The Beatles, the BBC and falling in love with so many great artists

I remember hearing music by The Beatles when I was a young boy. Songs like “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Here Comes the Sun” and “Hey Jude” were in regular rotation, thanks to my folks.

I grew up a fan of the Fab Four’s music. And when I started getting my own music collection started, it makes sense that I gravitated toward The Beatles. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were the cornerstones to my ever-increasing pile of CDs.

In 1995, I celebrated my 15th birthday with a group of friends who spent the night. They brought gifts, we had pizza and we played video games into the wee morning hours. I still smile when I think back to those days and those guys.

My parents, besides hosting the gathering and providing the pizza, also gave me a gift: The Beatles’ “Live at the BBC” CD set. It was released in late 1994, and I’d had it on my radar all those months. Obviously, I was pretty pumped to give it a listen.

Looking at the track listing, I recognized the songs by The Beatles. But there were others that were foreign to me. “Keep Your Hands Off My Baby,” “A Shot of Rhythm and Blues,” “Soldier of Love,” “To Know Her is to Love Her,” these were songs I’d never encountered. And I’d never heard The Beatles cover songs like “Johnny B. Goode,” “Memphis, Tennessee” and “Sweet Little Sixteen.” Clearly, I was in for a treat.

I had no idea how much of a treat I was in for, as I spent hours and hours listening to this material. I read and re-read and re-read the booklet, and I absorbed the names in credits. Sure, I recognized Chuck Berry, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, Carl Perkins and others. And there was a reinforcement of the power of Motown and Phil Spector. But some of these songwriters were new to me, like Johnny and Dorsey Burnette, Mikis Theodorakis and Larry Williams.

What an incredible treasure trove of music! And each song made me more curious about other songs these writers penned, and what they may have sounded like. Keep in mind, the Internet wasn’t in every home and YouTube hadn’t launched yet. So I’d hit the public library, I’d go to music stores, I’d call radio stations, doing detective work in the pre-iTunes era.

This led me to albums by Bobby Vee, by Little Richard, by Buddy Holly, by The Everly Brothers, and so many other classic masters.

There was a certain beauty to the situation. The Beatles, who’d been inspired by these artists, became the gateway that led to my discovery and appreciation of those same artists.

I came to greatly appreciate the variety, from rhythm & blues to country & western to show tunes to good ol’ rock and roll, “Live at the BBC” offered so much. And there were the interview bits that also put The Beatles’ humor on full display. Fab!

As I grew older and my music knowledge (and collection) grew, my appreciation for the founding fathers and mothers of rock and roll grew. You can trace so much back to Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Carole King, Little Richard, Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, Willie Dixon and so many others.

In late 2013, The Beatles released a second volume of BBC recordings — “On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2.” With this second volume came a remastered and revised release of the original “Live in the BBC” (some track substitutions were made, and the quality was improved from better sourcing in some cases).

I relived my initial joy of the first volume’s release, and then I tucked into the second volume. Like with the first, it featured original Beatles songs as well as covers and interview bits. And since it featured a couple of my favorite Beatles deep cuts (“This Boy” and “You Can’t Do That”), I knew that I was going to be a fan.

Beyond those, we also were treated to renditions of “Words of Love,” “I’m Talking About You,” “Please Mister Postman,” “Beautiful Dreamer” and “Long Tall Sally,” as well as many others. Once again, The Beatles gave their heroes the spotlight (with the songs listed, those heroes being Buddy Holly; Chuck Berry; the writing team of Georgia Dobbins, William Garrett, Freddie Gorman, Brian Holland and Robert Bateman; Stephen Foster, Gerry Goffin and Jack Keller; and Enotris Johnson, Robert Blackwell and Little Richard).

If you’re looking for “Twist and Shout,” you’ll find it here. If you want “Roll Over Beethoven,” you’re covered. Craving “She Loves You,” “And I Love Her” or “I Feel Fine?” The Beatles deliver.

Now, I must admit that the second volume didn’t take my heart quite the same way the original did when I was 15. There’s a saying that says you can’t go home again, and maybe that fits here.

When I was 15, I had fewer cares, fewer worries, fewer responsibilities. I was able to spend hours reading and listening to music. My parents kept us comfortable and fed, and I was hearing a lot of this music for the first time. When I was 33, I was married, I was balancing work, bills and the usual worries of adult life. My time devoted to listening to music was reduced, and I’d heard a lot of this music already. It wasn’t as much a revelation.

Regardless, The Beatles are in great form, these songs are classics and the second set is a remarkable addition to the Fab Four’s recorded catalog. And listening to them back to back when the chill of winter is upon us still feels GOOD. There’s still a wonder to this music, an energy, a spirit. Isn’t that all that is really important?

If you haven’t given the BBC releases a try, do so. If you love The Beatles, if you love Chuck Berry, if you love Little Richard, if you love classic rock, roots rock, if you like hearing where so much of the foundation of modern music came from, these two volumes make for one-stop shopping in your musical education.

Dig in.

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