The Beatles – On Air-Live at the BBC Volume 2

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beatlesbbcEven apart from their historical significance, the relative rarity of live recordings by the Beatles makes both volumes of Live at the BBC valuable on their own terms. Half a century after the iconic quartet captured the fancy of the world, listening to the infectious energy captured on this second edition, progressing more or less chronologically from prior to their mass acceptance in 1962 to its pinnacle in 1965, relays more than a little of that rarified sensation.

The late George Harrison long maintained The Beatles were never better as a band than when playing clubs and here they’re not far removed from that phase of their career. Little surprise then, that while the group regularly played live in the British studios without the benefit of overdubs or even the luxury of retakes, they presented tight precise renditions of their own original material (with select subtle differences in the arrangements due to the spontaneity of the broadcasts), such as the vivacious “Please Please Me” and covers like Little Richard’s “Lucille” that vividly represent their roots.

As comparatively tame as some of this sounds (and varies slightly in sound quality even in this remastered form), the temptation may well be irresistible to crank up the volume to try and approximate the force with which the sound of the Beatles stunned audiences nearly fifty years ago. But then there’s little if any self-consciousness here anywhere, and, on the contrary, a palpable sense of abandon, particularly when the Fab Four offer songs other than their own: for instance, on “Boys,” one of Ringo Starr’s spotlights, the twang of guitars riding above his hammering drums between caterwauling background vocals, displays less of a sense of the band playing a careful arrangement.

Such contrast only presents a fuller illustration of the Beatles’ versatility. Writing their own songs in such diverse modes as the raucous “I Saw Her Standing There” or the sweetly melodious “And I Love Her,” then tackling the full-bore barn burners such as the Isley Brothers “Twist and Shout” or Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” supplies insight into how expertly the band knew the way material translated live. How much of that skill was intuitive or learned matters less than this is a musicianship honed to maximum effect, whether it’s Paul McCartney’s sonorous tones or John Lennon’s gutsier delivery, underscored by the staunch rhythm work of all four players.

Readily apparent in the more spontaneous interludes of between-song patter with the hosts of the live radio broadcasts, and to a lesser extent in the interview segments, the vivacious camaraderie of the Beatles finds its fullest expression in their instrumental and vocal chemistry. These two hours plus of recordings suggests how their writing playing and singing together was the source of an impact that eventually went way beyond just musical terms into larger cultural influence that continues even today.

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