Top 10 Beatles Bootleg Albums
The three Beatles ‘Anthology’ volumes released in the ’90s were supposed to stop bootleggers. OK, maybe not stop them, because the band has been one of the world’s most heavily bootlegged artists ever since unreleased session tapes started making the rounds in the late-’60s. But the trio of double-disc albums officially released by Capitol Records was certainly designed to keep all but rabid fans from acquiring illegal Beatles records. The ‘Anthology’ albums did a fine job of sampling the countless hours of demos, mixes, alternate takes and live shows that are available, but they merely skimmed the surface of all the fabness out there. Our list of the Top 10 Beatles Bootleg Albums surveys the best of them.
‘The Complete Rooftop Concert’ (1998)
On Jan. 30, 1969, the Beatles made their last public appearance together on the London rooftop of Apple Records, where they performed a brief impromptu concert for some lucky lunchtime passersby. This album (which includes other tracks from the ‘Get Back’ sessions) features the entire performance, which was made up of songs that ended up, in slightly altered takes and mixes, on ‘Let It Be.’
In 1985, the Beatles’ British record company collected a bunch of leftover tracks from the studio vaults and planned to release ‘Sessions.’ For one reason or another, the record was scrapped. This 1994 bootleg recovers the career-spanning LP. Most of the songs eventually ended up on the ‘Anthology’ albums, but it’s great to hear gems like ‘Leave My Kitten Alone,’ ‘Not Guilty’ and an alternate take of ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ the way fans would have heard them in 1985.
‘The Complete BBC Sessions’ (1993)
Capitol released a two-disc, 69-track CD in 1994 culled from the radio sessions the Beatles recorded from 1963 through 1965. But this massive 10-volume set gathers every note they played on the BBC, where they performed lots of covers (Chuck Berry, Little Richard, etc.) plus plenty of their own songs with playful rawness.
This five-disc series starts in Liverpool in the late ’50s with a pre-Beatles cover of Buddy Holly’s ‘That’ll Be the Day’ and ends with the band’s final overdub session for the ‘Let It Be’ album. In between are rarities, demos and alternate takes of many favorites. Like the official ‘Anthology’ albums, ‘Artifacts’ chronicles the Beatles’ story from start to finish.
‘Get Back: The Glyn Johns Final Compilation’ (1999)
The ‘Get Back’ sessions were supposed to bring the feuding Beatles back together for a fun, loose record after the splintered ‘White Album.’ But things didn’t turn out that way, and the sessions turned chaotic almost immediately (various Beatles quit the group at various times during the recording). Engineer Glyn Johns mixed an early version of the album that’s preferable to the cobbled-together official release — retitled ‘Let It Be’ and drowned in strings and other mushy decorations by producer Phil Spector.
‘Unsurpassed Masters’ (1989)
This seven-volume series, like several other series in our list of the Top 10 Beatles Bootleg Albums, compiles a wide range of leftover takes, demos and unreleased songs from the band’s vast studio archive. There’s plenty of reworked classics (like songs with flubbed vocals and without overdubs) for Beatlemaniacs here.
‘The Alternate Abbey Road’ (1997)
The Beatles’ last album, ‘Let It Be,’ didn’t include the final music they recorded; ‘Abbey Road’ was the last album they worked on together. And unlike the hate-fueled ‘Get Back’ / ‘Let It Be’ sessions (see No. 6 on our list of the Top 10 Beatles Bootleg Albums), ‘Abbey Road’ was loose and relatively stress-free. This great album reconstructs ‘Abbey Road’ from alternate takes, offering an eye-opening glimpse of the band’s meticulous recording process.
‘Turn Me on Dead Man: The John Barrett Tapes’ (1999)
To keep busy while undergoing cancer treatment in the early ’80s, John Barrett, an engineer at Abbey Road studios, began combing the vaults and cataloging the hours of tapes buried there. He uncovered a gold mine of unreleased Beatles material. This two-disc set collects his greatest finds, including rough sketches, unheard mixes and some songs that never made it to the official records.
‘Ultra Rare Trax’ (1988)
Before Apple got around to releasing the ‘Anthology’ CDs in the ’90s, the excellent ‘Ultra Rare Trax’ series was the best roundup of unreleased Beatles material (an official skimpy ‘Rarities’ LP was released in 1980 but soon went out of print). Spanning eight volumes, ‘Ultra Rare Trax’ features everything from ‘Rubber Soul’ outtakes to sloppy jams pulled from the ‘Get Back’ sessions. Even with the official ‘Anthology’ series available, these sets are indispensable.
‘Acoustic Masterpieces: The Esher Demos’ (1998)
It’s no secret that the four Beatles basically served as each other’s backing bands on ‘The White Album.’ This collection offers solid proof that everyone was working on their own material, which they later brought to the studio for group overdubs. Unlike most of the other records on our list of the Top 10 Beatles Bootleg Albums, ‘Acoustic Masterpieces’ includes revealing solo acoustic demos by John, Paul and George. It’s pretty much ‘The White Album’ before some color was added.