Road Runner

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Although this has some unreleased material of scholarly interest to obsessed Beatlemaniacs, it must be warned that, overall, this is the kind of tortuous listening experience -- and ill-documented package -- that turns many people off taking chances with bootlegs. Its big selling point is the inclusion of a lot of what the back cover claims to be unreleased songs from the Beatles' December 31, 1962, performances at the Star Club in Hamburg. Those performances, as even some non-Beatlemaniacs know, yielded several dozen tracks that have surfaced, more or less officially, on numerous LP and CD releases since the late '70s. Undoubtedly most or all of the Hamburg recordings on this CD don't appear on the legitimate compilations of the Beatles' Hamburg shows. Most of them, however, are alternate versions of songs that actually do appear on the legitimate Hamburg comps. Even the most thorough examination of the Beatles' Hamburg recordings in obscure specialist books and websites doesn't supply definitive clues as to whether all of these songs are alternates. And trying to play them against each other to say for sure is a tiresome exercise, particularly since the live material on this disc is of poor fidelity, sometimes excruciatingly so, such as the racket that passes for their cover of Chuck Berry's "I'm Talking About You" (unlisted, incidentally, on the sleeve).

What's worse is that several of the songs -- "Beautiful Girl," "Lovesick Blues," "Dizzy Miss Lizzy," and "My First Taste of Love" -- are certainly not the Beatles; most likely they're by Kingsize Taylor & the Dominoes, another Liverpool band also playing the Star Club at the time. It's also been suggested that the version of "Money" here is actually the Beatles backing Tony Sheridan. You won't find any of this out, of course, from the back cover notes, which lead you to believe that everything's by the Beatles, with Star Club waiter Horst Fascher taking lead vocals on some numbers. What matters most, though, is that this is of extremely peripheral interest if you already have the legitimately released Hamburg recordings, since the sound is terrible, the differences in the versions very slight, and the one song not on the official Hamburg releases in any form ("Road Runner") is a shambling attempt at the tune that falls apart.

There's much more to grit your teeth through, however, on this CD besides the Hamburg performances. There are also poor-fidelity recordings of three songs from their famous show at the London Palladium in October 1963 that officially put Beatlemania on the front pages of the British media; the performances sound great, but also sound as if they were recorded off a TV set. Dragging the proceedings toward the finish line are an "acetate demo" version of "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" that is indeed less fully arranged than the one that ended up on Abbey Road; a brief 1990s jam by the non-Lennon Beatles on "Blue Moon of Kentucky," done during the Anthology project; the unreleased Apple single "The King of Fuh," a silly novelty by Brute Force; an unreleased Plastic Ono Band jam; and Billy J. Kramer doing the Lennon/McCartney song "I'm in Love" (a track that has shown up on an official Kramer compilation). With so much other great early Beatles to hear on other bootlegs (and their famous official releases), this barrel-scraping exercise is at the bottom of the pile of unissued Beatles to collect, even if your appetite is ravenous.