So it wasn't long before I went in search of bootlegs by my beloved Beatles.
In hindsight I'm sure they were around, but for a naive boy like me they weren't particularly visible. If I'd been a little older, a little more 'street-smart', I'd have probably found a stack in a tiny record shop in the suburbs where the counter-culture held sway. At the time, however, I only knew of one shop which sold them, the shop where my friend had scored his Stones albums.
A short time later I stumbled across my first Beatles bootleg at a market. Live In Anytown was a bizarre mash of songs from several different shows across different years. Even the producers were vague about the source with this note in the credits. "There are rumers (sic) that part of this album was recorded at the very famous Smithsville concert, but we asked both Mr W. Z. Ardo and Dr. Terrence and they said that was definitely not so, but perhaps a couple of the tracks might be from Horsesneck and if that’s the case Big D. would say that’s not very kosher."
As an album I found it less than satisfying and never played it all that much.
But the love affair didn't last. It's an album I listened to from time to time, but for some reason I didn't find it anywhere near as satisfying as those early Stones bootlegs I had. I'm afraid they still got more playtime, even though I only had cassette tape copies. I figured vinyl bootleg was a medium that suited the jagged edges of the live Rolling Stones. Plus the covers on Stones bootlegs were funnier and had more interesting artwork than the Beatles covers.
Ah Shinjuku. Bootleg central of Tokyo. And for the years I lived in Japan, Tokyo was bootleg central of the world. Shop after shop crammed with titles you could only imagine. We were spoiled for choice in those days. But shortly before I discovered this district, I experienced a defining moment in my life.
I have vivid memories of the store, which ironically wasn't a bootleg specialist. The discs were reasonably cheap and I was concerned I was being ripped off. I needn't have worried. The moment I got them home and hit the play button I was completely blown away. Beatles outtakes in studio quality. Very different versions of songs I was oh so familiar with. The first take of I'm Looking Through You, stripped back and stunning in its simplicity. Take 2 of Can't Buy Me Love with the backing vocals. Even hearing That Means A Lot and How Do You Do It? in good quality.
I was in heaven.
And these are discs I still listen to from time to time. They're certainly more listenable than the official Anthology albums. They hold up well over more recent bootlegs. And I guess I recall them like my first love, a warm nostalgic memory of the halcyon spring afternoon when I first heard them.
It didn't take me long before I possessed all six volumes of Ultra Rare Trax issued by The Swingin' Pig. (I even owned the extra two volumes tacked on by another label) They varied in quality, had some highlights, but never were as amazing as these first two discs.
I remember being amazed at the idea that someone had somehow nicked these tapes from the studio. These days I know more about the source of this material, although there still seems to be some dispute as to whether it was through John Barrett or Roger Scott. A lot more material has emerged from these tapes. And with more recent releases like Rockband extractions and OOPS remixes which give us an insight into the recording process, we have lots of great stuff out there. So much. Too much, in fact. I feel overloaded at times, and I think we can get a bit blase about what we have access to.
Recently I played all these discs, just to see what it was that kindled my passion for Beatles bootlegs. And boom, I was there again. A teenage boy in his bedroom listening to Mick Jagger snarl his way through a 1978 setlist.
The flame took. And as I progressed through my other discs, it flared. I fell in love with The Beatles yet again.