Monday 29 January 2018

The Beatles: Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Songs

'Every Little Thing' The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Beatles is available to buy by clicking here


I don't know about you, dear reader, but so far this book/website has seemed awfully studio-bound: yes there are the odd live albums dotted round in the discographies but a touring life was usually as important if not more so to our AAA artists. Even we can't go through every gig they ever played however, so what we've decided to do instead is bring you five particularly important gigs with a run-down of what was played, where and when and why we consider these gigs so important, along with one particularly good one that summed up the band's setlist during their live peak (or one of them, anyway). Think of these as a sort of 'highlights' covering from first to (in some cases) last, to whet your appetite and to avoid ignoring a band's live work completely!
Sadly most of the important Beatles gigs went unremarked and unrecorded, with more or less half of the entire shows they ever played taking place before they ever got a record contract and released 'Love Me Do'. Starting as The Quarrymen the band played a total of some 1300 gigs across their lifetime starting with a gig at Liverpool's Empire on June 9th 1957 though most of these were ignored at the time, with the band one of many rock bands made out of scruffy teens just out of school or later playing to equally scruffy drinkers in Hamburg. The Beatles quit touring in 1966 with a final gig at Candlestick Park in San Francisco after a difficult and contentious final tour in 1966, arrested in the Philippines and at risk of assassination after Lennon's 'bigger than Jesus' comments. As a result The Beatles played far less gigs after becoming famous than a majority of their competitors, though thankfully there was a final 'encore' three years later to bid a 'proper' farewell though. Here's five highlights of what they played when (or at least when we know it!)
1) Where: The Indra Club, Hamburg, When: August 17th 1960 Why: First Foreign Gig Setlist: Unknown
The Beatles are, between them, barely out of school and in many cases travelling abroad for the first time. Many of them have had to sacrifice their 'say-jobs' to be here at all, under the watchful eye of a manager in Allan Williams who effectively left the band to it, stranded in a foreign town that only a couple of decades before had been bombing Liverpool to the ground. The band have only got into the country through smuggled papers and George, the youngest Beatle at seventeen, wasn't allowed to be in a bar at night on his own anyway - something that will have huge repercussions in November when the band gets 'busted' and Harrison gets deported, sent home on his own. The boss of the club they play in (the tiny Indra Club - The Beatles won't progress to the bigger Kaiserkeller and then The Star Club until later) Bruno Koschmider barely knows who they are, seems to hate all musicians and is reluctant to give the band their weekly pay. Their living quarters are behind the women's toilets at the club and their tiny un-painted room is barely big enough for the five of them. However dreams can be dreamt anywhere and it's here, playing in ninety minute bursts throughout the night to pull in passing trade out for a drink, that The Beatles truly become a band rather than just a bunch of school drop-out wannabes. We don't know exactly what the band played during their early years here, though we do know that the band were already making a name for themselves introducing the local crowds to a Liverpudlian brand of rock and roll with a setlist built around the likes of [48] 'Twist and Shout' [77] 'Lend Me Your Comb' and [79] 'Some Other Guy'. They probably weren't playing too many originals in the set just yet, though we know Paul's early version of 'I Lost My Little Girl' and songs like [17] 'Hello Little Girl' [25] 'Love Me Do' [42] 'Ask Me Why' and (usually brought out when the electrics failed) [123] 'I'll Follow The Sun' were all kicking around. The band ended up playing at the Indra Club for 48 nights in a row - some 200 hours' worth - before the woman who lived above the club got so sick of the noise that she brought the police round and Koshchmider decides to cut his losses and create a less controversial franchise instead - he turns the Indra into a stripper club! Koschmider then 'upgraded' the Beatles to his larger Hamburg venue The Kaiserkeller where they alternated with Derry and the Seniors (which is where Paul first meets Wings sax player Howie Casey), giving the band their first badly needed days off.
2) Where: The Cavern Club, Liverpool When: February 9th 1961 Why: First Gig After Hamburg Setlist: Unknown
The Beatles' days in Germany went badly wrong - George was deported and The beatles were shooed out the Kaiserkeller with the electrics cut off to make finding their possessions extra difficult. Paul and Pete, the last out the building, lit a condom for 'light' and got arrested for arson before being deported back home too - only John escaped the police's wrath, hiding out at Astrid and Stuart's before piecing together enough funds to go back home at the beginning of December. Aunt Mimi wasn't pleased - now was McCartney senior or the Harrison household and for a time The Beatles were persona non gratas, forbidden from seeing each other and nagged into finding safer, more stable occupations. It took another two months before the band tentatively met up again for a few knock-about rehearsals and realised they actually sounded rather good. As luck would have it The Cavern Club had a vacancy for a regular band. The Beatles had played here a few times in the past, but never regularly and George and Pete hadn't been in the band the last time they'd appeared. Billed jokingly as 'direct from Hamburg', most of the crowd were surprised to see the band they remembered vaguely from months previous, while a few who'd missed local Beatlemania the first time round went round telling everybody 'gosh, don't they speak good English?!' Often missing from milestone dates in Beatles history, this is the day when the band themselves realised they were going to be big, reducing their lengthy tiring Hamburg sets into concise hour-long blasts of rock and roll adrenalin and showing that all those long hours relying on each other had turned them into a very tight and disciplined band, the one thing lacking before their adventures in Germany.  John for one started to believe that the band really could be as good as he'd dreamed they could and that it was only a matter of time before the right person stumbled into the club to see them perform and offer them all fame and fortune. That person is cropping up right now...

3) Where: The Cavern Club, Liverpool When: November 9th 1961 Why: When Brian Epstein first saw The Beatles Setlist: Unknown
You know what myths are like: they're not necessarily wrong but they are often condensed, with events that happened weeks apart made to look as if they happened the same day. Legend has it that Raymond Jones walked into a NEMS store, asked to hear the [6] 'My Bonnie' record by a local band and Brian Epstein got his hat and coat and walked down to the Cavern then and there. Actually it took six weeks (or so we think) during which time Brian kept hearing the band's name so many times he began to think it was a 'sign'. Customers kept referring to these mysterious 'Beatles', Lennon's name kept cropping up in the Merseybeat  newspapers he kept for sale and the odd advert for Cavern clubs kept catching his eye. It's as if someone from his future had gone back to leave 'clues' in his past to make him take an interest in this new band. Brian too was wary of The Cavern and knew how out of place he'd feel. Some of the weeks' delay was in pestering assistant Alistair Taylor to come with him and others were in tracking down Cavern compare at the 'best of cellars' Bob Wooler and asking him to clear the way. Even so, Epstein got the time wrong and turned up to see an empty stage. Ray Ennis, who'd just played a gig with his band The Swinging Blue Jeans, asked Brian why he was there and asked him to sign their band instead! Brian stayed though and was stuck first by the Beatle look ('animalistic' as he put it later in his autobiography 'A Cellarful Of Noise'), then by their songs, then by their between song banter, then later - after asking to go backstage - their natural charisma. In fact it took until December 10th for him to approach The Beatles with talk of managing them but, no make no mistake about it - this is a key Beatle gig, perhaps the most important one of all, because if the band had played sloppily or blown the chance the world may never had had a Beatles at all and the 1960s and every decade since would have ended up being as boring as the one before it.
4) Where: Shea Stadium, New York City When: August 15th 1965 Why: Biggest gig? Setlist: Twist and Shout/She's A Woman/I Feel Fine/Dizzy Miss Lizzie/Ticket To Ride/Everybody's Tryin' To Be My Baby/Can't Buy Me Love/Baby's In Black/Act Naturally/A Hard Day's Night/Help!/I'm Down!
By 1965 The Beatles have lost the fire, focus and instinct that made them such a killer live act in their pre-recording days, their desire to progress drowned out by screaming audience, primitive equipment, guaranteed money, a constant ea of jelly babies and the fact that their records allowed them to say everything they wanted to say to perfection without the need to rely solely on live performance. The Beatles, though, grew bigger and bigger and became more and more in demand until the usual rock and roll concert venues simply couldn't contain them anymore. That's how The Beatles found themselves playing to a then-record crowd of 55,600 people in a stadium usually used for baseball and filmed posterity as an event not likely to ever happen again in anybody's lifetime (actually The Beatles will play to very nearly the same crowds at the same venue in 1966, but not many people remember that gig!) The Beatles are slightly mad during this setlist as for once they play to a capacity crowd even they can't quite take in and even though the cameras keep them in tight focus throughout they're clearly playing 'big' and reaching out to the people at the back of the stands. Teaming up with Ed Sullivan again, now reduced to being their 'compere', the band hit the stage for an exuberant set that ends with the rarely played B-side [171] 'I'm Down', during which Lennon snaps and starts busking around on a Hammond organ, causing the whole band to get giggles of hysteria during the final song. In total the band played their usual half-hour set, though in a sign of how little importance was being placed on this gig - still! - both [141] 'She's A Woman' and [132] 'Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby' weren't caught on film due to a change of reels, while the audio of [48] 'Twist and Shout' and [1459] 'Act Naturally' were considered to be too drowned out by screams to be of use in the original documentary (and the 'Anthology' and 'Eight Days A Week' documentaries that use this same footage). The full documentary (held back until 1966 in the UK and as late as 1967 in the US) does however include extra footage that just adds to the sheer size and 'madness' of the event, with the fab four on helicopters, in dressing rooms and a pensive Brian Epstein, at the pe4ak of his powers, nervously pacing up and down as the band play. It might not be the very best set the band ever played (of the ones that exist I'd take the 1964 one in Washington any day in terms of performance, never mind a whole run of as-live TV broadcasts) but this wasn't just another concert but a phenomenon and proof of just how big The Beatles were at their popular peak.
5) Where: The Rooftop, Apple Corps, 3 Savile Row, London When: January 30th 1969 Why: Final Gig Setlist: Get Back/Don't Let Me Down/I've Got A Feeling/One After 909/Dig A Pony/Get Back
It's the end - and the moment hadn't really been at all prepared for. The Beatles discussed long and hard during the making of 'Let It Be' (or 'Get Back' as it still was known at the time) whether they wanted to do a 'final' gig to make the most of all the new material they'd been busy rehearsing for the past month. Naturally director Michael Lindsey-Hogg wanted this to be a big event, with talk about hiring cruise ship the QE2, performing on some raft drifting down the Amazon jungle or performing next to the Giant Pyramids in Giza. In the end The Beatles, nervy and under pressure, left it too late to make a decision but with only two days of filming left before the camera crew had to go home wanted to do something to end their Tv special with a band. Strangely no one seems to remember who came up with the idea of performing up on the rooftop of The Beatles' Apple headquarters in London (they were very lucky the roofs were flat or this final gig might not have happened at all!) but they probably 'borrowed' the idea from a performance Jefferson Airplane gave on a New York rooftop in December 1968 (another ad hoc performance that also gets busted by the police, who are far bossier than UK policeman!) How you wish the band had performed more gigs: suddenly the slight 'what are we doing?' divisive air of the rehearsals gives way to a gutsy performance where the band pull together one last time and it's glorious. Ringo's nose is nearly as red as his coat as he interrupts his own count-ins several times to blow it, George is so cold he dances up and down to get warm, John borrowed Yoko's fur coat at the last minute while she sat shivering and Paul veers between manic grinning and looks of intense concentration. For the most part, though, they shine and the 'Let It Be' songs never sounded better than here. Bootleg tapes reveal a couple of extra jams (including 'God Save The Queen' when the police begin to enter and an early instrumental version of [271] 'I want You (She's So heavy)' which only Lennon knows!) and many more Lennon quips  and this show would make a great standalone CD the next time Apple need to have a rummage for something sellable before Christmas (preferably with extracts from the 300 odd hours available on bootleg of the rest of the month's sessions!) The rooftop versions of [282] 'Don't Let Me Down' appeared on single and [281] Get Back' [292] 'Dig A Pony' and [296] 'I've Got A Feeling' all made the final 'Let It Be' LP in 1970. The show might have lasted longer had the police not arrived to investigate a 'disturbance', with Ringo asking to be pulled from his drums still playing, but instead they just stood nervously in the doorway waiting for the band to finish. Which they did following a final reprise encore of 'Get Back'. Played visibly to just a few friends, wives and girlfriends but audibly to the next few streets of London (the gig was timed to take place during lunch-hour to cause the maximum amount of 'fuss'), this is The Beatles back to what they once did best: communicating to people who didn't always look at them and didn't always care but were nevertheless touched by their magic.


Sometimes when artists pick up that musical baton they pay tribute to their heroes by covering their favourite songs - a tradition The Beach Boys arguably helped kick-start with their 'Party!' album in 1965! Here are three covers that we consider to be amongst the very best out of the ones we've heard (and no we haven't heard them all - do you know how many AAA albums out there are out there even without adding cover songs as well?!) There are, of course, a zillion and four Beatles cover songs out there, some of them good but most of them wretched (why try and improve on something that was already perfect in the first place?) You probably all have your own long lists already. We could in fact have done a top twenty just featuring AAA cover versions! However here are three important ones that don't get the attention they deserve at present and which aren't featured in our books in their own right (with special mention for Dillard and Clark's gorgeous post-Byrds version of 'Don't Let Me Down' back when it was a brand new song and multiple covers by The Beach Boys and Oasis, all worth hearing):
1) Beatle Barkers "We Can Work It Out" ('Beatle Barkers' 1983)
Alright, I admit it, Max The Signing Dog chose this one - the most palatable out of a whole album of dog barks, yelps and growls edited together to make up full Beatle songs. The Beatles continue to inspire labours of loves like no other band and that goes triple for whoever was patient enough to sift through hours of this stuff. Yes there are a few pregnant pauses as a puppy misses his or her cue, while the backing is a little generic. However there's no getting away from the fact that this song lends itself well to staccato barks and long held howls, while the fact that the canines team up with - of all things - a cat on the middle eight is surely evidence of the 'why can't we all get along? love and peace' philosophy The Beatles made their own. The front cover of the album features collarless (jacketed) canines and is surely enough to start 'Beaglemania' all on it's own!
2) Neil Young "A Day In The Life" (Live, 2009)
Typically, the best received song in Neil Young's set lists in, ooh, decades has yet to appear on an album. There are few Beatles songs that have never been covered by someone (I've yet to hear a version of [225] 'Wild Honey Pie' - though I'm sure there is one out there somewhere and please, for pity's sake, don't write in with it if there is!) but this is probably the least covered well known Beatle-track. Neil's thundering, cavernous feedback drenched version is certainly the only one that can cope without the missing dramatic string crescendo while keeping everything else that made the original so moving intact (Frankie Valli's version is tinny and limp, while Eric Burdon and War's slows the song down to a crawl). Instead it's gallons of feedback from Neil's guitar that create the power heard on the 'Sgt Peppers' original, with Neil going even further into the nihilistic chaos hinted at on the original. This is especially true on the very final crescendo when Neil destroys every note on his guitar in desperation only to poke at a xylophone over the fade-out which rises hopefully out of the smoke and carnage, as if the world has one final slim chance to be 'turned on'. The definitive performance Neil gave of his interpretation was at the Glastonbury Festival in 2009 though an even more fan-leasing version came from a few weeks later at Hyde Park when Paul McCartney stamped his seal of approval by singing the middle eight, just like old times!
3) Yusuf "The Long and Winding Road" ('The Art Of McCartney' 2014)
As well as a zillion individual Beatles cover songs there are maybe a thousand full Beatle cover albums where every track is a Lennon/McCartney/Harrison classics (one or two even do [270] 'Octopuses' Garden' for Ringo!) Some of these are quite good, such as Booker T and the MG's take on 'Abbey Road' ('McLemore Avenue', 1970) or Motown getting together to do a full Beatle tribute album ('Sings The Beatles', 1991, in which The Supremes doing 'Come Together' is an unexpected highlight). Some are just awful, despite (or in some cases because of) the level of talent involved (it's a shame The Beatles never got their own back on The Bee Gees for the 'Sgt Peppers' film soundtrack!) However the best full Beatles-related album I've heard so far is 'The Art Of McCartney' which features the great, the good and the genius interpreting Beatles and solo Macca classics. There are three AAA cover versions on this double-CD set and of course, faithful to the end, I declare them all the highlights, even Roger Daltrey's heavy metal thrash punk cover of [243] 'Helter Skelter' while we'll no doubt be returning to Brian Wilson's lovely Beach Boysy arrangement of 'Wanderlust' in our McCartney book. However the best is surely the former Cat Stevens' take on Paul's beautiful ballad, which works really well as a Cat Stevens-sound-alike song full of warning, hidden danger and love. Cat is often at his best when he's reflective and - shorn of the strings that make the 'Let It Be' and most subsequent cover versions so icky - this song has a real feeling of pain and regret, sung from the heart by a brilliant singer who sings 'Many times I've been alone and many times I've cried' as if it's the single saddest line you'll ever hear. 

A complete list of Beatles links from this website:

'Rubber Soul' (1965)

'Revolver' (1966)

'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band' (1967)

'Magical Mystery Tour' (1967)

'The Beatles' aka 'The White Album' (1968)

'Yellow Submarine' (1969)

The Best Unreleased Beatles Recordings

A Complete AAA Guide To The Beatles Cartoons

The Beatles: Surviving TV Appearances

A 'Bite' Of Beatles Label 'Apple'

The Beatles: Non-Album Songs Part One: 1958-63

 The Beatles: Non-Album Songs Part Two: 1964-67

The Beatles: Non-Album Songs Part Three: 1968-96

The Beatles: Compilations/Live Albums/Rarities Sets Part One: 1962-74

The Beatles: Compilations/Live Albums/Rarities Sets Part Two: 1976-2013

Beatles Bonuses: The Songs John and Paul Gave Away To The World/To Ringo!

Essay: The Ways In Which The Beatles Changed The World For The Better

Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

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