I’ve been trying to put together a playlist of ex-Beatles playing Beatles songs live to create the illusion of a concert as if they were together. I know there’s a school of thought that argues against live albums, but I’m actually quite a fan really. I think there’s something incredibly moving about the relationship of an artist with their audience. It releases happiness hormones in me. I almost never listen to Springsteen in any other way. And while Dylan and the Stones will always let you down, Macca for one does not. For the Threatles, there are some good sources. Paul McCartney has released several live albums, and George’s Live in Japan is all you need, because, for someone who spent years professing a lack of interest, he really does a great many Beatles songs. Ringo has also released a few live records, plus he performed at the Concert for George. Which leaves us with the problematic Lennon, as ever, and the slim pickings he left us due to what I can only assume was stage fright. He was a man who just didn’t want to play live without the other Beatles — and who can blame him? No matter what he said, he knew they were the best.
Here are the highlights.
Drive My Car is the opener, from Paul’s album Good Evening New York City. This is an absolutely solid concert opener, with the pretend-Beatles on fine form. The crowd are already in a frenzy of joy and excitement.
But then we crash back to earth with Money (That’s What I Want) from Live Peace In Toronto 1969. John’s vocal is fine, but the pickup band are lumpen and boring, playing a dirge-like backing without any flair.
Things pick up with If I Needed Someone from Live In Japan, featuring Eric Clapton. George comes in strong with great harmony vocal support. Eric adds some decent, understated guitar, better than the dirge he was laying down for John. This is really nice, and it’s another Rubber Soul number, which picks up the marker laid down by Paul.
Honey Don’t was always one of my favourite Ringo numbers, on one of my favourite Beatles albums. This version comes from the Concert for George. Ringo’s in fine form. Is Eric on this too? Of course he is. Eric Clapton is a fifth Beatle, after all.
My first slight cheat and feat of imagination comes with I’ve Got a Feeling, which comes from Amoeba Gig. If you squeeze really hard on your imagination glands, you can pretend that Paul is sharing the lead vocal with John. Anyway, this is a rare outing from this classic from Let it Be, and it’s great. We’re having to dig deep for hints of John, I know.
Old Brown Shoe was always my second favourite George Harrison song. It was a B-side, but for anyone who owned the Blue album, this was just one of the songs on it. We’re back on Live In Japan for this fairly faithful rendition.
Another song you’d kill to see performed live is Got to Get You Into My Life; this version comes from Tripping the Live Fantastic and is really very good indeed.
I have no choice, if I want more Lennon numbers, other than to draw from Let it Be. So here comes Dig A Pony. I mean, it’s the Beatles and it’s live, right?
Back to Japan and I Want to Tell You, another solid George performance.
Paul comes back to generate some happiness with Can’t Buy Me Love from Tripping the Live Fantastic, and knocks it out of the park. What’s especially brilliant here is the way that the two lead guitarists recreate the imperfectly wiped tape of the original on the solo. This band can really do anything.
And another huge vocal from Paul on I’m Down from Good Evening New York City.
And I know I’m having to dole out John in small portions, but here comes, um, Come Together which I’ve drawn from the ultimate mix on the Gimme Some Truth compo.
I suppose George has to do Something.
And Paul is still rockin’ it up with Paperback Writer from Paul Is Live followed by…
Penny Lane from the same album.
And then John is back for Yer Blues from The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. Eric is a fixture on this stage.
Paul belts out Hello Goodbye (Back in the World) followed by Lady Madonna from Paul Is Live.
And because he apparently couldn’t bear to perform Lennon-McCartney songs without his partner John pops up for Dizzy Miss Lizzy from Live Peace In Toronto 1969. It’s not very good, but what can you do? This band was awful.
We’re heading into the home straight of the gig, so out come the big guns. Here Comes the Sun is followed by…
All My Loving (Back In The World) – prepare to see grown men cry.
Another cheat to get John behind the lead microphone: One After 909 from Let it Be.
Back In the U.S.S.R. and Hey Jude are drawn from Tripping the Live Fantastic.
And then Ringo is back for A Little Help from My Friends from Ringo Starr and His All Star Band 2006.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps featuring Mr Clapton on lead is good stuff, although George’s voice is beginning to weaken, and he needs the support of those BVs.
Then Paul is back for Get Back (Tripping the Live Fantastic) and then we have For You Blue in a recording which is actually Paul McCartney at the Concert for George, but we can pretend it’s George.
Don’t Let Me Down (First Rooftop Performance) is not to be our final Lennon cheat, from the Super Deluxe edition of the forthcoming Let It Be.
Whereas, Let It Be itself comes from Tripping the Live Fantastic as does…
Golden Slumbers (Medley) The big one, and a great version it is too.
Concert ends. Encore.
I Saw Her Standing There, which is actually John singing a Paul song with Elton from Here and There. And, to be honest, I’m hearing Elton on this, and very little John.
And at the last, we have a final acoustic encore of my all-time favourite Beatles song in the form of I’ve Just Seen a Face from Unplugged: The Official Bootleg.
That’s it: two hours and nine minutes. I’d gladly leave off the Toronto dirges if there was just one decent John Lennon live record out there. But I quite understand that he didn’t want to go on stage without his best friend. And I’ll tell you what: this exercise will make you appreciate Paul’s band like never before. They are fucking awesome.