Thursday, November 14, 2013

Kevin Howlett - The Beatles: The BBC Archives (1962 - 1970)

I know what you're thinking. How many years in a row can Beatles related merchandise be released in November for the upcoming Christmas season? Many of the annual holiday releases cover overly discussed terrain so anything new that comes out has to be something quite compelling in order to hold the interest of long time fans. Fortunately, The Beatles: The BBC Archives (1962 - 1970) by Beatles historian, Kevin Howlett, is not just something completely different, it's a gem of a coffee table book.

Howlett tells the tale of how important the BBC was to The Beatles' rise to fame over 48 radio shows in 1963, 39 of them featuring their music. Many of these songs were released on The Beatles Live At The BBC in 1994 and on the just released followup, On Air - Live At The BBC, Volume Two, to which Howlett's book not coincidentally serves as a companion.

The large edition covers a lot of ground. Even though the Beatles eventually stopped playing on the Beeb before they quit touring in 1966 they continued to use the network for publicity. There are transcripts of interviews with the band from 1962 through their breakup in 1970. Also included are nostalgic chats with producers and staff members who worked with The Beatles on both BBC TV and radio. Complete set lists of their broadcasts are presented as well as rare and never before released photographs from the broadcaster's files.

One of the book's highlights features Howlett discussing details of the quartet's inaugural show seven months before they released "Love Me Do" as their first single in November 1962.

Before 1967 very few records were spun on BBC. Instead, The Beatles played their music live or recorded new versions of their songs especially for their appearances. Many of the redone versions have a fresher and often leaner sound than the originals. That makes them different enough to guarantee you some worthwhile listening.

The quite heavy, hardback book comes in a package that replicates a vintage reel-to-reel tape box along with reproductions of original documents and correspondence. The best one is a letter from May 1967 in which the BBC wrote to Sir Joseph Lockwood, the Chairman of EMI, advising him that "A Day In The Life" would be banned from the government run airwaves due to the song's apparent drug references.

The BBC Archives is more of a history lesson than a biography and is a perfect way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the release of The Beatles' first album in the UK, Please Please Me.

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