Thursday, February 05, 2004

Boy band

I finally got around to listening to the Beatles' Live at the BBC, the two-CD, 1994 collection of songs the Fab Four recorded for BBC radio in the early 1960s, when they were new stars. And the discs are a revelation. These songs were recorded before John Lennon and Paul McCartney were at the peak of their songwriting powers, of course, and while a few originals do make welcome appearances, the bulk of the material is American rock and roll, R&B, rockabilly and the like. Many of these tracks ended up on early Beatles records, like "Roll Over Beethoven," but many more are new to me as Beatle songs, and they are sheer joy. These Beatles sound like (and I mean no slight by this, only the highest praise) a great cover band that has a great time playing great songs.

Listening to these discs, I am surprised by how deeply the young John Lennon's voice moves me. It's true that when I was a moody teen Lennon was important to me, but that had more to do with his later Beatles songwriting than with his singing. To be honest, the Beatles' releases from the time they recorded these BBC tracks left my adolescent self cold; I associated early Beatles stuff with screaming teenagers, and I imagined that if screaming teenagers appreciated this material, then I was way too sophisticated for it.

What I failed to grasp is that the teenagers screamed because they wanted to fuck the Beatles, individually and collectively. This is a legitimate want--one of the top three things music does best--and that sex appeal really comes through in the singing of the 23-year-old Lennon. McCartney's singing is fine here, if a little precious; Lennon growls and screams like a polecat. Hubba.

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