The Beatles bootleg recordings are performances by The Beatles that have attained some level of public circulation without being available as a legal release. The term most often refers to audio recordings, but also includes video performances. From the earliest Beatles bootlegs in the late 1960s, the group has been one of the most bootlegged rock artists.
Bootleg recordings arise from a multitude of sources, including broadcast performances, recordings of live shows, test discs, privately distributed copies of demos, and covertly copied studio session tapes. The largest single source of Beatles bootleg material is the set of Nagra audio tapes from the 1969 filming of the Get Back rehearsal and recording sessions. Performances for the BBC, stage and concert recordings, and studio outtakes have also been extensive sources for Beatles bootlegs.
The first popular Beatles bootleg was Kum Back, available around late 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 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 others' 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, but they did little to slow the flow of new bootlegs. 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 Vigatone 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."
Several books have been devoted to comprehensively documenting Beatles bootlegs; the following is a list of some of the most common or notable bootlegged recordings by the Beatles.
The Beatles performed fifteen songs that were recorded at their audition for Decca Records on 1 January 1962 (three Lennon/McCartney compositions and twelve cover versions). Five of the songs were included on Anthology 1.
Fourteen of the fifteen tracks appeared on a series of coloured vinyl singles with picture sleeves, released in 1978 on the Deccagone label through Strawberry Fields Forever, Joe Pope's fanzine. The following year, all fifteen tracks appeared on the Circuit Records bootleg album The Decca Tapes.
Due to the questionable copyright status of these performances (recorded prior to the group's EMI contract), the Decca audition was commercially distributed in various configurations starting in 1981; some of these "grey market" albums omitted the three Lennon/McCartney songs. By the late 1980s, legal action by The Beatles had halted commercial availability of the albums. In addition to continued inclusion on bootlegs, a small U.S. record label issued the songs on CD through mail order in 2007 as The Lost Decca Sessions, which it described as legal and licensed.
Sometime between August and December 1962, The Beatles recorded themselves rehearsing at The Cavern Club, performing "I Saw Her Standing There", "One After 909" (two versions), and "Catswalk" (two versions).
As The Beatles were concluding their final two-week Hamburg engagement in late December 1962, portions of their performances were taped by Star-Club stage manager Adrian Barber; the tapes ended up with Ted "Kingsize" Taylor, the leader of another band playing at the club. Eventually Taylor sold the tapes, which formed the basis of the double album Live! at the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany; 1962, released in 1977 by Lingasong Records.
The liner notes for the initial release falsely implied that the recordings had been made in the spring of 1962, prior to The Beatles' EMI contract, on a night when Ringo Starr happened to be sitting in for Pete Best. In commentary for a lawsuit to block the album's release, John Lennon wrote, "the sleeve note, apart from being inaccurate, seems to have been written with a court case in mind." The Beatles lost their case, so the album was viewed as a legitimate release. The thirty songs contained on the initial releases were re-licensed over the following two decades to multiple record labels, most notably Sony Music, which packaged the songs in CD form in 1991 (although the product was withdrawn the following year as legal action was pending from The Beatles). After another lawsuit by The Beatles, Lingasong agreed in 1998 to hand over the original tapes and stop all sales.
The sound quality of the tape is poor, with the vocals in particular sounding "muffled and distant" at best. The Beatles display a rawness that matches the raucous Hamburg atmosphere. While The Beatles would later record many of the thirty songs in the studio or perform them for the BBC, nine of the songs would never be officially released in another version.
Additional material from the Star-Club tapes has been bootlegged, including "Road Runner", "Money (That's What I Want)" (with Tony Sheridan singing lead), a portion of "Red Hot", and alternate performances of several songs.
The Beatles performed for fifty-two BBC Radio programmes, beginning with an appearance on the series Teenager's Turn—Here We Go, recorded on 7 March 1962, and ending with the special The Beatles Invite You to Take a Ticket to Ride, recorded on 26 May 1965; in total, 275 performances of 88 different songs were broadcast. Early bootlegs of some of the performances were based on low-quality home recordings of the broadcasts from the radio. It was not the BBC's practice to archive either the session tapes or the shows' master tapes, but many good quality distribution copies were found in various BBC departments during research for BBC radio specials produced in the 1980s.
Increasingly comprehensive collections of the BBC performances were bootlegged in the 1980s and early 1990s. The most notable of these was The Complete BBC Sessions, a nine-CD box set released in 1993 by Great Dane in Italy, where copyright protection for the broadcasts had expired; The widespread availability of good quality bootlegs prompted Apple's own release of BBC performances in 1994, the two-CD set Live at the BBC. The set included 30 of the 36 songs that The Beatles never performed on their studio albums, plus 26 other songs and dialogue among the group members and the radio hosts.
Bootleggers have continued to package collections of nearly every Beatles BBC performance (a few early shows remain unavailable), along with outtakes from a small number of BBC session tapes that have survived. Secret Trax released a ten-CD set in 2001; in 2004, Purple Chick released a digital set of ten audio CDs plus one multimedia CD.
A large number of Beatles studio outtakes are available on bootlegs, ranging from complete session tapes—for example, the morning sessions for the Please Please Me album—to more fragmentary samplings, or alternate mixes and performances derived from acetates. The first studio outtake to appear on bootleg was the White Album outtake "What's The New Mary Jane" in 1972, which fell into the hands of bootleggers via an acetate that Lennon had traded to a friend. In 1977, rough mixes from acetates of "I Am The Walrus" and "The Fool On The Hill" appeared on bootlegs after being played on a Radio Luxembourg broadcast.
After The Beatles' EMI contract expired in 1976, the company began assessing the band's unreleased material for a future release. The first batch of songs to leak came from an in-house compilation cassette that contained "Leave My Kitten Alone", "One After 909" (from 1963), "If You've Got Trouble", "Christmas Time (Is Here Again)", "That Means a Lot", "Come and Get It", "Dig a Pony" (unedited version), and two medleys from the Get Back sessions: "Rip It Up/Shake, Rattle and Roll" and "Not Fade Away/Bo Diddley".
In 1981, in-house engineer John Barrett was given the task of cataloguing the complete collection of tapes from the band's seven-year career with EMI. This led to two projects: a public audio-visual presentation at Abbey Road Studios called The Beatles Live at Abbey Road (which opened on 18 July 1983) and a planned outtakes album which was to be called Sessions. In addition to some of the songs included on the previously leaked compilation tape, Sessions added "Not Guilty", "What's the New Mary Jane", "How Do You Do It?", "Bésame Mucho", "Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues", "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (demo), and alternate takes of "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" and "I'm Looking Through You". Shortly before the album's scheduled 1985 release, it was vetoed by the surviving members of the band; but both audience recordings of the Abbey Road presentation and the leaked promos of Sessions became available to bootleggers. These songs appeared on bootleg series such as Ultra-Rare Trax and Unsurpassed Masters, along with other material presumably copied while preparing these projects. Most of the aforementioned tracks were officially released on the Anthology albums in 1995 and 1996.
New Beatles studio outtakes continue to occasionally appear; in February 2009, a complete 10:46 recording of Revolution 1 (Take 20) from the White Album was released on the bootleg Revolution: Take... Your Knickers Off!. Even though this has been hailed as a monumental recording, the last minute comprises a discussion between John and Yoko, and before that, there is five minutes of fade-out (shades of "Hey Jude").
Many of The Beatles' concert performances have appeared on bootleg albums. The earliest relatively complete concert recording is from the 7 December 1963 show at the Liverpool Empire Theatre. The Beatles Anthology contained video clips from several concerts, some of which are available in complete form on bootleg video. The following are some of the most notable concerts on bootleg releases.
The Beatles performed on various television programmes; excerpts from many of these were shown in the Anthology documentary, and bootleg video exists of many of the shows in their entirety. The most famous of these were the four appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 and 1965; after many years circulating on bootlegs, these received official DVD release in 2003 as The Four Complete Historic Ed Sullivan Shows Featuring The Beatles.
Other notable television performances that have appeared on bootleg video include the Swedish show Drop In from October 1963 (four songs); the April 1964 UK special Around the Beatles (six songs mimed to new recordings); the June 1964 Australian special The Beatles Sing for Shell (seven songs survived in complete form, plus fragments of two others); and a September 1968 appearance on Frost on Sunday (new vocals for "Hey Jude" and "Revolution" over studio backing tracks, plus brief improvisations), for which multiple takes are available.
The individual Beatles sometimes recorded basic performances at home of their new compositions, either for copyright purposes (to be sent to Dick James Music publishing affiliate Northern Songs), to later play for the other Beatles, or to give to other artists who would be recording the songs.
Many of Lennon's demos that appeared on bootlegs were first heard on the radio series The Lost Lennon Tapes. Some of the Lennon demos available include "Bad To Me" (1963, given to Billy J. Kramer), "I'm in Love" (1963, given to The Fourmost), "If I Fell" (1964), and "Everyone Had A Hard Year" (1968, later incorporated into "I've Got a Feeling"). There are also Lennon demos available of songs that would develop into "She Said She Said", "Strawberry Fields Forever", "Good Morning Good Morning", "Across the Universe", "You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)", "Don't Let Me Down", and two songs he would later record after The Beatles, "Oh My Love" and "Cold Turkey".
McCartney's demos include "One and One Is Two" (1964, eventually an uncharted single for Mike Shannon and the Strangers), "Step Inside Love" (1968, given to Cilla Black), "Goodbye" (1969, given to Mary Hopkin), and early versions of "We Can Work It Out" (partially taped over by Lennon) and "Michelle". Harrison's 1963 demo for "Don't Bother Me" has also been bootlegged.
Each year from 1963 through 1969, The Beatles recorded a flexi disc of comedy and music that was sent to members of their fan club. In 1970, these recordings were compiled onto an LP released via their fan club called From Them to You (U.S. title: The Beatles' Christmas Album). Since this album has had no official general-public release, it has been frequently bootlegged, often with additional outtakes from some of the Christmas recording sessions. A portion of one song recorded for the 1967 Christmas flexi disc, "Christmas Time (Is Here Again)", was officially released as an additional track on the 1995 "Free as a Bird" single. Part of the 1963 track is featured as an unlockable special feature on The Beatles: Rock Band.
In May 1968, The Beatles met at Kinfauns, the Esher home of George Harrison, to review and record demos of songs under consideration for their next album; twenty-seven songs, mostly acoustic, have become public from this session. Seven of the songs were released on Anthology 3, including "Junk", a song McCartney would later record for his first solo album. Of the twenty demo songs not officially released, fifteen would be recorded and released on the White Album, while "Not Guilty" and "What's the New Mary Jane" would be recorded for the album but not make the final lineup. The recordings included on the anthology are of a significantly higher fidelity than the bootlegged recordings, raising the possibility that there are higher quality versions of all twenty-seven songs. As a number of the songs included on the anthology were included in edited form, it has been suggested that the release of all the Esher demos as a legitimate future Beatles release is likely.
The other three songs would never be recorded in the studio by The Beatles:
In January 1969, the group got together with director Michael Lindsay-Hogg to film the rehearsals for the band's first live concert since 1966. The rehearsals and concert would concentrate on new material, and form the basis for a television documentary and a new album. Disagreements within the group led to much of the plan being scrapped. The planned concert was scaled back to a rooftop performance at Apple Records on 30 January 1969; the footage became a feature film, Let It Be, released with the album of the same name in May 1970.
The rehearsals and recordings took place at Twickenham Film Studios (2-14 January) and then at Apple (21-31 January), with more than one hundred hours captured on film and the corresponding Nagra tape recorders used for the film's audio track. These Nagra tapes are the source for most of the bootlegs from these sessions. In addition to songs that would later be released by the group, The Beatles played hundreds of cover versions and original compositions. However, many of the performances were brief (some lasting less than ten seconds), and many of the original compositions are undeveloped ideas or improvisations that have been described as the audio equivalent of doodling. A sampling of the rehearsals was officially issued as a bonus disc with Let It Be… Naked.
Among the more complete rehearsed songs that have been featured on bootlegs are "Watching Rainbows", "Commonwealth", and "The Palace of the King of the Birds" (later recorded but not released by McCartney as "Castle of the King of the Birds"); "All Things Must Pass" and "Hear Me Lord'", later released by Harrison; "Gimme Some Truth", later released by Lennon; and "Teddy Boy" and "Hot as Sun", later released by McCartney.
Portions of the rooftop concert were seen in the Let It Be film and the Anthology documentary, and three tracks were used for the Let It Be album, while the complete recording has been bootlegged. The performance consisted of "Get Back" (first and second versions), "Don't Let Me Down", "I've Got a Feeling", "One After 909", "Dig a Pony", "God Save the Queen" (a brief version played while the audio tape reel was changed), "I've Got a Feeling" (second version), "Don't Let Me Down" (second version), and "Get Back" (third version).
On 30 January 1969, Glyn Johns compiled some performances he had been mixing, and made acetate copies for The Beatles. In addition to songs that would eventually appear on Let It Be, this set included "Teddy Boy" and "The Walk" (a song by Jimmy McCracklin). It was this version that first leaked out, was broadcast on multiple radio stations starting in September 1969, and formed the basis for the bootleg Kum Back that appeared near the end of 1969. Johns started working in earnest on compiling an album in March 1969, and a test acetate from this period eventually surfaced on a poor quality bootleg.
Johns later made two "official" attempts at compiling the Get Back album, with both versions widely bootlegged. The 28 May 1969 compilation by Johns contained the following lineup: "One After 909", "Rocker", "Save the Last Dance for Me", "Don't Let Me Down", "Dig A Pony", "I've Got a Feeling", "Get Back", "For You Blue", "Teddy Boy", "Two of Us", "Maggie Mae", "Dig It", "Let It Be", "The Long and Winding Road", and "Get Back (Reprise)". The main changes made for the 5 January 1970 compilation were the removal of "Teddy Boy" and the additions of "I Me Mine" and "Across the Universe".
One of the myriad Get Back session compilation bootlegs was The Black Album, a five-LP set from the 1980s in a memorable package (although the material has since been bootlegged in superior sound quality). In the early 2000s, Yellow Dog Records created Day by Day, a 38-part CD series comprising the Nagra tape recordings in their entirety, with improved audio quality compared to earlier releases. In January 2003, nearly 500 of the original Nagra tapes were recovered by police in England and the Netherlands, with five people arrested. Even after the raid, bootlegging of the material continued with the Purple Chick label releasing their own digital A/B Road Nagra tape collection.
While there are hundreds of bootlegs based on the solo careers of the members of the band, one is particularly noteworthy as the only known recording of Lennon and McCartney together after The Beatles broke up. A loose jam involving the two, along with Stevie Wonder, Harry Nilsson, and others, was recorded at Record Plant Studios in Los Angeles on 28 March 1974. The recording did not surface until 18 years later when a portion of it was released on bootleg as A Toot and a Snore in '74. The recording is known more for its historical significance than the quality of the performances.
As digital technology progressed since the CD releases of The Beatles' studio albums in 1987, audiophiles became increasingly disappointed with the sound quality of the official CDs. Several bootleggers undertook their own remasterings of the entire Beatles catalogue, of both mono and stereo original releases, typically using premium vinyl pressings played and digitised with high-end audio equipment. While these unauthorized copies are not bootlegs as commonly defined, their creation and distribution channels overlap with bootleg products.
Two widely distributed collections are the Millennium Remasters series and the series by the bootlegger known as "Dr. Ebbetts". Several other bootleggers have created their own collections of remasters distributed solely by digital download, including Purple Chick, which supplements the remastered albums with related outtakes.
The official remastering of the Beatles catalogue in stereo and mono, released in September 2009, may have made bootleg remasters obsolete: Ebbetts announced that he would no longer make his versions available after he heard advanced samples of the official remasters which he judged to be superior. No announcement has been made concerning the availability of authorised digital downloads.
A considerable amount of additional never-circulated Beatles material is believed to exist, either in private possession or studio vaults, as mentioned in documents and recollections.
From the group's early years, it has been reported that additional songs exist from the 1960 Quarrymen rehearsal tapes, including a Lennon/McCartney instrumental "Winston's Walk" and early versions of "When I'm Sixty-Four" and "Ask Me Why". Another recording of historical interest is a tape of eighteen songs from a Beatles show in mid-1962 at the Cavern Club, recorded from the audience. The tape includes several cover versions of songs not available elsewhere by The Beatles, including the Bruce Channel number one "Hey! Baby", James Ray's "If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody", and the Bobby Vee hit "Sharing You". McCartney bought the tape at a 1985 auction, and since none of it was used for Anthology, it has been assumed to be of poor sound quality.
Many demo recordings are known to have been made by the individual Beatles but have yet to become public. Lennon's uncirculated demos include "Do You Want to Know a Secret", "I Call Your Name", "No Reply" (pre-dating the one on Anthology), "In My Life", "Hold On, I'm Comin'" (a short Lennon composition, not the Sam & Dave hit), and "Good Night". McCartney's uncirculated demos include "A World Without Love", "It's for You", "What Goes On", "Eleanor Rigby", "Etcetera" (a 1968 song intended for Marianne Faithfull), and "The Long and Winding Road".
Between the official Anthology releases and the numerous outtakes that have been bootlegged, many of The Beatles' most interesting studio recordings are available in some form. Nevertheless, there are still recordings known to be in EMI's archives that have generated particular interest in their eventual release. One is "Carnival of Light", an improvised fourteen-minute vocal and sound collage that The Beatles created in early 1967 for an art festival; the recording was under consideration for Anthology, and McCartney has been an advocate for its release. Another is take 3 of "Helter Skelter" from 18 July 1968, renowned for its length of twenty-seven minutes. Anthology 3 included only a 4:38 edit of the 12:35 take 2 from that day's work on the song; asked why a longer version wasn't issued, George Martin explained: "I think it gets boring."
Some recordings may no longer exist, if they ever existed originally. A Quarrymen rehearsal that was recorded at Colin Hanton's home was taped over. BBC documentation shows that "Sheila" and two versions of "Three Cool Cats" were recorded and never broadcast, but the tapes were likely reused or discarded, a fate shared by some of The Beatles' studio session tapes prior to late 1963. Carl Perkins has said that he joined The Beatles in the studio for a late night jam session on 1 June 1964, but this was probably not taped. Several Lennon/McCartney titles were mentioned in a 1960 letter from McCartney, including "Looking Glass", "Years Roll Along", and "Keep Looking That Way", but there is no evidence that tapes were ever made of those songs during rehearsals from that era.
One final source of uncirculated recordings is the set of sessions held in 1994-1995 for the Anthology project. In addition to the two songs released, two other Lennon demos (which have been bootlegged) became the basis for additional work by the other three Beatles: "Now and Then" and "Grow Old With Me". "Now and Then" was close to being the third new song for Anthology, but it needed more work than the two released songs and was left unfinished; McCartney has indicated an interest in completing the song with Starr. A new song composed by McCartney and Harrison, "All for Love", was also reportedly recorded by the three ex-Beatles at the sessions but never finished.
A number of songs have been incorrectly claimed by bootleggers to be unreleased Beatles songs. Some originated as spoofs or parodies: "Bye Bye Bye" (Kenny Everett), "Cheese and Onions" (The Rutles), "Magical Misery Tour" (National Lampoon featuring Tony Hendra). Some were by obscure artists whose names were subject to misinterpretation, such as John and Paul ("People Say"/"I'm Walking") and John Lennon and the Bleechers ("Ram You Hard"). Some were by groups with a (sometimes intentional) Beatlesque style, such as The Fourmost ("I Love You Too"), The Gants ("I Wonder"), The End ("Shades of Orange"/"Loving Sacred Loving"), Lavender Circus ("N. Bourbaki's Multicoloured Jam"), and Smyle ("It's Gonna Be Alright"); or with a lead vocalist sounding like one of The Beatles, as on "We Are the Moles" (Simon Dupree and the Big Sound as The Moles).
A few "outfakes" have been labelled as Beatles tracks many times:
At least one song has neither been proven nor disproven to be The Beatles: "Peace of Mind/The Candle Burns". The song was reportedly found in the Apple trash in 1970, and still has an unknown origin. Some claim it to be an actual Beatles home demo from around 1967, though the lack of any corroborating evidence has left Beatles experts unconvinced.