Archive for November, 2013


November 17, 2013

The Beatles on BBC Radio. There’s a background story to all this. Why were they on radio? Why cover versions of other people’s songs?

In the early Sixties when British music changed everything so dramatically, there weren’t numerous radio stations in England like there were in America and Australia. There was only the national broadcaster, the BBC. The BBC has a lot of masters to serve. They couldn’t devote themselves to one style of music or one demographic. There was a lot of music the BBC wasn’t playing, or not playing enough of. That meant that a lot of the groups of the day became human jukeboxes for that music. There was a lot of music out there that people wanted to hear or could be exposed to. That’s why the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and others ALL did Motown, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and the rest. That’s where that generation of groups came from, how they evolved.

Where the Beatles were different was that went out of circulation by going to Hamburg, Germany. The Beatles performed live in Hamburg over 1,200 times from 1960 to 1964, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time.

When they returned to Liverpool they were better than any of the other groups, more experienced. When they came back the second time they had THOSE hairstyles. Amongst all the other Liverpool groups – and there where around 300 of them in just that city – the Beatles where better than the rest and EXOTIC. Some people even thought they were German, What also made the Beatles different was that they didn’t have ONE lead singer. And they wrote their own songs to perform alongside the covers. They were good And they were different. The songs were the ace up their sleeve.

Back to the BBC. One of the masters the BBC had to serve was the Musicians Union. To keep musicians in work there was a thing called Needle Time. There was only so much music that the BBC was allowed to play off record. As this generation of British music grew in popularity the BBC was able to satisfy the thirst with live performances. They all did it for extra exposure. It was necessary to audition for the BBC to get your foot in.

So that’s what we’re listening to when we listen to The Beatles’ On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2, what didn’t make Volume 1 or the Anthology, scraping the bottom on the Beatles’ barrel.

The establishment of pirate radio stations off the coast of England forced the government and the BBCs hand with the creation of Radio 1 (still with needle time) and eventually commercial radio. This history hangs like a ghost over English music. English music fans had to search for their music. They learned to love their music. It’s a spirit that has lived on in the (disappearing) English music magazine culture.