Let's face facts. Nineteen sixty-five was a heady year for the Beatles. Early in the year they had toured western Europe giving 16 concerts in eight cities. Their movie "Help!" had been released in the early summer to both record crowds and critical acclaim. The movie's namesake single dominated the pop music charts while its B side, the rocker "I'm Down" locked up the second position. Near mid-August the group began its second invasion of America. The fabled Shea Stadium concert was first, followed by a return appearance on Ed Sullivan's Sunday night TV show, then came concerts in Toronto, Atlanta, Bloomington, Chicago, Houston, the Hollywood Bowl, San Diego, Portland. The tour ended at the Cow Palace in Daly City, California. It was Beatlemania at its peak.
For the past 7 years I've been listening to all three Beatles concerts at the Hollywood Bowl courtesy of a 2 CD bootleg set I bought and downloaded on my iPod. Warts and all, this CD set has been...and continues to be...well worth the listen. Now in 2016, Capitol/EMI/Parlophone has finally decided to remaster and expand their '77 vinyl and cassette release of the ballyhooed Hollywood Bowl concerts. For years the studio and supposedly the Beatles themselves had demurred, claiming the '64 and both '65 concerts were of subpar quality. Less-than-enthused, a compliation of 13 remixed and edited songs from the three concerts was nonetheless released in 1977. The tapes and concert videos were then trundled back to the vaults. Since the beginning of the digital era Beatles fans have sat by patiently waiting and debating which would be remastered and released first, the legendary Shea Stadium concert or the much maligned Hollywood Bowl tapes? An average Beatles concert lasted less than 40 minutes, never featured an encore and almost never exceeded 10-12 songs. In spite of increased digital technology Capitol/EMI/Parlophone in 2016 hands us the same jumbled 13 songs released in '77 along with 4 out of sequence "bonus" tracks tacked on at the end. In reality they should have remastered the entire '64 and one, or a spliced together "one," of the Beatles two '65 performances. Two complete Hollywood Bowl concerts = 20 songs, almost certainly totaling less than 80 minutes. A single CD can handle this easily. Why reissue another so-so live-in-concert disc now when with a little more work and a few extra songs you could have a very good one? In 2016 we're still deprived of performances of "If I Fell," "I Feel Fine," and ""I'm Down."
One further bit of pique. Over the years I have noticed and become increasingly irritated that the studios have always edited the Beatles' intro of the next song in with their just finished song. Since we're listening to a mix of '64 and '65 concerts, this patter is out of synch and endlessly confusing. Their introductory and between songs patter could easily have been edited in a way so it would have its own number in the soundtrack. We are also deprived of much of John's in-between songs humour as well as his comments about Paul's faulty mic or amplifier.
The warts of the Beatles Hollywood Bowl concerts lie primarily in their first (29 August) '65 show. During their first three songs, the truncated opener 'Twist & Shout', 'She's A Woman,' and 'I Feel Fine," Paul's mic or his mic and amplifier are dead. Lennon's mic picks up only echoes and a faint hint of Paul's singing. Only prior to the set's fourth song "Dizzy Miss Lizzy," when Paul asks "Can you hear me now," do we know he's not referring to the audience noise but to the failure of his sound system. Such are the hazards of a live performance and no pre-concert sound check. Inasmuch as "She's A Woman," the second song, is a McCartney song, Paul's dead mic or sound system is a monumental flub. Even knowing they were being taped, the Beatles never bothered to stop the concert, get a new mic or check their sound system and re-perform the three muffed songs. With all the screaming going on, who would have noticed...or cared? Only bootleg copies of the concert will have these flubs and this interesting bit of Beatles concert trivia.
Now, how about more live concerts?Capitol/EMI/Parlophone should set about remastering both the video and audio of the Beatles Shea Stadium concert (live soundtruck feeds exist and are are very good) to go forward with the long delayed release of the remastered flim "Let It Be."
In the interim true Beatlemaniacs should invest in bootlegs of the Beatles in Atlanta, Philadelphia, and their two August '65 shows in Houston. The latter features excellent sound and a character of its own. After finishing "A Hard Day's Night" the Houston afternoon crowd rushes the stage, halting the performance for nearly 10 minutes. It's also well worth listening just to hear Paul intone "Howdy, Y'all," and John Lennon screw up the lyrics for "Help!" You can almost hear Lennon nonchalantly laugh off his flub.
I'll still continue to listen to the Hollywood Bowl concerts on my iPod and all 32 tracks of the Beatles rooftop concerts. Maybe some time in the next decade Giles Martin will get around to remastering these too.