The other night I listened to the new Beatles album, On Air–Live at the BBC Volume 2, and it's got its pros and cons.
To be honest, I could do without the 19 “speech tracks” that litter this three-LP package. Most of it is goofy gibberish between the Beatles and various BBC DJs, but I don’t need to hear that crap. Although I love the Beatles to death—they’re my favourite band of all time—there was enough Fab Four silliness on A Hard Day’s Night alone to last a lifetime.
These recordings from 1963 and ’64 do capture the band performing some of its biggest early hits—including Lennon-McCartney classics like “She Loves You”, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, and “I Saw Her Standing There”—but many of the songs here were already included on the first Live at the BBC collection, which was issued in ’94 and sold an estimated eight-million copies during its first year of release.
One cool thing about Volume 2 is the number of covers by the American artists who most influenced the Beatles, including Carl Perkins, Buddy Holly, and Little Richard. There are three songs by Chuck Berry, including a previously unreleased, direct-to-air performance of “I’m Talking About You”.
As noted on the album’s back cover, “some tracks included for their historical significance do not represent the usual sound quality of studio recordings.” Whether or not you’ll be okay with the sound quality depends a lot on how much of a hardcore Beatles/nostalgia buff you are.
For me, listening to Volume 2 tracks like Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” and the Tamla/Motown hit “Please Mr. Postman” hold special significance because those were the two songs on the very first record I remember buying.
I think I was around six or seven when I made that unforgettable purchase. I was visiting my grandparents in Point Grey, and my mom took me for a walk to a record store on 10th Avenue—which seemed like halfway around the world. She bought me the 45 and then we went back and played it on my grandparents’ stereo until I was politely asked to stop.
At the time I had no idea that these weren’t actually Beatles songs. They sure as hell sounded like Beatles songs to me.
Stand on it, George!