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Ain’t They Sweet: The Beatles’ Hamburg Recordings Revisited By Time-Life

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Reissue! Repackage! Repackage!  We’ve occasionally used that tag here at The Second Disc to signify that rare breed of reissue, the kind that simply regurgitates extant material in one dizzying configuration after another.  And few titles have been repackaged more times than the set variously known as The Beatles’ First!, In the Beginning, Savage Young Beatles and The Early Tapes.  These eight songs, performed by the embryonic Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Pete Best) with lead vocals on all but one track by Tony Sheridan, were recorded in 1961 and 1962 at Harburg’s Friedrich-Ebert-Halle and Hamburg’s Studio Rahlstedt, respectively.  Bert Kaempfert, composer of standards including “Strangers in the Night,” produced the sessions for Polydor. 

After numerous releases of both an official and unofficial nature, The Beatles themselves reclaimed the material as part of 1995’s Anthology 1.  Then, in 2001, Bear Family definitively anthologized the Tony Sheridan and the Beatles recordings as Beatles Bop – Hamburg Days.  Nine songs (the core eight plus one non-Beatles bonus track) miraculously became 38 tracks, encompassing a truly jaw-dropping array of alternate mixes, versions and edits.  Making sense of it was a thick book (120 pages in the LP-sized deluxe version and “only” 98 in the CD-sized edition!) by Hans Olof Gottfridsson.  One might think that project would be the last word on these recordings, but you can’t keep a good Beatle down!  On November 8, Time-Life takes a crack at the Beatles’ Hamburg days with First Recordings: 50th Anniversary Edition.

For those keeping track, the eight songs in question are: “Ain’t She Sweet” and Harrison/Lennon co-write “Cry For a Shadow,” both performed by The Beatles, and six more with The Beatles backing Sheridan: “My Bonnie,” “When the Saints Go Marching In,” “Why (Can’t You Love Me Again),” Take Out Some Insurance On Me, Baby,” “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “Nobody’s Child.”  As soon as Beatlemania took flight, Polydor recognized the worth of these early recordings, with The Beatles’ First arriving in Germany in April, 1964.  Those eight tracks were augmented by four songs featuring Sheridan with his backup group, The Beat Brothers.  (Sheridan used this name for his group regardless of its personnel.  When the Beatles recorded with him in 1961 and 1962, they too were credited under that moniker.)   Each additional Beat Brothers track was a cover of a popular favorite: “Let’s Dance,” “Ruby Baby,” “What’d I Say,” and “Ya Ya.”

The recordings made their official CD-era debut with The Early Tapes of the Beatles, a 1990 PolyGram release which augmented the 12 tracks with two more non-Beatles cuts, “Ready Teddy” and “Kansas City.”  Polydor’s 2000 CD upgrade, In the Beginning, dropped those last two titles to replicate the original First album line-up.  2004 brought the restoration of the original First title and track listing  for a slipcased 2-CD Universal Deluxe Edition.  That version presented a mono disc and a stereo disc, each containing as bonuses “My Bonnie” with German and English intros.  The stereo disc added two more bonus tracks, non-Beatles renditions of “Let’s Twist Again” and “Top Ten Twist.”

By the numbers, the upcoming Time-Life edition is second only to Bear Family’s Beatles Bop, with 34 tracks on the new set vs. Bop‘s 38.  How do the contents compare?    You’ll find that information, plus a pre-order link and the complete track listing after the jump!

Time-Life has dropped all four versions of the non-Beatles recording “Swanee River” included on the Bear set.  (“Swanee River” was recorded on December 21, 1961 by Sheridan sans Beatles, while the Fabs-to-be joined him for a May 24, 1962 stab at the Stephen Foster standard.  The 1962 version has been lost to time, but Bear Family included the Sheridan-only take to paint a fuller picture of the Beat Brothers repertoire of the day.)  The 50th Anniversary Edition has been completely resequenced, and although Time-Life’s information is short on details, the two discs appear to roughly follow the same mono/stereo blueprint as the previous double-disc releases.  In addition, both the Time-Life release and the Bear Family have the same number of appearances of each core song.  As Bear Family collected each alternate version, it’s a reasonable guess that these 34 tracks are, indeed, the same:

  • My Bonnie (8)
  • Cry For a Shadow (6)
  • Sweet Georgia Brown (5)
  • The Saints (4)
  • Ain’t She Sweet (3)
  • Nobody’s Child (3)
  • Take Out Some Insurance On Me, Baby (3)
  • Why (Can’t You Love Me Again) (2)

The 2-CD set comes with a specially-designed book that promises “a historical trove of concert and intimate photos taken by Astrid Kirchherr and others who were with The Beatles during the early days of their career.”  The book also includes facsimiles of early Beatle memorabilia including handwritten biographies by each member of the group, signed contracts, and original artwork taken from posters and records.  Hans Olof Gottfridsson, author of the accompanying book for Bear Family’s Beatles Bop, provides the liner notes here. 

Are you a Beatles diehard who never got around to purchasing the Bear Family or Polydor sets?  Are you looking for a holiday gift for somebody else who fits that description?  Are you simply looking to hear eight (!) unique versions of “My Bonnie” as performed by The Beatles?  Then Time Life’s 50th Anniversary Edition of this small but important group of recordings just might be for you.

The Beatles with Tony Sheridan, First Recordings: 50th Anniversary Edition (Time-Life, 2011)

CD 1

  1. Ain’t She Sweet (U.S. version) – The Beatles
  2. My Bonnie – Tony Sheridan and the Beatles
  3. The Saints (When the Saints Go Marching In) – Tony Sheridan and the Beatles
  4. Cry for a Shadow – The Beatles
  5. Why – Tony Sheridan and the Beatles
  6. If You Love Me, Baby (Take Out Some Insurance on Me, Baby) (U.S. version) – Tony Sheridan and the Beatles
  7. Nobody’s Child (U.S. version) – Tony Sheridan and the Beatles
  8. Sweet Georgia Brown (New lyrics) – Tony Sheridan and the Beatles
  9. Ain’t She Sweet – The Beatles
  10. My Bonnie (English intro) – Tony Sheridan and the Beatles
  11. If You Love Me, Baby (Take Out Some Insurance on Me, Baby) – Tony Sheridan and the Beatles
  12. Nobody’s Child – Tony Sheridan and the Beatles
  13. Sweet Georgia Brown (U.S. version) – Tony Sheridan and the Beatles
  14. My Bonnie (German intro) – Tony Sheridan and the Beatles
  15. The Saints (Medley version) – Tony Sheridan and the Beatles
  16. Cry for a Shadow (Medley version 1) – The Beatles
  17. Sweet Georgia Brown – Tony Sheridan and the Beatles
  18. My Bonnie (Medley version) – Tony Sheridan and the Beatles
  19. Cry for a Shadow (Medley version 2) – The Beatles

CD 2

  1. Ain’t She Sweet – The Beatles
  2. My Bonnie – Tony Sheridan and the Beatles
  3. When the Saints Go Marching In – Tony Sheridan and the Beatles
  4. Cry for a Shadow – The Beatles
  5. Why – Tony Sheridan and the Beatles
  6. Sweet Georgia Brown (New lyrics) – Tony Sheridan and the Beatles
  7. My Bonnie (English intro) – Tony Sheridan and the Beatles
  8. If You Love Me, Baby (Take Out Some Insurance on Me, Baby) – Tony Sheridan and the Beatles
  9. Nobody’s Child – Tony Sheridan and the Beatles
  10. My Bonnie (German intro) – Tony Sheridan and the Beatles
  11. The Saints (Medley version) – Tony Sheridan and the Beatles
  12. Cry for a Shadow (Medley version 1) – The Beatles
  13. Sweet Georgia Brown – Tony Sheridan and the Beatles
  14. My Bonnie (Medley version) – Tony Sheridan and the Beatles
  15. Cry for a Shadow (Medley version 2) – The Beatles

Written by Joe Marchese

October 4, 2011 at 11:07

3 Responses

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  1. You know that by the time Time-Life puts a song out on a cd, it’s probably shown up many times before in other packages.

    Bill B

    October 4, 2011 at 12:28

  2. The Beatles are my favorite band ever, period. But this is a little excessive, even for me.

    zs (@Gonzeux)

    October 5, 2011 at 01:00

  3. The Bear Family set is actually great fun to listen to. You can immediately tell the distinctive Beatles instrumental sound. It’s a good complement to the Beatles in Mono & Stereo remasters. I’m surprised that they were not licensed to include in those sets.

    I would give my money to Bear Family and not Time Life.

    Kevin

    October 5, 2011 at 11:53


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