On Air: Live At The BBC Vol. 2

The Beatles

Apple, 2013


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


The somewhat random release of this second volume in the Beatles' BBC recordings seemed a bit dubious; why release a double disc set 19 years after the first one? Turns out that copyrights expire after 50 years under European Union law unless the music is released in an official format, which extends the deadline by another 20 years. Hence, more live Beatles music, interviews and comedy bits that will remain under the proper legal umbrella.

Business aside, is another two discs of BBC recordings worth it? The first set supposedly covered the best of this era, those halcyon 1962-65 years that the Fab Four recorded hundreds of songs and sketches for the radio. At one point, they even had their own weekly show, Pop Go The Beatles. Because of that, there was a lot of material to choose from, so this winds up being nearly as good as the first BBC compilation, plus it has the added bonus of an eight minute interview with each band member toward the end of Beatlemania.

What these sessions continue to reveal is a true rock band, a tight unit that translated their finely honed stage show into their recording sessions and really knew how to rouse an audience. Because most of these sessions were either live or recorded in studio with minimal to no overdubs, the sound is pure, sometimes raw rock and roll, mostly free of the studio trickery that would eventually come to characterize the Beatles' work from 1965 onward.

Working chronologically, these discs alternate between songs from the band's first four albums, covers that frequently made their early stage shows in Germany and the Cavern Club, and the aforementioned sketches, jokes, banter and dedication. Through it all runs a giddy rush of the unknown, of a young band playing the songs they listened to and molding those influences into their own brilliant originals, all the while swapping jokes and stories with each other. The scholarly discussions of my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Sgt. Pepper’s are one part of the Beatles story, but the more important part is that they truly were a band, a united group of brothers, and this set bears that out.

The covers are among the highlights this time around, such as the stomping Little Richard song "Lucille," Ringo's exuberant take on "Boys," an unheard song called "Beautiful Dreamer"and a trio of killer Chuck Berry songs: "Roll Over Beethoven," "Memphis, Tennessee" and "I'm Talking About You," all of which feature prime John Lennon. He would later denigrate much of his work from 1965 onward, but he always believed that early rock and roll was all that mattered, and this is evident in his performances. The boys even tackle Ray Charles' "I Got A Woman" and the perennial Little Richard favorite "Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey," to fine results.

Since those first four albums (Please Please Me, With the Beatles, A Hard Day's Night and Beatles for Sale, plus the assorted covers of the time like "She Loves You" and "From Me To You") were in this raw stage-show style, the BBC performances are not terribly different other than perhaps the occasional George Harrison solo. So, mediocre songs like "'Til There Was You," "Words of Love," "Misery" and "Devil In Her Heart" are not improved in this setting, but classics like "Twist and Shout," "She Loves You," "Money," "Long Tall Sally" and "And I Love Her" are just as good as their studio counterparts.

The studio banter, dedications and jokes are primarily of interest to longtime fans and collectors; others may not understand why it's funny when Ringo says it's a hard job writing songs for A Hard Day's Night. Because there are a lot of these and because each disc has 16 minutes of interviews on the end, the set feels a bit short on actual songs (it doesn't help that maybe a third of them appeared already, from other performances, on the first set). Of course, anyone who liked the first Live At The BBC should obviously pick this up, and anyone else should start with that first and then go to this one, unless the track listing here is more appealing.

Still, like Vol. 1, this presents a true rock band playing its own originals, loving versions of covers and doing so in a safe studio environment removed from the frenzy of Beatlemania. As the set goes on, and as in the interviews, there's a sense of maturity in both personality and songwriting that points the way forward. On Air: Live At The BBC Vol. 2 may lack the necessity and song choice of the first volume, but it presents an equally arresting, fun and innocent snapshot of a band on the rise that still enjoyed what they did.

Rating: B

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