The Beatles’ first official collection of BBC radio recordings, Live At The BBC contained songs from a range of shows dating from January 1963 to May 1965, and was released in November 1994.
Between 7 March 1962 and 26 May 1965, The Beatles performed on 52 BBC radio shows, the bulk of which – 47 appearances – took place in 1963 and 1964. These included their own show Pop Go The Beatles, which ran for 15 episodes from June 1963.
Many of the performances included cover versions which the band never recorded for EMI. In all, they recorded 275 performances of 88 different songs for the BBC, of which 36 never appeared on their singles or studio albums.
The BBC radio recordings were traded by bootleggers for a number of years. The first collection was the unofficial album Yellow Matter Custard, released in 1971, which contained 14 BBC performances.
It was followed by a number of other bootleg releases, all of which had questionable audio quality. A superior-sounding collection, 1980’s The Beatles Broadcasts, contained 18 BBC recordings.
In 1982 the BBC broadcast a two-hour radio special titled The Beatles at the Beeb. It featured a mixture of performances and interviews. A more extensive series, The Beeb’s Lost Beatles Tapes, aired in 1988 as 14 30-minute episodes.
A number of the BBC recordings had been lost, wiped or never recorded by the corporation, at a time when they didn’t fully know the cultural impact of The Beatles. As a result, the 1980s shows featured, in addition to the original tapes, vinyl recordings by the BBC Transcription Department which had been distributed to BBC stations around the world.
In 1993 a nine-CD bootleg collection, The Complete BBC Sessions, was released. It contained performances from 44 of the band’s BBC appearances, including a number of complete shows.
The BBC and EMI were aware of the commercial potential of a similar official release. An album had been planned as early as 1982, and in his 1992 book The Complete Beatles Chronicle, Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn wrote: “at December 1991, EMI was preparing an album for first-time commercial release.”
BBC producer Kevin Howlett tracked down missing recordings, including tapes held by those involved in the initial recordings. He was furthermore contacted by others who had heard the recent radio series and wished to share their own collections.
Live At The BBC was released in the United Kingdom on 30 November 1994, and in the USA on 6 December. It was the first Beatles release to contain previously-unreleased recordings since 1977’s The Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl.
The album topped the UK albums chart, and peaked at number 3 on the US Billboard 200, selling an estimated eight million copies worldwide in its first year. It received a Grammy Awards nomination for Best Historical Album.
The tracks were selected by producer George Martin, and included 30 of the 36 songs that the group never recorded for EMI. Five of the omitted tracks – ‘Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream)’, ‘Besame Mucho’, ‘A Picture Of You’, ‘Beautiful Dreamer’, and ‘I’m Talking About You’ – were judged to have been of insufficient audio quality. The sixth, a version of Carl Perkins’ ‘Lend Me Your Comb’, had better sound, and was issued on the following year’s Anthology 1. It was also included on 2013’s On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2, along with ‘Beautiful Dreamer’ and ‘I’m Talking About You’.
Baby It’s You
The single also contained three other BBC recordings. Its versions of ‘I’ll Follow The Sun’ and ‘Boys’ were released again on 2013’s On Air: Live at the BBC Volume 2. The other b-side, ‘Devil In Her Heart’, is unavailable on any other Beatles compact disc.
A remastered version of Live At The BBC was released on 11 November 2013. It contained some differences from the original 1994 release, notably the omission of crossfades between music and speech.
The 2013 reissue also contained three extra tracks: a version of ‘From Us To You’ which closed disc two, and two new speech tracks. ‘What is it, George?’ was inserted between ‘Carol’ and ‘Soldier Of Love’, while ‘Ringo? Yep!’ replaced ‘Have a Banana!’, which was mostly appended to the previous track, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’.
The design of the packaging was amended for the 2013 reissue. Live At The BBC was also released as a double set that year with On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2.