The Beatles – The BBC Archives

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The Beatles – The BBC Archives: 1962 – 1970

By Kevin Howlett

BBC Books – £45.00

I’m still partly amazed that it’s taken the BBC this long to release The Beatles double album On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2. The quintessential reason being, there’s an abundance of far lesser artists who have unfortunately released everything they have ever recorded; and by everything, I do mean literally everything.

Apart from the fact that so-called ‘greatest hits’ are simply re-packaged, there are studio out-takes, alternate versions of studio out-takes, pointless re-mixes of alternate-versions of studio out-takes, not to mention an array of (quite often squalid and appalling) live material. I mean, who in their right mind would ever want to listen to a double live album by the appalling likes of McFly, Michael Bublé or Marillion? Let alone re-mixed renditions of yet more un-listenable shite by the likes of the pole-dancing hyenna that is Rihanna or the equally ghastly Scorpions et al?

Other than being repeatedly hit over the head with a rusty mallet of sorts, I really can’t think of anything worse.

To be sure, you can bet your monthly mortgage re-payment that most instantly forgettable artists and their labels will invariably ensure that everything they’ve ever recorded, will not only be be made available, it’ll be made readily availalbe in nigh every single format ever devised. Such has never been the case with The Beatles. Yet if any band or label were ever in a prime position to do the very same, it was and surely still is, The Beatles and EMI.

This is somewhat reinforced by what the author of this stunningly fantabulous book, Kevin Howlett – the BBC producer who has already written three books on the band, not to mention the booklet essays that accompanied the re-release of all fourteen Beatles albums in 2009 – has written in the Introduction: ”Counting a highlights programme for the 1963 Royal Variety Performance, the group played music on 53 radio shows between March 1962 and June 1965. No fewer than 275 unique musical performances by The Beatles were broadcast by the BBC in the UK. The group played 88 different songs on radio – some recorded many times; others performed just once. Remarkably, 36 of those songs were never issued on record while the group was in existence.”

I can’t imagine Scouting For Girls even having 36 songs.

Moreover, it might go without saying that nigh everyone and their third uncle removed might well have written a book on their (tenuous) association with the band; but even here, there are absolutely no-where near as many bad books written on The Beatles as there are on Elvis – although he’s a different kettle of trickle-down-economics altogether.

When it comes to recording(s), you’d think there’d be a regular plethora of dubious recordings released in the name of The Beatles – but there really isn’t. None of late that is, other than the Love album (released in November 2006) sanctioned and overseen by the band’s producer George Martin for the Cirque de Soleil stage show of the same name, and The Beatles (released in November 2000) which was basically a compilation of all their number-one singles.

On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2 is only the third (official) Beatles release this century. So it’s only right that to accompany it, the BBC have also published what can only be described as a bumper package of a stunning new hardback book called The Beatles – The BBC Archives 1962 – 1970.

As the title suggests, these 331 magnificant pages (excluding Musical Discovery, Bibliography and Index) are a chronological overview of everything the band recorded at the BBC. As Howlett already makes clear on page 24: ”POP GO THE BEATLES. The group did not choose the title for their fifteen-part series broadcast during the summer of 1963 and they had reluctantly recorded the corny theme tune simply because they had to. After all, some compromise was acceptable to make their way in the show business world. Yet what made The Beatles so irresistable in their breakthrough year was how quickly they were changing the game. Aside from the energy of the music they created, their BBC broadcasts are characterised by send-ups, laughs, cheeky irreverence. This was new.”

Indeed it was new, as is the tonality of this well-researched, in-depth, new book. I say as much because there’s not much in the lives of The Beatles and Beatlemania as a whole, that hasn’t already been written, pondered over and re-stated, time and time and yet time again. What makes this book different though – which comes replete in a replica of an old scuffed, BBC tape box – is the fact that it wholeheartedly and refreshingly bows down to the subject matter. So much so, that it’s nine chapters are almost submerged in the showing- rather than dense (and questionable) analysis.

In other words, there’s an undercurrent of innocence throughout.

The superb collection of black and white as well as colour photographs do much to substantiate this. Whether it’s a shot of the band eating breakfast at a flat in London’s Green Street, visibly larking around at The Dorchester Hotel to accepty their awards for ‘Show Business Personalities of 1963,’ or the cololur photograph of them used by the BBC to promote its General Overseas Service.

Also scattered throughout the book are a number of pertinent quotes (some of which are on the recording) that again, do much to underline the aforementioned innocence, as well as the band’s all round chutzpah and inadvertent penchant for forever pushing the parameters: ”I do not believe any of us had any idea of the disorganised frenzy that could take place during such a performance” (Tom Sloan – Head of Light Entertainlment, Television), ”Well thank you Paul and you’ll receive your three shilling fee at a later date!” (George Harrison), ”After you write something, a song or anything, you get the sadness and then you perform it or you put it on paper and then that’s gone” (John Lennon), ”We can turn around to Brian and say, ”Could we do such-and-such a thing… like a film?”” (Paul McCartney).

This lavish account of all The Beatles BBC appearances also features transcripts of broadcast interviews and an assortment of fascinating documents from the archives. Suffice to say, from the unprecedented excitement of what was Beatlemania to the more mature reflective nature of the band’s final interviews, it’s all (exquisitely) captured herein.

Apart from being the perfect, and I do mean perfect Christmas gift, The Beatles – The BBC Archives 1962 – 1970 is without doubt, an absolute MUST for any serious, self-repecting Beatles fan.

Fab Fab Fab.

David Marx

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