The Beatles Bootleg Recordings - Historical Overview

Historical Overview

The first popular Beatles bootleg was Kum Back, available around September 1969 in a plain white sleeve with no mention of a record company; the vinyl bootleg was based on an acetate of one of the early rough mixes by Glyn Johns of the Get Back album (which would later become Let It Be). John Lennon may have been the unintentional source for one of the Get Back bootlegs; Lennon said: "They say it came from an acetate that I gave to someone who then went and broadcast it as being an advance pressing or something."

Other notable bootlegs to appear in the early 1970s were Yellow Matter Custard, containing 14 BBC Radio performances from 1963, and Sweet Apple Trax, a double album of songs and jams from the Get Back rehearsal sessions. In 1978, a copy of The Beatles' Decca audition tape was bought by bootleggers, who released the songs over a series of 45 rpm singles. Bootleggers of this era often copied and repackaged each other's releases, so popular titles often appeared from more than one bootleg label. The biggest labels for Beatles material in the 1970s were Kornyfone (TAKRL), ContraBand, Trademark of Quality, and Wizardo.

EMI had planned to release an album of alternate takes and previously unreleased songs by The Beatles in 1985 called Sessions, but The Beatles objected after it had been compiled; by the end of the year, bootleg copies were widely available. During the cataloging and review of the EMI archives in the early 1980s in preparation for the Sessions album and a multimedia show given at Abbey Road Studios, it is suspected that high quality copies of some of the material were surreptitiously made. This may have been the source for the Ultra Rare Trax CD series from Swingin' Pig that started appearing in 1988, which provided takes never previously bootlegged in clarity that rivaled official releases.

The late 1980s also saw the emergence of Yellow Dog, a label specializing in Beatles studio outtakes, who released the CD series Unsurpassed Masters in quality similar to Ultra Rare Trax; Yellow Dog, like Swingin' Pig's parent company Perfect Beat, was registered in Luxembourg, which had the most liberal copyright laws among EU countries. Yellow Dog released Unsurpassed Demos in 1991, featuring 22 songs from the 1968 Kinfauns (Esher) demos, only some of which had been previously made public during the radio series The Lost Lennon Tapes that debuted in 1988.

In 1993, a nine-CD box set of The Beatles' BBC radio performances was released in Italy by Great Dane. The official Live at the BBC and Anthology releases in 1994–1996 covered much of the highlights of previously bootlegged material, in sound quality that most bootlegs could not match. However, new bootlegs continued to appear, with bootleggers including the word "anthology" in the title of many of their collections. Starting in 1999, Silent Sea issued a series of CD-Rs, featuring recompiled studio outtakes with commercial-quality packaging and liner notes. In 2000, the Vigotone label followed up their earlier eight-CD package of Get Back session recordings with a seventeen-CD collection called Thirty Days. In the early 2000s, the DVD format enhanced the availability of Beatles bootleg videos, covering filmed concerts, TV appearances, promotional films, and even rare clips and outtakes.

The availability of high-speed Internet has transformed the bootlegging industry. The Purple Chick label has assembled and digitally fine-tuned many comprehensive themed packages, including individual studio album sessions, the Get Back sessions, and the BBC performances, all distributed free through various fan trading sites online. Author Richie Unterberger noted that it is "now theoretically possible to assemble a complete collection of the circulating unreleased Beatles recordings without ever buying a bootleg."

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