And now…here they are…The Beatles!
The summers of 1964 and 1965 are now more than fifty years in the rearview mirror, yet the music made by four lads from Liverpool over three evenings at Los Angeles’ famous Hollywood Bowl now sounds so fresh and so immediate, you could believe it was recorded yesterday. Such is the work of the sonic wizards on Capitol/Apple/UMe’s first-time-on-CD, retitled, remixed and expanded reissue of The Beatles’ Live at the Hollywood Bowl (B0025451-02, 2016).
Capitol Records first captured John, Paul, George and Ringo at the venerable Los Angeles bandshell on August 23, 1964 during the height of Beatlemania. The tapes, however, proved to be of less than optimal quality, though the label utilized less than a minute of “Twist and Shout” for the docu-album The Beatles Story. When the Fab Four returned to the venue on August 29 and 30 of the following year, their American label was once again rolling tape, but the finished results once again were deemed inadequate for commercial release.
More than a decade passed before George Martin was enlisted to review the tapes to fill the gaping hole where a live album should have existed in the band’s discography. (A reported 1971 attempt by Phil Spector never panned out.) Martin found the August 29, 1965 recording to be the least useable of the three performances, selecting only “Ticket to Ride” and “Help!” from that date as well as part of “Dizzy Miss Lizzy.” Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick assembled what was originally titled The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl primarily from the August 23, 1964 and August 30, 1965 tapes, and upon its release in May ’77, the group’s first ever authorized live album became an instant success.
Despite being the only true live album in The Beatles’ catalogue, the album remained lost in the CD era and perhaps best-known for the screams of Beatlemaniacs which very nearly overwhelmed the music. Thanks to the advance of technology, the original record as conceived by the late George Martin can now be enjoyed anew. For sure, the first sound heard on Live at the Hollywood Bowl is that of screaming. The incessant howls continue throughout the entirety of the 17-track release. But what’s now a cushion of historically-accurate background noise was once at the forefront, defining the record.
Giles Martin, George’s son and his collaborator on The Beatles’ LOVE spectacle in Vegas, has produced this new version aided by mixing engineer Sam Okell and remastering engineer Alex Wharton. The wonder of their work is evident from the very first track. “Twist and Shout” – barely a minute and a half long – threatens to explode from the speakers with joyous abandon. Though The Beatles wore no monitors and likely couldn’t hear each other onstage, they played like a true, tightly-attuned band with no studio enhancement. Giles Martin’s team has lowered the yelps and brought the band forward with remarkable clarity in both vocals and instrumentation. (For the record, Capitol’s Voyle Gilmore produced the initial recordings.) The soundstage makes good use of stereo, lending true dimension to the 50+-year old tapes.
The din of the shouting might have proven distracting, but likely it was inspirational as well. Compare the performances here to those on the two volumes of Live at the BBC; without an audience’s energy, there’s less sheer frisson from the band. The Hollywood Bowl, for a brief half-hour or so each night, became as intimate as the Cavern Club, bringing newly-empowered young fans close to their heroes. In these uptempo, rough and raw live takes of both Beatle originals and tried-and-true covers from Little Richard, Chuck Berry and others, there’s no compensating from the band to “fill” the enormous venue – just straight-ahead, unvarnished, potent rock-and-roll.
If anyone ever doubted that the Fab Four could rock as hard as The Stones or The Who, there’s ample evidence here, whether Paul’s ferocious lead on “She’s a Woman,” George’s garage licks and John’s throat-shredding vocals on “Twist and Shout” and “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” or Ringo’s loose and engaging step to the microphone for “Boys.” The band modulates the then-new “Things We Said Today” like a three-act play, ratcheting up the excitement with the furious bridge, and makes sure their perfect pop harmonies are intact on “Boys,” just to name one. The back-to-back punch of “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!,” almost impossibly fresh and throbbing with urgency, reminds the listener even now of why The Beatles changed the game in popular music.
Four newly-remixed bonus tracks not on the 1977 release have been appended for this edition, all of which are as essential as the thirteen core songs. “You Can’t Do That” and especially “I Want to Hold Your Hand” crackle with energy. Carl Perkins’ “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby” is a sprightly dose of rockabilly, while the waltzing “Baby’s in Black” is about the slowest item on this set.
An attractive 24-page booklet printed on heavy, glossy stock is enclosed within the digipak which, in one of the collection’s only missteps, bears the artwork for Ron Howard’s upcoming documentary film Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years rather than a Hollywood Bowl-themed cover. (The movie premieres next week, on September 16.) The booklet contains David Fricke’s informative and entertaining essay as well as photos, replicas of period articles, and George Martin’s liner notes for the original 1977 LP. (Of particular amusement are the concert tickets with a face value of $3.00 and $5.50!)
With this release, Beatlefans (and who isn’t?) can check this long-lost LP off their CD wish lists. (A deluxe vinyl edition is also available for pre-order, arriving November 18.) An insert promises the November DVD/BD release of Ron Howard’s film about the Fabs’ touring years, but Live at the Hollywood Bowl happily stands on its own as a document of an era the likes of which will never be seen again. Yeah, yeah, yeah!
Live at the Hollywood Bowl is available now at the links below: