Monday, August 06, 2007

Review #19: The Beatles Live! At the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany; 1962.

Everybody knows about how The Beatles got their big start in Hamburg…you know, traveling around, performing at clubs and getting a stage name, while getting themselves high and drunk on the stage, while still playing. One of their more famous gigs was at the Star Club, where they performed several shows. Despite the amount of shows they did, no single performance has ever been released...legally anyway and with good reason. None of them can possibly be saved and polished enough to sound good. Nevertheless, companies looking to cash in on the name ‘Beatles’ have tried to release the Star Club tapes. One of the more famous incidences was when the tape first surfaced on the market in 1977. The company was called Lingasong and they thought they could easily get away with it. Apple did take notice and sued, but the company was still able to release it, as long as they billed it as “A Piece Of History” that wouldn’t ruin the reputation of the Beatles. (It also didn’t help that Apple had known about these tapes for years, but waited until they were just about to be released to try to sue the company.) The copy that this review revolves around is that initial copy from 1977, which I have just because I found it among the other various LPs at my uncle’s house! So, about the music contained in the infamous gatefold, read on!

The set kicks off with a German introduction and then The Beatles come on and run through I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Cry Over You, one of the actually eighteen songs not performed on Parlophone LPs (despite that the package claims that there’s only fifteen unreleased tracks). Paul sings lead, although you can’t hear the vocal at all. You get this great ‘dirty’ guitar sound that sets the tone for the rest of the set. Then George rips through Roll Over Beethoven in a way that is much faster that the with The Beatles performance. Paul comes back with a great performance of the Hippy Hippy Shake, which goes straight into Sweet Little Sixteen, where John takes lead. If only John did it this way on his Rock ‘N’ Roll album! The rest of the first side includes rather inaudible versions of Lend Me Your Comb and Your Feets Too Big.
Side two kicks off with Where Have You Been All My Life and then a quickie version of Mr. Moonlight (where John does not scream “Mister Moonlight!” as an intro). A Taste Of Honey is an odd electric version of the song later found on Please Please Me. Next is a rendition of Besame Mucho, which they did at their infamous Decca audition. ‘Till There Was You is a funny version, as John mocks every word Paul says! Paul saves himself though, as he rips through Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey to close out the side.
Ain’t Nothing Shakin’ (Like The Leaves On The Trees) opens side three up, as George takes lead. The great three-part harmony, which they obviously hadn’t perfected at this point, is out to the test with one of John’s favorite songs, To Know Her Is To Love Her. Falling In Love Again is another rather slow song, with Paul on lead again. George runs through Shelia with quick speed. The side closes with two tracks sung by guest singers, a waiter and his brother. They obviously must have just jump on the stage, as the audience goes nuts when the waiter does a rather tame singing job on Be Bop A Lula, which clearly doesn’t match the frantic guitar work of George behind him. Hallelujah I Love Her So is done by the waiter’s brother and owner of the Star Club.
The concluding side opens with a long bit of banter, before they run through the rockabilly of Red Sails In The Sunset, with Paul on vocals again. It’s a rather good performance, as you can actually understand Paul! George does a signature version of Everybody’s Trying To be My Baby, obviously proving that the closing track on Beatles For Sale isn’t just there for filler, although this performance is much better than the one with double tracked vocals. Matchbox is sung by John, before Ringo took it and made it his on the Long Tall Sally EP (or Past Masters, Vol. 1). Although the vocal is rough, you can tell John liked it, so it must have been tough to hand it over to Ringo (much like what he did with “Honey Don’t”, which he sings on The Beatle Live At The BBC!). Talking ‘Bout You, a Ray Charles song with John on vocals follows. It’s very rough, with a great solo in the middle, presumably by George. Following some more German banter, Shimmy Shake (introduced by Paul as “Shimmy...Shimmy…uh…SHIMMAAAYYY!!!!” to get a big audience roar) kicks off with lots of woo-ing and aahh-ing. Paul does a magnificent version of Long Tall Sally that rivals the version found on the Long Tall Sally EP (or Past Masters, Vol. 1). Of course, the vocal is barely audible, diminishing the songs affect. The slow I Remember You, with Paul again on vocals with John playing harmonica, ends the set with only a short second or two of clapping before your needle will lift off.
I certainly can’t be the judge on how well The Beatles perform some of these songs…I certainly have not heard many of these songs before I heard this (“Your Feets Too Big”; “Where Have You Been All My Life”; “Shelia”; “Talking ‘Bout You”) but I certainly can judge the sound of the album. It’s not as bad as many people say it is. Primarily, it’s just that the vocals are nearly inaudible and the guitars and drums are awfully messed up.
The package design is rather simple, considering this was practically a bootleg. The cover is just a type-set of the title with a purple circle claiming there’s fifteen tracks unreleased and another circle that says “A Piece Of History-BEATLES-Lingasong”. The back lists the tracks and a large picture of the Star Club, with grainy shots of John and George on a pole. The inside features an infamous and incredibly incorrect liner note, track info (interestingly, there’s nothing for “Where Have You Been All My Life”), and another shot of a pole that has pictures of John, Paul and George (no Ringo!).
In conclusion, the set really sits in the middle of the road. It’s nice to have just to have a document that gives you a rough idea of how The Beatles sounded before Brian Epstein cleaned them up and changed the world forever. However, the music itself is less than satisfactory and that’s the most important part. These tapes aren’t released legally, but there are some great performances by The Beatles of some of the eighteen really unreleased tracks that are on Live At The BBC and The Beatles Anthology 1. (“I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Cry Over You”, “To Know Her Is To Love Her” and “Ain’t Nothing Shakin’ Like The Leaves On The Trees” are on BBC. “Hallelujah, I Love Her So”, “Besame Mucho” and “Lend Me Your Comb” are on Anthology 1.) This is another one of those “If you are not a die hard Beatles fan or a music aficionado, you can stay away from this one!”

Note: I got a ton of information that helped me write the intro from Bruce Spizer's magnificent Swan Song book, which was his last book that he put out last year. I know no official person will read this, but I thought it would be good to give a nod to him. If you'd like to know more about the album and various other recordings released on small (sometimes illegall) labels by The Beatles, this book is a must. His other books are homes to just an absolute wealth of information on The Beatles and they are all great. (His website is

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