The Beatles Bootleg Market

Note: The following newspaper article on bootleg Beatles products was first published by The Evansville Courier in Indiana on Dec. 2, 1990. It also was distributed across the U.S. that same week by the national wire service of the Scripps-Howard News Company.

Much of the material mentioned as being available only in bootleg form has since been commercially released -- in particular, on EMI's "Beatles Live at the Beeb" and the "Anthology" series. This article is presented in its original form in order to document the status of the Beatleg market ten years after John Lennon's death. For detailed information on today's CD Beatleg market, try Harald Gernhardt's Bootleg Page.

BEATLES - Not For Sale

by Ron Synovitz
Scripps-Howard News

All hopes for a Beatles reunion were dashed ten years ago this week when Mark David Chapman shot and killed John Lennon outside his Dakota apartment in New York City.

Since then, bootleg records have been practically the only alternative for Beatles fans who are thirsty for new material.

Music store owners from New York and Chicago to Los Angeles say unauthorized "Beatleg" recordings are more sought-after than bootleg records of any other group. In his last recorded radio interview Lennon admitted that he also collected Beatlegs.

"I've heard 'Saturday Clubs'," Lennon said, referring to one of the BBC radio shows for which the group played in 1962 and 1963. "Somebody must have pirated them in America... We did a lot of tracks that were never recorded on record for 'Saturday Club.' All that stuff we'd been doing at the Cavern or Hamburg. But there's some good stuff in there. And they were well recorded, too."

A bootleg is a recording that is released in violation of international copyright laws. Artists and music publishers receive no royalties, so music industry officials consider bootleggers to be nothing more than thieves. But others, including Lennon, have argued that pirate records offer fans an alternative view of their favorite groups. The demand for alternative Beatles material has resulted in an enormous Beatleg market. Here are some examples of what's available today:

Audition tapes

In late 1961 and early 1962, manager Brian Epstein tried desperately to get a record contract for the Beatles. The group auditioned at Decca Records' West Hampstead studios in London on Jan. 1, 1962.

The music was issued in the United Kingdom in 1982 as legitimate picture disc vinyl , and on black vinyl, under the title "The Complete Silver Beatles." Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, won an injunction against further sale or distribution of that record soon after its release. But albums, cassettes and compact discs of the audition can still be found. The music also has found its way onto numerous bootleg records.

The audition included three Lennon-McCartney songs -- "Like Dreamers Do," "Hello Little Girl and "Love of the Loved." At least two pop standards, "Sheik of Araby" and "Red Sails in the Sunset," also were recorded in Decca's studio.

BBC Radio Broadcasts

As the popularity of the Beatles grew in England, the group began to appear more often on BBC radio and TV. In the summer of 1962, before their first United Kingdom LP, "Please Please Me," was produced, they recorded 14 songs for programs such as "Saturday Club" and "Top of the Pops."

By early 1963, the group had performed on almost every English radio pop show. In June, they had their own radio program, "Pop Go the Beatles." They performed the theme music for that program, a "beat" version of "Pop Goes the Weasel." The broadcasts also included humorous banter from the Fab Four, who made it clear to listeners that they were really performing at the BBC. Before the group played "This Boy" on one BBC program, Harrison announced: "This isn't our record at all. It's us singing it, actually in the (radio) studio performing it."

The Beatles recorded separate versions of all the songs that were aired on these BBC appearances. By June 1965, those tapes included 88 songs made specifically for the BBC. Thirty-six were cover versions of other artists' material that have never been released commercially.

They played lesser-known rhythm-and-blues B-sides, and some of their favorites by Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Roy Orbison, Little Richard, The Coasters and The Swinging Blue Jeans.

Surviving master tapes were kept in a not-so-tight BBC vault until 1982 when much of the music was repackaged into a three-hour radio program that was syndicated in the United States under the title "The Beatles at the Beeb."

In 1988, the BBC began broadcasting "The Beeb's Lost Beatles Tapes." That 14-week series of half-hour programs featured the best of the BBC sessions and interviews between 1962 and 1970. Since those broadcasts, high quality records and CDs of the music have flooded the bootleg market. According to a recent issue of Beatles Book Monthly, EMI-UK plans to release 20 songs from the BBC sessions sometime in 1991.

Concert Recordings

On most concert bootlegs, the Beatles are almost inaudible because of screaming fans. Concert Beatlegs appeal to a specialized crowd. Most of the songs are either poorly performed or suffer from poor sound quality. But they give an idea of what the group had to put up with from day-to-day while touring. Though these bootlegs are available on CD, the format does not guarantee good sound quality. Still, it can be fascinating to listen to songs like a 1964 Australian tour performance of "Can't Buy Me Love" where a journalist with a back-stage pass, most likely pool reporter Bob Rodgers, put his microphone close to Lennon's guitar amplifier.

One of the best concert recordings was made by Sveriges Radio in Stockholm, Sweden in November 1963. The Beatles were at their peak as a li ve act. And Beatlemania didn't really catch on outside of the United Kingdom until early 1964., so the seven songs they performed could actually be heard. Bootlegs of that concert were already on the vinyl market during the 1960s.

The Hollywood Bowl concerts in 1964 and 1965 were recorded on a now antiquated three-track machine by Beatles producer George Martin. Parts of the two shows were compiled and released by Capitol Records in 1976. Bootleg vinyl also out during the 1960s contains dialogue and songs edited from the Capitol package.

Decent quality recordings were made at concerts in Houston and Tokyo in 1966. But by that time, the group was tired of touring and their performances lacked enthusiasm, to say the least.

EMI Studio Sessions

The original masters of the Beatles'studio sessions are in the EMI archives at Abbey Road. Most of the tapes have remained there, unplayed except by EMI insiders, since the original sessions. Bootlegs of these EMI

masters began to appear in 1987 after Martin remixed all of the LPs for commercial CD release.

It appears that someone close to the CD project took advantage of the open vaults at that time. Dozens of alternative takes from throughout the group's history were copied. One result was the six-volume "Ultra Rare Trax" bootleg set put out by Swinging Pig. Another was the popular "Unsurpassed Masters" series by Yellow Dog. These collections are the closest one can get to setting in on the EMI sessions.

The EMI tapes document the band's creative chemistry, including discussions about how songs would be recorded and played. Many alternative takes contain mistakes or complete breakdowns, and vocal tracks often weren't recorded onto takes that were deemed inferior.

These tapes reveal delightful differences from the well-known commercial versions. More than a half-dozen takes of "Strawberry Fields Forever" trace the evolution of the song. There are a handful of finished Lennon-McCartney compositions that could form the basis of an eventual recording sessions release -- like McCartney's "That Means A Lot," Lennon's "Leave Me Kitten Alone" or Ringo singing on the "Help" era reject "If You've Got Troubles."

EMI recently opened its archives to author Mark Lewisohn for his book, "The Beatles Recording Sessions." That book is the best source for full descriptions of about 400 hours of buried EMI tapes that have never been released commercially.

Films and TV Promotional Appearances

Before the flood of studio Beatlegs hit the market 1987, most bootleggers turned to TV and film appearances for psychedelic material from the Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour eras. Of course, all of the group's "Ed Sullivan Show" appearances are available on pirate vinyl. A raunchy version of "Shout" also was performed for a 1964 BBC-TV program called "Around the Beatles."

But during 1967, few outsiders were allowed to see the inner workings of the Abbey Road studios -- that is, until the recording of "All You Need Is Love" on June 25, 1967. On that date, as many as 400 million people across the globe watched the sessions live on a TV program called "Our World." It was the first time that a satellite linked five continents by a television broadcast.

The title song in the film "Magical Mystery Tour" features a notably different vocal from the LP. The film also includes incidental mellotron music by the Beatles that was not included on the Capitol LP or EMI's EP in the U.K.

The animated film "Yellow Submarine" includes a snippet of an unreleased rehearsal for the backing vocals of Harrison's 1965 composition, "Think For Yourself." A verse of Harrison's "It's All Too Much" in that film also contains lyrics not found on the LP.

Promotional television appearances with alternative takes of "Hey Jude" and "Revolution" were recorded and aired in England during September 1968 on David Frost's "Frost on Sunday."

In December 1968, Lennon performed "Yer Blues" in an all-star band that included Eric Clapton and Keith Richards. The jam session was recorded for the Rolling Stones' barely finished and never-released TV special, "Rock and Roll Circus." A full-length LP of the program has been available in pirate record bins since the early 1970s.

More than 90 hours of rehearsals were captured by the cameras that filmed "Let It Be" at London's Twickenham Film Studios in January 1969. The band later moved into Apple Records headquarters near Picadilly Circus to record the album. The soundtracks of unused film footage have been the source of countless bootlegs since the early 1970s.

Harrison later called the sessions "the low of all time," and Lennon described the period as "...the most miserable session on earth." And for good reason. Hundreds of songs from these sessions are now available on bootlegs, but most are difficult to listen to. Many songs are polluted by McCartney's overbearing desire to dominate the microphone, and a few promising Harrison songs also are spoiled by Lennon's "he-always-wanna-sin g-when-I-wanna-sing" attitude.

Die-hard fans will find these bootlegs interesting. After multiple listening, the focus moves to the fights that are expressed through well-aimed impromptu lyrics.

The band was crumbling, and sound from the unused film footage verifies that "Let It Be" was an appropriate epitaph.

The Lost Lennon Tapes

The first broadcast of a syndicated radio series called "The Lost Lennon tapes" was in January 1988. For 52 weeks, one-hour programs featured recordings taken from Lennon's extensive personal archive of reel tapes and cassettes.

The series, extended another year in 1989, included literally hundreds of unreleased musical performances and rare interview material. Now there are more than 30 volumes of bootlegs titled "The Lost Lennon Tapes," obviously pirated from the radio series.

You can hear Lennon sitting in his home strumming and singing "She Said, She Said" before he'd finished writing it. There are demos from his songs on the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" LP and the double "white album." There's even a comical recording of Lennon singing "Blue Moon" in broken French at his New York apartment during the 1970s.

The Lost Lennon Tapes include many Beatles recordings, but the programs did not exclusively focus on the band. There's a wealth of material from Lennon's solo career and even from his mid-1970s commercial hiatus. The attractive bootleg album sleeves document where and when most of the recordings were made. Lewisohn has cataloged the Lennon archives and has recommended cuts that are rumored to be slated for issue on three commercial CDs sometime in 1991.

Buying Beatlegs

Bootleg albums are most often found at used record stores in college towns, or in "mom-and-pop" operations in larger cities. Most chain music stores at malls or shopping plazas do not sell pirated records.

Sometimes a used-record shop owner will have a few bootlegs in stock without being aware of it. Other times, pirate records are sold under the counter. The records aren't shown unless you specifically ask for them.

There are companies that specialize in bootlegs, and some even have mail-order catalogs. Classified ads in record collector magazines like "Goldmine" often offer bootleg albums. Average prices range from about $10 for a single LP Beatleg to $30 for a double LP. There are CD Beatlegs, but expect to pay anywhere from $18 to $35 for the equivalent of a single LP worth of music. (Price estimates reflect 1990 U.S. Beatleg market.)