Apple Corps Ltd.
The Beatles carried on a friendly rivalry with the Stones, and would often time their album releases to benefit from the competition.
“On Air — Live at the BBC Volume 2”
The Rolling Stones’ live show in July in London’s Hyde Park brought to mind a show they did 44 years ago that memorialized guitarist Brian Jones.
The Rolling Stones
“Sweet Summer Sun: Hyde Park Live”
Rivalries don’t get more relentless — or more mutually beneficial — than the Beatles vs. the Stones.
The Beatles’ “On Air — Live at the BBC Volume 2” is the followup to a BBC album released in 1994.
The game of compare and contrast between the bands began a half century ago, greatly aided by the groups themselves, who often positioned their releases as call-and-response reactions, to the delight of millions.
That long-running dynamic continues this week when the Good and Bad Boys of rock ’n’ roll each put out “new” music. On Monday, the Fab Four will issue the second volume of their “Live at the BBC” sessions, whose first version was a No. 1 smash when it arrived 19 years ago. Both of the collections disinter troves of previously unreleased recordings made by the Beatles for the BBC between March 1962 and July 1965.
Also Monday, the Rolling Stones will put out the DVD “Sweet Summer Sun,” capturing their concert from London’s Hyde Park this past July. It’s an echo of a storied show held in that same leafy preserve 44 years earlier. That free event served to memorialize guitarist Brian Jones, who had died just two days before.
The 1969 Stones park show featured the debut of 20-year-old guitarist Mick Taylor, the most fluid and expansive ax-man the band has ever employed. The big draw for this year’s show was the return of Taylor — if, sadly, for just one number, “Midnight Rambler.”
The good news: On that song, Taylor’s fingers still give the Stones greater fire and elaboration than they would otherwise have. His leads inspire Keith Richards and Ron Wood to push and pull each other into tighter riffs in the rhythm. The show also features the Stones’ regular backup singer Lisa Fischer taking the panicked Merry Clayton part in “Gimme Shelter.” Not only does she bring to it her own blood-curdling yells, she sports a vintage hippie-era fringe chemise.
“Sweet Summer Sun: Hyde Park Live” from the Rolling Stones
Other than Taylor’s cameo, none of these performances rate as crucial to the Stones’ canon. Too many charging, live versions already exist of the same songs to manage that. But the performances do show a band of musical ancients still in tune with each other’s rhythm — deeply enough, in fact, to give their legacy a present-tense charge.
The Beatles’ two-disc set has the great advantage of dating from the pink of their youth. The CDs feature 37 previously unreleased performances, goosed by 23 snips of the boys’ ironic quips and banter, which they traded with buttoned-down radio hosts. Two of the songs were never cut for a Beatles album: a cover of Chuck Berry’s “I’m Talking About You” and the Stephen Foster classic “Beautiful Dreamer.”
Famous Beatles songs, like “Do You Want to Know a Secret” and “Please Please Me,” mix it up with rockabilly touchstones like “Lucille” and Chuck Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee.” The latter, in a stripped and clean take, has a John Lennon vocal that’s gorgeously casual.
Even toss-offs, like a dash through “Happy Birthday,” have a madcap wit.
Recorded in glorious mono, the performances shake with a rickety brilliance. Cut live, they counter the prevailing image we have of the Beatles as self-conscious studio rats. (They stopped touring in 1966.) Here, we can enjoy them as the down-’n’-dirty performing unit they once were. The songs arrive in frisky bursts, compact in form, crisp in delivery.
Listening feels like falling into a time tunnel or overhearing a secret. It brings us sounds from the past that couldn’t be more of-their-moment. Unlike the Stones release, this isn’t an album about endurance but about the thrill of the new — providing yet another contrast worth savoring.