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Sunday, August 30, 2020

"Beatles Re-Imagined" Article by Mark Brickley

11:17 AM Posted by Nicole M
Adapted with permission from Octopus' Garden fanzine, Volume 30, Issue #1, September 2020. 




Beatles Re-Imagined by Mark Brickley
Picture yourself in a box seat at LA’s historic Hollywood Bowl. An excited deejay comes to the mic and shouts, “And now, Here They Are: The Beatles!” John, Paul, George, and Ringo run on stage to the delight of 18,700 screaming fans. The crowd is as loud as a jet engine at full throttle. The Beatles burn through “Twist and Shout,” with frenzied, layered vocals that build and explode. This is not
a dream at all. It was the first of three breathtaking concerts recorded by the world’s most famous band.

The Beatles’ 1964/65 Hollywood Bowl shows were the only performances memorialized by their EMI/Capitol Records label. The initial 1977 album was overseen by Beatles producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick. Thirty-nine years later, Martin’s son Giles, with Abbey Road Studio technicians, released the Apple/Capitol Records 2016 digital remix Live at The Hollywood Bowl. Here’s a deep look at how those live recordings were re-imagined.

Backtracking

Capitol Records had hoped to capture the Beatles’ 1964 concert at New York City’s Carnegie Hall but was blocked by the city’s musician’s union. Back on their home turf, Capitol was invited to record the Beatles’ three Hollywood Bowl shows (August 23, 1964 and August 29 and 30, 1965). There was one caveat: union rules required that all on-stage recording would be mixed by the Bowl’s sound engineers. All Capitol Records could do was plug into the Bowl’s mix feed and turn on their ½ inch, three-track
tape deck.
    
Because the Bowl’s engineers were most familiar with recording classical crowds, the audience mics were immediately overwhelmed on the mix channels. It was sonic cacophony. The waves of screams overwhelmed the recordings. You’d think that when the Beatles returned in 1965, the Bowl’s engineers would remember their previous mistakes but there were new audio techs, and similar errors occurred. During the first show, Paul McCartney’s vocal mic was disabled during four songs in the set.

Martin’s Doubt

Producer George Martin wasn’t enamored with the idea of a live concert album. His trepidation was affirmed after hearing the Beatles’ Bowl recordings. Martin had witnessed Beatlemania in Britain and the tumult surrounding the band’s live performances. He surmised that a live album would never match the band’s studio recordings. The Hollywood Bowl tapes languished in Capitol Records’ archives for six Years. In 1971, Producer Phil Spector was asked to review them but his work did not result in an album release.

Then in 1976, word spread that amateur recordings of the Beatles’ 1962 performances at Hamburg’s
Star-Club would be released on Lingasong Records. The Beatles attempted to block the Star-Club record but lost their initial legal challenge. Apple and EMI/Capitol Records were now motivated to issue their long-sidetracked album. George Martin agreed to produce it and despite his reservations, The Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl became a smash hit. It reached No.1 on the UK’s Melody Maker chart and No. 2 in the USA on Billboard’s Top 200 albums listing. In 1977, Martin said the record captured the “electric atmosphere” and “raw energy” of the Beatles’ concerts.

De-Mixing Magic

In 2009, software engineer James Clark had been working at Abbey Road Studios for 10 years when he was asked to separate the instrumentation and vocals on early Beatles mono singles including “Love Me Do” and “She Loves You.” After his initial de-mixing success, Clark was approached to work on the Hollywood Bowl project. In 2011, he transferred the original tapes to a digital format and then used MatLab’s programing language to write algorithms, which recovered the track’s isolated sound sources. Clark was also able to lower the Bowl crowd noise by 50 percent. He modeled his computer simulations on the band’s recordings, after discovering the Bowl performances varied only one or two seconds from the song’s studio version.

Producer Giles Martin’s remix features the same 13 songs that his dad chose for the 1977 album, with four bonus tracks. In 2012, they were submitted to McCartney, Starr, Olivia Harrison, and Yoko Ono for review and were unanimously approved. What happened next? Nothing. For four years, the new re-mixes were put on hold until the perfect time was selected to release them. That moment coincided with Director Ron Howard’s 2016 film, “Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years.” His documentary had taken 13 years of development and production to reach the big screen. Giles Martin’s Live at the Hollywood Bowl CD/album was released September 6, 2016 and six days later, Howard’s movie debuted in select theaters, before streaming on Hulu TV.

What’s Inside

The 2016 Live CD comes with a 24-page booklet filled with eight photos of the Beatles’ concerts and press conference, along with two reproduced LA Times articles from 1964/65. The first remembers the day that Beatles Hollywood Bowl tickets went on sale, recalling the elation of those clutching tickets and the utter dejection from hundreds of diehards who waited in line all night, only    to be turned away empty-handed. Another reviews the Beatles’ August 30, 1965 show with the band bounding on stage at 9:22 PM, powering through their 33-minute  set and then dashing off to a waiting armored car. The compact booklet also includes Rolling Stone writer David Fricke’s smart prose and Producer George Martin’s original liner notes. The booklet is an expansive and satisfying read.

Listening

The Live At The Hollywood Bowl tracks have surprising clarity and enriched dynamic range. Layers of sonic tarnish have been stripped away. Lennon and McCartney’s vocals are brighter and more powerful. You hear each crisp syllable and appreciate the rawness and force of their vocals. The band’s instruments sparkle and Ringo’s drumming has more snap. Listening through headphones, it sounds like you’re standing right next to him. The power of his playing is startling while he keeps perfect time. It’s also
a treat to hear Ringo sing, slurring/dropping off words, Scouse style. Giles Martin’s remark in the CD booklet rings true: “The Beatles launch into every song like it’s the last time they’re going to play it!”

Giles remembered that fans want re-mixed tracks to be as close to the band’s organic sound as possible: “You can’t fool around with technology to the extent it would defeat that goal.” He added, “You want the energy and great sound quality to be true to the Beatles’ analog roots and what they originally intended.”

Martin and Abbey Road mix engineer Sam Okell didn’t include tracks with noticeable performance flaws. Giles revealed that the vocal disparities in “If I Fell” could not be remedied and that during “I’m Down,” the band temporarily fell out of rhythm before quickly coming back together. He pointed to “She Loves You” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” as the record’s premier songs. There are many other gems, like the
way Ringo’s drumming falls out in “Roll Over Beethoven,” only to powerfully return four beats later.
The 2016 album holds a trove of treasures and gives fans a front row seat to experience the world’s greatest group.

Q: When and where was the 2016 CD remix album’s cover photo taken?

A:  The cover shot was taken in Seattle by US tour manager Bob Bonis. The Beatles were boarding a chartered flight to their August 22, 1964 concert in Vancouver, Canada.

Q: Is there any footage in Ron Howard’s 2016 film of the Beatles’ shows at the Hollywood Bowl?

A: Yes! At the film’s 42-minute mark, Paul introduces Ringo to sing “Boys.” The short film clip is perfectly synced to Ringo’s headshaking vocal. When the 1964/65 recordings were made, Capitol Records also filmed the Bowl performances.

Q: Did the Beatles hear their Hollywood Bowl recordings before the 1977 album was released?

A: Capitol Records President Voyle Gilmore made copies of four tracks from the Bowl shows and sent them to the Beatles. George Harrison agreed they were an important part of the band’s history but fell short on the qualities of a Beatles release.

Q: What happened to the 1977 album Live! At the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany?

A: The Star-Club record was available until 1998, when the Beatles finally prevailed in London’s High Court. George Harrison testified in the two-day hearing and Lingasong Records was ordered to turn over the Star-Club master recordings to the Beatles and cease record production. Ironically, the Star-Club tapes had been offered for sale by saxophonist Ted “Kingsize” Taylor (who recorded the Beatles with a single mic) and later by the Beatles’ first manager, Allan Williams, who had acquired the recordings. Both Beatles road manager Neil Aspinall and Brian Epstein were approached to buy the 1962 Hamburg tapes, but neither expressed serious interest.

The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl, 1964

Showtime: August 23, 1964 at 8 PM. The single show’s 18,700 tickets had sold out four months before the performance date. Ticket prices ranged from $3 at the top of the Bowl to $7 for box seats. Opening Acts: The Righteous Brothers and Jackie DeShannon.

The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl, 1965

Showtimes: August 29 and 30, 1965, 8 PM shows. Both concerts were sellouts. Tickets ranged from $3 far back to $7 for box seats. Nine of the 12 songs performed in their 1965 concerts weren’t in the band’s 1964 set. Opening acts in 1965: The King Curtis Band, Brenda Holloway, Sounds Incorporated with the Discotheque Dancers, and Cannibal and the Headhunters.

Mark Brickley is the author of 2019’s expanded biography Postcards From Liverpool: Beatles Moments & Memories.