One misconception about the Beatles is that they were a pop group and not a rock’n roll band. While their impact on pop music is widely accepted and acknowledged, their status as rock musicians has sometimes been called in to question. This impression was reinforced by their later fascination with studio techniques and the fact that they never toured again after 1966.
To understand just how hard rocking the Beatles were check out the recently released On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2. and the rereleased remastered Live at the BBC Volume 1. Here are the Beatles, in some cases a year or more before their American debut, playing the Rock”n Roll they loved. Unlike other bands at the time, all four members sang. Paul wails on “Hippy Hippy Shake”, George on "Roll Over Beethoven", Ringo on “Boys" and John in a timeless cover of Chuck Berry’s “I’m Talking About You”. But that's just for starters.
The Beatles stint in Hamburg, Germany where they played 8 hours a night meant that they had a long set list of classic rock tunes. In addition to Elvis, Little Richard, Carl Perkins, they unearthed chestnuts by Arthur Alexander, "Baby It’s You”, "Soldier of Love”, Larry Williams, Dizzy Miss Lizzy, Ray Charles, “I’ve Got a Woman”, Buddy Holly, Words of Love” “Crying, Waiting, Hoping” to name just a few. In these remastered discs we here the tight rhythm section of McCartney and Starr. McCartney, who didn’t start playing bass until 1961, is already showing his talent for melodic and propulsive playing. The guitars are crisp and clean, with George playing classic compact solos over John’s tight rhythms.
These two albums are the closest we will ever get to hearing the Beatles live, before the screams of beatlemania drowned them out and the growing sophistication of their arrangements, drove their retreat to the studio. In these covers, these songs they loved, are the seeds of the Beatles’ sound and songwriting - the tight signature harmonies derived from the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly, the spare arrangements inspired by the Memphis Sun sessions, the infusion of pre-rock song styles, the love of country and western, rhythm and blues, Goffin and King, and Motown. Before the Beatle boots and collarless suits the Beatles rocked hard in the tight black leather, in the red light district of Hamburg, and the Cavern in Liverpool, honing their craft, internalizing the music that inspired them, to create the music the world would love.