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Beatle Boots

Lennon

Sizing up Fab Four rarities

By Greg Cahill

Would you pay $30 to hear Yoko Ono ramble on about the kitchenette of the Hyde Park apartment in which she lived in 1968? Well, this is where you separate the proverbial men from the boys, speaking snobbishly and in a most gender-incorrect way.

The huge success of 1994's The Beatles: Live at the BBC (Capitol/Apple) and last year's The Beatles: Anthology 1 proved that a lot of folks are willing to plunk down 15 bucks for a CD of Fab Four rarities. But only the most die-hard fan will cough up two to three times that amount for a disc that may hold just a few listenable tracks and the faint promise of a backstage pass inside the creative process that spawned the greatest pop group in modern music history.

Now The Beatles: Anthology 2, the second in a planned series of three double-CD collections of Fab Four rarities released in the wake of ABC-TV's recent six-hour rockumentary chronicling the rise and fall of those famous Liverpudlians, is set to hit the racks March 19. It will include the newly recorded single "Real Love," featuring the three surviving Beatles--Paul McCart-ney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr--dubbed over the late John Lennon's piano and vocals. The 45-track set also features three previously unreleased songs, numerous live tracks, and a host of alternate studio takes from the Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper's, and Magical Mystery Tour sessions, including the "Strawberry Fields Forever" demo.

The Beatles: Live at the BBC --the two-CD, 69-track collection that has sold more than 5 million copies since its release--confirmed that there is a lot of interest in vintage Beatles recordings. For most, the BBC discs were the first taste of rare, live recordings from the Fab Four. But many avid collectors of bootlegs--live concert material, studio outtakes, and other rare tracks released on illegal, unlicensed recordings--already were familiar with that vintage material.

The coveted BBC sessions, with their sonically superior sound, had been released illegally in 1993 as a nine-CD bootleg box set that featured a 36-page full-color booklet and a staggering 257 tracks recorded between March 8, 1962, and June 7, 1965.

That immense box (which had hit the black market years earlier as a 13-LP set) is regarded by bootleg collectors a five-star, hall of fame package.

Yet, despite Capitol's rush to release Fab Four rarities, the appetite for Beatles boots is still strong. The reason: there are so many of them (the Belgium-based Hot Wacks bootleg guide lists 92 pages of unlicensed Beatles recordings) that a lot of this material simply is never going to see the light of day. And die-hard fans crave a glimpse at the genesis of these classic works.

For example, The Beatles: Sessions (Spank), a popular bootleg of an album compiled in 1982 by EMI on the 20th anniversary of the Beatles first single ("Love Me Do") and then shelved for legal reasons, contains a startlingly stripped-down acoustic demo version of George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (with an extra verse subsequently deleted). That track probably will be included later this year on the third Anthology album; most of the 14-songs on Sessions are included on the first two Anthology releases.

Another likely candidate for commercial release is the 24-track Unsurpassed Demos (Yellow Dog), a mostly acoustic collection of late-'60s songs recorded in May 1968 at George Harrison's house in preparation for the so-called White Album. Several of the rare Lennon-composed tracks from that session appeared a few years ago on the "Lost Lennon Tapes" radio special. The arrangements are very close to those used on the White Album, though warmer and more intimate than the final versions--the anthemic "Revolution" sounds like a cheerful campfire sing-along.

One Beatles boot that is unlikely to appear as a commercial release, however, is the quirky Revolution (Vig-O-Tone). This gem features a 90-second instrumental acoustic home demo of "Michelle," recorded in late 1965 in which McCartney can be heard stumbling through the unfinished song; Lennon's freaky 1965 spoken-word play "Lucy from Littleton," recorded over McCartney's home demo of "We Can Work It Out"; a 1967 home demo of "Good Morning, Good Morning," which Lennon plays on a ukelele; and three spacey mellotron experiments that Lennon taped in 1968 at his home in Weybridge, England.

But the strangest track is a rambling 25-minute reality check of Yoko Ono taping the aforementioned kitchen tour and other personal observations for an aural love note to Lennon. Actually, it's a very personal confession about shyness and relationships in which she shares her fears about death and celebrities after hearing that Andy Warhol had been shot and wounded at his office that day. In the background, you can hear the Beatles blissfully recording vocal overdubs on "Revolution" as the song blasts from studio monitors.

It doesn't get any more intimate than that.

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From the Mar. 7-13, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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