Shaped A Generation (Parading Press), by Al Sussman, looks at the period from the day John Kennedy was assassinated (November 22, 1963) through just after the group departed from their first U.S visit (March 1, 1964). Sussman gives a sense of America at the time, politically, historically, socially and culturally. It might have been interesting if Sussman had given a day-by-day account of the JFK assassination and its aftermath parallel with the Beatles history of those few months.
Books looking at other aspects of the group’s history have also been released. Beatles vs. Stones (Simon & Schuster), by John McMillian, looks at the two groups’ competitive, yet always very close friendship, as a metaphor for the culture of the 1960s. The Beatles At Shea Stadium (North Shore Publishing) by Dave Schwensen chronicles the group’s first historic Queens, New York concert in August of 1965, with rare photos and ephemera and places the concert in its rightful place as a key moment in Beatles history. Finally, Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock ‘N’ Roll (Backbeat Books), by Robert Rodriquez, painstakingly assesses the significance of Revolver in the group’s evolution and makes the solid case that the 1966 album in retrospect is more important, better and musically revolutionary than Sgt. Pepper.
Here, There and Everywhere
Some recent Blu-rays reflect various aspects of Beatles history.
Help! (Apple), the group’s second full-length feature film, has been reissued on Blu-ray. While not as lauded as the group’s film debut A Hard Day’s Night, the color film is a cheeky romp that’s part A Hard Day’s Night and part Austin Powers. The music is terrific and this reissue features a myriad of excellent bonus features including a 30-minute documentary.
Good Ol’ Freda (Magnolia) has been a phenomenon on the documentary film circuit. This charming story of the group’s fan-club secretary and secretary for Brian Epstein will appeal to both hardcore Beatle fans and anyone who loves a story about a life well lived.
Fans of Paul McCartney will delight in the concert film Rockshow (Eagle Vision), now available on Blu-ray, which captures McCartney’s first big tour with Wings in 1976. This was perhaps McCartney’s first peak as a solo artist and features the first live Wings lineup with his wife Linda, Denny Laine, Jimmy McCulloch and Joe English. Wings over America (Concord) is a reissue of the original three-album set that chronicled the 1976 tour. This new three-disc reissue includes the three albums on two CDs and the bonus film Wings over the World as well as the bonus Photographer’s Pass on DVD. This is another excellent reissue from the Paul McCartney Archive Collection.
Four new releases will be of interest to Beatles fans. Paul McCartney’s New (Concord) is his first solo album of all new material in six years and it’s easily one of his best solo albums in years. McCartney enlisted a slew of producers, including Giles Martin, son of George Martin; Paul Epworth, who works with Adele; as well as Mark Ronson and Ethan Johns, and recorded at various locations to come up with an album that sounds contemporary but retains Macca’s trademark gifts. Yoko Ono released the Plastic Ono Band album Take Me To The Land of Hell (Chimera), her first solo album in four years. At the age of 81 she continues to defy her critics, gain new listeners and appeal to young, hip music fans. Ono’s electronic revolution music is at times jarring and dissonant, but it is also free, joyous and very danceable. Beatles Reimagined (Community Music) is another project to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ first U.S. visit. It features mostly young, up and coming artists covering early Beatles music from the 1963-1964 period. This project is evidence that new audiences will likely continue to discover the group’s music well into the future. Billy J. Kramer, one of the original British Invasion artists, recorded Beatle songs Lennon and McCartney gave to him, recorded at Abbey Road, was produced by George Martin and was managed by Brian Epstein. Kramer’s new album, I Won The Fight, his first in decades, boasts a whole new approach and sound. Kramer is now writing his own songs and his voice had a tough, firey, r&b feel. The song “To Liverpool With Love” was a catalyst in getting Brian Epstein finally elected to the Rock “n” Roll Hall of Fame.