Album Spotlight: The Beatles—[Live] At The Hollywood Bowl

Although EMI and Capitol wanted to release a live recording of the Beatles for years, many obstacles prevented it. At the time the band was touring, the equipment wasn’t advanced enough to overcome the noise levels created by the screams of thousands of teenaged girls. The amps were less than 100 watts, and there were no fold-back speakers onstage to enable the group to hear themselves play. At many venues, the sound was wired through the PA systems in the stadium.

Nevertheless, when the Beatles played at the Hollywood Bowl on August 23rd and 24th, 1964, Capitol made the attempt to record their sets, hoping that they would get better sound because of the outdoor setting. Alas, when they listened to the tapes, the band could barely be heard; and when Brian Epstein and the boys heard the results, they vetoed any album release. Capitol tried again at the Bowl on August 30th, 1965, but still couldn’t overcome the limitations of the time. So the tapes stayed in the vaults.

However, in 1977, Lingasong Records announced its acquisition of live recordings from the Beatles’ Hamburg days, with a planned double album. Capitol’s president, Bhaskar Menon, realized that it was now or never to release the Hollywood Bowl recordings.1 George Martin and Geoff Emerick agreed to listen to the tapes and try to construct an album. Their first problem was that the tapes had been recorded in three-tracks, and the only machine available would overheat and melt the tapes. Martin and Emerick solved the problem by using air dryers blowing cold air onto the machine to keep it cool while they transferred the tapes to a multi-track recorder. They then filtered, equalized, remixed and edited the recordings into a single disc album, released on May 4th, 1977.

When the Beatles began reissuing their back catalog on CD in 1987, this album was conspicuously not included. So it remained until 2016, when Apple commissioned Giles Martin to remix the tapes for a reissue. The result, with four bonus tracks and a new cover tying the record in with a new touring documentary by Ron Howard, was released worldwide on September 9th, 2016. The title was changed slightly from At The Hollywood Bowl to Live At The Hollywood Bowl.

By whatever name, Hollywood Bowl was one of the first Beatles albums I owned, having received it as a Christmas gift from my loving mom in 1977. I remember dropping the needle onto the record and sitting stunned at the sheer amount of sound issuing from the throats of all those girls, seemingly almost drowning out the music. Of course, the songs were still quite audible, and are even clearer now thanks to Giles’s efforts. The album gives the lie to those who say the Beatles weren’t any good as a live band; although Lennon claimed that “it was death if we knew we were being recorded,” they rip through the songs with energy and verve. Dizzy Miss Lizzy sounds almost heavy metal, with John improvising lyrics which he couldn’t remember. Things We Said Today is a revelation, with the group ripping into the middle eight with a pickup of energy which got the crowd shrieking even louder. Ringo gets the loudest response with Boys, but in between songs, you can hear the guys doing their best to speak over the wall of sound. Never do they sound as if they’re going through the motions, though. This is a group still on fire.

The performances were taken from three different shows, with Dizzy Miss Lizzy being an edit of the two 1965 performances. Unfortunately, a few songs still weren’t considered up to standards and were left off: If I Fell from 1964, and I Feel Fine, I Wanna Be Your Man and I’m Down from 1965. However, the four songs included as bonus tracks on the 2016 release–You Can’t Do That, I Want To Hold Your Hand, Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby and Baby’s In Black–help make up for this. The last of these had previously been released on the CD single Real Love from 1996, but with a different spoken intro by John.

Many more live recordings have been released since Hollywood Bowl‘s first issue. The Lingasong record, a double album lasting about 60 minutes of 26 songs from the band’s performances at the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany, was recorded over at least three different shows in December of 1962. (There were actually 30 songs released in different parts of the world, out of about 33 recorded. One conspicuous absence is the band’s take on My Girl Is Red Hot.) Contrary to the earliest liner notes, Ringo was present as a full-fledged band member, not because Pete Best “happened” to be absent; that was a cover to disguise the fact that they’d already been signed to EMI, and that Lingasong (and later record labels) had no right to issue the recordings. The band promptly sued to take them off the market, and in 1998 the rights were given back to Apple, which pulled the recordings from circulation. This is a shame, in a way, because although the sound quality is below par, the songs included many cover versions which were never recorded later. Many later turned up with clearer sound on the BBC albums, but the Hamburg takes on Your Feet’s Too Big, Where Have You Been All My Life, Reminiscing, Little Queenie, Falling In Love Again, Sheila, Red Sails In The Sunset, Shimmy Shimmy and I Remember You are the only performances available. Fortunately, they can still be found on YouTube. (By the way, Be-Bop-A-Lula and Hallelujah, I Love Her So have their lead vocals sung by a German waiter and the Star Club manager!)

The Anthology albums help take up the slack for live Beatles recordings, with performances from the Cavern, the Ed Sullivan show, the Royal Variety Performance, and Shea Stadium, among others. The best of these is their set from October 24, 1963, recorded in Sweden; the sound is better than usual, and their performance on their early material is inspired.

One remaining live Beatles performance which is still unreleased on video is The Beatles at Shea Stadium, having been filmed in 1965 and presented as a concert special in 1966 on ABC. When Ron Howard’s film Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years came to theaters in September 2016, a cutdown version of the special was shown after the main film. Personally, I found it far more exciting and enjoyable than Howard’s documentary.

Live Beatles recordings have gotten a bad reputation from all of the lousy bootlegs which were traded over the years. With the release of Live at the Hollywood Bowl, however, you can hear just how great the band could play in concert.

Next up: The BBC Recordings

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/197413552″>The Beatles – I’m Down Live At Shea Stadium – Aug 15th, 1965</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user60372058″>anderson soares</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>