Beatles' live album was culmination of years of effort


According to the men involved, assembling the Beatles' "Live at the BBC" was equal parts engineering problem, diplomatic mission, research project and hagiography.

Although it was long known that the BBC's Beatles recordings still existed, neither EMI (the group's record company) or the BBC could release the music without the permission of Apple Corps Ltd. -- the firm operated by surviving Beatles George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, along with John Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono.

Once the project had been given the green light, there was the problem of rounding up the original recordings. Although a fair amount of material had been indexed and filed in the BBC archives, as BBC producer Kevin Howlett said in a press conference recently, "some of the material was not so easy to find."

In instances in which the original tapes weren't available, the producers had to work with LPs made for the BBC Transcription Service in the '60s. "A good, clean, vinyl copy of a transcription disc is a very good source to master something," Howlett said.

Still, he added, "It was quite a bit of detective work."

Those recordings were cleaned up a bit for CD release, but there was no overdubbing (apart from the version of "Help," in which the original BBC engineers spliced in a snippet from the soundtrack recording) or remixing.

As Howlett explained: "Because they were not multi-track recordings, there was no way you could remix them. . . . All you can do is enhance the sound by cleaning up any distortion or hiss that might be there on the tape."

It was left to the Beatles' original producer, George Martin, to sift through the BBC recordings and select the tracks that appear on this album.

"I think you've got the best of it here," Martin said at the press conference. "And mind you, I might be wrong. In 10 years' time, someone [may] dig something else up."

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