So, this is an era of the Beatles I’ve never gotten into before. It’s when they were recording as “The Beat Brothers” as the backing band for English singer Tony Sheridan. This was in Hamburg, pre-fame, of course. I got the deluxe edition of this album. It includes the original 1964 album in both mono and stereo, as well as a couple of extra tracks from the period. Fact is that the Beatles are absent from a lot of these tracks as Sheridan also worked with some other backing musicians at this time. But it is interesting to hear Lennon taking lead vocals on Ain’t She Sweet while Sheridan takes a break and the instrumental Cry for a Shadow is one of the best early Beatles recording if you ask me. Some of the other stuff is great too. A raucous version of My Bonnie is a ferocious blast of pure energy and the Beatles do a great job with the music on their version of When the Saints Go Marching In. Sheridan is sometimes pretty intrusive; on The Saints, you really just wish he’d shut up so you could hear the music better. On the whole, Sheridan is a serviceable enough Elvis impersonator and there are a couple of great tracks here that succeed on their own, even without a single Beatle on them. The album closer, a live version of Ya Ya, is a riotous five minute breakdown and there’s a wonderful, two minute cover of Ray Charles’ What’d I Say where the non-Beatles backing band does a great job with the central riffs. But there’s a lot of real trivia here and even some of the Beatles songs on here are pretty dire because of the tired material they’re covering. It was a very interesting listen and fun to hear the Beatles at a genuinely formative moment in their history. And the sound quality on this deluxe re-release was absolutely stunning. On the whole, I really enjoyed this one, both for the Beatles history lesson and also just because a lot of the music was great fun on its own terms. 3 ½ stars.
tl;dr – early recordings of the Beatles give a fascinating glimpse of the Hamburg Era and provide fun, energetic music to boot; even some of the Beatle-free tracks are good. 3 ½ stars.