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The Beatles "On Air – Live At The BBC, Vol 2" Reviewed

Clocking On

The difference between The Beatles Live At The BBC Volume One and Volume Two is that the former was released 24 years after the Beatles broke up, the latter an unbelievable 43 years after the Beatles called it a day, indeed 34 year years after Lennon’s murder and 12 years since the passing of George Harrison. Volume One was archival and Volume Two is a memory chip. One day we will all be gone and there will be no one who was around to hear this stuff first hand and  since the Beatles are the most important popular music band of all time, four musicians as great as Mozart, Beethoven, Ellington, Coltrane, Armstrong -a name to be conjured at the very height of artistry, those who lived through it, well, it is our responsibility to bear witness to the Beatles and to ourselves.

By any standards Volume Two is a masterpiece, if it was released as it stands today, with no knowledge of the boys, it would stand out as as smart, charming, youthful, joyful a set of music as you would ever hear. The Beat band nail every song with an ease and wit that changes all the covers and of course the originals, into Beatle songs. The band are not pressing, and as my friend Larry Tepper notes, there are better versions on the albums themselves, but nevertheless, these versions, this accumulated 40 songs of early rock, standards, originals, interspersed with the boys reading fan mail with their own inimitable funniness (“You’re posh” Ringo says to Lennon after Lennon notes he went to college, a cheeky put down) and four artist profiles.

The artist profiles, especially Lennon’s interview is a must hear. “I don’t object to people inheriting money or having a big lot of money and never did, I do object to people being stony broke and starving” Lennon says, trying to express a political concept he can’t put a name to way back in 1965. This is two years after the Beatles broke in the UK and already Lennon is moving away from wherever you might think it was he was doing. Harrison’s critique of the English school system, “if you ask a question they clip you round the ears” is nearly precisely the same as Morrisseys in the early 1970s and, indeed mine in the early 1960s. All four are  fairly sick of Beatlemania and it shows, possibly because they w ere playing the Mop Tops with Rubber Soul waiting patiently in the wings.

Still, spoken word will only get you so far even if it’s the Beatles and I am sure all digital fans are making their own playlists without them. In chronological order it does precisely what Volume One does with maybe a third repeats. The versions are just as good, though Lennon seems a touch reticient, both “Twist And Shout” and “Money” can’t compare with the recorded version even if  I appreciate the ease of the performances, there is a casualness; listen to Lennon’s howl on “You Can’t Do That”, you know he can do better than that.

Also, much less left field stuff though there is actually a song  that took me by surprise, McCartney’s lead on Carl Perkins “Sure To Fall (In Love With You)”.  You can hear the world wearing on the Beatles as the tracks continue till the 1965 pop profiles are seething with resentment except for McCartney whose “I’m not bothered” is exactly what he is.

The album opens with a terrific “Words Of Love” from August 1963, exactly a year before they recorded it, and it is absolutely excellent, along with a very good “Ask Me Why”, a place where the Beatles sound as good or better as the recorded version. After which we go through a two year trolling of their recorded work brought to life and while the arrangements are exactly the same, they sound like they are always having a good time playing these songs. It must be a pleasure to actually play these songs without girls screaming them out.

McCartney’s vocal on “Lucille” is much closer to what we might have hoped for as far as the performances go, a tour de force that you draw a straight line to “Oh! Darling” with (ps -that song owes everything to “Yer Blues” -it pretends it is parody but it really isn’t).

Naturally, I worship V2. I understand if  you don’t get it … no, wait sorry I don’t understand at all. I look at the Beatles two ways:

1. One as one long song, everything all of piece, flowing through the albums up to and including Abbey Road, and then the Past Masters albums, and nthen nothing. Everything else is kinda outside that. But all together, the UK releases, it is one long piece of decade spanning work.

2. The Beatles in segments, the first four albums, than the next three and finally the last three.  V2 ends before the next three, before Rubber Soul, it is the Beatles as pure pop phenomenon and I was there, six years old to nine years old, and when Rubber Soul was released? My mom got one of the first cassette players and we spent the entire Christmas 1965 riding around in her car and playing it in on an endless loop; we listened to nothing else.

This stuff belongs to the ages but it also belongs to me personally, it is my life, my childhood, I remember so well. All three big sisters were  huge Beatle fans, their music played all the time in 1963, 1964. It is as subjective and personal as humanly possible but also universal -the music resonates backwards forward but it also is living music; I write about this stuff, I’ve listened to it so much it doesn’t trigger nostalgia to me. It is like being alive while Mozart (certain a John Lennon for a different age) was around .

But also it isn’t yours at all: I was interviewing Saddlecreek Recording Artist Maria Taylor the other day and she told me how she learnt to construct songs by listening to her Dad’s Beatle collection all through her childhood. It was an education, and this stuff stands like that: it’s a primer.

But finally, it sounds awesome.  There may be better versions of these songs elsewhere but these songs are here. So listen to em.

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