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#askNat – concerning the sources of Beatles bootlegs

TheBeatlesRarity marches forward with another round of #askNat. This week’s question comes from Christopher Spier who keeps up with the latest on the site via Facebook. He has this to say:

I was wondering if you could tell us the origin of the Beatles bootleg recordings. I know some come from private collection acetates. But there are some I’ve heard that must be sourced from the master tapes. Such as the many takes of “Strawberry Fields Forever” or more recently RM 20 of Revolution 1 (I think that’s the right number). Does that mean someone inside of Abbey Road let these slip out? I’ve always been curious about this and figured if anyone would have an answer it would be you. Thanks for the great site Nat. Keep posting!

Thanks Chris! Well, speaking in general terms, most Beatles bootlegs come from one of the following sources:

Live recordings – Many of the these were from concert appearances. Of these some were professionally recorded, such as the gigs recorded in Tokyo on June 30 and July 1, 1966. There are also some that were recorded by someone in the audience that have now made there way onto bootlegs. One of the earliest of these was made from a mic suspended above the stage while The Beatles were performing at the Star Club in Hamburg Germany in December 1962, prior to their first number one single, “Please Please Me.”

Television appearances – Many television appearances including dialog and performances have made their way onto bootlegs and some of these have gone on to be issued on official releases, such as the Ed Sullivan Show appearances of 1964 and 1965 that appeared on a special DVD set called The Four Complete Ed Sullivan Shows starring The Beatles as well as The Beatles Anthology.

Studio sessions – As you’ve asked, many of these have “leaked” from the vault at Abbey Road studios by means of people that have had access over the years. This is the case with the “Strawberry Fields Forever” sessions mentioned by Chris, as they were bootlegged prior to being partially shared on The Beatles Anthology 2 CD set. Some were originally sourced from acetates that at one time were only in the possession of producer George Martin, one of the EMI sound engineers, or even one of The Beatles. There is a large amount of Beatles material out there within this category giving us insight into the evolution of many of the famous recordings and alternate takes leading up to the creation of the masters.

A few of many bootleg company logos (Hawg Leg, Spank, Yellow Dog, Strawberry, Purple Chick, Orange, Vigotone, Swinging Pig, etc.)

A few of many bootleg company logos (Hawg Leg, Spank, Yellow Dog, Strawberry, Purple Chick, Orange, Vigotone, Swinging Pig, etc.)

BBC radio sessions: Between March 1962 and May 1965, The Beatles made many appearances on the BBC Radio in the U.K. and made exclusive studio versions of many tunes from their repertoire for broadcast. The BBC studios were not capable of multi-tracking but The Beatles still were able to do overdubs by recording them live during tape-to-tape copies. Some of the best of these were included on the Apple 2-CD compilation Live At The BBC released in 1994, but a much larger collection of these has been widely bootlegged.

Get Back Sessions: In January 1969, the Beatles documented on film the recording of what ended up being the sessions for their Let It Be album. Although their is a lot of conflict within the group during this period, there are plenty of good moments as well. Nearly 100 hours of material exists from these sessions as a result of 500 reels of tape stolen from Apple in the 1970′s. Most of the material is sourced from camera film rolls recorded in mono and including slate announcements and roll announcements heard by the camera crew. Much of the bootleg material is an unorganized collection of scattered and fragmented pieces of rehearsals as well as discussion from the band.

Since the widespread practice of media exchange over the Internet has become so commonplace, it is becoming harder to determine where some of this material has come from. For example there is a lot of uncertainty about the circumstances behind the leak of “Revolution 1″ Take 20 that you mention (hear this recording here).

I could elaborate much further on the various categories I have listed above but I think I will wrap it up here so that this doesn’t turn into something the size of very comprehensive book. Feel free to add anything you like in the comments.

Thanks for a good question Chris and to everyone for reading!

Thank you to everyone who has sent in their questions! Keep #askNat going by sending your questions to me in any of the following ways:

1) There is a designated form that you fill out right on the website where you can give your name, location, email address and submit your question. The form is right here and is the same form used to submit requests for BROWs (Beatles Rarity Of The Weeks), but modfied to do both BROW requests and #askNat questions.

2) If you are a Facebook user, you can submit your question right on TheBeatlesRarity FB wall at www.facebook.com/beatlesrarity. If you think about it, try to remember to flag your question with “#askNat”.

3) Similarly, if you are a Google+ user, you can submit your question on TheBeatlesRarity Google+ page at www.gplus.to/beatlesrarity. Google+ supports hashtag searchability so it will be helpful if you preface your question with “#askNat” here too.

4) For you Twitter users, www.twitter.com/beatlesrarity gets you to the right place. Post your question and be sure to add “#askNat” somewhere in the tweet.

Here are some Amazon links to read more on, or purchase, some music related to this post:

1) Anthology 2 – 1995 2-CD collection of Beatles out-takes, extras and live recordings from 1965-1968.

2) Live at the BBC 1994 2-CD compilation of recordings from the Beatles 1962-1965 broadcasts for BBC radio.

3) Let It Be 2009 remaster of original 1970 Beatles LP.

4) The 4 Complete Ed Sullivan Shows Starring The Beatles 2010 2-DVD set featuring 4 episodes of The Ed Sullivan Show that starred The Beatles.

5) Any of your favorite Beatles-related music: The Beatles, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

18 people think this is FAB!

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  • MK says:

    Has anyone else heard the rumour that Paul got involved with Beatles bootlegging in the 70′s and 80′s and that he continues to be aware of and choose to use, selectively, the leakers?
    I have heard this rumour around Soho in London (where Paul’s MPL is located and around which are many of the providers of audio-visual services used by EMI) for many years.

    The most fanciful but interesting version I’ve heard includes two further theories:
    That he makes reference to this in ‘Give My Regards to Broad Street’ including by means of the character Big Bob, who offers the Paul character a bootlegging deal on the side.
    That when John Lennon (who collected Beatles bootlegs after he moved to New York) sent him as a peacemaking gesture a copy of The Decca Sessions (which he mistook for BBC radio sessions), Paul revealed that he was responsible for it.

    These rumours would be ignorable were it not for the fact that some of the people who insist they’re true are also very reliable at providing advance information on what Apple and MPL are up to, as they are the people who transport films and tapes, receive tapes, transfer tapes, copy tapes etc etc around Soho.

    • Happy Nat says:

      Very interesting MK! I didn’t know anything about this rumor. Hopefully if others reading have any light to shed or any further tidbits to add, they’ll speak up.

    • Stacia says:

      I’ve heard this to, even the bit about the Deccan tapes and John, but I don’t recall where. We all know that Paul is very powerful in the music biz, and I’m sure he could have stopped bootlegging years ago. I believe he deliberately chooses not to.

    • Stacia says:

      I have been reading The Lennon Letters by Hunter Davies (which is an excellent new book!) and the bit about the mistaken Decca tapes actually comes up in there.

      Davies shows a copy of the cassette cover John sent to Paul with BBC sessions mislabeled as the Decca audition. Good stuff.

  • Elliott Marx says:

    I’d like to build on this question, if I may – Nat, what is the closest to being officially released bootleg that you know of? I have heard that McCartney himself put together Hot Hits/Cold Cuts, but pulled the release at the last minute. If that is true – could someone have stolen a tape at the duplicating plant?

    Or what about the Christmas singles – officially released individually, but a bootleg when compiled.

    Finally, and I find these interesting – the isolated tracks that can be gleaned from the RockBand game. These can be found on the Internet and are fascinating. Officially released, but not in that form.

    • YouKnowMyNameLookUpThe# says:

      Just to put the info here, and it’s probably something already known, but many feel that while digging through the vaults to hear tapes for logging to work on the Sessions LP, John Barrett may be the reluctant source. Not a direct source himself, but there are “runners” who get tapes for him while he sits in a control room at Abbey Road Studios. It’s worth noting that NO TAPES THAT WERE IN THE VAULTS AT EMI ARE MISSING! lol Yet, we have heard them BEFORE Anthology. Hmmmm. Hence the theory. Barrett had cancer and they gave him the fun job of listening to these tapes so they can see what may be interesting for a LP release. EMI also wanted to have an accurate accounting of all their recordings for whatever purposes they had in the future.

      So, after John’s death, a fellow named Mark Lewisohn took over the task of logging every minute of tape. Mark too is not the source, but people feel that somewhere along the chain of runners they were able to make copies of the master tapes before replacing them into the vaults. The only “missing” tapes are from the Let It Be Sessions which had more hands and they were more removed from EMI so less loyalty would have been involved. Considering they figured they may never be released, they probably felt it was ok to just lift them. But who really knows?

      Ringo and Paul have always liked bootlegs. Ringo wants everything released. Paul wants more released. John (Yoko) and George (before his death) err on the side of caution of not releasing too many warts. lol

      I have a few Rude Studio demos bootlegs which has recordings that only Paul should have had copies. So where did they come from? I know Paul has complained that record companies don’t want too much of an artist available. Paul now seems to be holding back tracks from the deluxe box sets due to his new HP website which boats of bringing rare tracks at some point our way. I’d think they’d load up the sets and ALSO get me at the website for yet more alternate mixes and takes. lol

      Also, they have had radio shows over the years The Lost Lennon Tapes & Oobu Joobu both of which have tapes provided by Yoko & Macca respectively.

      Like I said, this sort of summarizes what we know or have heard before. I don’t have anything new. I’d like to have an idea about how to grab the multi-tracks from my Wii (or any version) of RockBand.

      My first foray into bootleg Beatles included their Christmas LP which looked legit and a white sleeve LP of tracks with a sticker listing what the tracks were. I’d say quality was a C. Once CDs came about my interest piqued and the quality of The BackTraxx Series was amazing~! I was hooked. This was shortly after those first 1987 CDs had come about from the Beatles. That’s when I knew they could easily make good sounding stereo versions of their first recordings. Despite what they claim! lol

    • YouKnowMyNameLookUpThe# says:

      Nat, I am sure you have the Ready Steady Go tape or laserdisc. I recently made my laserdisc into a DVD. What I find interesting about this show is they weren’t plugged into anything while playing. So, it was an obvious miming to pre-recorded material. Not the actual records mind you, but new recordings which they then mimed to for the show. It seems that it might be great to find the actual pre-recordings without all the cord noise mixed in. Do you have such a thing?

      • Happy Nat says:

        @YouKnowMyName – They recorded it on Apr. 19, 1964 so that they could mime it before the audience when the show aired on May 6, 1964. The audience-free recordings have been bootlegged on Yellow Dog’s The Ultimate Collection 1 box set and it’s also on a bootleg CD called Pollwinners Go To Blackpool.

  • Steve Beauchampe says:


    Do previously unheard recordings still surface? There was a guy in Carlisle, England, a few weeks back, who was on the radio with a very poor quality recording that he’d made at a show in the town in 1963 and of course, there’s been the recent Rory Storm album (which may or may not feature Ringo) but are these kind of things very rare occurances?

    • Happy Nat says:

      Steve…from time to time, unheard recordings are STILL surfacing. One thing that keeps this site going is that there is always more. Elliott – not sure I’m completely clear on your first question but the eighties Sessions LP by The Beatles comes to mind. The surviving Beatles aborted it at the last minute but the mixes from it ended up being used in the Anthology project. This came very, very close to being released and through various “leaks” bootleggers were able to acquire basically the entire set of tracks from it and release the illegitimate versions. I have a vinyl one of these myself. The Christmas singles were compiled onto an official album in 1970 for the fan club (see my Collectors Corner on this LP here) and has been widely bootlegged on CDs by means of vinyl-sourced transfers. The isolation tracks from Rockband are basically like creating your own bootlegs right in the kitchen with your mom (i.e. anyone that bothers to spend a little time figuring it out can do it). Between official and unreleased recordings by the Beatles and The Beatles afterwards as solo artists and all unofficial Beatle-related recordings in my collection, I have nearly 9400 separate tracks in my library and approaching 500 hours of music and I know I do not have everything.

  • Chris says:

    We’re still waiting for Carnival of Light to leak!

    • MK says:

      I have it on very good information that the only reason that ‘Carnival of Light’ hasn’t leaked is because it has never been out of the vault. Lewisohn went INTO the vault to hear it and the only time that it came close to being out of there was during the ‘Anthology’ listening sessions. Apparently nobody but Paul wanted it brought to the desk (Paul has his own acetate).
      However, there IS another acetate residing or lost in America. It went there from its one airing at the Roundhouse show for which it was made.
      Any day now, someone COULD discover it ;-)

  • Tony Maxwell says:

    Nat, I’m curious to know why you don’t give any reference to the Artifacts CD box sets in this article? I searched your collection and saw that you had one copy of the first Artifacts, Volumes 1 – 5, but can’t find another mention of it in the ‘search’ prompt.
    The only source I’ve gathered any information regarding this astonishing collection is from the book ‘Black Market Beatles’ from 1995. It‘s obvious that it was (un-luckily) published too soon after the Artifacts sets had been “made available,” if you will. Rather than attempt to write a description of my own, I’ll quote from the book’s authors, Jim Berkenstadt and ‘Belmo’(???):
    In January of (1994)… Big Music, an Italian company [released] ‘Artifacts- The Definitive Collection of Beatles Rarities, 1958 – 1970‘… The glossy five-CD set came packaged with a lengthy booklet describing the six hours of unreleased music.
    The anthology of songs found in the box are arranged in chronological order and placed in historical perspective by accurate liner notes. [
    I believe they are directly lifted from Lewisohn’s ‘Recording Sessions’)
    The set begins with The Beatles’ earliest recordings as The Quarry Men and concludes with their final ‘Abbey Road’ sessions. In between, listeners are treated to the most comprehensive and historically significant rehearsals, auditions, demos, alternate takes, outtakes, live performances, Ed Sullivan shows, and BBC broadcasts.
    Although The Beatles, Apple and EMI finally agreed to open up the vaults, they would need to dig deeper into the archives to counter the black market success of ‘Artifacts’.
    …the ‘Artifacts’ box set (retailing at $100 each) sold out its first two production runs of several thousand copies.
    …spawned a 1994 follow-up aptly titled ‘Artifacts II’, and 1995’s ‘Artifacts III’ with yet more unreleased Beatle and solo Beatle gems.

    The piece goes on a bit further to include Yellow Dog’s announcement in September of 1994 about releasing their own competing versions, one of which you mention in your reply to YouKnowMyNameLookUpThe#.
    Discovering (quite by accident) these CD sets was a watershed moment in my life, probably the most significant event to refuel my passion for collecting Beatles rarities that has stayed with me to this day – I purchased Artifacts I and the 2nd Yellow Dog 4-CD set at one time, listened to samples of each CD from Artifacts, then immediately went back to the record store and exchanged the Yellow Dog set for Artifacts II.
    In September of 1995, I lived in an apartment smaller than most people’s kitchens; I was three credit cards into debt for over $6,000; and my car had been impounded because the clutch had burned out and I left it in a parking lot for over 3 months. The only reason I was able to get these sets was because it was a Sunday, when my credit union was closed and the store couldn’t call to verify my latest card balance that was $700 over the limit. In my Beatles fever that day, my sole concern – the most consuming fear racing through my mind – was that my friend with the car wouldn’t get me back to the record store to get that 2nd Artifacts box set before someone else bought it, one of only two copies they had been able to get.
    In that one afternoon, Yellow Dog had went from being my most treasured source of Beatles bootleg CDs (usually $30 – $35 apiece, when I could find them) to near irrelevance once I was able to fully grasp the overwhelming content of these Italian CDs.
    (From the book: The set was described by one critic as “the ultimate bootleg boxed set on The Beatles.”)
    I truly admire your knowledge and uncanny ability to bring these completely original and exciting BROWs to spoil all of us who can never get enough ‘new’ Beatles Rarities, Nat. But unless I’m missing something that I haven’t yet discovered here, I’m wondering why you didn’t give the Artifacts releases the kind of acknowledgement they would seem to deserve? And whatever happened to the ‘Big Music’ company that managed to obtain over 12 hours and hundreds of unreleased (and presumably non-copyrighted) Beatles recordings?

  • Happy Nat says:

    Tony, I have a couple points to bring up here that should answer your question. Once something is bootlegged, whether it is one song or a collection of songs, it ends up soon afterwards on other bootlegs as I’m sure you will agree. These bootlegs often improve upon each other becoming higher quality or more complete over time but there is a lot of duplication. I try to avoid conversations on the site where I mention a bootleg and someone else comes along and says, no it’s better on this bootleg due to sound quality, and then someone else comes along and says Nooooo…it’s better on THIS OTHER bootleg as it includes the count-in or a longer ending, or whatever. These conversations about bootlegs and bootleg titles tend to grow into long threads that take over the site and in my opinion increase the likelihood that the “Apple Bonkers” will be alerted. With Google always handy, it is very easy for the wrong person to find my site and decide it should be shut down. After all, much of the material I am streaming is unreleased officially. So… I chose to avoid long threads about bootleg titles and have on the site since day one. I don’t want the associated risk of this site thought of as a “bootleg site.” For the same reason I do not offer downloadable audio content on the site but only streaming or listening while you are here, although I am asked to allow downloads constantly. For more on that see the disclaimer at the very top of my “About” page. Some people have figured out how to “audio-hijack” content from the site anyway but that is them taking it and not me offering it, if you catch my drift. Now occasionally I will make an isolated comment on a specific bootleg if someone asks in a comment or by sending me an email but I avoid long conversations about bootleg titles. For me, the title of an unofficial collection is unimportant anyway. The Beatles didn’t name it. It is the content that matters (i.e. the titles of the songs themselves) and the story behind the content.

  • Joe Garrity says:

    I remember a mail order company called PAKRA that was a huge bootleg resource circa 1980-1981. They used to send me a catalog in the format of a newspaper that was mailed to me–TONS of Beatles bootleg albums! The fondest memories of my youth are of filling out the order sheet and waiting impatiently for those albums to arrive. :)

  • Tony Maxwell says:

    Thanks for some great info, YouKnowMyNameLookUpThe#. I had also read something awhile back addressing that very hypothetical regarding how the tapes had been leaked, and wish you had mentioned more about John Barrett; I think most Beatles’ enthusiasts would name Mark Lewisohn as one of their favorite biographers, but I’m embarrassed to say that I know next to nothing about him, or not that I can immediately recall. I’m known to go on and on about my all-time favorite, The Recording Sessions book, so I suppose it’s time to do some more specific research on his background.

    I’ve said it before, and Nat certainly knows, that to be such a self-professed Beatles fan, I have some huge ‘gaps’ in my knowledge that most others who profess the same would roll their eyes at me for lacking, like not having a clue about Paul’s recent solo years or the ‘Rockband’ isolated recordings – btw, Nat, I just tonight saw that picture of the Rubber Soul RockBand – CD, I guess? That looks like a bootleg to me, or have I fallen behind again? – in either event, I’d really be interested in knowing.

    I had never read or heard of Paul or Ringo’s attitude towards bootlegs, and I’m really surprised that Paul would like them, as you state. But there’s a great story I read years ago, and wish I could remember the source, about the guy who had all these Beatles rarities who met John & was actually invited to John and Yoko’s Dakota apartment to play them all, and how John was really impressed. If anyone reading knows the article (book?) I’m talking about, I would love to track that down again, because it’s a really beautiful story to read.

    • Happy Nat says:

      Yep Tony that is a boot. All of the Rockband mixes have been booted now to CD making it much more convenient to play these quite official versions of completely re-mixed Beatles tracks. They have been restored to the regular album playing order which is cool.

  • debjorgo says:

    Back when I had a “connection” for some of this stuff, I had the audio of Ready, Steady, Go without the screams, passed on to me on cassette. The big plus was having the Beatles version of Shout!.

  • Lennonista says:

    I have a question for you, Nat. A few years back, in a BROW featuring an If I Fell demo, you mentioned that the source was a reel-to-reel that John’s driver Alf Bicknell was passing around. You said that you have some of the recordings from that tape on a bootleg. What else was included on that tape? Are there any other BROWs that come from that source?

  • YouKnowMyNameLookUpThe# says:

    FWIW my collection builds up a little every week. A few tracks here. A few tracks there and next thing you know, you’ve got enough to make a nice playlist of rare tracks. Can’t quite place the source, but I think they’re as reluctant and innocent as the runners at Apple. lol

    I have had several brands I trusted with my rare tracks on CDs. I won’t list them here of course for the reasons Nat mentioned, but some are better than others. In the end, the only titles that mean anything are those that have been officially released by The Beatles. Tough to discuss albums which most people can’t relate to by name. And the name(s) vary and are reused so much, you can be talking about different albums. lol So for me, it always comes down to tracks. If I could find a better version of a track (cleaner in most cases denotes better) then I’d buy that other version. But I always created my own tapes and CDs from whatever was in my collection anyway. I’d create things which would show demos or early takes followed by the evolution (as much as I had in my collection) of a track but run the tracks in album order according to their track listing. I’d also just add appropriate tracks at the end of a given album as well, so you’d first hear the album released followed by rare demos and early takes etc. So Nat’s right about collections having names isn’t so important anyway. Yes, it helps to track down things, but invariably you can find them in many other forms anyway.

    But, that’s the fun of having these alternate tracks. Oh and BTW, Tony, Lewisohn’s books are great! Be on the lookout next year for Volume One (of what appears to be 3 volumes) of his new Beatles Biography. Totally definitive! Volume 1 starts in the 1800s and works up to their Decca Session. He has been working on this since the 1970s. He feels that their story has been told hundreds of times but none of them very well. He wants to put an end to old myths and put out an end all be all bio that tells the story from their oldest relatives which had musical talents and which influenced those who influences those who influenced them. Then of course he tells the story of them being a world phenomenon in Volume 2, and Volume 3 will probably cover after they broke up. There is an article about it either here or on another site that has Beatles news. Perhaps Beatles news dot com?

  • Happy Nat says:

    Good input YKMN! Thank you!

  • Clare Kuehn says:

    Nat, you wrote: “The BBC studios were not capable of multi-tracking but The Beatles still were able to do overdubs by recording them live during tape-to-tape copies.” Okay, so they did overdubs, but why? Were they going to broadcast them later? Or do you mean before the BBC broadcast them — so it was not live?

    • Happy Nat says:

      @Clare – All of that production occurred before the BBC aired them – so…for the most part it was live but they “cheated” a little here and there if you want to look at it like that. I guess “cheating” isn’t really a fair word though because they never claimed it was live. That only happened later when the first CD set was called Live At The BBC by Apple.

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