The Beatles Release Another BBC Bonanza
Just in time for the holiday season, Apple Records is releasing the Beatles' On Air — Live at the BBC Volume 2. Out Nov. 11, the 63-track, two-CD set — also available on 180-gram vinyl and digitally through iTunes — is the sequel to 1994's Live at the BBC, which has been remastered and repackaged for a simultaneous release.
If that wasn't enough for Beatlemaniacs' holiday stockings, The Beatles: The BBC Archives: 1962-1970, a 336-page book chronicling the Beatles' BBC radio and television appearances, was published in late October by Harper Collins. Written by Kevin Howlett, who also served as a producer on the latest BBC audio release and penned the set's liner notes essay, the elaborate tome comes packaged in a mock tape box, with the cover of the book designed to look like a tape reel.
Separately or taken together, the newly released recordings and the book offer new perspective into the Beatles' early days when the Fabs shoehorned in frequent BBC radio performances in between their relentless schedule of live gigs and recording sessions.
"You may think the Beatles were universally adored, but the audience research reports in the book confirm that's not so," Howlett says. "There's a big dividing line, usually by age. Twenty was regarded as old in those days. It was really the youngsters that loved the Beatles. So you get these comments in the audience research reports that say the Beatles were making 'obnoxious noise' and that they were 'amateur' and 'vastly overrated.' It kind of puts you back in the era."
The book also includes transcripts from interviews in which the Beatles were asked what they were going to do after it was all over, strongly suggesting that their popularity was nothing more than a fad. "Nobody knew that pop music could last, and the group would progress so much and change pop music itself and the way everyone perceived pop music," Howlett says.
Beginning in March 1962, in a little more than three years, the BBC broadcast a startling 275 different Beatles' musical performances in the U.K., often alongside other acts that couldn't have been more different. "Pop music was still part of show business in the U.K. in the early '60s," Howlett says. "So the Beatles were appearing on the radio with all sorts of music — dance orchestras, crooners — fairly tame fare compared to what they were doing. It must have been quite shocking for some listeners to hear some lovely light orchestral piece and then to hear the Beatles do 'Twist and Shout.'"
According to co-producer Mike Heatley, he and Howlett spent two years — on-and-off — going through a number of sources to compile the latest BBC set. Since the BBC didn't save any of the master tapes of the Beatles' performances, they had to turn to BBC Transcription service vinyl discs, tape copies, and even listener recordings of the radio broadcasts. The first BBC album included the obvious choices, so for the second set, the pair had to delve a little deeper. Two previously unreleased gems included on Live at the BBC Volume 2 are the Beatles' live-in-the-studio take of Chuck Berry's "I'm Talking About You," with John Lennon on lead vocals, and Paul McCartney singing lead on the Stephen Foster-penned standard "Beautiful Dreamer."
While some of the songs included on Volume 2 were also included on the first BBC release, Howlett points out that they are different performances, as is the case with the Beatles' take of the Little Richard hit "Lucille." Howlett says, "I think it's valid to have both versions. They're quite different in feel, particularly in the guitar solo."