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 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT