Review: The Beatles’ BBC albums

The two CD albums are available as a double boxed set. Photo: © Apple Corps Ltd

Review by Anna Crusis

The Beatles:

Live at the BBC (Remastered for 2013, originally released in 1994)

On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2 (new for 2013)

Like many people I am enjoying the two new BBC releases from Universal Music, one being a completely new collection of material and the other being a remastered-from-scratch update of an older title. But do these new discs have anything to offer to the seasoned fan? Surely most of these tracks have already been on bootlegs for years? But wait – there’s good reason for grabbing these two titles, as you’ll see.

First of all, there are loads of upgrades. The BBC have access to many high quality tapes that have been out of the reach of bootleggers for many years. Some of these upgrades are drastic, some are slight but there was enough of them to bring a huge smile to my face for a couple of hours. And the old tracks from the ’94 set sound much better too. There’s so much more life to them. There are occasional telling signs of tape wear and damage, but you’ve got to expect that with 50 year old recordings, many of which were never archived properly. I think it goes without saying that we all prefer to hear the tapes warts and all, without the NoNoise.

My own favourite beatle period is 62-63, so this new set is manna from heaven for me. Some of the tracks that blew me away include Till There Was You, Chains, Twist And Shout, PS I Love You, Please Mr Postman, Words Of Love, Please Please Me, Anna, Ask Me Why, Devil In Her Heart and Sure To Fall. There’s also a neat upgrade of You Can’t Do That from Top Gear, with the original Brian Mathew voiceover intact (I’d been afraid they’d cut it). There’s other great sounding tracks too, of course, but the ones above are the ones that really stood out for me as being significantly improved.

Amongst the old tracks, songs like I Got A Woman, To Know Her Is To Love Her and Nothin’ Shakin’ really come alive without the heavy handed noise reduction. The fades are also longer, so a track like Don’t Ever Change isn’t cut short before it’s finished, and the final chords of A Shot Of Rhythm And Blues and Ooh My Soul are allowed to decay naturally instead of being cut short. On songs like Crying Waiting Hoping and Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey, the final chord of the previous song is no longer audible over the guitar intros, something which drove me absolutely nuts with the original 1994 release.

Anything unbooted? Well, I Feel Fine is a different take to the broadcast version and has a great conversation at the start where Paul and George advise John on how to get the feedback. A tiny bit of this was heard in The Beeb’s Lost Beatles Tapes but here it is unedited. And there is a really funny Pop Go The Beatles moment from John you won’t have heard before.

Okay, so any down side to the sets? Production wise, no, but they needed someone to advise them on their sources as far as boots go. A handful of bootleg sources just sound terrible including Misery, which seems to have been copied from a faulty cd. They also used less than stellar sources for I Got To Find My Baby, Youngblood, Baby It’s You, I’ll Be On My Way, Some Other Guy, That’s All Right Mama and Johnny B Goode.

Some of the bad edits from the first volume are still present, including Ooh My Soul and Keep Your Hands Off My Baby. I Want To Hold Your Hand is also looped, which is a shame. On On Air – The Beatles Live at the BBC Volume 2 there’s a horrible looping/editing job at the start of Memphis which was totally unnecessary since other tracks have been left with the voiceovers intact. But fortunately, we have un-tampered versions of all these tracks on bootleg, so no big deal.

So all in all, aside from a few sub-par moments, these are great sets and essential purchases. With the addition of Kevin Howlett’s book, this will be a bumper Christmas for Beatleheads. And that’s not including Lewisohn’s extended book due out shortly!

5 Responses

  1. David B says:

    I noticed there is some different chat on Live At The BBC after A Hard Days Night on the 2nd cd. No 'Have A Banana'for Ringo but a new bit of chit.

  2. bx6095 says:

    The track listing also has differences:
    17. What Is It, George? is new on CD1
    and From Us To You is also new at the end of CD2.

    These differences were not highlighted in the news too much.

  3. James Peet says:

    Seems strange, and not a little sad not to see an E.M.I. logo of some description in the package.

  4. James Peet says:

    There's also a closing bit of "From Us To You" at the end of cd2.

  5. James Peet says:

    Just an observation but I'm surprised that Paul doesn't mention Brian Matthew in his introduction. He mentions Lee Peters and Rodney Burke. It's funny given that there was more contact between Brian and the boys than those two. I thought that there was genuine warmth between them.

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