November 27, 2013
Guest: Ken Howlett
TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: And here we are again for another half hour of the 1963 sound with The Beatles. That's John Lennon, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: And who are you, my man?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: I thought you'd never ask.
GROSS: England got a lot more of The Beatles than America did during the group's formative years. Between 1962 and 1965, The Beatles were featured on 53 BBC radio programs, including their own series, "Pop Go The Beatles." They performed originals and covers and chatted with BBC hosts. A two-CD set called "The Beatles On Air Live at the BBC: Volume 2" has just been released. My guest, Kevin Howlett, is an executive producer of the album.
He's also an executive producer of the newly remastered reissue of the first volume, which was originally released in 1994. For reasons he'll explain, Howlett had to search for many of these recordings, and they weren't easy to find. He's written a new book, called "The Beatles: The BBC Archives," that includes transcriptions of their BBC radio and TV interviews, as well as fascinating BBC internal memos about The Beatles and their music.
Here's the opening of a 1964 broadcast from the newly remastered volume one of "The Beatles: Live at the BBC."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FROM ME TO YOU")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: It's The Beatles.
THE BEATLES: (Singing) If there's anything that you want, if there's anything we can do, just call on us, and we'll send it along with love from us to you, to you, to you, to you.
GROSS: Kevin Howlett, welcome to FRESH AIR, and thank you for all The Beatles work that you've done.
KEVIN HOWLETT: Thank you.
GROSS: So tell us how the song that we just heard was used on The Beatles broadcast.
HOWLETT: Well, they did what's called bank holiday specials in the U.K. We have this holiday, it's a Monday it extends, the weekend, and the BBC always put out special programs on bank holiday Mondays. And they did a series of specials called "From Us To You," and that was an adaptation, of course, of "From Me To You" that opened and closed the program.
GROSS: What do you consider the greatest find to be on volume two of "The Beatles at the BBC"?
HOWLETT: Well, the two rarest tracks on volume two are "Beautiful Dreamer" and "I'm Talking About You." Those have never been released by The Beatles on album before. And both are really interesting. I love "I'm Talking About You" because the story behind that is it was played live direct onto the air. They didn't record it in advance. They should have done; it was for Saturday Club.
Normally you'd record it a few days beforehand, but John had a bad cold, so they had to come and do it live in the morning. They played in Bristol the night before, two shows, and traveled through the night, appeared at the BBC at 8 o'clock in the morning to rehearse and then played live to, oh, 10, 12 million people, direct onto the air.
And you can hear that John's voice is absolutely back to full power on this Chuck Berry song, "I'm Talking About You."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M TALKING ABOUT YOU")
BEATLES: (Singing) Let me tell you about a girl I know, I met her walking down an uptown street. She's so fine, you know I wish she was mine. I get shook up every time we meet. I'm talking about you, nobody but you. Come on, give me the truth. I'm just trying to get a message to you. Let me tell you about a girl I know, she's right here by my side. (Unintelligible) promise me you'll be my bride. I'm talking about you, nobody but you...
GROSS: As we can hear, the sound quality on that isn't great. Why is it so bad?
HOWLETT: Well, I wouldn't call it bad because we've cleaned it up as best we can, but it was recorded off the radio by a listener. So, you know, it's amazing to think now, but not one master take was kept by the BBC of The Beatles in session in the '60s.
GROSS: That is so shocking. I mean really, I thought your job, putting this together, would be so easy. You go into the BBC vaults, you get the recordings of the broadcast, and you select what you want to release, done. But no, it wasn't like that at all.
HOWLETT: No, it wasn't like that at all. And my quest to restore the BBC archive goes way back to 1981 when I joined the national pop network in this country, BBC Radio One. As a young rookie producer, I was 24 years old. The management knew I was a Beatles fanatic. I was a child in the '60s growing up with The Beatles. And they gave me this task. What dream thing to be handed.
They said can you investigate what programs The Beatles performed music in and what songs they did. And the BBC's written archives is a wonderful place where they kept every single piece of paper relating to The Beatles' performances. And so when I wrote the book, it was a magnificent source of material: memos, contracts, audience research reports. So that was fine. You could find out all the information.
But then finding the music on the tapes, that was a completely different matter. Some of these recordings come from transcription disks, LPs that were distributed by the BBC to other countries for broadcast. Some came from producer listening copies. There were some producers at the time who thought maybe it is worth keeping this material. And in some of these cases, listeners who taped off the radio.
GROSS: Well, and one of the great things about hearing these Beatles broadcasts is that, you know, they're recorded live, and there's just such an energy to some of these recordings. And I want to play an example of that, and this is "There's a Place" from volume two of "The Beatles at the BBC." Do you want to say anything about this version that we're going to hear?
HOWLETT: Well, it's from the first British LP "Please Please Me," and this recording is a unique BBC performance of it. And they played at the BBC every track from that album many several times. So it's also a track that John had said he was trying to write a Motown song. So bear that in mind as you listen to "There's a Place."
GROSS: OK, here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THERE'S A PLACE")
BEATLES: (Singing) There's a place where I can go when I feel low, when I feel blue. And it's my mind, and there's no time, when I'm alone, I think of you, and things you do go round my head, the things you said, like I love only you. In my mind there's no sorrow, don't you know that it's so. There'll be no sad tomorrow, don't you know that it's so. There's a place...
GROSS: So that's "There's a Place" from the just released volume two of "The Beatles at the BBC." My guest, Kevin Howlett, is the person who found these recordings because they had to be found, the BBC didn't keep them, sadly.
GROSS: And now he also has a new book called "The Beatles: The BBC Archives, 1962-1970." Well, here's another example of the energy that they get in these performances, and I'm actually surprised I'm playing this because this song was really not in my top 10 of, like, Beatles recordings. But I just love the way they do it live on the BBC.
It's "Please Mr. Postman," the Marvelettes hit. And John's singing lead on it. And the energy and the harmonies on this are just wonderful. Do you want to say a few words about it before we hear it?
HOWLETT: Well, "Please Mr. Postman" they did a few times at the BBC. The very first time they did it was in their first ever broadcast on the BBC in March 1962. And I think when they performed it for a program called "Teenagers Turn," here we go, that sums up the attitude of the BBC at that point, that was probably the first time that anybody in the U.K. had heard "Please Mr. Postman."
Although it was an American number one, you just wouldn't hear that record in the U.K. on the radio. So The Beatles covered it and introduced it to the whole of the country.
GROSS: OK, so here's The Beatles at the BBC from volume two of "The Beatles Live at the BBC," 1963.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PLEASE MR. POSTMAN")
BEATLES: (Singing) Wait, oh yes, wait a minute, Mr. Postman. Wait, Mr. Postman. Mr. Postman, look and see. Is there a letter in your bag for me? I've been waiting a long, long time, since I heard from that gal of mine.
(Singing) There must be some word today from my girlfriend so far away. Please Mr. Postman, look and see if there's a letter, a letter for me. I've been standing here waiting, Mr. Postman, so patiently for just a card or just a letter saying she's returning home to me. Please Mr. Postman, look and see. Is there a letter in your bag for me? I've been waiting a long, long time, since I heard from that gal of mine.
(Singing) So many days you passed me by...
GROSS: My guest is Kevin Howlett, an executive producer of the new double-CD collection "The Beatles On Air Live at the BBC: Volume 2," and author of the new book "The Beatles: The BBC Archives." We'll talk more and hear more great music after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
My guest is Kevin Howlett, author of the new book "The Beatles: The BBC Archives." And he's an executive producer of the new double-CD collection "The Beatles On Air Live at the BBC: Volume 2," and he worked on the newly remastered reissue of volume one.
Let's talk about how The Beatles first got on the BBC. They had to audition. There was an audition process. What was that audition process like that The Beatles and other bands had to go through?
HOWLETT: Well, the first thing that Brian Epstein did when he took over the management of The Beatles was to fill out an application form for the variety department of the BBC. This again reminds us that there was no rock music business as we know it. This was show business. And they would be on with all sorts of other acts, you know, radio ventriloquists, even that kind of thing.
And so he fills out the application form. They're invited to do an audition. And they turn up at the Manchester Playhouse and perform four songs. And the producer, Peter Pilbeam, selected them for broadcast. And that was quite something because some other very popular Liverpool groups, Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Big Three, Billy Joe Kramer, they all failed their auditions with Peter Pilbeam.
But he passed The Beatles, and in the book, there's a facsimile of that application form, and on the back you see Peter Pilbeam's comments. And he says not as rocky as most, more country and Western with a tendency to play music, one of the great understatements, I think.
And he also makes a comment about the vocalists and says John Lennon, yes; Paul McCartney, no. But Paul did sing on the first broadcast, so he must have changed his mind about that. But, you know, well done Peter Pilbeam because this was well before they were signed to Parlophone Records by George Martin and a long time before they released their first single, "Love Me Do" in the U.K.
So the BBC were very quick to see the potential of this group.
GROSS: So do you think, like, when The Beatles performed "Please Please Me" that that was considered really radical music on the BBC?
HOWLETT: I think radical is a really good word because from our standpoint now, 50 years on, you know, we may look at 1963 and what The Beatles were doing as, you know, not too shocking. But believe me, it was shocking. Even the haircuts, which now don't seem long at all, were perceived to be extremely long. And for instance an album cover like "With The Beatles," which became "Meet The Beatles" in America, those moody, half-shadow shots of The Beatles on the front cover, extremely radical at the time.
So yeah, I think it's important to put yourself back in that era. And this is the year before it all happened in America and internationally, and this is the breakthrough year for The Beatles, make or break time. And what they were doing was revolutionary and shocking, the choice of material, the way they were allowed to be themselves on the air and be so witty and irreverent, all in a very good-natured way.
But the culture clash of the cheeky lads from Liverpool with the kind of trained actors who might be presenting programs with them, you can just hear The Beatles having such a great time and giggling away at some of these links and sending it all up. And it was just radical to hear that on the BBC.
In those days, if you presented a program of gramophone records, as they referred to them, you had to submit your script two weeks in advance, and somebody would go through it with a blue pencil, altering your grammar. There was no spontaneity on the BBC.
HOWLETT: But because The Beatles were recording for the popular music department, which was live music, they were allowed to be more natural in what was called the announcement. So they are themselves, and just hearing people being so naturally witty and relaxed in front of the microphone was quite shocking. You know, BBC was a very formal institution, and it sounded like it.
GROSS: So why don't we hear "Please Please Me," of course a Beatles original. And just think of this in the context of everything that my guest has just said about what a breakthrough sound this was on the BBC. Do you want to add some more about the recording we're about to hear?
HOWLETT: Well, this is the 11th of 12 times they did it for BBC Radio, one of the most frequently performed songs. It's their first U.K. number one. And this performance doesn't have John's harmonica that you hear on the record because it was completely live, and so he couldn't play harmonica and sing and play at the same time.
So it is a different sounding performance. But again that energy, the adrenaline-fueled performance is just something quite exceptional. And you have to remember in the context of the program they were playing it in, not so much this one because it was their own program, "Pop Go The Beatles," but maybe when they played it on another program, you might have heard a gentle piece of light classical music, a balladeer crooning something rather gentile, and then you hear "Please Please Me."
GROSS: OK, so this is "Please Please Me." And this is on volume two of "The Beatles Live at the BBC," which was produced by my guest, Kevin Howlett.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PLEASE PLEASE ME")
BEATLES: (Singing) Last night I said these words to my girl. I know you never even try, girl. Come on, come on, come on, come on, please please me, oh yeah, like I please you. You don't need me to show the way, love. Why do I always to say, love? Come on, come on, come on, come on, please please me, oh yeah, like I please you.
(Singing) I don't want to sound complaining, but you know there's always rain in my heart. I do all the pleasing with you. It's so hard to reason with you. Oh yeah, why do you make me blue? Last night I said these words to my girl. I know you never even try, girl. Come on, come on, come on, come on, please please me, oh yeah, like I please you, oh yeah, like I please, oh yeah, like I please you.
GROSS: That's from the newly released volume two of "The Beatles Live at the BBC," which was produced by my guest Kevin Howlett, who also wrote the new book, which is called "The Beatles: The BBC Archives: 1962-1970."
I really do love hearing the covers that The Beatles never recorded. And another example of that is "To Know Him Is To Love Him," which was done by the Teddy Bears. Phil Spector was part of the group. It's a Phil Spector song. And this is The Beatles, like, singing in really close harmony. And it's just lovely.
HOWLETT: Yeah, and they really tried to duplicate that record as closely as possible. They loved that Teddy Bears record, and of course they changed it to "To Know Her Is To Love Her," and you can see that that's again how they learnt to do that harmony that you hear on "This Boy" and "Yes It Is," the B side later on.
So this is how they learnt what to do. They cut their teeth on these cover versions, and "To Know Her Is To Love Her" is just a beautiful version.
GROSS: And you say they cut their teeth on cover versions. They were doing a lot of cover versions in their concerts, in Hamburg before they got to the BBC. They didn't have enough originals for a whole performance.
HOWLETT: No. John has said, you know, we were writing songs, but they weren't good enough. And the amazing thing is that the progression in their songwriting is so rapid, and, you know, if you look at the albums they made in '63 and '64, the progression in their songwriting is just staggering.
GROSS: So this is The Beatles, "To Know Him Is To Love Him," a Phil Spector song, and...
HOWLETT: "To Know Her Is To Love Her."
GROSS: Oh yes, they changed it, "To Know Her Is To Love Her." And this is from volume one, the newly remastered volume one of "The Beatles Live at the BBC." This remastered edition is produced by my guest, Kevin Howlett.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TO KNOW HER IS TO LOVE HER")
BEATLES: (Singing) To know, know, know her is to love, love, love her. Just to see her smile makes my life worthwhile. Yes just to know, know, know her is to love, love, love her. And I do, and I do, and I do. I'll be good to her. I'll make love to her...
GROSS: Kevin Howlett will be back in the second half of the show. He's an executive producer of the new two-CD set "The Beatles On Air Live at the BBC: Volume 2" and the author of the new book "The Beatles: The BBC Archives." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHE LOVES YOU")
BEATLES: (Singing) Apologize to her because she loves you. And you know...
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. We're listening back to some great Beatles recordings with my guest Kevin Howlett, an executive producer of the new double CD, "The Beatles: On Air-Live at the BBC Volume 2." He's also an executive producer of the newly remastered first volume. The CDs include performances of originals and covers, as well as interviews with The Beatles. Howlett had to search for these recordings because the BBC didn't keep master tapes of the broadcasts. Howlett has also written a new book called "The Beatles: The BBC Archives," that includes transcriptions of their BBC radio and TV interviews, as well as BBC internal production memos about The Beatles.
Now you were talking a little earlier about how The Beatles would also talk extemporaneously on the BBC, even though a lot of the shows were scripted on the BBC, and some of the interviews sound scripted. And some of them don't. This one doesn't. I want to play something from Volume 1 of "The Beatles Live at the BBC." And this is an interview track with a presenter name Brian Matthew. And this track is titled "Reading on the Bus," because it's one of the things they're asked about. Well, it's one of the things actually, I think that Paul mentions...
GROSS: ...about the kind of thing you can't do anymore when you're famous. Because some of this interview is about what it's been like for them to be famous. Do you want to say a few words about it?
HOWLETT: Well, yes. As their career progressed and they became internationally successful, the nature of the interviews changed. They didn't do so many programs on the BBC; it was just hard to cram into their schedule, these broadcasts for the BBC. But they remained loyal to "Saturday Club," which was presented by Brian Matthew, and he was very much respected by The Beatles. They grew up listening to him and his very important program, "Saturday Club." And he tried to ask some serious questions and that was a serious question to which he received a quite serious reply, I think. I mean you do get the first indications of being trapped in this bubble of fame when you listen to it. You know, they miss riding on a bus. And well, Paul does; John doesn't miss riding on a bus, he says. But you do get the feeling now that having made it so big that there are drawbacks to this. And Brian tries to explore this theme in the interview.
GROSS: So this is The Beatles from Volume 1 of "The Beatles Live at the BBC", and short interview.
(SOUNDBITE OF CD, "THE BEATLES LIVE AT THE BBC: VOLUME 1")
BRIAN MATTHEW: Before we hear another song, fellows, there are a few things I'd like to ask you. First of all, do you ever get tired of being Beatles?
BEATLES: No. No.
PAUL MCCARTNEY: Get so tired now; get a bit a lonely now.
JOHN LENNON: Rhythm, who's that? Blues. We don't think so, really.
MATTHEW: No. You don't ever think it?
MCCARTNEY: No. Just occasionally, you get cheesed off with people writing rubbish about you, which you get often.
LENNON: Yeah, I agree with that. I've had a divorce and half a dozen kids.
MATTHEW: Now what do you...
MATTHEW: Well, I mean doesn't - isn't this a big sort of drag? I mean don't you have to go around explaining to your wife that you're not divorced and all that sort of thing?
LENNON: No, she knows I'm not divorced, because I keep seeing her every day, you see.
MATTHEW: Yeah, there's a point. But what about the simpler things of life, like...
MCCARTNEY: Like riding on a bus?
MATTHEW: Yeah, or going to just about any restaurant you...
MCCARTNEY: Well, yeah, you miss those sort of things.
LENNON: We go to certain ones.
GEORGE HARRISON: And we go to ones where the people there are so snobby, they're the type who pretend they don't know us, so we have a good time, because they pretend they don't know us.
MCCARTNEY: Joe's Cafe.
MATTHEW: Yeah, that figures.
MCCARTNEY: Joe's cafe. Social comment, that, you know.
HARRISON: It is.
GROSS: That's from "The Beatles Live at the BBC: Volume 1." And my guest Kevin Howlett just produced Volume 2 of "The Beatles Live At The BBC." And he also has a new book called "The Beatles: The BBC Archives: 1962-1970."
What are some of the things you learned about The Beatles from listening to the interviews that you were able to uncover in your research work?
HOWLETT: Well, the interviews really do put you back in the time. I think this is the whole thing: it's like traveling back to experience The Beatles' story as it happened. When you're so used to them now being the group of all time, you have to pinch yourself and go back to a time when nobody knew that was going to be the case. So in those early interviews that are transcribed in the book, they are continually asked what are you going to do when this is all over? Because, you know, pop groups didn't have a long shelf life.
There's an interview in the book when they're interviewed because they're going to appear on "The Royal Variety Performance," which is a great accolade in show business in the U.K. in those days. And Peter Woods, the interviewer, he's asking them, you know, that age-old question: What are you going to do when this is all over? How long do you think you'll last? And George says, well, if we do as well as Cliff and the Shadows have done we won't be moaning. Now Cliff Richard and the Shadows had lasted up to this point, in the U.K., about five years - which was just seemed - just seemed a lifetime to everybody. And this question just keeps cropping up all the way through their career up to 1970. But nobody had any idea of how fast they would progress in every record they made would be a signal from the front to other groups: this is what you have to catch up to. They were so progressive. So it does put you back in the time.
And going through the written archives, I loved looking at all the audience research reports. There would be a listening panel and a TV panel. People selected to make comments on radio and TV programs broadcast by the BBC. And beat groups like The Beatles were not universally adored by the British public. But, of course, a wide range of people would be listening. The younger people liked it a lot better. But older people - and the BBC audience research department described anyone as older as anyone over 20 - would not really like what they were doing. Although, at the end of this report, a solicitor does report that he was definitely over 20, but wondered how could anyone fail to like them; their music is so gay and uninhibited. And they themselves are full of joie de vivre. So he liked it. But, you know, somebody else says my children complained loud and long that we did not hear enough of The Beatles. I think they would imagine that they would be comparing the show. So, you know, you couldn't please all the people all the time.
GROSS: One more comment from that I want to add. Several of these listeners said it was, quote, "mainly for the sake of the children who liked the beat groups." But they themselves preferred the kind of music provided by Acker Bilk and Vince Hill, quote, "an underrated artist who should be heard more often."
GROSS: Yeah. More Vince Hill and less Beatles.
HOWLETT: I know. It's extraordinary to think, isn't it? And those audience research report comments continue all the way through their career. You know, in the 1969 chapter of the book, I talk about a program called "24 Hours: The World of John and Yoko." John and Yoko were followed around by BBC camera crew over several days, and then this documentary program was put together and broadcast December, 1969. And it is a very revealing portrait of John and Yoko, what they were doing at that time. There is an incredible interview transcribed in the book where John talks to Gloria Emerson, the London correspondent of The New York Times, who is not impressed by John and Yoko's peace campaign and what they're doing. And that's a remarkable interview to read. It's quite confrontational.
GROSS: Well, since you've been referring to interviews, there is one I'd like to play with John that's on Volume 2 of "The Beatles Live at the BBC." And this is a pretty reflective interview - especially compared to just like the lighthearted banter and that's the more often excerpted on these BBC volumes. So in this one like he's reflecting a little bit on fame. He's also reflecting on his son Julian, his son with his then-wife Cynthia Lennon. Were they still married then? This is 1965.
HOWLETT: Oh yes. Yes, they were.
GROSS: OK. And, you know, what kind of school he should send Julian to. Do you want to say a few words about this interview and who is doing the interview?
HOWLETT: Yeah. It's Brian Matthew again. He worked with The Beatles more than any. And Brian Matthew was certainly not in awe of The Beatles and so would ask quite searching questions. It was a series called "Pop Profile," which was not broadcast in the U.K.; it was made especially for radio stations overseas. And that word radical again, it was quite radical for a pop star to be interviewed at length, you know, seven or eight minutes was regarded at length in those days - and to talk about things other than music.
GROSS: So this is John Lennon, recorded in 1965 at the BBC. The person interviewing him is Brian Matthew and this featured on Volume 2 of "The Beatles Live at the BBC."
(SOUNDBITE OF "THE BEATLES LIVE AT THE BBC, VOLUME 2")
MATTHEW: What about sort of feelings and attitudes as a father, John? I mean obviously, you could afford to give your son any kind of...
MATTHEW: ...education you would choose. Will you, in fact, do that, do you think? Or would you like to leave a lot of it to him?
LENNON: Obviously, you've got to choose his school up to...
MATTHEW: Oh sure.
LENNON: ...14. Well, I've worked out - I would never send him to a public school because just of the snob value, that he'd be snobbish to people that didn't go. But the people there would also be snobbish to him because of what I am. So I'm not going to let him go through that. If I send them to an ordinary school, just an ordinary day school or a grammar school, if he was at the grammar school, his father would be that much richer than most of the people there that he's bound to get, you know, some...
MATTHEW: Difficulty. Yeah. Yes.
LENNON: ...difficulty there, and because of what I am. So the only school that I worked out that would be best for him for at least 12, is the French school, one where they teach you in French.
MATTHEW: Lycee. Yes. Yes.
LENNON: Yeah. I'll never remember the name of it. So there I reckon he'd, if it's like it's I've been told, you know, you get all nationalities, all colors. I think that's the most sort of classless school I can think of.
MATTHEW: Yeah. But beyond that, would you give them complete freedom of choice or would you try to direct him at all?
LENNON: I don't know, you see. I can't imagine. I'm trying not to do all the things I disliked. But not all of them because some of the things I disliked did - they were right at the time, even though it was, I was so annoyed. But there's a lot...
MATTHEW: Can you think of an example?
LENNON: There's a joke in the family (unintelligible) still, you know, don't, you know, the guitar is all right for a hobby. That's a good thing, it's quite a - but it won't earn you any money. Now I know I always keep thinking that I should have, you know, I was obviously musical from very early and I just wonder why nobody ever did anything about it, maybe because they couldn't afford it.
GROSS: So that was an excerpt of John Lennon being interviewed by Brian Matthew at the BBC. It's featured at the end of the new two CD set, "The Beatles: Live at the BBC: Volume 2," which was produced by my guest Kevin Howlett, who also has a new book called "The Beatles: The BBC Archives: 1962-1970."
You know, listening back to that, you just - I just anyways, think about everything that John doesn't know about his future, about how radically his future is going to change as a man and as a musician and as a father, and also how young he's going to die and what's going to happen. It just adds this other level to the interview.
HOWLETT: The other thing to bear in mind, Terry, is that you hear the witty snapshots - if you like - of what they were doing on the radio in pop programs. And then you have the contrast of these longer interviews, the pop profile interviews and you imagine that they're so much older. But, in fact, John and Ringo were 25 when they were doing these interviews. You know, George is 22, Paul is 23. I find that quite remarkable. They've achieved so much by those ages and they sound like they're steeped in wisdom; they've had so much experience by that time. And, you know, my own children who are now in their early 20s, and you think, my goodness, compare that to John and Ringo at the age of 25 saying what they're saying. It is remarkable to hear those interviews.
GROSS: My guest is Kevin Howlett. We'll hear more of "The Beatles On Air Live at the BBC" after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: My guest is Kevin Howlett, author of the new book "The Beatles: The BBC Archives." And he is an executive producer of the new double CD set, "The Beatles On Air Live at the BBC Volume 2." He also worked on the newly remastered reissue of Volume 1.
I thought we could play John covering an Arthur Alexander song called "Soldier of Love." And this is a great track. They recorded Arthur Alexander's song "Anna" on one of their earlier albums but they didn't record the song. This is just "Live at the BBC." Do want to say anything about this before we hear it?
HOWLETT: Yeah. It's one of my all-time favorite songs from the BBC, Beatles' legacy. "Soldier of Love" could've graced any of The Beatles albums at the time. Why didn't they record this at EMI? It's so great. They loved Arthur Alexander. They recorded "Anna," as you said. They also did "A Shot of Rhythm And Blues," which is on the first "Live at the BBC" album. In fact, John wrote a letter to Cynthia when he was in Hamburg saying, can you please write down the words to "A Shot of Rhythm And Blues" and send them to me? But "Soldier of Love" is such a glorious performance.
GROSS: OK. So then, let's hear that.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "SOLDIER OF LOVE")
BEATLES: (Singing) Lay down your arms of love and surrender to me. Lay down your arms of love and love me peacefully, yeah. Use your arms for loving me, baby that's the way it's got to be. There ain't no reason for you to be bad for you're the woman and I love you so. So forget the other boys, because my love is real, come off your battlefield. Lay down your arms, soldier of love. And lay down peacefully. La, la, la. Lay down your arms, soldier of love. And love me tenderly. Sha, la, la. Yeah. La, la, la. Use your arms to hold me tight. Baby, I don't want to fight no more. The weapons you're using are hurting me bad. And some day you're going to see.
(Singing) Because my love for you, baby, is the truest you've ever had. A soldier of love at heart to be. Lay down your arms, soldier of love. And lay down peacefully. La, la, la. Lay down your arms, soldier of love. And surrender to me. Sha, la, la. Yeah. La, la, la. Use your arms to squeeze and please because I'm the one that loves you so. Yeah, soldier of love. Baby, lay down your arms. Yeah, soldier of love. Baby, lay down your arms...
GROSS: So that was John Lennon singing Arthur Alexander's song "Soldier of Love" and that's on the remastered version of "The Beatles Live at the BBC Volume One." And my guest, Kevin Howlett, produced the remastered version. All of these recordings are basically his discoveries. He tracked them down since the BBC never kept copies of most of The Beatles' performances on the BBC.
He also produced the newly released Volume 2 of "The Beatles Live at the BBC" and he has a new book called "The Beatles: The BBC Archives, 1962-1970." One of the things that you reprint in the book is a time that one of the Beatles' songs was censored and it was censored because of a drug reference. Do you want to describe that?
GROSS: Maybe you could read an excerpt of the memo that was sent?
HOWLETT: Sure. Sure. Going through the files in the written archives, it's so interesting what you find. And "A Day in the Life" was banned at the time that "Sergeant Pepper" came out. They didn't like the phrase I'd love to you on. And in the file there is a letter from the director of sound broadcasting to the chairman of EMI, Sir Joseph Lockwood.
And you can have a facsimile of this letter now in a file that's part of the package with the book. And there's some wonderful phraseology in this letter. It says: We have listened to it over and over again with great care and we cannot avoid coming to the conclusion that the words I'd love to turn you on, followed by that mounting montage of sound, could have a rather sinister meaning.
The recording may have been made in innocence and good faith but we must take account of the interpretation that many young people would inevitably put upon it. Turned on is a phrased which can be used in many different circumstances but it currently much in vogue in the jargon of the drug addicts.
HOWLETT: We do not feel we can take responsibility of appearing to favor or encourage those unfortunate habits. And that is why we shall not be playing the recording in any of our programs, radio or television.
And I remember that. I remember some deejays teasing the audience by playing the intro of "A Day in the Life" and then stopping it and saying, no, no, you can't have that. Not the only time they banned a BBC record. They didn't approve of "I'm the Walrus" either and the line boy, you've been a naughty girl, you've let your knickers down.
GROSS: Oh, please. Really?
HOWLETT: There's a memo in the book that you can read about that one too, but it was included in the "Magical Mystery Tour" film so it did go out on television, but you didn't hear it on radio at the time.
GROSS: My guest is Kevin Howlett. We'll hear more of "The Beatles on Air Live at the BBC" after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A DAY IN THE LIFE" )
LENNON: (Singing) I'd love to turn you on....
GROSS: My guest is Kevin Howelett, author of the new book "The Beatles: The BBC Archives." And he's an executive producer of the new double CD set "The Beatles on Air Live at the BBC Volume 2." How many of the Beatles have you met over the years?
HOWLETT: I've interviewed Paul on a number of occasions and I've interviewed Ringo and I've done a lot of work for Olivia Harrison, but sadly after George had died. So just two of the four. I was too young to meet John.
GROSS: Has Paul McCartney been helpful to you in tracking down these recordings and then telling you some of the stories behind them?
HOWLETT: I interviewed Paul earlier this year about "The Beatles at the BBC." He did not provide any tapes or anything like that and was not involved in the compilation of the album, but of course he had to approve the album, as did Ringo and Olivia Harrison and Yoko. And Paul told me how impressed he was, actually, by hearing "The Beatles at the BBC" in 1963 and '64. He recognizes the energy and the attitude they have.
And I think he said a very important thing. He said we didn't have any backup plan. We had to make it. So you can just hear us going for it. It's like our very lives depended on it when we did a performance at the BBC. So he was very impressed. And British people are very modest and don't like to say how great they are, but he did say towards the end of my interview: By the way, we were brilliant.
HOWLETT: And he felt kind of a bit awkward saying that. And I said, yeah, Paul, you were. Because how you managed to step up to the mark every time, the stamina of the group, let alone the talent of the group, to do so many recordings for the BBC in really quite primitive conditions and with little time, and yet these performances sound so good.
GROSS: Do you remember the first time you heard the Beatles and what they meant to you when you first heard them?
HOWLETT: I was very lucky because I have an older brother who's 13 years older than me. So when I was five years old, when "Love Me Do" came out in the U.K., he was 18 and he was very quick to spot the potential of this group. And so the records came into the house immediately. I mean, on the day they were released he was at the record shop buying the singles and the albums.
So I completely lived the Beatles' career throughout the '60s, even though I was very young. And I'd completely followed them. I had the plastic Beatles guitar, the plastic Beatles wig.
HOWLETT: The bubblegum cards with the photographs. You know, I was absolutely besotted with the Beatles. Even the Beatles wallpaper that you could get at the time in my bedroom. I absolutely adored the Beatles. At the age of six I had my own pop group called the Spiders.
HOWLETT: In tribute to the Beatles. So it's been such a thrill to be involved in Beatles projects in my adult life. I realize now that so much of what I was passionate about in my childhood and teenage years has actually been the things that I've done as a way of making money. And that's such a luxury and such a privilege. You know, all my heroes that I had in those years, you know, I've interviewed and made - I've interviewed and made programs about.
I mean, what a privilege.
GROSS: Do you have a favorite of the recordings that you have either remastered or just released from the BBC?
HOWLETT: It's so hard to pick a favorite.
GROSS: I know. That's what I went through preparing this interview.
HOWLETT: I mean we played "Soldier of Love" earlier, which is outstanding, I mean just astonishing performance. So that's one of my favorites. From Volume 2, this is a familiar song from their records but it's the BBC version and it's one of their great songs - "If I Fell". And it's recorded in 1964. It's in "A Hard Day's Night." They appear on a radio show called "Top Gear" and they performed this song. It's just so beautifully done. And I love the song. It's so poignant.
GROSS: OK. Well, let's end with that. Kevin Howlett, thank you so much for talking with us.
HOWLETT: Oh, it's been a great pleasure, Terry.
GROSS: It's really been a pleasure.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IF I FELL")
BEATLES: (Singing) If I fell in love with you, would you promise to be true and help me understand? because I've been in love before and I found that love was more than just holding hands. If I give my heart to you, I must sure from the very start that you would love me more than her. If I trust in you, oh, please, don't run and hide. If I love you too, oh, please, don't hurt my pride like her.
(Singing) because I couldn't stand the pain. And I would be sad our new love was in vain. So I hope you'll see that I would love to love you. And that she will cry when she learns we are two. Because I couldn't stand the pain and I will be sad if our new love was in vain. So I hope you'll see that I would love to love you. And that she will cry when she learns we are two. If I fell in love with you.
GROSS: That's from "The Beatles On Air Live at the BBC Volume 2." We heard from the album's executive producer, Kevin Howlett, who also worked on the new reissue of Volume One. And he's written a new book called "The Beatles: The BBC Archives." On our website you can read a transcript of a short interview the Beatles did in 1963 on the BBC TV show "Jukebox Jury." And we have a few great photos. That's freshair.npr.org.
(SOUNDBITE OF DVD)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: One more, then John, Paul, George and Ringo say good night. And it's no good you saying you can't do that.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
BEATLES: (Singing) I've got something to say that might cause you pain. If I catch you talking to that boy again, I'm going to let you down and leave you flat. Because I told you before, oh, you can't do that.
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