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Hinterland (2): The Beatles Live at the BBC

I’ve been listening through the early Beatles albums, admiring – as ever – the complete mastery of classic rock and roll that they demonstrate over their first four albums (in two years!) from Please Please Me (1963) to Help (1965).

Live at the BBC is a compilation of 56 songs played semi-live on air at BBC shows over the same period, more than forty of which are covers of rock and roll staples by other performers like Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly:

The Beatles performed for 52 BBC Radio programmes, beginning with an appearance on the series Teenager’s Turn—Here We Go, recorded on 7 March 1962, and ending with the special The Beatles Invite You to Take a Ticket to Ride, recorded on 26 May 1965. 47 of their BBC appearances occurred in 1963 and 1964, including 10 on Saturday Club and 15 on their own weekly series Pop Go the Beatles, which began in June 1963. As the Beatles had not accumulated many original songs by this time, the majority of their BBC performances consisted of cover versions, drawing on the repertoire that they had developed for their early stage act. In total, 275 performances of 88 different songs were broadcast, of which 36 songs never appeared on their studio albums.


Muscle memory and combinations, riffs and innovation

Leather-wearing Beatles at the Cavern Club c.1960 Source: Daily Mail

Many of these songs would have been part of their set list during their well-documented early days at Liverpool’s Cavern Club, where they played almost 300 times between 1957 and 1963, and at their residencies in Hamburg. These gigs are famous as the time when The Beatles (well, three out of four of them) paid their dues and honed their skills, emerging as a tight group of disciplined performers.

But these songs are more than simply practice material: they’re the tip of the iceberg of a library of hundreds of songs that the band new inside out (you can see videos of John and Paul picking them up and messing around with them years later in Get Back). This is the rich soil – the hinterland – out of which their own songs grew; these are building blocks – the riffs, baselines, beats and harmonies – that they reconfigured and then transformed to become The Beatles.


See also:

Marc Andreessen: Scenius
Get Back: Thoughts on Watching The Beatles
Sketchpad studio springboard
Seth Godin on “Where do you get your ideas?”
Hybrids (3): when ideas breed (Kevin Kelly on combinatorial innovation)
Innovation as network phenomenon: Matt Ridley on who invented the motor car

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...