Beatles Budo-can’t: Rockin In Japan?

As mentioned in a previous post, the Beatles website has recently been revamped.  At the same time, all videos were ‘removed by the user’ from their Youtube channel.  The new Beatles site has a videos section, offering a range of clips from the Apple archives and the effective shutdown of the Youtube channel is presumably connected to this.  Perhaps Apple Corps have been heeding the suggestion that those who create videos should strive to distribute their own work.

Bob Whitaker snaps The Beatles in JapanMaking these videos available is a welcome move, though most of them are brief to say the least. With their newfound desire to exploit the Beatle back-catalogue Apple will not seek to give much away for free.  Given their fabulous and incalculable wealth I for one would rather see Apple launch a free online historical archive that allowed the general public free access to the hundreds of hours of footage and thousands of images at their disposal.  The current incarnation of the Beatles official site is, I suppose, a clumsy somewhat edited version of this, that seeks to exist in a market driven economy.  Mustn’t grumble, eh?

It would be especially interesting if this material was available for download, allowing members of the public to use it as they see fit and thus create something new from something old, or offer their own take on the Fab Four.  But that is another story.

The site will doubtless be improved at some stage and as the brand and ‘official’ story is repeatedly rewritten and tweaked to ‘perfection’ some elements may drop out of public view.  The Let It Be film, notorious for showing the world’s biggest band in meltdown and portraying more than one of the group’s members in a less than affable light, has yet to see an official DVD release. Some clips from the film are available online, though predominantly edited together into impromptu music videos to accompany the tracks that wound up on the 1970 LP of the same name.

Old Rope did find this little nugget of film in the midst of what is currently on offer.  Taken from a 1966 appearance at the Budokan in Japan, it shows the four men in striped suits performing the track  ‘Nowhere Man’, taken from their sixth album, Rubber Soul. The track was the first to be penned by Lennon and McCartney that did not focus on the traditional broad themes of love, heartbreak or girls.  The album in question is famed for marking an era when the band’s output was supposedly maturing. ‘Nowhere Man’ certainly has some nice vocal arrangements.  What marks it out here is the context.  The Beatles performed five shows at this venue in Japan in 1966, on successive days.  Long accustomed to the din of screaming girls, the band’s inability to hear their own instruments – barely audible through meagre wattage amplifiers – is well documented.  The audience in Japan were, by the standards of the average Beatle gig, remarkably well behaved.  This can be attributed to supposed cultural differences, or the large number of armed policemen lining the hall (purportedly to protect the group, who had been the recipients of death-threats from religious fanatics).

The long tall (sally) and short of this, was that the group could hear themselves perform live for the first time in years.  And the results were appalling.  Out of time and out of tune, our beloved moptops were shocked when confronted with their own failings.  This is evident in the dodgy singing in the clip on offer here.

The next night’s show was accordingly delivered with more vigour and, though still sloppy, was reportedly an improvement on the former concert.  But the damage was done and the incident undoubtedly contributed to the group’s imminent decision to quit touring altogether.  Despite the poor quality of the performances the concerts were culturally important. Writing on the Beatles site, Tetsuo Hamada states,

The concerts inspired many Japanese youths to pick up a guitar, giving rise to a flourishing band scene the likes of which the country had never seen before. This played a big role in the transformations that the Japanese music scene went through during the 1970s.

It is also worth noting the set-list from these shows, as it affords some insight into the muddled attitudes this weary group held towards live performance. While laced with new high-energy riff-laden tracks like ‘Day Tripper’, ‘I Feel Fine’ and ‘She’s A Woman’ the gigs also included some curious choices: the two years old ‘Baby’s In Black’; the lively but aging standard ‘Rock and Roll Music’ also from Beatles For Sale; ‘Yesterday’ from two albums previous, lethargic, devoid of string quartet and set to a full band backing; and the uninspiring Ringo vehicle, ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ from some three years previous… To say nothing of the hard to reproduce ‘Nowhere Man’ or ‘Paperback Writer’.  No tracks from the impending long player were given an airing.

As with Rubber Soul before it, the band’s next album, Revolver, would bring with it a host of new equipment – guitars, louder amps and some heavy sounds that would freak out and turn on many generations to come.

5 comments

  1. Curious, and where does this leave the Hamburg mythology of the shit-hot live band… I’m not a Beatles fan, but I’ve always thought those 1961 recordings with Tony Sheridan had something I never heard in the later recordings… maybe it is just the different vocalist (on most of the tracks), or maybe the German producer… And while I like it, the version of “What’d I Say” doesn’t to my ears live up to the hype of how it was supposed to be live back then… but I guess believers can always blame the producer or Tony Sheridan or both!

  2. Interesting you should bring up Sheridan – he’s been all over my boink of late. In the parlance of our times. That is to say I have come across him in two documentaries this week, not surprising given the subject matter, just unusual that he’s so in my face of late!

    The Star Club Hamburg bootleg recordings, though rough, do have a certain something that is missing in later live recordings of the Beatles, though it is worth noting that the only official live material ever issued (Captol’s ‘Live At The Hollywood Bowl’ – issued in 1977 long after the group split and no longer in print) was heavily doctored for release, being a mangled combination of live recordings taken from multiple shows at the Hollywood Bowl (recorded in ’64 and ’65).

    The Beatles TV documentary The Beatles At Shea Stadium (broadcast in ’66) showed the band perform at one of their most famous shows. The recordings were, however, even more doctored than the Hollywood Bowl recordings with the band virtually overdubbing entire new studio recordings synced to the video footage (this took place at CTS Studios in Kensington Gardens, London – should anyone be interested, the premier audio-to-film dubbing studio in London at the time). Why? Because the original recordings were not up to scratch, partly due to technical hitches, but also in no small part due to poor performance by the musical virtuosos…

  3. Great post, agree that the old Beatles stuff should be made available archivally; I would consider working towards that as a campaign? Having just bought the Box Set I think I have paid for everything at lest twice. I think they split up because they couldn’t do anything more as Beatles, and they don’t need the money, and some of the work on sixties, like White Heat, are just wrong. Lets make the primary sources available, give it to the British Library Sound Archive or something…
    On my Beatles blogs I pick up on some of the issues concerning live performances. If you read some of the documentation about their recorded performances in the early days they usually did as they were told by the producer. I think the rooftop concert was a great live performance, check Lennon and Dirty Mac, Hey Jude and Revolution on David Frost, and I’m A Loser in Munich. Much of Hey Bulldog was live.
    Check those links on Beatles YouTube album and also to tracks like the demo of Here There & Everywhere.

  4. Thanks Fred, I will have a read. The rooftop gig I agree is strong, but it was also a long way into the Let It Be project which, initially almost certainly served a grim reminder that they were out of practice.

    After so many years of studio work, multitracking and overdubs, the group were no longer a tight nit live band and it showed. By the time of the Saville Row performance they had got their act together to some extent mind

  5. Yes, the problem with the Budokan vids are the awful microphone stands where the mics keep on moving while they sing and the constant adjustments by the Beatles…very unprofessional. But the quality of the vids are great…the performances are considered sub-par but I find them charming nevertheless…warts and all!

    Should be made available with the German 66 Tour and Shea Stadium 65 plus any other full length shows (Paris late 64? where they do “I’m A Loser [Anthology DVD])

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