To accompany the film Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years, Apple Records, now part of Universal Music, has re-released as a CD the LP The Beatles Live At The Hollywood Bowl, until now available only on vinyl. Originally released in 1977, it didn’t stay around long, though it was reissued on EMI’s downmarket MFP label around 1980, then allowed to slip out of print, probably because after the death of John, who approved it, the others weren’t so keen.
I liked it a lot, however, if for no other reason than that it was a cherished memento of the social revolution we call Beatlemania, and I still have my vinyl copy. Oddly, this edition is still available on Amazon, reasonably priced (used, at around the £15 mark) and outrageously priced (£500 mint). My copy has got a hole punched in the top right hand corner of the sleeve, which indicates it’s a promo copy; this tallies with it being not on Parlophone but on the Capitol label, ie the US version, as in 1977 I was living in New York.
My original Hollywood Bowl album with the hole punched out.
It isn’t quite mint but it’s not far off, probably because I would have played my bootleg Beatles Live At Shea Stadium far more, without realising until much later that it was a recording from the same shows misleadingly titled. I can still remember the thrill of acquiring this (in 1971) from a record shop in Chancery Lane, around the corner from the Melody Maker offices in Fleet Street, that specialised in under-the-counter stuff. I liked to play it at parties, really loud, and watch the reaction when the announcer shouts, “And now… here they are… The Beatles” as they crash into ‘Twist And Shout’. Invariably everyone looked at one another with an expression of total joy and started dancing. So it follows that having played this bootleg album to death, I didn’t play the authorised version that much when it arrived six years later.
The new CD offers the same track listing (‘Twist And Shout’, ‘She’s A Woman’, ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy’, ‘Ticket To Ride’, ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’, ‘Things We Said Today’, ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, ‘Boys’, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, ‘Help!’, ‘All My Loving’, ‘She Loves You’ and ‘Long Tall Sally’) with four bonus tracks (‘You Can’t Do That’, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, ‘Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby’ and ‘Baby’s In Black’) which were no doubt left off the original vinyl for space reasons.
The accepted wisdom is that as The Beatles became more accomplished in the studio their live performances deteriorated, this largely because no one could hear them play anyway, least of all themselves, so there was no point in trying. The group themselves, most notably John and George, promoted this notion, as did the crap-sounding unofficial live recording from Hamburg that was released just before the original vinyl Hollywood Bowl album. It didn’t help that this was an amateur recording taped at a time when The Beatles were bored with Hamburg and probably drunk. After all, it was New Year’s Eve, 1962.
We had to wait until the BBC recordings and Anthology CDs for more evidence of how The Beatles sounded live, and with each new instalment opinions were revised upwards. Of course they were never going to sound like The Who or Led Zeppelin but that was because technology had advanced by the time the rock concert circuit came of age. If comparisons are to be made it ought to be with early live recordings by The Rolling Stones and Beach Boys – the only two contemporaries whose live albums I own since most ‘pop’ acts didn’t bother with live records in those days – and in this company The Beatles are magnificent. The Stones’ only live effort from the era, Got Live If You Want It!, is a dog’s dinner of dodgy overdubs and fakery on a seismic scale, and The Beach Boys, for all their vocal prowess, sound thin and weedy.
So it gives me great pleasure to report that on Live At The Hollywood Bowl, its tracks taken from three concerts there (August 23, 1964, and August 29 & 30, 1965), The Beatles trounce them both. Somehow, despite the conditions, they manage to conjure up some of the magic that drew crowds to the Star Club in Hamburg and The Cavern and everywhere else around Liverpool when they really were the best rock and roll band in the world.
Nowhere is this more apparent than on ‘Things We Said Today’, which – as booklet contributor David Fricke points out – is a startling reflection of just how good they could be when they really tried. The magic moment comes in the leap from verse to middle-eight, the surge from A minor to A major, when they abruptly move into supercharge mode, piling on the volume and effort as Paul sings the line ‘Me I’m just a lucky guy’ and the audience, recognising the moment, respond in kind. Much that is called awesome these days is not. This really is.
Nevertheless, there is evidence to suggest that The Beatles didn’t want to tax themselves: six of the 13 tracks on the original LP were fairly straightforward 12-bars (as are two of the four bonus tracks), and ‘Twist And Shout’ is a three-chord song that beginners learn in the guitar equivalent of primary school. George is therefore called upon to chomp down a lot on that barred major up and down his fretboard while his little finger does the work, as John is no doubt also doing though it’s difficult to make out his rhythm guitar above the sharper noise from George’s Gretsch, Paul’s bass – which comes through remarkably well, far louder than on the studio albums – and Ringo’s sturdy, no-nonsense drumming.
Vocally, both John and Paul are in great form throughout, though John sounds a bit off key here and there and loses the plot a bit towards the end of ‘Help!’, much to his own amusement. He has a slight tendency to bellow but when that seriously snappy voice of his comes cutting through like a knife, it’s one of the greatest rock’n’roll voices you’ll ever hear.
‘Twist And Shout’, the opener, is truncated – just over a minute, the final bit, after the guitar solo on the recorded version – but gets things off to a flying start, and ‘She’s A Woman’ swings like it always did, Paul’s rolling, loping bass line to the fore, and when he screams at the end it’s like a pressure cooker being let off. George’s solos often ramp things up, no more so than in ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy’ (which is spliced together from two separate performances of the song) and when John and Paul choose to sing together, as in ‘Ticket To Ride’ and, later, in ‘A Day’s Night’ and ‘Help!’, it sounds terrific, that wonderful Beatles harmonic that seduced the world.
George takes the heavy load, vocals and lead guitar, on ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ though his second solo is a bit ragged, and Ringo’s party piece ‘Boys’ is taken at such a furious pace that it can’t have been easy singing and drumming at the same time, especially with all that din around him. From the evidence of the photos in the booklet, his drums weren’t miked at all in 1965 (though the amps were) and there was only a single mike suspended above his head in 1964 (when the amps weren’t miked at all). Nevertheless you can hear Ringo clearly throughout, steady as a rock in a tidal wave.
Paul is especially impressive on ‘All My Loving’, again taken a bit quick, his busy bass thumping away, and John helps out on the final verse. ‘She Loves You’ is a predictable scream fest, especially when Paul and George yell ‘Ooo’ at the top of their voices and no doubt shake their heads to fuel the fan fervour. ‘Long Tall Sally’, also fast, closes the set, Paul’s vocals as raucous as ever though George runs out of steam on the second solo, not that it matters.
There is no perceptible difference between the 1964 and 1965 recordings, but the four bonus tracks don’t quite hit the spot in the way that the other 13 do. They’re OK but not great, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ the best of the bunch, with massive screaming after the ‘I can’t hide’ line, and though ‘Baby’s In Black’ is a bit plodding John is to be commended for his perfect pitch on the higher notes.
This edition has been remixed from the original three-track tapes by Giles Martin, son of George, and is certainly a better listen than the vinyl that I played again this week for the first time in many years. There’s also a decent booklet with helpful sleeve notes, including Georg Martin’s original from 1977, contemporary news reports and plenty of pictures.