The Beatles' December 1962 performances at the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany, have been reissued countless times over the years (in the U.S. as well as Europe). Offering 28 of those performances, Last Night in Hamburg is a German release from 1999. There are various reasons why casual listeners should avoid this CD. First, the sound quality is inferior; these recordings were made on a portable reel-to-reel recorder. Second, the Beatles still had some growing and developing to do in December 1962 -- not only as musicians, but also as vocalists and songwriters. Nonetheless, Last Night in Hamburg is fascinating if you're a hardcore Beatles collector. These performances take listeners back to a time when the Beatles were about to become huge; they were still playing small clubs, but it wouldn't be long before the Fab Four started selling out huge sports arenas. This CD is devoted almost exclusively to covers; "I Saw Her Standing There" and "Ask Me Why" are among the few Lennon-McCartney originals. Early rock & roll songs are a major focus, and the Beatles put their stamp on some Chuck Berry classics ("Roll Over Beethoven," "Little Queenie," "Sweet Little Sixteen") as well as Ray Charles' "Hallelujah, I Love Her So" and Carl Perkins' "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby." But the Beatles also embrace a variety of pre-rock gems, which range from the Johnny Mercer standard "I Remember You" to the English-language version of Conseulo Velázquez's "Besame Mucho." And the group is instantly recognizable whether it is exploring rockabilly or Broadway standards; although the Beatles sound like diamonds in the rough on these performances, they had clearly developed a very distinctive sound. Despite the CD's flaws and shortcomings, historians will find Last Night in Hamburg to be an interesting document of the Fab Four's club days.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson