In 1960 and 1961, before they became adorable mop-toppers, the Beatles were leather-clad English punks playing rowdy rock and roll in the seedy strip joints of Hamburg, Germany. A year later, their new manager, Brian Epstein, shrewdly remolded John, Paul, George and Ringo (original drummer Pete Best was fired in 1962) into well-groomed, soft-spoken lads in suits with a penchant for covering catchy classics by Elvis, Chuck Berry and Little Richard. It's these kinder, tamer chaps that appear on Live at the BBC, a 56-song compilation of the Fab Four's live performances on the English radio network between 1963 and 1965.
Anyone who has ever enjoyed the Beatles' early artistic brilliance will revel in the raw energy of these one-take pop gems, particularly the 30 tunes never later recorded for a Beatles album. But perhaps it's the diehard Beatlephile that will get a particular rush from plunging into this new treasure trove. Along with 14 Lennon-McCartney standards, the two-disc set contains dozens of cover versions, ranging from Buddy Holly's "Crying, Waiting, Hoping" to the Leiber-Stoller-Pomus pearl "Young Blood." And while these live sessions occasionally resulted in sloppy guitar licks (Harrison on "Roll Over Beethoven") or mishandled lyrics (Lennon forgetting the last verse in "Slow Down"), virtually every number is rendered with flawless harmonies and deft musicianship. Live at the BBC crackles with the giddy excitement that defined the Beatles' early catalogue. It is a delightful way of hearing one of our favorite bands get back to where they once belonged. (Capitol)