Music Review: The Beatles - Live at the BBC (Remastered)

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Nineteen years after it was originally released, The Beatles' double-disc set Live at the BBC has been reissued in remastered form, its two discs housed in a cardboard digipak matching the style of the 2009 studio catalog reissues. Also available is the long overdue sequel, On Air - Live at the BBC Vol. 2, leaving many Beatle fans wondering if the repackaged original is worth repurchasing.

One thousand times “YES,” I’m happy to say. While the original was brilliantly assembled by Beatles producer George Martin, the unfortunate decision was made to crossfade nearly all the tracks in an attempt to recreate an “on air,” broadcast-like feel. It didn’t matter as much during the pre-iPod days, but anyone who has ever tried to shuffle the tracks or create their own playlist quickly found that most tracks began with a split-second of the previous track and the endings were shaved off. Considering Live at the BBC is loaded with songs The Beatles never recorded on albums, we’ve just had to accept this annoyance if wanted to hear only those songs without the banter and album tunes.

That’s no longer a problem, as the reissue producers have given clean starts and finishes to every single track. No longer does audience applause from “I Saw Her Standing There” carry over into “The Honeymoon Song.” No more fading chords, cymbal crashes, or bass notes heard at the start of tracks. Each song ends or fades naturally. You’re free to customize your own playlist, omit the “speech” tracks, mix and match with Vol. 2, or simply shuffle the tunes for a new listening experience without those admittedly minor, but ultimately infuriating, problems. Bravo to the reissue producers as a poor decision has been undone and we fans are better off for it.

The remastering of these tunes, in some cases, has resulted in mostly minor improvements, noticeable when comparing back-to-back with the original release. Bass presence is generally fuller on the new edition. Check “I Got to Find My Baby” for one dramatic example. In at least one case, “I Forgot to Remember to Forget,” it sounds like a better source recording was substituted. That George Harrison-sung tune was one of the worst-sounding on the ’94 release and it’s much improved now. “Things We Said Today” no longer has the announcer’s introduction marring the intro. It must be kept in mind, however, that many of these recordings were originally sourced not from broadcast masters, but from second-hand sources. There’s only so much that could be done to improve fidelity.

Other significant differences include a pair of additional tracks. Both are “speech” tracks, but it’s cool to have previously-unheard bits nonetheless. On disc one, Harrison now introduces “Soldier of Love” in a track titled “What is it, George?” On disc two, “I Wanna Be Your Man” is preceded by a new bit called “Ringo? Yep!” It should be noted, most of the track titled “Have a Banana!” from the ’94 addition is now part of the end of “A Hard Day’s Night” (since the talking accompanies the repeating playing of the song-ending riff). The actual line “Here Ringo, have a banana - catch!” has been omitted in favor of the new bit. And the second track on disc one, “From Us to You,” now includes a voiceover announcing “It’s The Beatles!” just before the vocals start. Luckily, a clean version of the track now concludes the album (with an announcer at the very end as the music fades), whereas the ’94 edition ended with “Love Me Do.”

So that’s the long and the short of it. Live at the BBC has been greatly improved with this new edition. The album itself remains an essential part of The Beatles’ catalogue, what with 30 songs not found on any other Beatles album. This is simply awesome, indispensable stuff offering a deep look at the full breadth of The Beatles’ influences. Paul McCartney expanding his Little Richard repertoire with “Lucille” and “Ooh! My Soul.” John Lennon tackling even more Chuck Berry classics with “Johnny B. Goode” and “Carol.” George Harrison offering rough and ready takes on rockabilly classics “Nothin’ Shakin’” and “Glad All Over.” And that’s just scratching the surface. Raw, live rock and roll performed with vigor, even though in most cases there was no audience. Even if you have all their studio records, you need Live at the BBC.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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