With the Beatles’ “On Air — Live at the BBC Volume 2” just rolling out, fab fans are wondering what else might be coming from the group’s fabled British radio vaults. But don’t hold your breath, according to the new set’s co-executive producers.
“There are no plans at the moment,” Kevin Howlett, who rode herd on the two-disc set with Mike Heatley and Jeff Jones of Apple Corps Ltd. and also wrote the accompanying booklet notes, tells Billboard. “I think these two albums are wonderful from the point of view of presenting the real highlights of the Beatles’ BBC sessions.” And though the group recorded some 275 musical performances on various BBC shows, Howlett doesn’t foresee an appetite for repetition. “The Beatles completists out there may want to own every version of ‘Twist and Shout,’ and I can understand that because every version of ‘Twist and Shout’ is really good, but I don’t know that we want to go that far.”
The two “On Air” sets feature 81 of the 88 different songs the Beatles recorded for the BBC between March 1962 and June 1965, including for 15 episodes of the Tuesday night series “Pop Goes the Beatles” during the summer of 1963. But Howlett says the recordings of those other songs that are currently in hand “are just not up to the standard we’d like to have on the album.” And Heatley adds that those standards will not be lowered for the sake of completeness. “We have to maintain a decent quality threshold,” he says. “If the only thing that exists is a poor quality fifth or sixth generation tape full of distortion or whatever else, you can’t put stuff like that out, and we won’t.”
However… “If material were to become available of a quality that’s acceptable, that the engineers can work with, that’s something would pay attention to, I think. At this moment we can’t see a possibility, but if the material were to become available, obviously we’d look at it again and maybe put something else out — in another 19 years,” Heatley adds with a laugh, referring to the gap between the two “On Air” volumes, the first of which was produced by longtime Beatles cohort George Martin and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Historical Album.
The second volume was broached during 2011, when the Beatles finalized their deal with iTunes. Apple and EMI were initially interested in bonus material for the existing “On Air,” but Howlett — who began working with the BBC recordings during 1982 for the “Beatles at the Beeb” radio special — convinced the companies that there was enough for an entire second volume. On this one, however, he wanted to incorporate more of the Beatles’ spoken exchanges from the broadcasts.
“I really think those are so entertaining and do stand up to repeated listening,” says Howlett, who’s also just published his third Beatles BBC book, the lavishly packaged “The Beatles: The BBC Archives 1962-1970.” “I do think it’s part of the magic of the Beatles, the power of their personalities and their great sense of fun and their wit. The banter within the group as well as with the announcers is all part of the Beatles’ magic. So I wanted to make it sound like a radio show of the era, just to take people back to that time.” As bonus tracks, the new set features longer interviews with each of the Beatles from “Pop Profile” shows in 1965 and 1966.
The second BBC volume also contains a pair of songs the Beatles never recorded during their regular sessions for EMI — covers of Chuck Berry’s “I’m Talking About You” and a revved-up version of the pop standard “Beautiful Dreamer” that Heatley ascertained was inspired by a Tony Orlando rendition of the song from 1962.
“It came out in the U.K. on an EMI label in January ’63,” Heatley says, “and we reckon they must’ve got hold of a copy, heard it, rehearsed it and played it on the 22nd of January, and it went on ‘Saturday Club’ on the 26th. Whether they ever played it again you’d only know if you saw what they were doing in the clubs at that time.”
After the BBC buzz wears off, meanwhile, there’s more archival material headed Beatles fans’ way. “There is something, but I don’t think we’re allowed to talk about it yet,” Howlett says. “If you’re involved in these Beatles projects, you have to be very discreet. It’s all top secret.”