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

by Damian Fanelli
Posted Nov 10, 2013 at 2:31pm

By now you've probably heard that On Air — Live At the BBC Volume 2, a second collection of recordings made by the Beatles in the studios of the British Broadcasting Corporation in the early Sixties, will be released this 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 new batch of previously unreleased recordings, most of which date from 1963, a mind-blowing 50 years ago.

And while it's difficult to imagine music lovers in 1963 getting all tingly about previously unreleased recordings made 50 years earlier, it makes a lot more sense in 2013. First of all, we're talking about the Beatles here (You know, those guys who influenced every aspect of pop culture).

Secondly, rock and roll — a genre that's still alive and kicking — is about 60 years old. So 50 years ain't what it used to be.

Anyway, I have good news: I won't be discussing years, dates or numbers for the remainder of this column.

And there's more good news: 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 songs 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-filled solo on "Till There Was You"), the not so good (his solo on "Lucille") and the intriguing (His alternate solo on "I Saw Her Standing There" opens up so many possibilities).

It's worth noting that On Air — Live At the BBC Volume 2 might 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.

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

Another big plus are the bonus eight-minute-long, one-on-one interviews with each Beatle conducted by BBC announcer Brian Matthew in late 1965 and early 1966. He didn't feel weird about asking them about their massive new houses, shiny new cars and the other trappings of fame. (By the way, the 85-year-old Matthew is still a BBC radio broadcaster!)

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

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