What I’ve been listening to: The Beatles Live at the Hollywood Bowl

For people who know me or have read the blog, it should not come as a big surprise that I would choose the newly released live album by The Beatles. I started listening to The Fab Four almost 40 years ago and never stopped.

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Yesterday, the widely anticipated remixed, remastered and expanded version of The Beatles’ live album was released. Live at the Hollywood, which originally appeared in 1977 on vinyl and was titled The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl, captures episodes of rock & roll history that happened more than 50 years ago. It’s simply a must-have for every Beatles fan, especially folks like me who never got a chance to actually see The Beatles in concert.

The album includes material from three shows The Beatles did at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, on August 23, 1964 and August 29 & 30, 1965.

Producing a professional record from these performances was no easy feat. The task to produce the initial record from 1977 was given to none other than George Martin, The Beatles’ former producer. His first challenge was to find a working machine that could play back the three-track concert tapes. Once Martin did, he noticed the tape deck overheated while running, threatening to destroy the concert tapes! In addition, the sound quality of the tapes was pretty poor.

Together with recording engineer with Geoff Emerick, Martin came up with the solution to cool the machine with blowing cold air from a vacuum cleaner while transferring the material to a 16-track machine – literally a pretty cool idea! Working with a 16-track machine allowed for filtering, equalizing, editing and mixing the music. I have the original vinyl album from 1977, and I must say the result of Martin’s and Emerick’s work is beautiful. It’s also another impetus to get a turntable, which I currently don’t have!

The remixed and enhanced version of the album was produced by Giles Martin, George Martin’s son who previously collaborated with his now deceased father on the soundtrack for Love, the Cirque du Soleil production based on the music by The Beatles. Following is what he said about the latest production, according to thebeatleseightdaysaweek.com, the companion web site for the forthcoming Beatles film documentary “Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years” by Ron Howard:

“A few years ago, Capitol Studios called, saying they’d discovered some Hollywood Bowl three-track tapes in their archive. We transferred them and noticed an improvement over the tapes we’ve kept in the London archive. Alongside this I’d been working for some time with a team headed by technical engineer James Clark on demix technology, the ability to remove and separate sounds from a single track. With Sam Okell, I started work on remixing the Hollywood tapes. Technology has moved on since my father worked on the material all those years ago. Now there’s improved clarity, and so the immediacy and visceral excitement can be heard like never before.”

So how about the actual music? It is a mix of songs from The Beatles’ first five studio albums Please Please Me (1963), With the Beatles (1963), A Hard Day’s Night (1964), Beatles for Sale (1964) and Help! (1965). The album includes many hits from these albums, such as A Hard Day’s Night, Help!, She Loves You and Can’t Buy Me Love. The new version also features four previously unreleased songs: I Want to Hold Your Hand, Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby, Baby’s in Black and my favorite of these additional tracks, You Can’t Do That.

While I love The Beatles’ original songs, I have to say I’ve always been particularly fond of their covers of rock & roll songs. A number of these gems are on this live album, including the fantastic stage-setting opener Twist and Shout, Dizzy, Miss Lizzy, Boys, Long Tall Sally and the Chuck Berry classic, Roll Over Beethoven.

I think the best way to finish this post is to take a look at what the great George Martin said in the liner notes to the 1977 original album. Following are some excerpts:

“I was not in favor for taping their performance. I knew the quality of the recording could not equal what we could do in the studio, we but thought we would try anyhow…”

“The chaos, I might almost say panic, that reigned at these concerts was unbelievable unless you were there…The Beatles had no “fold back” speakers, so they could not hear what they were singing, and the eternal shriek from 17,000 healthy, young lungs made even a jet plane inaudible…”

“The fact that [the tapes] were the only live recordings of the Beatles in existence (if you discount inferior bootlegs) did not impress me. What did impress me, however, was the electric atmosphere and raw energy that came over…”

“Those of us who were lucky enough to be present at a live Beatle concert – be it in Liverpool, London, New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Sydney or wherever – will know how amazing, how unique those performances were…And for the others who wondered what on earth all the fuzz was about, this album may give a little clue…” 

Well said, George!

 

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