Sunday, October 3, 2010

A History of the Beatles' BBC Bootleg Releases


(ref: Great Dane's Complete BBC Sessions liner notes)

Considering the tremendous importance of the material performed and broadcast in the fifty-two BBC sessions, it is no surprise that many LP and, lately, CD releases have appeared. It is not possible to detail every single production here, but some notes on the most important records nevertheless should be of interest. These notes are derived from a forthcoming book which will report on every known unofficial Beatles record.

The first record to contain Beatles BBC radio performances, and one of the most important Beatles bootlegs from the historical point of view, was released in August 1971 by TMOQ (Trade Mark of Quality), a legendary California company which produced, from 1970 to 1975, more than a hundred different unofficial records by many top rock and pop groups. This first record was titled YELLOW MATTER CUSTARD and contained 14 BBC songs, thirteen of which were never recorded for EMI (the other one was "Slow Down"). These were derived from the Pop Go The Beatles programmes of July and August 1963. The first pressing of this LP had the typical coloured cardboard jacket of TMOQ, with a round sticker with a pig logo, rubber-stamped title (reading "YELLOW MATTER CUSTARD - PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED STUDIO MATERIAL"), 'round a label with a large 1 or 2 for side indicators, and coloured vinyl. Its sound quality was reasonably good. The matrix number was BBL-513. It became one of the most sought-after items by Beatles collectors, and during the seventies (and into the eighties) the stamper BBL-513 was used for a great number of repressings, with differences in labels and sleeve, and coloured as well as black, or even multicoloured, vinyl. The issues released from 1973 to 1976 also had the catalogue number 71032 printed on a slipsheet. A different tape, including the same songs in slightly superior sound quality, was used in late 1971 or early 1972 by another outfit known to collectors as White Cover Folks, probably from the eastern coast of the USA. This had the matrix number YMC-101, the same title, YELLOW MATTER CUSTARD, a red label marked "Yellow Records", and a track listing. After a few reissues, it was repressed in 1975 from the original stampers by Berkeley Records, with the misleading title THE DECCA AUDITION TAPES. These two original LPs were copied by other manufacturers. The TMOQ record gave rise to the Contra Band Music (CBM) issue which first appeared in early 1972 on a 2-LP set titled DON'T PASS ME BY, matrix CBM 2C1/2D1. This set included the Christmas records and, as second disc, TMOQ LP with the addition of "The Saints" and "My Bonnie" from the Polydor Hamburg record. Starting in May 1973, this second disc was also distributed as a single LP with the usual title YELLOW MATTER CUSTARD. There were repressings (often of poor quality) until 1976. The "Yellow Records" version was copied by Dittolino Discs and issued in 1972 and 1973; this producer originally released it in a cover rubber-stamped with "14 UNRELEASED EARLY BEATLES CUTS." The subsequent editions had an insert titled "AS SWEET AS YOU ARE" (from the song "Don't Ever Change"). The stamper used for these issues was numbered D-1/2. In September 1976, it reappeared for K.O. Records (a name used by the Wizards group). The "Yellow Records" release was also copied by TMOQ-Smokin' Pig (to be distinguished from the original TMOQ by the Smoking Pig logo on their labels) for an LP released in 1973, and again titled YELLOW MATTER CUSTARD (matrix and catalogue number 1858). In summer 1975, Wizardo Records reproduced the thirteen unreleased songs, together with a few other BBC tracks copied from other records, on the LP ORIGINAL AUDITION TAPE CIRCA 1962 (another misleading title... and they knew it!). Other issues date from the mid-eighties, with a European fake "CBM" titled AS SWEET AS JOU ARE (sic!), and a "new" YELLOW MATTER CUSTARD version pressed by Starlight Records in 1990. The songs on the latter were taken from sources of better sound quality, and six more tracks were added.

More songs appeared in May 1972, again from TMOQ. This time, two LPs, with the titles OUTTAKES 1 and OUTTAKES 2, contained the BBC versions of 21 commercially released songs, plus "Lucille" and "The Hippy Hippy Shake." This material was from Pop Go The Beatles and Saturday Club. The sound quality was comparable with that of the previous release. The records were on matrix BO-519 and BO-520, and the first pressing had coloured vinyl, a rubber-stamped cover with a pig sticker, white labels with a black 1 and 2 for the sides, and two thin black rings around their border. The further issues, in part on black vinyl, featured the pig label; also a 2-LP set coupling the two single LPs was released. CBM copied the TMOQ records in 2 single LPs, titled STUDIO SESSIONS VOL. 1 and STUDIO SESSIONS VOL. 2. They were originally released in May 1973, with the title printed on the label, and subsequently repressed with various generic labels until 1976. In late 1979 or early 1980, the Japanese label Black Discs released these records on matrix ZAP-1061 / 1062. Twenty of these songs were joined together by Wizardo on a single album, titled WORDS OF LOVE in its first pressing, released in August 1975, and subtitled "STUDIO OUTAKE RECORDINGS 1962-64" in the later issues (continuing the tradition of misleading titles). These issues were on matrix WRMB-326, and had noticeably worse sound quality. Another compilation featuring part of the songs included on the two OUTTAKES LPs was produced by Wizardo in September 1976, entitled THE LAST BEETLE RECORD (matrix 393, black "World Records" label). Excerpts from the YELLOW MATTER CUSTARD and OUTTAKES 1 & 2 LPs were spread over a great number of records distributed in the second half of the seventies and in the first half of the eighties. There is no use in listing them here.

More material appeared in the early Seventies. This did not usually fill a complete LP; one or a few tracks, at times a single programme, were added to other material. The first programme to appear was Top Of The Pops, the U.S. rebroadcast of Top Gear July 16, 1964. This was independently released by an anonymous label on the album titled THE BEATLES LAST ALBUM, and by CBM on THE NEVER RELEASED MARY JANE. The first one was released in (possibly) late 1971 or early 1972, matrix 01 971. It was copied in 1972 by White Cover Folks as LIVE AT NASSAU, matrix 999, originally distributed with a yellow label. This album was repressed in 1973 and 1974 as TOP OF THE POPS/LIVE IN GERMANY. The CBM record (THE NEVER RELEASED MARY JANE), with matrix 3585, was originally distributed in November 1972 with a purple slipsheet and label with printed title. The subsequent issues had generic labels and usually a blue printed insert. This session was also included on a record by Highway HiFi, a subsidiary of TMOQ-Smokin' Pig, titled TOP OF THE POPS, matrix HHCER 111. This LP was first issued in mid-1974 with a slipsheet printed with "rainbow" effect, and repressed a number of times until 1983. In the late Seventies, the programme Top Of The Pops was independently rereleased by two different manufacturers on 7" EPs. One of these versions, in excellent quality, was on matrix 45x45000/45001 and bore fake "Capitol" P-9431 labels; the other one, from Brown Cloud Records (a name for a Melvin Records issue), had worse sound. Some more BBC items resurfaced in 1973. The following records contained previously unreleased material.

"HAVE YOU HEARD THE WORD" by CBM featured 3 tracks which had been broadcast on the BBC programme The Beatles Story, transmitted in 1972; it was distributed in February 1973, and its first pressing had a label with a printed title and a red insert, matrix WEC-3624. This record, quite surprisingly in view of its low level of interesting material and low sound quality, had an astonishing number of repressings and copies, including one by Amazon Etcetera released in 1974 or early 1975. In late spring 1973, CBM distributed another album, titled PEACE OF MIND, matrix WEC Rl-3670, which, among various material, also included a few songs taken from the BBC sessions, in low quality. Its first pressing had generic labels with side indications. In late 1974, this too was copied by Amazon Etcetera records. In June 1973, TMOQ released MARY JANE, matrix MJ-543, featuring in good audio quality parts of the June 30, 1964 From Us To You programme, plus excerpts from Top Of The Pops; it was distributed in purple cardboard with rubber-stamped title and square gold pig sticker, red vinyl, and a black label with silver pig. The reissues were subtitled "SPICY BEATLES SONGS." In the late Seventies and early Eighties, it also reappeared as BUG CRUSHER 'LIVE' , from the original stamper. More repressings of the MJ-543 stamper, usually distributed with the first titles, date back to the mid- and late-Eighties. The June 30, 1964 session reappeared on the CBM release SWEDEN 1963, matrix WEC 3795, produced in July 1973; it had deluxe labels with the title printed on them. Very little material appeared in 1974: on RARE BEATLES (also titled HAPPY BIRTHDAY on another insert), CBM TB5030, distributed in March 1974, four previously unreleased songs made their debut, unfortunately in poor quality and noticeably slow (among these, "Johnny B. Goode" can hardly be recognized!). This LP first appeared with blank labels, and had a few repressings on various other CBM labels. The record HAPPY BIRTHDAY by Wizardo Records, WRMB 345, featured the BBC track of this song plus songs from other records, in part BBC numbers. SOLDIER OF LOVE, released in summer 1974 with a yellow CBM "pirate" label, a back cover featuring a D'Anunzio drawing pasted over the CBM "cartoon" print, matrix TB-1022, features the first appearance on LP of "I'll Be On My Way," in quite poor quality (a very rare 7" single had already been released), together with a few other numbers, among which is of course the title track. The last album for a few years to contain BBC material, released in December 1974, was the rare STOCKHOLM, an LP by CBM on its Instant Analysis yellow label. This featured tracks from the Easy Beat show of July 21, 1963, in dreadful quality.

No more "new" BBC songs appeared between 1975 and 1977, only compilations recycling previously released material. New items suddenly flooded the market in 1978, when the important label "Ruthless Rhymes" was founded. FROM US TO YOU - A PARLOPHONE REHEARSAL SESSION is a 10" disc featuring the rehearsals for the fourth From Us To You programme. It was released in May 1978 on coloured vinyl, matrix LMW 28 IF, Ruthless Rhymes label, and was later copied on matrix 10 A/B. A new LP by the same label was distributed in June 1978, titled YOUNGBLOOD. This included, on side A, 10 BBC cuts, some of which were previously unreleased, but unfortunately the performances were not included in their complete form. This record, on matrix BVP-005-RE, had a deluxe b&w printed cover, two versions of which exist: the first one with the group on stage, and a second one with the Beatles in the field. The original stamper had a few reissues, with various labels (blank, Hohrweite and Stereophonie). A different version was released by Gotham Records in the early Eighties; this retained the original cover, but replaced part of the new BBC tracks with other BBC material (already known), or with some Decca numbers. It was on matrix BVP-005. The counterpart of YOUNGBLOOD was released in late 1978 by Odd Records, as DEC. 63. This album copies side B of the Ruthless Rhymes production (a Liverpool live show) and adds four tracks from Saturday Club of December 26, 1964, previously unreleased. Apart from the poor audio quality, however, these are affected by overdubbed "live audience" screams, which make them completely useless. DEC. 63 was repressed in 1982 by Modern Jazz Records as FIRST U.S. SHOW (a very imprecise title, as the record does not contain anything from the USA).

In 1980, a tape with songs in excellent quality reached the producers, and the result was a series of astonishing releases. The first is a 7" EP titled FOUR BY THE BEATLES, by Hohrweite Stereophonie, matrix L-1453. This features four tracks from the July 16, 1963 Pop Go The Beatles, including some chat. Although three of these were already known to collectors, the audio quality here is excellent. This single, released in April 1980, had many repressings with various sleeves and, subsequently, with "BBC Transcription Service" labels, and was also copied by Gear Records on 2 single 7" discs. These tracks reappeared on an LP by the same producer, BROADCASTS, matrix L-2087 NR 771 x 100. This record included 18 BBC numbers in excellent quality, in part unreleased. It was distributed in July 1980 on green or black "BBC Transcription Service" labels, deluxe full colour cover (which was later used for a picture disc produced by another manufacturer). As expected, this LP had a series of reissues in the Eighties, including one on coloured vinyl by Box Top Records, and was copied by other manufacturers. Even today it should be considered as one of the most interesting Beatles bootlegs. A further release distributed in July 1980 by the same producer under the POD Records label was ROUGH NOTES. This is a miscellaneous LP, which features four BBC songs, three of which were unreleased at the time (from March 30, 1964 From Us To You), and the other one is "I'll Be On My Way" in better, although not particularly good, quality. Its matrix is L-2408-SR-73941, and it was released with 2 different b/w laminated covers.

More than a year after these issues, a very important new LP appeared on the market, SILVER DAYS (AIR TIME), that contained, besides a perfect copy of the Sweden October 24, 1963 concert, many songs from the BBC sessions in excellent quality. Some of these tracks had already been known for more than 10 years, but here they sound almost perfect. This album was distributed in October 1981, matrix L-7198-MX 4729; on the cover it was credited to "Johnny and the Moondogs" (one of the Beatles' earlier names). Its first pressing had a blank label, the back cover had a sticker with track listing, and the front cover had a sticker with "AIR TIME" (hence it's common title). More issues were on the Subway Records label (although the cover says Warwick Records), lacking stickers. A few months later, in January 1982, another very important LP, BEAUTIFUL DREAMER, was released in the USA (all these records were produced by the same manufacturers, under different names). This is the first album to contain tracks from the very early BBC appearances, for example, the title song; it's on matrix L-8346-DH-9501 and has a nice full colour jacket. Another producer released WONDERFUL PICTURE OF YOU in May 1982, matrix SKI-5430, Circle Records. This is a 2-LP set, which, to a copy of an older record featuring some "Get Back" material, was added some BBC sampler tapes. Very interesting, previously unreleased songs are included, among which are tracks taken from their very first Teenagers Turn programme. The weak point is that these cuts were only in fragments, badly edited, and partly off-speed. However, sound quality for a few of them has not been equalled yet.

In early 1982, the BBC (after suggestions by a Beatle fan) decided to prepare a memorial programme to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the first Beatles BBC sessions. This was quite a difficult task, as only very few parts of the Beatles sessions had survived in the BBC archives. However, using these few programmes and some of the songs which had previously appeared on unofficial releases, the BBC would eventually manage a two-hour programme, which was aired on March 7, 1982. Needless to say, this show was immediately reproduced on a 2-LP set by "Radio Transcription Records," matrix CBB-20, released in June 1982. The BBC show was rearranged by American radio networks, with the addition of some tracks taken from the most recent LPs (in particular, BEAUTIFUL DREAMER and SILVER DAYS). The programme, which was aired in the U.S. between May 29 and 31, 1982, was used to produce a couple of LPs: THE BEATLES BBC, by Dream Records, matrix L-9743-DR-36282, and WITH LOVE FROM US TO YOU, by Oro Records, matrix L-10328-ORO-6365. Both of these LPs were released in July 1982. The second one also contained a poster, but, from a musical point of view, they obviously did not add anything new to our knowledge.

On December 27, 1982, BBC aired an expanded version of the Beatles special, with more songs chosen from among those left out in the first edition and included in the American ones, plus some of the material which was traded among collectors on tape (excerpts from the first BBC session of March 8, 1962, for example). This three-hour programme was rebroadcast in the U.S. in May 1983 and, as its preceding one, it was soon transcripted to unofficial records. The first one to appear was a 3-LP set titled THE BEATLES AT THE BEEB by (fake) London Wavelength Records, matrix AT THE BEEB A-H. It was released in July 1983, and was the direct transcription of the programme, including commercials. A subsequent release by a different manufacturer was titled THE BEATLES AT THE BEEB - THE STORY OF THEIR RADIO CAREER, again on (fake) London Wavelength Records labels. This had a better pressing and commercials were edited out; it was on matrix HOUR 1/2/3, and each record had a label of a different colour (red, green and blue). The original stampers were also used for a copy on picture disc, which was included in the 5-LP box SO MUCH YOUNGER THEN, produced in 1985. A Japanese version, an excellent pressing, is a 2-LP set, which did not include all the songs broadcast by the BBC, and cut all the interviews and comments by the presenter of the show. This record is titled BEATLES BROADCAST COLLECTION and is on matrix BBC 1/2/3/4. At this point, collectors had a comparatively good representation of the BBC material available. Some compilations or copies of the aforementioned records started appearing, but all the sources were fragmentary. Even the BBC programmes failed to give comprehensive information, as obviously the producers of the memorials chose only the songs available in better quality of those of greater importance.

An essential addition to the collection of BBC tracks came in December 1984, with the release of DIRECTLY FROM SANTA CLAUS, RARE UNRELEASED BEATLES TRACK, a now rare European picture disc which featured 18 songs as yet unreleased. All these songs were arranged in chronological order of original broadcast (except for a single mistaken attribution), and derived from some tapes which were traded at the time. Although sound quality was not always satisfying, this record gained an extraordinary importance for completists. Until now, in fact, it contained tracks not available elsewhere on disc.

The most important series of Beatles BBC unofficial releases started in October 1986, when the first of 13 LPs with BBC sessions, titled THE BEATLES AT THE BEEB - VOL. 1 to VOL. 13, appeared. The tapes originating this series had long been preserved by a U.K. collector, who in the middle of the Eighties traded them with some Dutch friends. The material was then given to a group of European producers who started the release of the records on the label "Beeb Transcription Records." The first 9 volumes were pressed in Europe, while the last four volumes, due to some problems which arose at the pressing plants, were produced in the USA at two different plants, one of which used noticeably worse vinyl. The absolute importance of this series is that it brings us an incredible amount of previously unreleased sessions, often including chats and announcements. Moreover, sound quality is in general very good, often excellent, and the liner notes (although excessively emphatic) give useful information. A few weak points however affected this production. First of all, some of the incomplete programmes could have been (at least in part) completed by taking the available missing songs from already released sources. Some songs in poor quality could have been replaced with those available in better sound. Slight work with filters and equalizers on the original tapes could have increased the overall audio quality, which sometimes suffers from some hiss or is not equalized. Unfortunately, the tapes start from 1963, and thus all the first BBC sessions are missing (and probably many of them are lost forever). The series ended with Vol. 13 in December 1988. These LPs were in part copied in the USA as 2-LP sets, and a few of them also had an issue on coloured vinyl. Starting from 1989, the complete series was transferred onto CD by the European producers Pyramid Records. All these CDs appeared with a stock sleeve saying "RADIOACTIVE," to which some US and European distributors added a reduced copy of the original LP covers. When it was clear that the BEATLES AT THE BEEB producers did not own the tapes of the first programmes, some European and U.S. manufacturers (not directly related to the BEEB producers) pressed a further record, which included these missing sessions. The first one to appear was MEET THE BEEB, released in April 1988, on matrix 800, designed to look like number 0 of the BEEB series. It was a European record, of much worse sound quality than the tapes from which it was derived. Of course, all the material was unreleased at the time, so this record was nevertheless quite interesting.

An American attempt, with a slightly more complete track listing, was released in summer 1988. It was titled THE BEATLES AT THE BEEB WITH PETE BEST, by Drexel Records, matrix L-31 1 23-BEEB 6263 (the lacquers of the BEEB volumes 10 and 11 were produced at the same plant). This time the tapes were of better quality, but the release is ruined by a very hissy and noisy pressing. The third attempt, and the worst of all, was released by Tiger Beat Records in December 1988 (this label also pressed the last two BEEB volumes). They included on THE LOST BEEBS, matrix TBR LP-2, tracks missing from the BEEB series. These were taken from YELLOW MATTER CUSTARD, but sound was awfully distorted, worse than on the original 1971 record! With these releases, nearly all the surviving BBC sessions were published. The BBC itself acquired the BEEB series and produced a new 14-episode memorial series, including also a few other sessions which meanwhile had surfaced from their archives. This programme was broadcast in the U.K. from October 1 to December 31, 1988, and, in a somewhat different version, in the USA in the next year. Lots of compilations were derived from these releases of BBC programmes. Among these, the most interesting are the Swingin' Pig 3-LP/2-CD sets FROM US TO YOU and the Japanese 2-CD set THE BEATLES ON BBC. In 1992, a 9-CD series appeared in Europe, claiming to be the complete BBC catalogue (THE BBC BEATLES: COMPLETE CATALOGUE VOL. 1-9). However, this was simply produced by adding "AT THE BEEB WITH PETE BEST" to the "Pyramid" CDs, and mastering the programmes according to the broadcast date. The tracks missing from the Pyramid CDs have not been added, and those incomplete or in poorer quality have not been replaced with the ones available in better sound.

(Abrupt end)

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