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Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Beatles: On Air - Live At The BBC Vol. 2

THE BEATLES: ON AIR: LIVE AT THE BBC VOL. 2 (1963-1966; 2013)

CD I: 1) And Here We Are Again (speech); 2) Words Of Love; 3) How About It, Gorgeous? (speech); 4) Do You Want To Know A Secret?; 5) Lucille; 6) Hey, Paul... (speech); 7) Anna (Go To Him); 8) Hello! (speech); 9) Please Please Me; 10) Misery; 11) Iʼm Talking About You; 12) A Real Treat (speech); 13) Boys; 14) Absolutely Fab (speech); 15) Chains; 16) Ask Me Why; 17) Till There Was You; 18) Lend Me Your Comb; 19) Lower 5E (speech); 20) The Hippy Hippy Shake; 21) Roll Over Beethoven; 22) Thereʼs A Place; 23) Bumper Bundle (speech); 24) P.S. I Love You; 25) Please Mister Postman; 26) Beautiful Dreamer; 27) Devil In Her Heart; 28) The 49 Weeks (speech); 29) Sure To Fall (In Love With You); 30) Never Mind, Eh? (speech); 31) Twist And Shout; 32) Bye, Bye (speech).
CD II: 1) 1) I Saw Her Standing There; 2) Glad All Over; 3) Lift Lid Again (speech); 4) Iʼll Get You; 5) She Loves You; 6) Memphis, Tennessee; 7) Happy Birthday Dear Saturday Club; 8) Now Hush, Hush (speech); 9) From Me To You; 10) Money (Thatʼs What I Want); 11) I Want To Hold Your Hand; 12) Brian Bathtubes (speech); 13) This Boy; 14) If I Wasnʼt In America (speech); 15) I Got A Woman; 16) Long Tall Sally; 17) If I Fell; 18) A Hard Job Writing Them (speech); 19) And I Love Her; 20) Oh, Canʼt We? Yes We Can (speech); 21) You Canʼt Do That; 22) Honey Donʼt; 23) Iʼll Follow The Sun; 24) Green With Black Shutters (speech); 25) Kansas City / Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!; 26) Thatʼs What Weʼre Here For (speech); 27) I Feel Fine (studio outtake).

General verdict: Pitiful, really. Just pitiful.


Look, we get it, many of us still have these delightful sexual fantasies of waking up in bed with a brand new Beatles album. But when the original Live At The BBC was officially released in 1994, for all its relative freshness and historical importance it was not for nothing that the compilers actually selected material from several preserved shows, rather than simply taking the first few in their entirety and saving the remaining ones for later. They were actually working on choosing the better takes, the less heard rarities, even the funniest studio banter between the boys and their BBC host Brian Matthew. And back in 1994, there were clearly no plans in the air for a sequel: they took the best and let the worst lie.

Who would have guessed, alas, that either popular demand, or corporate greed, or both, would ascend to such lamentable peaks by the second decade of the 21st century that Apple would renege upon its unspoken pledge, and make the «dregs» officially available as well? Well... okay, anybody with the most basic predictive powers and a healthy amount of cynical attitude most probably could. And in all honesty, there is nothing inherently wrong in making the entirety of archival content preserved from the greatest pop band of all time publicly available. But this is simply not how you go about it.

If you want to have a proper historical document, what you actually do is take all the stuff, arrange it in proper chronological order and release it, as a «deluxe package» or «special limited time release only» whatever. Such a Live At The BBC Complete Edition would be objectively unimpeachable — aimed at history buffs, mostly, but actually doing its job properly for all the history buffs, you know, the way they do with all those latest mammoth-size King Crimson or Bob Dylan releases. On Air does precisely the opposite: it gives you a chronologically bizarre mish-mash of mostly second-rate performances that were rejected the first time around, leaving the completist still yearning for more and the more casual fan confused as to what the hell s/he has just been offered.

If, for some reason, you have never heard the original Live At The BBC, you will find here many live versions of Beatles classics that are inferior to the studio originals, but worth hearing just for that special brand of youthful Beatles enthusiasm that still oozed out of the Fab Four even within the confines of a radio program. If, for some totally incomprehensible reason, you have never heard any songs from the Beatles, period (or, at least, their early period), On Air is, of course, a five-star album, because hearing these songs even with flubbed notes and occasionally off-key vocals still does not detract from their ultimate greatness. But if you are saddled with all that experience, well, I am sad to say that:

(a) the only two completely «new» songs are a cover of Chuck Berryʼs ʽIʼm Talking About Youʼ and of Tony Orlandoʼs interpretation of the old standard ʽBeautiful Dreamerʼ. Both are taken from early 1963 performances for Saturday Club, featuring very shitty sound quality. Chuckʼs song at least features a credible John performance, but also shows how little suited George was to the position of a lead guitarist in a blues-rock band — the Stones kick the shit out of them with this kind of material anyway. ʽBeautiful Dreamerʼ is about as good as ʽMy Bonnieʼ was, which is hardly a compliment. Thatʼs all you get, folks;

(b) the absolute majority of the other songs was already featured on the original Live At The BBC — at worst, in equally competent versions, at best, in vastly superior ones as far as playing and recording quality were concerned. Sure, I only really listened to the album once, and I may have missed some subtle cute nuances every now and then, but who really expects subtle cute nuances from the Beatles in concert?;

(c) of the numerous bits of studio banter between the boys and Matthew, I do not remember even a single one that would match the occasional humor and wittiness of the original. Most of this is just stupid trash-talk that needed to be spoken because you had to say something into those mikes, and you couldnʼt always be expected to come up with something funny and/or intelligent even if you had the dirty mind of a John Lennon. Oh, they sing "Happy Birthday Dear Saturday Club" at one point. If that ainʼt a true Beatles highlight, I donʼt know what is.

Honestly, it is a little sad to realize that this might be the final review for the final official album release of previously unheard Beatles material — even sadder to realize that this might not be such a final review, because who knows what the future still has in store for us. Having Fun With The Beatles On Stage? Eight Hours Of Relaxing Nature Sounds — The Beatlesʼ Footsteps On The Threshold Of Abbey Road Studios? The Beatles Live At Wherever There Was No Recording Equipment In The First Place, But You Can Feel Their Presence All The Same? Come to think of it, the possibilities are endless.

In the meantime, do not waste your time on this shameless scam. There is actually a 9-CD bootleg edition out there called The Complete BBC Sessions, which does precisely what I was talking about — collect everything the band did in chronological order and provide you with a wholesome, historically cohesive perspective, if not necessarily give you nine hours of thorough musical enjoyment. Just get your thieving hands on this package instead, and show those money-grabbing capitalists at EMI what social justice, artistic taste, and personal accuracy are all about.

7 comments:

  1. I find the way the Beatles's archival material has been handled very odd. They release things like this when there are still unreleased tracks like Love of the Loved, Sour Milk Sea (band version), One and One is Two, Goodbye, Bad to Me, or even jams like Watching Rainbows.

    Admittedly the unreleased Beatles material doesn't measure up to what they did release, but there would certainly be a market it and it would definitely be more interesting than releases like this. Oh well, there's always YouTube.

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    1. edit: my mistake, the "band version" of sour milk sea I was thinking of was from bootleg that matched the Lomax backing track with George's Escher demo vocal.

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  2. Yeah, never been a fan of this album myself. I mean, it isn’t unpleasant, but painfully boring at parts for me.

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  3. For those of us who refuse to use FB, can we get an update on the color scheme changes and review schedule elsewhere? They seem to have changed somewhat.

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    1. A bit later, if you please. The schedule has not properly stabilized yet.

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    2. Just some ideas for a schedule: review one artist you have never reviewed before and another where you opinions have completely changed. Then maybe spend the rest do the time making formal pages? Just ideas.

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  4. Oh my comment got lost. Well I was saying that Pop Goes The Beatles impressed me a lot as a kid when I heard it on the radio. "Clarabella", "Lend me Your Comb", "Soldier of Love" (specially!) were fun.. AND NEW! I guess the BBC Tapes need some personal intervention to create a good playlist.

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