Friday, November 15, 2013

Becky Reviews The Beatles' "On Air - Live at the BBC, Volume 2" (Be Good, but Not So Frightfully Good!)

In 1994, a long-defunct and obscure little band that no one had ever heard of released a double album of live tracks from thirty years prior.  The record, called Live at the BBC, came into my house shortly after its debut, but it wasn’t until a good ten years later when, saturated by all of the “standard” Beatles albums, I returned to Live at the BBC and realized just how good it really was.

Full of songs (mostly covers) found nowhere else in the Beatles canon, it was a trove of revelations.  “The Hippy, Hippy Shake.” (For. Good. Ness. Saaaaaake!) “Glad All Over.” “Soldier of Love.” "Too Much Monkey Business." "Memphis, Tennessee." And amidst it all, on-air studio banter with the boys themselves, who provided succinct introductions on the very first track:

“I’m Ringo and I play the drums.”
“Hey-o, I’m Paul and I play the uh, uh…bass.”
“I’m George and I play a guitar.”
“I’m John and I too play a guitar.  Sometimes I play the fool.”

The tracks came from that heady era of Beatlemania when, between producing albums, multiple singles, going on worldwide tours, and eventually cranking out movies, the Beatles also performed on a variety of BBC radio shows, recording live versions of songs instead of playing records (now there’s a work ethic for you!).  Despite the grueling pace, it was all still fun back in those days, and you can hear that on the album, which is probably why despite the poor quality of some of the recordings, not to mention the antiquated tone of some of the songs themselves (“The Honeymoon Song,” anyone?) it’s a gorgeous thing listen to.  Regardless of how old you are, when you were born, or when you first heard it, listening to Live at the BBC is like listening to your childhood.

It took nineteen years, but a follow-up, On Air - Live at the BBC, Volume 2, was finally released this week, promising more of the same and delivering - delivering perhaps a little too much of the same, in fact. Granted, in 1994 it's doubtful anyone was thinking ahead two decades to the next release date, but it seems that for the most part, the “previously unheard” songs were culled for the first in this set. Though the individual recordings are all new releases, there are only two songs on Volume 2 not heard on either Volume 1 or on one of the thirteen standard Beatles album.  And the studio banter, a favorite part of the original for me, is somehow not as satisfying.  Through several of the tracks, everyone seems to be talking over each other, and there are cultural references I’m not privy to. Actually, it all fits well into the tone of current times, and I was left wondering if the spoken tracks were chosen truly because they were the best available, or if they were the ones that sounded the most “modern.”

Nonetheless, this is the Beatles, after all, and it was worth the price of the album for their live cover of “Words of Love” alone.  There are also four bonus tracks, two at the end of each CD, with 8-minute-or-so interviews with each of the boys on their own.  These are also worth the price of the album…George’s confession that he’s not all that fond of kids, John’s speculation on whether or not Julian will be teased at school because of his father’s occupation…it’s such a beautiful reminder of how young they were then, of how young all of us once were.  They were real people, you know. Their immense talent, success, and charisma didn’t exclude them from the injustice of eventually having to grow up.  But nothing is "grown up" about the Live at the BBC albums, and that's part of what makes them so wonderful.

It may not offer much that’s new, but this second Live at the BBC can’t be faulted for not following through on giving us another helping of the exuberance of youth.  In the booklet for the first volume, there is a line in the notes quoting Commander Stephen King-Hall:  "Be good but not so frightfully good."  I always liked that quote.  I thought it applied to the Beatles pristinely, and I use it again here as the means to describe how I felt listening to a whole new collection of all the same old stuff.  Some kind of alright, but maybe not perfection, either.

Though I would still recommend Volume 1 to the rank Beatles amateur, for the rest of us, it's damn good stuff for a true fan, this Volume 2.  There’s even another version of “The Hippy Hippy Shake” here, which I’m listening to as I finish this review.

How can you not love it?  He's yelling at us right now:  Paul McCartney, 21 years old.  Shouting to us all over again...

For.  Good.  Ness.  Saaaaaake!

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