Beatles' 1960 Bathroom Tapes: The 5 Best Tracks
Hear the Silver Beetles, featuring John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, in their first sessions
BY COLIN FLEMING
June 11, 2015
PHOTO : (Michael Ochs Archive/Getty)
Beatles bootleg buffs tend to be pretty particular in what they go for and return to, generally orbiting around a brace of accepted classics. These include the material that first came out on the Ultra Rare Trax and Unsurpassed Masters collections, as well as what may be the finest bootleg trove ever put out, the various editions of the endlessly edifying BBC material. Choice concerts, too, have their day – who doesn't like the full Hollywood Bowl, package? But then there's the stuff that most aficionados hear once and never consider again, despite the revelations that might be gleaned upon future hearings. Fidelity often has something to do with this, ditto a kind of rudimentary quality of musicianship, the twin-killing, of sorts, for the music a post-Quarrymen, pre-Beatles unit cut in the bathroom of Paul McCartney's Liverpool house, in spring 1960.
We're not sure exactly when the recordings were made: likely in either April or June. There is, of course, no Ringo Starr at this point, and these Silver Beetles were comprised of the big three of John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, with a musically taxed Stu Sutcliffe wheedling away on bass, and McCartney's brother, Mike, weighing in, too. You will not, doubtless, download this stuff and crank it as you drive around, but it bears closer inspection.
Serendipity had a weird way of following the Beatles around; after all, what are the chances that someone had a portable tape recorder – which was a chunky thing at the time – on hand to capture some of the musical proceedings from the day two ordinary, random school boys first met, as John and Paul did at the Woolton garden fete on July 6, 1957?
The Beatles also had a weird way with gestation. At this early juncture, McCartney is the most assertive presence, and you wonder if that just burned John Lennon's ass. They are fumbly, clumsy, twangy, oft-out-of-tune and would require some years for a collective and individual genius to develop, plus Hamburg, before they were vaguely capable of doing a fraction of what they ultimately did. And still, there is enough there already that future hallmarks, techniques and even songs are in place. Weird and wonderful and at least worthy of a few good, hard listens. As for why they recorded in the bathroom? Same reason you sing yours – you just sound better in a fucking bathroom. Echo and all.
Here are the cuts to focus on.
That's George Harrison singing, and it's always interesting to note how expressive his vocals could be, and his guitar playing as well, in the pre-fame years. Dude would let it go in a way he wouldn't later, when Lennon and McCartney were calling more of the shots. Consider, for instance, this raver of a vocal from the Star Club tapes, which are also frequently overlooked. This is one of the few times these nascent Beatles hit something approaching a groove, but you can tell that they're feeling pleased with themselves, almost as if they're surprised that they're all surging together, more or less. They loved “Matchbox” as a tune, and although no one ever says it, this BBC version is one of the best live things they ever did.
"Hello Little Girl"
Twee, but tuneful, this was an original the Beatles believed in enough to run it out at their failed Decca audition on January 1st, 1962. This version has more charm, if less polish. Took some balls to think you could write a song as a teenager back then, as that wasn't something even adult players and singers did. So a touch, then, of swagger as well, an attitude that would serve the band well in just a couple years, when everyone was telling them how much they sucked. And mark those Lennon and Macca harmonies. They're in place, and they aren't going anywhere.
The George Harrison show resumes with some fast-paced fretwork on this pacy instrumental. You want to know why Lennon let him into the band? This is why. Kid could play better than the others, as he would have had to in order to hang with this older lot. It's a Duane Eddy number, and too little has been made about his influence on Harrison's style, almost as if Eddy, with his clean image and clean-sounding licks, wasn't hip enough to associate with wannabe Teddy Boy badasses. Which is bullshit if you listen here.
"One After 909"
"I'll Follow the Sun"