Album Review: The Beatles, 'On Air — Live At the BBC Volume 2'

Unless you live under a decent-size boulder, you're probably aware that On Air — Live At the BBC Volume 2, a new collection of recordings made by the Beatles in the studios of the British Broadcasting Corporation in the early Sixties, will be released Tuesday, November 11.

The release has been hyped big-time, and Beatles fans — both casual and rabid — can't wait to sink their meat hooks into this latest batch of previously unreleased recordings, most of which date from 1963, a staggering 50 years ago.

In this case, the hype is well deserved. On Air — Live At the BBC Volume 2 is an exceedingly satisfying release, yet another example of how talented, charming and generally "different" the Beatles were.

The album follows the format of its 1994 predecessor, Live At the BBC: Legitimately amusing spoken-word snippets from the Beatles' radio-show appearances act as links and segues into (mostly) live recordings of their original compositions, plus a few standbys from their "black leather jacket" days. The performances are fun and exciting (John Lennon can't keep from screaming after every verse in "I'm Talking About You") and capture the "still slightly amused by it all" spirit of the band.

In terms of George Harrison's guitar playing, we get to hear the good (his whammy-bar-laced guitar solo on "Till There Was You"), the not so good (his solo on "Lucille") and the intriguing (His better-than-the-EMI-version solo on "I Saw Her Standing There" inspires a few "What if's?").

Despite the primitive mono studio equipment used at the BBC, Volume 2's acoustic guitars in particular have a meaty, rich sound absent from the band's EMI recordings. That same mono equipment kept the band from doing simple edits and repairs if they made mistakes, so we get to hear the band "as was." Note that songs could be — and often were — enhanced through fairly painstaking overdubbing methods, which is why some tunes on Volume 2 feature double-tracked vocals.

On Air — Live At the BBC Volume 2 might even contain some of the band's final stabs at old standbys from their Hamburg/Cavern days. Why, for instance, would the Beatles have performed "I Got a Woman" after the March 31, 1964, version heard on Volume 2? In a sense, we might be hearing the guys putting some of the ol' gems to bed.

Completists will appreciate the inclusion of "Beautiful Dreamer," a totally new addition to the Beatles' catalog. The Beatles' version, which was recorded January 22, 1963, at the Playhouse Theatre in London, is a cover of a late-1962 Tony Orlando single. The rest of the album is packed with Lennon/McCartney classics, including "She Loves You," "There's a Place," "Ask Me Why," "You Can't Do That" and many more. For a complete track listing, head here.

Enjoyable extras include eight-minute-long, one-on-one interviews with each Beatle conducted by BBC announcer Brian Matthew in late 1965 and early 1966. Lucky for us, Matthew didn't feel weird about asking the guys about their massive new houses, shiny new sports cars and other trappings of fame. (By the way, the 85-year-old Matthew is still a BBC radio broadcaster!)

The package is sweetened by a slick 48-page booklet containing detailed liner notes by Ken Howlett, author of The Beatles: The BBC Archives 1962-1970.

For more information about the new album, the brand-new remastered version of 1994's Live At the BBC and Howlett's new BBC book, head here.

Damian Fanelli is the online managing editor at Guitar World. Follow him on Twitter.

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Damian Fanelli
Editor-in-Chief, Guitar World

Damian is Editor-in-Chief of Guitar World magazine. In past lives, he was GW’s managing editor and online managing editor. He's written liner notes for major-label releases, including Stevie Ray Vaughan's 'The Complete Epic Recordings Collection' (Sony Legacy) and has interviewed everyone from Yngwie Malmsteen to Kevin Bacon (with a few memorable Eric Clapton chats thrown into the mix). Damian, a former member of Brooklyn's The Gas House Gorillas, was the sole guitarist in Mister Neutron, a trio that toured the U.S. and released three albums. He now plays in two NYC-area bands.