Skip to main content

Beatles 'Bootleg' scraping bottom of barrel

By Mark Coleman
updated 11:21 AM EST, Wed December 18, 2013
The Beatles arrived in the U.S. 50 years ago and embarked on a history-making path of pop culture dominance.<a href='http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/us/the-sixties'> "The Sixties: The British Invasion"</a> looks at John, Paul, George and Ringo and how the Fab Four's influence persists. <!-- -->
</br><!-- -->
</br>Over the years, the facts of the Beatles' story have sometimes been shoved out of the way by half-truths, misconceptions and outright fiction. Here are a few details you might have heard, with the true story provided by <a href='http://www.amazon.com/Tune-In-Beatles-These-Years/dp/1400083052' target='_blank'>Mark Lewisohn's "Tune In" </a>and others. The Beatles arrived in the U.S. 50 years ago and embarked on a history-making path of pop culture dominance. "The Sixties: The British Invasion" looks at John, Paul, George and Ringo and how the Fab Four's influence persists.

Over the years, the facts of the Beatles' story have sometimes been shoved out of the way by half-truths, misconceptions and outright fiction. Here are a few details you might have heard, with the true story provided by Mark Lewisohn's "Tune In" and others.
HIDE CAPTION
Beatles myths and misconceptions
Beatles myths and misconceptions
Beatles myths and misconceptions
Beatles myths and misconceptions
Beatles myths and misconceptions
Beatles myths and misconceptions
Beatles myths and misconceptions
Beatles myths and misconceptions
Beatles myths and misconceptions
Beatles myths and misconceptions
Beatles myths and misconceptions
Beatles myths and misconceptions
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mark Coleman: "Bootleg," a release of obscure Beatles tracks, is a holiday surprise
  • He says group still earns millions and release may be tied to extending copyright
  • With new 944-page book, too, he asks if Beatlemania is scraping dregs of barrel?
  • Coleman: Some leftovers can be appetizing such as Dylan's recent "Bootleg Series" release

Editor's note: Mark Coleman is a music writer and the author of "Playback: From the Victrola to MP3, 100 Years of Music, Machines and Money."

(CNN) -- Next to Beyonce, the musical surprise of the 2013 holiday shopping season so far is the limited iTunes release of "The Beatles Bootleg Recordings 1963." It's a potential gold-mine excavation: fifty-nine previously obscure tracks, unknown outside the subculture of obsessive collectors.

Over on the bookshelves, the recently published first volume of biographer Mark Lewisohn's three-part "The Beatles: All These Years" takes up considerable space. Titled "Tune In," the first book offers 944 pages on the iconic group, concluding in 1962 -- before they were famous. Beyond serving as baby boomer stocking stuffers, do these kinds of archaeological digs enhance the Beatles' legacy? Or is pop-culture nostalgia starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel?

Mark Coleman
Mark Coleman

Never officially released and mostly known to hard-core collectors, the actual music on the "Bootleg Recordings" consists of outtakes, live versions and two demos of songs the Beatles wrote for other artists. The motivation for its release is complex, extending beyond immediate sales considerations. Due to a recent European Union ruling, the copyright to this material would expire in 2014 if it remained unreleased. So the sudden appearance of "Bootleg" on the marketplace may in part be a legal ploy for Apple Records, the company the Beatles began in 1968.

But is there a sizable -- even insatiable -- audience for every bit of the scraps and marginalia of Beatlemania?

Overall, the numbers are somewhat surprising. Turns out the Fab Four are still doing major business. In fact, recent profits suggest their customers can't only be co-members of the boomers' aging demographic.

Beyonce's and the Beatles' big surprises
Unheard Beatles tracks go on sale

According to Forbes magazine, the two surviving members and the estates of John Lennon and George Harrison together and individually earned roughly $71 million in 2013 from record sales, royalties, merchandise and licensing. Earlier this year, the UK trade publication Music Week reported the Beatles' Apple Corp. turned over 43.5 million pounds in 2013, an improvement of 2 million pounds over 2012. While archival releases are only drops in this plentiful bucket, the long-defunct group's persistent popularity serves as a lifeboat for the perpetually struggling music retail business.

The "Bootleg Recordings" (and "Tune In") could put Beatlemaniacs' devotion to the test, however. Ten years in the research and writing, Lewisohn's doorstop tome has been hailed as a labor of love -- and digression. The author's minute attention to detail matches the microscopic focus of "The Beatles Bootleg Recordings," where the only arguable revelations are at best minor finds: Lennon's roughly sung demo tracks of two songs, "Bad to Me" and "I'm in Love," later recorded by, respectively, Billy J. Kramer and the Merseybeats.

It's hard to imagine the retrieved versions replacing the originals in anyone's affections, but casual fans should be entranced by the behind-the curtains glimpses into the early Beatles working process. Even without producer George Martin's finishing polish, the group's signature high energy and unstoppable melodies come through loud and clear. And in the absence of true surprises, there are plenty of eyebrow-raising moments such as two spunky versions of "One After 909" (eventually rerecorded on the "Let It Be" album).

Apple Records may be protecting the Beatles brand by releasing these curios and preventing further substandard bootleg releases, but even fans may question the wisdom of serving up every leftover and prototype. Even from geniuses.

On the other hand, the latest (Volume 10) entry in Bob Dylan's "Bootleg Series" came out this year to near-universal acclaim. "Another Self Portrait (1968-1970)" retrieves obscurities and alternate versions from one of Dylan's most difficult periods. A bit of thoughtful pruning makes this unearthed archival treasure something more than another clearance sale.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mark Coleman.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
updated 3:38 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks the sidelines prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Martha Pease says the NFL commissioner shouldn't be judge and jury on player wrongdoing.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
It's time for a much needed public reckoning over U.S. use of torture, argues Donald P. Gregg.
updated 8:25 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Peter Bergen says UK officials know the identity of the man who killed U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.
updated 7:28 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
updated 4:55 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
updated 8:41 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
updated 6:11 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
updated 6:18 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
updated 1:21 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
updated 6:31 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
updated 9:27 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT