The Beatles, ‘On Air — Live at the BBC Volume 2’ (Apple/Capitol/UMe)
Nineteen years after the release of the Beatles’ first “Live at the BBC” set comes another collection of mostly previously unreleased songs and interviews the group recorded for Britain’s BBC radio from 1963 to 1966.
The Beatles’ radio appearances were meant to promote their records, so you’d expect to hear them performing hits like “Please Please Me,” “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” And you’ll find all those songs on this release, along with other well known Beatles numbers like “Twist and Shout,” “If I Fell,” and “I Saw Her Standing There.”
But things really get interesting when the group digs deep into their repertoire to serve up the songs they used to fill out their sets with when playing all night in Hamburg, Germany, but never ended up recording for a Beatles album.
Such as Chan Romero’s “The Hippy Hippy Shake,” a rock ‘n’ roll screamer tailor made for Paul McCartney’s upper register, that the Beatles might well have recorded for official release if fellow Liverpool act the Swinging Blue Jeans hadn’t beat them to it.
You also get a clear sense of the influences that shaped the band — Chuck Berry (“I’m Talking About You”), Carl Perkins (“Lend Me Your Comb”), Little Richard (“Lucille”), Ray Charles (“I Got a Woman”) — as well as their tendency to seek out lesser-known material to make them stand out from other groups. “Devil in Her Heart,” for example, was an obscure song that appeared on the B-side of the only single released by the equally obscure Detroit girl group the Donays (and originally released by them as “Devil in His Heart”).
There’s also a rollicking version of the Stephen Foster standard “Beautiful Dreamer,” revived by singer Tony Orlando in 1962, which the Beatles quickly added to their own set.
The Beatles’ irreverent humor is also fully on display in the between songs chat with the more formal BBC DJs; there are also more in-depth interviews with each member of the group.
No one dreamed at the time that these one-off performances would later be released, so the group is relaxed and clearly enjoying themselves. As McCartney says in the liner notes, “There’s a lot of energy … We are going for it, not holding back at all, trying to put in the best performance of our lifetimes.”