Our resident Beatles BBC tracks expert, Tom Frangione, offers this look at what’s still missing …
While the majority of the Beatles-reading world is savoring the long awaited first installment of Mark Lewisohn’s trilogy, avid students of the group are pulling double-duty thanks to Kevin Howlett’s remarkable book “The Beatles: The BBC Archives.”
Appearing almost simultaneously with the arrival of the second legally sanctioned collection of the Beatles’ historic radio performances, “On Air: Live at the BBC – Volume 2,” it makes for a fitting opportunity to examine the treasure trove of tracks that comprise this vital component of the band’s recording and performance legacy.
Beyond the two double-disc releases from Apple, there’s a wealth of material that’s circulated among collectors (including John Lennon) for over four decades. The most celebrated collection of these releases, “The Complete BBC Sessions,” appeared in 1993 on the European label Great Dane. The nine-disc set was lavishly packaged and collected all of the known circulating BBC recordings made by the group. While these had been scattered and largely misidentified over the years, scholarly research by Lewisohn, Howlett and others led to the production of radio specials in the early 1980s to commemorate the then-20th anniversary of The Beatles’ first appearances at the Beeb (as the British lovingly refer to their native radio service). This led to renewed interest among collectors and the emergence of additional tapes (many of substantially improved fidelity) and the ensuing proliferation of bootleg releases and vastly expanded radio productions.
The appearance of the Great Dane set drew notice outside of Beatles and record collecting circles, and was even reviewed in the New York Times. There’s little debate this helped nudge Apple/EMI to issue their own authorized selection of these performances in 1994.
Examining the track list of the Great Dane set, only 43 of the 275 songs performed by The Beatles on BBC radio went unrepresented, the recordings presumably lost to the ages. But the story doesn’t end there.
In the wake of the renewed interest in the BBC archives, a 10th bonus disc appeared, containing a previously uncirculated recording of the April 12, 1963, program “Here We Go,” featuring high-fidelity versions of the band’s complete three-song performance. Subsequent “upgraded” collections, most notably on the Purple Chick and Yellow Dog labels, provided over a dozen more, bringing the list of those “missing in action to just 27 songs. For fans and collectors, it’s no small relief that none of the 27 are titles that are otherwise unavailable, but rather are additional performances of songs already released or otherwise circulating.
“Unsurpassed Broadcasts,” the newest such collection of the “complete” BBC canon, collects all but the missing 27, together with some interviews, in-studio sessions and other BBC programming on 13 CDs. A parallel box set, “Live at the BBC 1962-1968,” mirrors the 13-disc set and adds two bonus DVDs of BBC-related material. For now, that’s as good as it’s going to get.
So, to help you keep tabs of all this, the right-hand column of the above chart indicates the ones that got away. (Click on the chart to make it bigger.)
As we’ve seen over the past 20 years, the list of missing performances was cut from 43 to 27, so there’s always hope. Where certain “full shows” are unrepresented in any form (the earliest 1962 broadcasts and peculiarly 4/22/63, for example), it’s less likely that tapes will surface. But, interestingly, many of the missing songs emanate from shows for which recordings do indeed exist. Check out 1/29/63 and 3/28/63 for example, where parts of the missing reels have turned up. An even more compelling case can be made for hopes that several of the songs that appear as one-offs on the list might one day come to light, as most come from shows where The Beatles performed up to a half dozen songs!
Twenty seven more to go. Since they pretty much run two to two and a half minutes, we’re less than a full CD away. Keep the faith!
And, by all means, share ’em if you got ’em!
— Tom Frangione