The Beatles

The Beatles' First

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The Beatles' early-'60s Hamburg sessions backing Liverpool singer Tony Sheridan, produced by Bert Kaempfert, are rapidly becoming the equivalent to what those live 1955 Louisiana Hayride broadcasts are to Elvis Presley -- they keep turning up (a bit like bad pennies) in different incarnations, exploiting attributes that the artists in question either hadn't yet developed or didn't fully understand themselves. The main difference is that the Beatles' early recordings are still under the control of a major corporation and haven't been licensed non-exclusively to dozens of labels around the world. Still, this must be the fourth or fifth incarnation of the Tony Sheridan sessions to surface since the end of the 1990s, and competes with two different versions from Bear Family Records and at least one single-disc domestic U.S. edition. This time, the finished takes are represented in mono and stereo on two separate CDs as part of Universal's Deluxe Edition series, packaged in a decorated, partly transparent slipcase with a booklet giving a history of the music involved. It's all very handsome and the sound is excellent, though no more impressive than the Bear Family package, and for reasons best understood by Universal has only been released in this edition in Europe. It's well produced and a bit on the expensive side as a double full-priced set, especially given that most of the American releases of this material have been mid-priced. And it's a very mixed bag musically -- as with all incarnations of these recordings, to most modern listeners they're likely to be more notable as a very distant prelude to what the Beatles would become than as diverting entertainment. The brand of rock & roll represented here is closer to what influenced the Beatles than it is to what they came to generate themselves once they'd found their voice. That said, as examples of early-'60s rock & roll as it was understood in Germany (and Liverpool), this is a good set, and it does contain some hints of what the Beatles would become -- some of the singing behind Sheridan and some of the lead guitar and bass work prefigure the better work that George Martin would coax from them starting a year or so after most of these sides were cut. On top of that, it happens that Tony Sheridan could really rock out as a singer and guitarist, and these sides all make for fun listening, with a few even downright diverting -- "Ya Ya" is a great cut, period, regardless of whether any of the Beatles are on it. The booklet includes a lengthy and sometimes interesting essay that -- as an English translation of a German original -- is sometimes a bit awkward to read. Featuring the mono version of the album, disc two is preferable for the richer, almost larger-than-life bass and rhythm section, although the stereo disc allows one to pick out the details of individual instrument parts with much greater ease. The material at hand has been treated far worse over the years, and it clearly deserves this sort of packaging -- and for those who are fans of the band, the music, and/or the period, this is a good place to stop, if one doesn't already own one of the Bear Family releases of the same material.

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