Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The Beatles capsules: other studio bootlegs

(I wrote this a year ago, in April 2020. Apologies if any material therein is now outdated.)

Those of us cursed with the Beatles obsession often find ourselves wandering down strange alleyways of minutiae; part of it is not wanting to be "done" with hearing the entire output of the best rock band the world's ever known, which is why it's a major world event every time something new surfaces, officially or unofficially... but part of it also comes from the rush of a real find, like the first time you hear the end of the extended "It's All Too Much," or Paul's demo of "Goodbye," or some of the wilder jams on "She's a Woman" and "What You're Doing," or "Revolution 1" take 20, and wanting to recapture that, plundering the darker corners of the fandom hoping for some similar experience. They are few and far between, but they're out there.

One thing that should be addressed somewhere is the unissued Sessions album, which appeared on EMI's release schedule in 1984 and even had artwork assigned (which I've here given to the Unusual Mixes set at the bottom of this page) but never made it to the marketplace because of complaints from the surviving Beatles and the John Lennon estate. Nevertheless, its contents all became highlights of the later official Anthology project. It consisted of some tracks that had been bootlegged in some form as well as many that had never been heard outside Abbey Road at all, all controversially remixed and "modernized" by Geoff Emerick. (Emerick's mixes were inherited by the Anthology CDs, to the chagrin of many.) The tracks were: the demo of "Come and Get It" (ultimately released on Anthology 3), "Leave My Kitten Alone" (Anthology 1), "Not Guilty" (3), the outtake version of "I'm Looking Through You" (Anthology 2), "What's the New Mary Jane" (3), "How Do You Do It?" (1), the EMI recording-test version of "Besame Mucho" (1), the 1963 performance of "One After 909" (1), "If You've Got Trouble" (2), "That Means a Lot" (2), George Harrison's solo demo of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (3), "Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues" (3) and an edit of "Christmas Time Is Here Again" (the "Free as a Bird" CD single). Emerick's mixes are very heavy on echo and, like the 1987 mixes of the Help! and Rubber Soul albums, have dated badly, although this doesn't dismiss what a goldmine of material this would eventually turn out to be for those of us who, in the 1990s, didn't otherwise have access to unauthorized releases. Sessions played a pivotal role in both the bootleg market as it stretched into the CD era, and in launching a more fruitful era of Beatles archival releases, despite its initial failure, and so we must pay our respects to it.

On this page I've listed and reviewed boots that don't warrant reviews of their own, usually because the material they cover is better examined in official releases elsewhere even though it's more exhaustively covered on these collections. Does that make sense? There's also a bootleg of unbelievably silly minutiae that I made myself.

The Beatles: I Hope We Passed the Audition (bootleg [Purple Chick] 1961-69) [r]
Or more accurately, the (nearly*) complete "Beatles with Pete Best"; "audition" isn't fully correct for anything here, as we'll see. This is Purple Chick's catch-all package for every professional Beatles recording before Ringo joined the band (in other words everything prior to the second EMI date on September 4, 1962). This is the album I pull up when I want to listen to this stuff, but it doesn't warrant a full review because its contents are examined at length in separate entries for the 1961 Bert Kaempfert sessions with Tony Sheridan (In the Beginning) and for the so-called Decca audition tape, which was actually a recording test rather than an audition. (That the Beatles already felt they had a Decca deal in the bag made that day especially disappointing.) Lastly, the PC set adds the two songs from the surviving acetate of the first EMI session with George Martin on June 6, 1962, prior to Pete's dismissal (this too was not really an audition, despite long being thought of as one); I talk about those tracks, the Pete version of "Love Me Do" and "Besame Mucho," in the context of their official release on Anthology 1. All that said, this is the most complete gathering of both the German studio sessions and the Decca tape and is really all you need for a full perspective on everything before the session for the first single. As a listening experience it's slightly awkward because the purpose of the Kaempfert and Decca material is so different, and because the chronological arrangement sends "Sweet Georgia Brown" periodically creeping back in like a sickness, but this is all music that big fans should have and it's the best way to keep it all together comprehensively. The only point of criticism one can have is that the mono mixes of the Sheridan material aren't included, but that's going far afield of relevance even for me. Unlike everything the Beatles ever laid down on tape at EMI, the Kaempfert sessions are actually audiophile-quality and timelessly slick-sounding, which wouldn't have pleased them -- they liked the filthy sound of '50s R&B -- but does make for an interesting listen. (Note: the odd 1969 date in the header is because PC cleverly if unnecessarily closes out the set with John's titular joke from the album version of "Get Back.")

(* "Nearly" because it doesn't have the BBC recordings that feature Best on drums.)

The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - The Multitracks (bootleg 1967) [r]
One of the most recent additions to the canon of mysterious Beatles bootlegs, this collection of separated four-track elements from four songs on Sgt. Pepper surfaced around 2007. It's not to be confused with the artificially separated elements you can find courtesy of the Beatles Rock Band video game; these are transfers of the actual tapes, including some discarded elements that were mixed out of the released tracks. The songs under the microscope are "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," "She's Leaving Home," "A Day in the Life" and "With a Little Help from My Friends." Highlights that never seemed so impressive before include the monstrous electric guitar on the title track; the surprisingly intricate harmony vocal on "She's Leaving Home" (the same song also reveals a brief cello interlude edited out of the released cut); the stunning isolated vocals for "A Day in the Life"; and the incredible bass and drums on "A Day in the Life," as well as the disused tack piano-like track on the same song. In fact, everything about "A Day in the Life" is the reason to track this down. (It often appears as a bonus sixth disc on the Purple Chick set for Pepper.) Somewhat superfluous: the inclusion of several multitrack remixes made by the compilers, but more important is the fact that you can now do the same thing yourself with the proper software. Have fun. We only wish similar "stems and seeds"-like sources existed for all the Beatles' music, as these are extremely engrossing.

The Beatles: Anthology Plus (bootleg [2CD] 1960-69) [r]
This is only here because I have a soft spot for it as the first Beatles bootleg I ever acquired, after years of hearing other fans fawn over the stuff that was available on back channels. Heard today, it's a highly imperfect collection (kind of a "best of" of boots) meant very specifically to supplement the Anthology discs with some of the most well-loved unreleased but circulating material that didn't make the cut of those collections, some of which we know to have been up for inclusion but vetoed by one of the then-surviving Beatles or Yoko Ono. (It goes so far as to incorporate the b-sides from the "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love" singles.) That's the only explanation of why Paul's solo demo of "Goodbye," one of the loveliest performances Paul's ever put on tape, isn't on Anthology 3. (It was finally let out into the world for real in 2019.) Now that I've heard pretty much all of the studio material that has leaked out over the years, it's a little harder for me to recapture the feeling I first had when hearing those 1960 versions of "I'll Follow the Sun" and "One After 909," the Cavern rehearsal of "I Saw Her Standing There," John's gorgeous solo bathroom demo of "Bad to Me" (finally officially released in 2013), the remarkable banter that joins outtakes of "Don't Bother Me" and "She's a Woman," the rawer take 2 of "I'm a Loser," the self-parodying sound of the band totally giving up on "That Means a Lot," the liberating psychedelic rant and rave of the complete "It's All Too Much," the Esher demos of "Revolution" and "Back in the U.S.S.R." (finally issued by Apple in 2018), the grinding raw early takes of "Two of Us" and "Get Back," and the exquisite jam "Suzy Parker." I have to admit, too, that this is a pretty perfect introduction to the depth of lovely sounds available on Beatles boots without the attendant repetition, and well-compiled with a good sense of both historical significance and musical quality. The main corrections I'd make, taking into account how much has been released since this surfaced in 2007, would be adding the legendary take 11 of "What You're Doing," the alternate mix of the Abbey Road medley and, inevitably, "Revolution" take 20... and perhaps the extended variations of "Something" and "She's a Woman" that circulate. There's very little else that feels glaring in its absence.

The usual dictum applies, however: if you care enough to seek this out, you probably care enough to go for broke and shoot for the stars by tracking down the whole catalog of Purple Chick deluxe editions. Still, this is a listenable and lovely primer on what still exists in the vaults, and I wouldn't be opposed to an update. (I wish we could just hear everything that got vetoed from the Anthology project.) But again, this is me being sentimental. Since I didn't hear "Bad to Me" and "Goodbye" until I was an adult -- which differentiates it from every officially released Beatles track up to 2012; I'd heard them all before I was out of middle school -- the associations I have with those performances are particularly strong. I write more properly about them in the Home Recordings review, but let me just say, "Goodbye" takes me right back to one of the few lovely moments in a very distinctive time and place in my life, and I'm grateful for that sense of intoxication I still get it from it -- and I owe that specific sensation to this specific compilation.

The Beatles: (Unusual mixes) (bootleg 1963-66)
Like the Beach Boys' masterpiece Latter-Day Odds and Ends, this is a compilation I made myself, and I only include it here because it's a handy way to mention a few things that I don't have a better place to address. In part it's extremely specific to my own collection because it contains the errant unique mixes from various releases I don't happen to have in digital formats, like the 1993 CD of the Red album (these sound quite good actually and must have been nice to run across when the relevant songs were only available in mono on disc), Hey Jude and Reel Music; but since I do have MP3 needledrops of Rock 'n' Roll Music and Love Songs, those aren't here, nor are any of the alternate mixes included on the Purple Chick bootleg downloads. And I don't bother with fake stereo or fold-downs. A more comprehensive version of this same basic idea, for those with completist tendencies, can be found on the Every Little Thing bootleg series, which was actually my source for a few of the very hard to find pieces here. To build it I used the indispensable and oddly fascinating Usenet Guide to Beatles Recording Variations (that's a more up-to-date version of the file than the one that existed when I put this together). Below are the tracks I included that are not mentioned elsewhere in this discography. Keep in mind this is extreme ephemera, and most of them are featured on the basis of fan speculation that they are legitimate alternate mixes that's by no means verified.

Don't Bother Me [Canadian stereo with defect]: Found on a very specific mid-1970s reissue of Meet the Beatles! only issued in Canada, this has what sounds like George coming in too early on the "don't" on "don't come around, leave me alone" but it's since been explained as a mastering error (with an engineer accidentally briefly letting the monitor sound, which is about two seconds ahead, slip onto the cutting master).

I Want to Hold Your Hand [1965 stereo mix]: George Martin's awful first attempt to mix this song to stereo dates from 1963; the result, which is akin to his twintrack stereo dubs, only appeared on an obscure Australian 7" but was used on the Purple Chick With the Beatles boot. This is a much better, fuller-sounding second remix from two years later, again for foreign markets, this time for various LPs in Germany, Holland and Australia. The canon mix, heard on A Collection of Beatles Oldies and most UK releases since, followed a year later and finally made it out to the larger world on the 1988 Past Masters CD. The second mix was never released in the UK or U.S., but I'm not sure why PC ignored it as it is noticeably different, especially in the levels on the guitars.

A Hard Day's Night [extended cassette version]: As on some prints of the film, this artificially extended mix of the song repeats the ending guitar line a few extra times, but weirder yet, on various eight-track and compact cassette versions of the United Artists original soundtrack album issued in the late '60s and early '70s, the "you know I feel all right" chorus repeats several extra times, apparently to match up the lengths of the sides and avoid extra dead air. Pretty strange!

Paperback Writer [U.S. stereo]: From the Hey Jude LP, later used on the U.S. Red album, this sounds quite different from the standard mix (first released on A Collection of Beatles Oldies) but PC doesn't include it likely because there is speculation it's the same mix with channels reversed and some slight balancing adjustments. That said, Lewisohn lists three stereo mixes made on the same day, so it could easily be a legit variant.

Finally, something I own but haven't bothered to include here is a 1986 remix of "Twist and Shout"; I'm sure it circulates digitally somewhere but I have it on a vinyl 7" Capitol put out that year to promote Ferris Bueller's Day Off, one of the last movies to license a Beatles tune before a nearly two-decade lapse. There are some balancing differences in the single, which is in stereo; interesting enough for me to pay a quarter for the disc but not enough for me to create or track down an MP3. [Update: Since I wrote this I've begun trying to collect the major mix variants on vinyl; I recently paid $5 for a mono Beatles' Second Album in shit condition -- this is a terrible decision on my part and I need someone to come to my house and stop me. Thanks, see you then.]