The late George Martin likened the din of fans’ deafening screaming at Beatles concerts—the “eternal shriek,” he once called it—to a jet airplane taking off. Grounding that jet—getting rid of some of the fan noise—was one of the major hurdles Martin faced when prepping the Fab Four’s 1964 and 1965 shows at the iconic Hollywood Bowl for their original release in 1977.
Although Martin reportedly was not wild about the idea of the release nor enamored of the tapes’ sound quality, The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl LP nevertheless hit stores in May 1977, ostensibly to compete with Live! at the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany, a horrible-sounding collection of questionable legality whose release the Beatles had unsuccessfully attempted to halt. (The two albums ended up being released at approximately the same time; while the Star-Club album topped out at #111 on the Billboard charts, the Beatles-authorized Hollywood Bowl record rose to the #2 spot in the U.S. and hit #1 in the U.K.)
But the album fell out of print and, like the bastardized ’70s-era Beatles compilations Rock and Roll Music and Love Songs, never officially made it to compact disc. Rumor had it that the Beatles were less than satisfied with their performances, which had been cobbled together from three different shows. Beatles fans have long clamored for an official Hollywood Bowl re-release and now, in conjunction with the impending release of the Ron Howard-directed feature film, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week—The Touring Years, comes the remixed, remastered and ever-so-slightly retitled The Beatles: Live at the Hollywood Bowl CD (also available as a digital download, with a 180-gram gatefold vinyl LP due on November 18).
The retooled The Beatles: Live at the Hollywood Bowl was produced by Giles Martin, son of George Martin, who took the 50-plus-year-old three-track tapes, performed what he calls a “demix” (splitting mono tracks into different parts), and reduced “the eternal shriek” somewhat, although the screaming fans are definitely still present. Martin also had the opportunity to work with some better quality tapes of the Bowl shows that had been located in Capitol Records’ vaults. In addition to the original 13 tracks, there are four bonus tracks appended at the end: “You Can’t Do That,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (both from the ’64 show), “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby” and “Baby’s in Black” (from 1965).
While many fans griped about the album’s running order—why stick the new bonus tracks at the end rather than follow the original concert set lists as closely as possible?—Giles Martin has explained that he strove to preserve the original 1977 album based on the fact that his father and all four Beatles were happy with its sequencing.
So what of the music? It’s raw, it’s visceral and it’s still as exciting as hell. It’s far from perfect—John Lennon is guilty of a few lyrical flubs and some of Ringo’s fills on the bonus track “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby” are charmingly clumsy, for example—but the updated disc is certainly more dynamic and definitely more powerful than the original, thanks to the remix. As a matter of fact, a few of the cuts—“Long Tall Sally” and “Boys,” to name two—are so tight and action-packed that they either eclipse the studio versions or come damned close. Warts and all—and there aren’t all that many warts here, really—The Beatles: Live at the Hollywood Bowl is an entertaining historical and aural document of the bedlam that was Beatlemania.
Borack is the author of two books: Shake Some Action: The Ultimate Power Pop Guide (2007) and John Lennon: Life is What Happens (2010). He is currently at work on an as-yet-untitled book detailing 100 pivotal moments in the Beatles’ career, due in 2017. He has contributed to the book (and website) The Trouser Press Guide to '90s Rock, written liner notes for more than a dozen CDs, and served as executive producer for Beyond Belief: A Tribute to Elvis Costello, a 50-song tribute disc released in 2015. He resides in Southern California with his family and two adorable dogs.