By Gillian G. Gaar
The Beatles With Tony Sheridan First Recordings: 50th Anniversary Edition
Time Life/Universal Music
In 2001, Bear Family Records released a lavish box set of the studio recordings of The Beatles in 1961 and 1962, “Beatles Bop – Hamburg Days.” If you couldn’t afford that set, there’s now a cheaper U.S. version available, which compiles all the known original mono and stereo versions of the songs.
It was a single of The Beatles backing British singer/guitarist Tony Sheridan on “My Bonnie” and “The Saints (When The Saints Go Marching In)” that first brought them to Brian Epstein’s attention, so the historic importance of these recordings is undisputed. Though the group backed Sheridan on six of the eight tracks, John Lennon provides the lead vocal on “Ain’t She Sweet,” while “Cry For A Shadow” is a Lennon/George Harrison instrumental — the group’s first original number to be recorded in a professional studio. There’s nothing that really stands out in these recordings; it’s only interesting to hear them because they’re by The Beatles, showing that their appeal for Epstein was at least as much visual as it was musical.
This set largely duplicates the recordings offered in the Bear Family box, with the exception of “Swanee River,” included on the box for historic interest, as The Beatles aren’t on it. In addition to the mono and stereo versions of the songs, this set offers some variations (both the German and English slow intros of “My Bonnie,” the updated “Sweet Georgia Brown” lyrics). There’s an accompanying booklet that does a pretty good job of condensing the box set’s book — aside from reproducing the recording contract on a single page, making it all but impossible to read, even with a magnifying glass. The box is still recommended for collectors, but this smaller set is a welcome, less expensive option.