On Tuesday the Beatles issued their second major release of the year, after last month’s On Air: Live at the BBC Volume 2 — The Beatles Bootleg Recordings 1963.
This was a surprise release. While we knew about On Air for a few months, Bootleg Recordings 1963 was quietly announced a few days before it went on sale on iTunes. The reason for the release had everything to do with European copyrights; these tracks, some unreleased outtakes, some live tracks unheard in fifty years, were about to fall into the public domain in the European Union. Last year, Bob Dylan released a very limited boxset in Europe (just 100 copies, I think) to establish his copyright in a number of tracks that were about to fall out of copyright. Apple (the Beatles company, not the computer manufacturer) instead made these Beatles tracks available widely, albeit just on iTunes.
It’s a pricey collection — forty dollars for fifty-nine tracks. On Air had a similar number of tracks and was about half the price. Is it worth it?
No, it’s not. The Beatles Bootleg Recordings 1963 is not, in any way, an album for the casual listener, because it’s not an album in the conventional sense. It’s more of an historical artifact. It gives you studio outtakes, then a number of live sessions, and finally two demos. In that regard, it’s not terrible, but that’s also what makes it so inessential — yes, the live session tracks are interesting, but if you have Live at the BBC or On Air then you’ve already had the experience.
That’s not to say that there aren’t interesting nuggets here, especially if you’re familiar with the Beatles only through their studio albums (which, frankly, is the vast majority of us). On the albums, George gets maybe a tenth of the vocals, and you would probably be surprised by how much George was a vocal presence in the Beatles’ early days. The Beatles were a band with three pretty much co-equal lead singers in those halcyon days of 1963, and that only really changed once they started writing their own material hardcore and the albums went from having a mix of originals and covers to having all originals. This and the BBC albums have made me reevaluate why George soured on the band as early as he did; whether they intended to or not, John and Paul marginalized George by taking away part of his role.
If you have a hole in your life that only five versions of “A Taste of Honey” and four versions of “She Love You” can fill, then you may need this. Even for the Beatles enthusiast, I would say this is an inessential release. And serious Beatles enthusiasts probably have all of these tracks anyway. I have the Purple Chick BBC sessions set, so I should have every single one of the BBC live tracks here. I have other bootlegs that may have the studio outtakes on this set.
Yet I bought it anyway. Partly it was convenience. And partly it was a moral issue. I’ve acquired many of my Beatles bootlegs through mp3 sites, so i’ve paid nothing for them. I couldn’t have paid anything for them, as they weren’t for sale. Now that they were for sale, the responsible thing, in my opinion, was to pay for them.
Unfortunately, iTunes was a pain, and it took four days to successfully download the album. My files kept coming through garbled or cut short.
It’s nice, but, as I said, inessential. If you really need this, nothing I can say will talk you out of it. Honestly, though, my recommendation is to save your money for the US Albums box set that’s coming next month.