Before I get to my review of the new release of The Beatles: Live at The Hollywood Bowl, a little background may help put all the hoopla regarding this first official digital release of a live Beatles concert into some perspective. This is especially important to understand in light of today's high definition live cable TV channels like MTV Live (formerly Palladia), multi-camera surround-sound concert releases on Blu-ray disc, officially sanctioned downloadable concerts by major mainstream artists and a seemingly endless stream of fan made live concert recordings posted to YouTube, recorded on iPhones and such.
It wasn't always like this, kids...
So... consider that...
In 1977 when The Beatles at The Hollywood Bowl was first issued, there were no official live Beatle recordings available. In fact, the music from these concerts from 1964 and 1965 was heavily bootlegged back in the day which is partially what prompted its official release in the first place.
For those not in the know, bootlegs are unofficial releases of live and studio recordings by bands, created illegally and typically not benefitting the artists financially... back in the day they came out on LPs and even 45s.... these days they are around on CD, DVD and even Blu-ray Discs. Frank Zappa even coined a phrase for his multi-disc boxed sets of officially releases of exact copies of popular bootlegs: "Beat The Boots"
But also consider that:
In 1977 when The Beatles at The Hollywood Bowl was first issued, these recordings were only about 12 years old and the Beatles were only broken up for about 7 years. So there was still much fan love and hope for a reunion at that time.
In 1977 when The Beatles at The Hollywood Bowl was first issued, the album reached #1 in the UK and #2 on the US charts. The Beatles were still pretty much the biggest name in showbiz at that time...
In 1977 when The Beatles at The Hollywood Bowl was first issued, "Beatlemania" -- as the international fan-fanatic phenomenon was known -- was still a palpable presence, far from a faded memory.
It was a thing, as they say...
In 1977, when The Beatles at The Hollywood Bowl was first issued, a Broadway show opened up called Beatlemania, offering many fans who had never seen the Beatles a chance to experience a simulation of what it was sort of like... It was good. I know. I went to Beatlemania on the second night of its opening run! Nowadays, there are Beatle tribute bands and Beatle experience shows all over the world doing essentially the same thing...
So, yeah, The Beatles were still a big deal then. And remarkably, for a lot of people around the world, they still are!
The Beatles at Hollywood Bowl was curiously never released on Compact Disc.
Thus, it is a really special thing that -- coinciding with Ron Howard's upcoming documentary on The Beatles live experience (called The Beatles: Eight Days A Week -- The Touring Years) -- Capitol Records has wisely decided to put out an official soundtrack-of-sorts by reissuing the Hollywood Bowl recordings supplemented with new material not on that original 1977 LP release.
It will first come out on CD and digital download. In November it will be released on a 180-gram vinyl LP.
This new release is not exactly the same as the 1977 George Martin produced album. The original three-track masters were recently located in the Capitol Records archives and determined to be of better fidelity than the tapes used for the 1977 release. The 1977 album was apparently made from a safety copy of those three track master tapes in England.
It has been fully remixed with the aid of modern computer technologies to extract as much music from the tapes as possible. So this new edition is at least one generation better than the recordings used to create the 1977 release. Accordingly, everything sounds a quite a bit brighter and clearer, with more distinct sense of instrumentation.
Producer Giles Martin -- George Martin's son and acclaimed producer engineer in his own right -- did a wonderful job cleaning these recordings up. Now, I will say, the 1977 album sounded pretty remarkable back in the day (and still does on my original LP!). But even on the CD I can hear more detailing, more presence of the concert stage. And of course these recordings capture much of the live energy of the Beatles doing what they did best -- wowing and exciting audiences!
Even just on CD, The Beatles: Live at The Hollywood Bowl sparkles more than The Beatles at Hollywood Bowl on LP.
If I have any one nit to pick is simply the decision to mix this in Stereo -- I wonder if the recording might have sounded a bit punchier in Mono, which would put the drums dead center in the sound stage along with the bass. As it stands, you hear Ringo's drums mostly to one channel, while the bass is spread across the mix. Its not bad -- and there may well be technical reasons why it had to be that way -- but it is something I wonder about as a Beatle fanboy and audiophile.
And of course, me being a completist fan and all that, it'd sure be nice if they put out a deluxe edition with all the complete unedited concerts, but I don't imagine that will happen anytime soon. Times-a-tickin' for us Baby Boomers!
That said, all the live Beatle recordings here on The Beatles: Live at The Hollywood Bowl are pretty remarkable considering the primitive sound systems of the day, the lack of stage monitors and such. When younger listeners explore these recordings, keep all that in mind. These guys were flying live without a net and they were soaring along to the roar of millions of screaming fans around the world.
They couldn't really hear what they were doing. That they sound so consistently good is a testament to their brilliance as musicians and performers -- they knew this material cold and could sing it in virtually any environment on key.
And to that, all I can say, is yeah yeah yeah!
I look forward to the vinyl release of The Beatles: Live at The Hollywood Bowl later this year. Keep an eye out for my review of that to come once I get a copy in hand.