Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Live! At the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany; 1962 - The Beatles
I was watching the movie "Backbeat" the other night and thinking how awesome the soundtrack sounded - too awesome since the music is played by an all-star band. A rhythm section of Mike Mills and Dave Grohl is meant to represent Stu Sutcliffe and Pete Best? That might work if Grohl played bass and Mills played drums. Anyway I pulled out this record to hear what the Beatles really sounded like in Hamburg although this was recorded after Sutcliffe and Best had left the band (there are a few home recordings on the "Anthology 1" album that feature Sutcliffe in the band if anyone is curious.) It was recorded in late December 1962 during the band's final sojourn in Hamburg by fellow Liverpool musician Ted "Kingsize" Taylor on an amateur tape recorder with a single mike. The sound quality is abysmal, sub-bootleg quality, often the vocal is barely audible and the music is tinny with very little bottom. The record itself is shoddily made. I bought it new around the time of its release and it had surface noise and the vinyl was dimpled. In short it was a rip-off, but one I'm happy to own and one that all true Beatlemaniacs will probably find of interest. The American version of this is all covers, but the European issue featured two songs by Lennon and McCartney that were presumably removed from this for copyright reasons. Curiously neither version features "Love Me Do" or "P. S. I Love You" which the Beatles had already released as a single and which they had been performing in England. Maybe they wanted to please the crowd with covers of songs they already knew. Eight of the covers would turn up on the Beatles' studio albums and several of the others will be familiar to people who have heard the BBC sessions or the Decca audition tape. The primary value of this record is that it gives a portrait of the group's sound and repertoire prior to their rise to stardom which was just weeks away. It sounds like a great show, I'd give just about anything to have been there watching it. The Beatles' patter is preserved on the disc and is fun to listen to, McCartney is already quite the charmer while Lennon sounds like he's under the influence of something and takes great delight in substituting the word "shitty" for "city" or "shimmy." The songs run the gamut from ferocious rockers like Ray Charles' "Talking About You," Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen" and Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally" to pop ballads like the Teddy Bears' "To Know Her Is To Love Her" or Tommy Roe's "Sheila" to standards like "Besame Mucho," "Red Sails in the Sunset" and Marlene Dietrich's "Falling in Love Again" and almost all of them sound at least decent and many are first rate. They were so versatile, even at this early stage in their development. What I find amazing, is that by most accounts, the Beatles did not want to be there, they were reluctantly fulfilling a contractual obligation and presumably just going through the motions and yet they still sound terrific. Those early Beatles really could rock. I think even without the benefit of hindsight, you could listen to these crude recordings and detect that there was something special going on here. Recommended for people who prefer "I Saw Her Standing There" to "Yesterday."