Skip to main content

Beatles 'Bootleg' scraping bottom of barrel

By Mark Coleman
December 18, 2013 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
The Beatles arrived in the U.S. 50 years ago and embarked on a history-making path of pop culture dominance.<a href='http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/us/the-sixties'> "The Sixties: The British Invasion"</a> looks at John, Paul, George and Ringo and how the Fab Four's influence persists. <!-- -->
</br><!-- -->
</br>Over the years, the facts of the Beatles' story have sometimes been shoved out of the way by half-truths, misconceptions and outright fiction. Here are a few details you might have heard, with the true story provided by <a href='http://www.amazon.com/Tune-In-Beatles-These-Years/dp/1400083052' target='_blank'>Mark Lewisohn's "Tune In" </a>and others. The Beatles arrived in the U.S. 50 years ago and embarked on a history-making path of pop culture dominance. "The Sixties: The British Invasion" looks at John, Paul, George and Ringo and how the Fab Four's influence persists.

Over the years, the facts of the Beatles' story have sometimes been shoved out of the way by half-truths, misconceptions and outright fiction. Here are a few details you might have heard, with the true story provided by Mark Lewisohn's "Tune In" and others.
HIDE CAPTION
Beatles myths and misconceptions
Beatles myths and misconceptions
Beatles myths and misconceptions
Beatles myths and misconceptions
Beatles myths and misconceptions
Beatles myths and misconceptions
Beatles myths and misconceptions
Beatles myths and misconceptions
Beatles myths and misconceptions
Beatles myths and misconceptions
Beatles myths and misconceptions
Beatles myths and misconceptions
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mark Coleman: "Bootleg," a release of obscure Beatles tracks, is a holiday surprise
  • He says group still earns millions and release may be tied to extending copyright
  • With new 944-page book, too, he asks if Beatlemania is scraping dregs of barrel?
  • Coleman: Some leftovers can be appetizing such as Dylan's recent "Bootleg Series" release

Editor's note: Mark Coleman is a music writer and the author of "Playback: From the Victrola to MP3, 100 Years of Music, Machines and Money."

(CNN) -- Next to Beyonce, the musical surprise of the 2013 holiday shopping season so far is the limited iTunes release of "The Beatles Bootleg Recordings 1963." It's a potential gold-mine excavation: fifty-nine previously obscure tracks, unknown outside the subculture of obsessive collectors.

Over on the bookshelves, the recently published first volume of biographer Mark Lewisohn's three-part "The Beatles: All These Years" takes up considerable space. Titled "Tune In," the first book offers 944 pages on the iconic group, concluding in 1962 -- before they were famous. Beyond serving as baby boomer stocking stuffers, do these kinds of archaeological digs enhance the Beatles' legacy? Or is pop-culture nostalgia starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel?

Mark Coleman
Mark Coleman

Never officially released and mostly known to hard-core collectors, the actual music on the "Bootleg Recordings" consists of outtakes, live versions and two demos of songs the Beatles wrote for other artists. The motivation for its release is complex, extending beyond immediate sales considerations. Due to a recent European Union ruling, the copyright to this material would expire in 2014 if it remained unreleased. So the sudden appearance of "Bootleg" on the marketplace may in part be a legal ploy for Apple Records, the company the Beatles began in 1968.

But is there a sizable -- even insatiable -- audience for every bit of the scraps and marginalia of Beatlemania?

Overall, the numbers are somewhat surprising. Turns out the Fab Four are still doing major business. In fact, recent profits suggest their customers can't only be co-members of the boomers' aging demographic.

Beyonce's and the Beatles' big surprises
Unheard Beatles tracks go on sale

According to Forbes magazine, the two surviving members and the estates of John Lennon and George Harrison together and individually earned roughly $71 million in 2013 from record sales, royalties, merchandise and licensing. Earlier this year, the UK trade publication Music Week reported the Beatles' Apple Corp. turned over 43.5 million pounds in 2013, an improvement of 2 million pounds over 2012. While archival releases are only drops in this plentiful bucket, the long-defunct group's persistent popularity serves as a lifeboat for the perpetually struggling music retail business.

The "Bootleg Recordings" (and "Tune In") could put Beatlemaniacs' devotion to the test, however. Ten years in the research and writing, Lewisohn's doorstop tome has been hailed as a labor of love -- and digression. The author's minute attention to detail matches the microscopic focus of "The Beatles Bootleg Recordings," where the only arguable revelations are at best minor finds: Lennon's roughly sung demo tracks of two songs, "Bad to Me" and "I'm in Love," later recorded by, respectively, Billy J. Kramer and the Merseybeats.

It's hard to imagine the retrieved versions replacing the originals in anyone's affections, but casual fans should be entranced by the behind-the curtains glimpses into the early Beatles working process. Even without producer George Martin's finishing polish, the group's signature high energy and unstoppable melodies come through loud and clear. And in the absence of true surprises, there are plenty of eyebrow-raising moments such as two spunky versions of "One After 909" (eventually rerecorded on the "Let It Be" album).

Apple Records may be protecting the Beatles brand by releasing these curios and preventing further substandard bootleg releases, but even fans may question the wisdom of serving up every leftover and prototype. Even from geniuses.

On the other hand, the latest (Volume 10) entry in Bob Dylan's "Bootleg Series" came out this year to near-universal acclaim. "Another Self Portrait (1968-1970)" retrieves obscurities and alternate versions from one of Dylan's most difficult periods. A bit of thoughtful pruning makes this unearthed archival treasure something more than another clearance sale.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mark Coleman.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1310 GMT (2110 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
August 16, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
August 17, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 2146 GMT (0546 HKT)
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2226 GMT (0626 HKT)
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2024 GMT (0424 HKT)
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1056 GMT (1856 HKT)
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2035 GMT (0435 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2308 GMT (0708 HKT)
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Mary Allen says because of new research and her own therapy, she no longer carries around the fear of her mother, which had turned into a generalized fear of everything
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1959 GMT (0359 HKT)
Gilbert Gottfried says the comedian was most at home on the comedy club stage, where he was generous to his fellow stand-up performers
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 2054 GMT (0454 HKT)
Iris Baez, whose son was killed by an illegal police chokehold, says there must be zero tolerance for police who fatally shoot or otherwise kill unarmed people such as Michael Brown
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1246 GMT (2046 HKT)
Maria Cardona says as he seeks a path to the presidency, the Kentucky Senator is running from his past stated positions. But voters are not stupid--and they know how to use the internet
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 0219 GMT (1019 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the shock at the actor and comedian's death comes from its utter implausibility. For many of us over the last 40 years or so, Robin Williams was an irresistible force of nature that nothing could stop.
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Soledad O'Brien says the story of two veterans told in a documentary airing on CNN shows the challenges resulting from post-traumatic stress
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1525 GMT (2325 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT