THE BEATLES: ‘LIVE! AT THE STAR-CLUB, 1962’ (1977)
We wrap up our Beatles month with a raucous but rewarding live album from early in the band’s career.
Is this a bootleg? In 1977, It was a semi-legal release and widely available. In 1962 John Lennon had given musician Ted “Kingsize” Taylor permission to record the group — if Taylor would supply them with beer while they played. Citing this verbal “contract,” Taylor released the tapes fifteen years later to capitalize on a brief resurgence of Beatlemania.
Why were they playing in Germany? In these early years The Beatles toured the UK constantly, but these Hamburg residencies provided steady income for weeks at a time without all the driving and equipment-hauling.
Why didn’t they play their own songs? Good question; likely the group didn’t feel their unknown compositions would go over well with German-speaking drunks and rowdy sailors. The UK version of this album includes two Lennon-McCartney tunes, “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Ask Me Why,” showing that they did play at least a few originals.
The Beatles: ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ (‘Live! In Hamburg, Germany, 1962’)
What are these songs? This Star-Club playlist shows a good slice of the Beatles’ influences: Chuck Berry, rock ‘n’ roll oldies, rockabilly, Tin Pan Alley, and rhythm and blues. Fueled by alcohol, amphetamines, and a rabid audience, the Beatles inject blistering punk-rock energy into this eclectic mix of styles.
The Beatles: ‘I’m Talking About You’ (‘Live! In Hamburg, Germany, 1962’)
So they hadn’t made any records yet? Actually they had. While in Hamburg in 1961, they’d backed up singer Tony Sheridan on a rockin’ 45 version of “My Bonnie” (“lies over the ocean”). Then, after signing to Parlophone in mid-1962, the band recorded and released its first single, “Love Me Do.” (Because the Beatles were already under contract when this live tape was made, the original liner notes are deliberately cagey about the actual recording dates.)
Does this have their other drummer, Pete something? This album features the classic John-Paul-George-Ringo lineup; drummer Pete Best had been fired before their Parlophone signing and replaced with Ringo, already a friend of the band. (Fifth member Stuart Sutcliffe had left the band in mid-1961 and passed away in Hamburg in spring 1962.)
Why did they record a live album so early on? This was never intended as an official release, only as a personal keepsake for Taylor. (It’s a testament to the band’s live energy that he thought to record them at all.)
The Beatles: ‘Twist And Shout’ (‘Live! In Hamburg, Germany, 1962’)
So these priceless tapes were locked away in a vault? Far from it. The Beatles’ booking agent Allan Williams says they were found “beneath a pile of rubble on the floor” of a sound engineer’s office, where they’d been abandoned after an early attempt at audio restoration. (Some might say the tapes should have been left there…)
Why does it sound so awful — I mean, “low-fi”? Never intended for release, these tapes were recorded by Taylor with a home reel-to-reel machine and a single microphone placed near the stage. After you’ve heard George Martin’s crisp studio productions of the band, the echoey, tinny sound and muffled vocals come as a shock. Believe me, it sounds as good as it can – Live! At the Star-Club is the product of $100,000 of sound restoration. The original tapes surely sound far worse.
Why isn’t this on iTunes or Spotify? After two decades of bootleg and semi-official Hamburg ’62 releases, the surviving Beatles and Yoko were finally given ownership of the tapes in 1998. (George Harrison memorably commented, “One drunken person recording another bunch of drunks does not constitute business deals.”) The band has never reissued any of this material, not even on the Anthology albums or documentary film.
No offense, but why would someone listen to this? None taken; it’s certainly a weird album and hard on the ears, even for fans. But it gives you a chance to hear the early band polishing its fierce musical chops and hilarious onstage banter (Lennon identifies the song “Shimmy Shimmy” as “Shitty Shitty,” and on “Mr. Moonlight,” he sings “here I am, on my nose” instead of “on my knees”).
The Beatles: ‘Mr. Moonlight’ (‘Live! In Hamburg, Germany, 1962’)
Is there film footage of this period? The Hamburg years are well-photographed by the band’s friends Astrid Kirchherr (who gave them their moptop haircuts) and Jürgen Vollmer (who captured Lennon’s Rock ‘n’ Roll album cover), but no moving pictures were taken. However, the ‘savage young Beatles’ period is memorably recreated in the films Backbeat and Birth of the Beatles.
How’s the 8-track? Given that 8-track isn’t considered a high-fidelity medium, the cart sounds surprisingly good. And since the original 1962 reels were recorded at 3 ¾ inches per second, it’s kinda cool to hear them played back at exactly the same speed.
For Part Four of our Beatles series, some 8-tracks that reunited the Fab Four…on tape, anyway!
So these are Beatles tapes? Not exactly. These are collections of songs recorded by ex-Beatles during their early solo careers. (The two Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison tapes have the same music.)
They’re bootlegs? So these have rare outtakes? No, these are all the familiar studio recordings. “Bootleg” is 8-track shorthand for a pirated (unofficial) tape.
Do these cover a bunch of solo albums? Really just three: George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass (November 1970), Paul and Linda McCartney’s Ram (May 1971), and John Lennon’s Imagine (September 1971). The John, Paul, George, and Ringo ’71 tape adds 1970 tracks from John, Paul, and Ringo.
Why did they make these? The pain of the Beatles’ April 1970 breakup was still fresh in people’s minds, so hearing these collected solo tracks was a comforting way to hear the band “reunited.” John Lennon himself suggested the practice: “If people need the Beatles so much, all they have to do is to buy each album and… put [songs from each] on tape, track by track.” (Even now, fans enjoy creating their own post-breakup “Beatles” albums.)
And this was legal? Not exactly. These so-called “truck stop” tapes were in a legal grey area at this point, as bootleggers were supposedly paying some royalties but not actually getting permission to use the material.
Was this just an 8-track thing? Pretty much, if only because it was easier to reproduce them surreptitiously (at home, if necessary). A couple shady vinyl collections from Asia can be found here and here.
George Harrison: ‘Art Of Dying’ (1970)
Why didn’t Capitol do this officially? Good question, since all four ex-Beatles were still on Apple/Capitol. I think the label wanted to develop the members’ solo careers rather than making them just nostalgia spinoff acts. (The first official John, Paul, George, and Ringo collection wouldn’t appear until 2014, as a four-song iTunes download.)
Do these sound like Beatles albums? To my ears, not particularly; the production styles are quite different across the three albums. Though Ringo plays on George’s album and George plays on John’s, this still doesn’t sound like the work of a single band. In particular Paul’s playful, romantic songs sound really odd in context, lacking the familiar Beatles grit. (Hilariously, the Hour With tape follows “How Do You Sleep,” John’s cruel critique of Paul’s silly pop songs, with Paul’s silly pop song “Ram On.”)
Paul & Linda McCartney: ‘Long Haired Lady’ (1971)
Why does only one tape use Ringo’s songs? Having written only two Beatles numbers, Ringo wasn’t really seen as being a singer-songwriter the way the other three were. Though Ringo had two albums under his belt at this point, he hadn’t really had any hits — other than the smash “It Don’t Come Easy,” inexplicably omitted from both tapes here.
How do the tapes sound? Like so many 8-track boots, these vinyl-sourced collections sound superb, crisp, and bright, as good as their legal equivalents. (Best of Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison is probably a straight dupe of the Hour With set, resulting in muddier sound.) The John, Paul, George and Ringo tape has some flubs on the label: the McCartney track “That Would Be Something” is actually the “Valentine Day” instrumental from the same album, and his song “Ram On” is credited to George!
Now what? If you’ve read this far, you must be interested in the Beatles. So go ahead, create your own “what if the Beatles never broke up” compilations on Spotify, iTunes, cassette or even 8-track! Include all the solo hits or just your favorite “deep tracks.” Sequence it like George Martin would have — or do it your own way. There’s no wrong answer here, so have fun and enjoy your impromptu Beatles reunion!
The tune, written by Bobby Austin and Curt Sapaugh, hit #23 on the US Hot 100. I believe that makes “Kindness” Campbell’s first hit of the Seventies. Just below, we have video of the artist performing the song live in 1977.
Glen Campbell: ‘Try A Little Kindness’ (Live, 1977)
Any good? This is a fantastic collection of groovy pop songs you don’t have to be a Beatles fan to love.
What’s with the fake Beatles album covers?That album is the soundtrack to a 1978 US comedy TV special (All You Need Is Cash) that’s a parody history of the Beatles.
And how about the terrible band name? It comes from Rutland, a tiny British region spoofed by Monty Python alum Eric Idle in his cheap but funny TV series Rutland Weekend Television. Idle shot a retro Rutles film clip for the series that caught on when it was shown on America’s Saturday Night Live in 1977. (As a name, The Rutles is no worse than The Rattles, a German beat group that the Beatles played with in Hamburg circa 1962.)
The Rutles: ‘I Must Be In Love’ (1978)
So this is a Monty Python thing? Really it’s just Eric Idle, though fellow Python Michael Palin also puts in a cameo.
Who made the music? British comedy rocker Neil Innes, whose group Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band had worked with the Beatles, wrote all the songs. For the film, Innes formed a band that (mostly) played themselves onscreen as Beatles clones. For his McCartneyish character, Idle mimed to vocals and bass playing provided by others.
Who else joined the party? Co-producer and Saturday Night Live mastermind Lorne Michaels brought Belushi, Aykroyd, Radner, and Murray on board to play hilarious cameos. Mick Jagger and Paul Simon play their rocker selves reminiscing over the awfulness of the Prefab Four. Idle’s pal, ex-Beatle George Harrison, emphatically supported the project and plays a bearded, clueless TV journalist in the film.
Funny or trainwreck? Since there were no full-length Beatles documentaries in 1978, All You Need Is Cash served as the first band retrospective. It was a big hit with fans due to its hundreds of nods to Fab Four trivia. Thankfully for non-fans, the comedy isn’t limited to insider in-jokes, but offers lots of groan-worthy mainstream gags. Example: “His father was such a snob that he wore a pair of swimming trunks in the bathtub, in order to avoid looking down on the unemployed.”
So it was a big deal? Sadly, few fans managed to catch its March 1978 NBC broadcast, but its UK showing a few days later was better received. The film didn’t become a cult classic until its 1983 release on home video, at which point its countless punchlines (“I think it was the trousers”) would become catchphrases for knowing rock fans.
The Rutles: ‘Iris Mountbatten – The Trousers’ (1978)
Does it sound like the Beatles? A lot more than Klaatu, frankly; Innes and his Rutles studio band really nailed the full arc of the Beatles sound, from eager Northern beat group to wasted London hippies. At the time, most of the Rutles songs were quickly traced to Beatles sources: “Number One” sounds like “Twist and Shout”; “Piggy in the Middle” is a clear rip of “I Am The Walrus.” Listening nowadays, though, the joy is hearing the album as an unreleased Beatles project — or just a fine record by a group of skilled Beatles enthusiasts, which is what the Rutles were anyway.
The Rutles: ‘Number One’ (1978)
Did anyone think it was the Beatles? Nah, everyone knew it was a joke. But before the special and album came out, there was a minor hoax that might have tricked a few folks. When Eric Idle hosted SNL in early 1977 and brought his Rutles film clip, Neil Innes performed an early version of “Cheese and Onions.” The audio from this appearance turned up on Indian Rope Trick, a vinyl bootleg from later that year (and before the TV special); the track was listed as “a solo John L. out-take. 1974 (?)”
‘Saturday Night Live’: Nasty’s ‘Cheese & Onions’ (1977)
So there were two 8-tracks? No, just one, the one with the album covers; the other is my fake “custom” tape. The film included too many songs for the single LP soundtrack (and John Lennon thought “Get Up And Go” sounded too much like “Get Back,” which might rile the lawyers), so six were left off until the 1990 CD version of the album. Rhino’s recent vinyl reissue put the missing six songs onto a bonus 7” ep, so I decided to do an 8-track edition of it. I had to break one song for my tape, but the Warner Bros. 8-track presents all 14 album cuts in a fairly chronological flow without splitting any of them. Recommended!
Staple Singers, ‘When Will We Be Paid?’ (‘Record World’ magazine, January 17, 1970).
The Staple Singers’ “When Will We Be Paid?” originally appeared on the group’s 1969 LP We’ll Get Over and was released as a single late in that same year. The tune, written by Randall Stewart and produced by Steve Cropper (Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Blues Brothers), didn’t make a big radio splash but was the first Staple Singers record of the 1970s being pushed by Stax.
Check out a nice find below of the group performing “When Will We Be Paid?” live in 1971.
Staple Singers: ‘When Will We Be Paid?’ (Live, 1971)
Don Harrison Band, ‘Red Hot’ (‘Cash Box’ magazine, January 22, 1977). Click to enlarge.
The Don Harrison Band features two former members of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Stu Cook (bass) and Doug Clifford (drums). The roots-rockin’ band released two LPs on Atlantic in 1976 – a self-titled platter and Red Hot – as seen above.
Bottom line: legit? Absolutely, a great album with clever, quirky lyrics and killer melodies, veering from prog to pop to hard rock.
Weren’t they a Beatles hoax? Sort of, but it wasn’t Klaatu’s fault. Months after the album’s quiet release, a journalist and several radio stations suggested the Beatle-ish group was actually a reunited Fab Four. It was easy to believe: no band members were identified on the sleeve, a Canadian label boss fed the confusion (“if yesterday is here, let it be”), and Capitol Records didn’t clear things up (“Klaatu is Klaatu”).
Klaatu Radio Special (1977)
So if they weren’t the Beatles, who were they? Turned out Klaatu was just a talented prog-pop band from Toronto. Though the Beatles association brought the group lots of attention, it would come to hinder their future success, since they were seen as pranksters rather than the real deal. Followup albums Hope (a rock opera about space explorers) and Sir Army Suit were well-reviewed but didn’t sell well here. Happily, the band has reunited and is still playing live forty years later.
Does it really sound like a Beatles album? Somewhat. It’s full of Beatle-ish horns, harmonies, and backwards effects. Certain songs even sound like certain Beatles: “Little Neutrino” is an update to Lennon’s “I Am The Walrus,” “Sub-Rosa Subway” is dead-on McCartney a la “Penny Lane,” and “California Jam” and “Doctor Marvello” include George-like guitar and sitar.
Klaatu: ‘Little Neutrino’ (1976)
Who else do they sound like? The group should really be considered alongside prog-pop bands like 10CC, Electric Light Orchestra, and Supertramp. On this self-titled debut (originally titled 3:47 EST in Canada), Klaatu plays everything from spacey late-night jams (“Little Neutrino”) to hard boogie rock (“True Life Hero”) to novelty music-hall numbers (“Sir Bodsworth Rugglesby III,” which sounds like a cockney Oscar the Grouch).
Klaatu: ‘Sir Bodsworth Rugglesby III’ (1976)
Didn’t the Carpenters do one of their songs? Karen and Richard covered Klaatu’s best-known number, the oddball UFO anthem “Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft.” The song describes believers who send telepathic messages to aliens and receive a startling reply. Issued in space-crazed 1977 between the Star Wars and Close Encounters films, the Carpenters’ cover became a US top 40 hit.
Klaatu: ‘Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft’ (1976)
Aside from UFOs, what are the other songs about? The album is quite nerdy in its subject matter. “Anus of Uranus” (???) is another alien-encounter jam, while “Little Neutrino” is about the smallest of the subatomic particles (“I am someone you’ll never know”). “Doctor Marvello” and “Sir Bodsworth Rugglesby III” portray comic-book-ish adventurers on supernatural quests.
1870’s short-lived Beach Pneumatic Transit, inspiration for “Sub-Rosa Subway”
Most geeky of all is “Sub-Rosa Subway,” the true tale of the secret construction of an air-powered subway beneath 19th-century Manhattan (suggesting to some that the Beatles had also secretly reconstructed themselves).
Klaatu: ‘Sub-Rosa Subway’ (1976)
How’s the 8-track? Capitol did a nice job. To accommodate program breaks, they split two of the weaker songs and left the best ones untouched. “True Life Hero” breaks after a false ending, so it sounds like it’s over — it’s quite a surprise to hear it come roaring back after the splice!
Join us next week for another great tape by a very different make-believe Beatles band… a legend that will last a lunchtime.