Concluding our three-week look at select BBC performances, Deep Beatles focuses on a memorable George Harrison performance: “Nothin’ Shakin’ (But the Leaves on the Trees),” a rocker the Beatles had performed since their Hamburg days. Harrison excels on this track, demonstrating his singing prowess and ability to confidently lead the group.
“Nothin’ Shakin’” traces its origins to 1958, when Cirino Colacrai, Diane Lampert and John Gluck, Jr., and Eddie Fontaine cowrote the track. Fontaine, a rockabilly vocalist, was previously known for performing at DJ Alan Freed’s first live rock show. In addition, he had appeared in the classic film The Girl Can’t Help It in 1956. “Nothin’ Shakin’” eventually became his signature song, and the Beatles’ 1963 version revived the tune.
Interestingly, Fontaine focused on acting from the 1960s until his death, making guest appearances on shows such as Happy Days, Rockford Files, and Quincy. His frequent run-ins with the law, however, eventually overshadowed his once promising career.
Flash forward to December 1962, when the Beatles incorporated “Nothin’ Shakin’” into their set lists in Hamburg. The bootleg Live at the Star Club features a brief version of the track, and the effects of the Preludin (or speed) they were constantly ingesting shows through their lightning-fast rendition. Unlike Fontaine’s rockabilly version, the Beatles’ take is straight-ahead rock, with a fierce lead vocal by Harrison.
A year later, the Beatles decided to revive the song for a BBC appearance. On July 10, 1963, they played the song for the sixth edition of Pop Go the Beatles. Recorded at the Aeolian Hall, London, the song finally aired during the July 23, 1963.
Interestingly, the BBC version stresses the track’s country roots more than the Hamburg rendition — and even Fontaine’s original. Harrison’s guitar solo reveals how much he revered Carl Perkins’ picking style, as it recalls his solos on “Matchbox” and other classics. Paul McCartney’s bass accents the rhythm, and Starr displays his usual flair and ability to hit those drums hard, in perfect time. Lennon plays rhythm guitar on the track, letting his other bandmates shine on this rocker.
Harrison is often underestimated as a rock vocalist — unlike many singers, his voice contained wit as well as musicality. While “Nothin’ Shakin’” mainly addresses teenage lust, Harrison manages to evoke the humor present in the words. Just listen to his delivery of the lines “Well why must she be such a doggone tease” or “We meet the gang and go to rocking shows. The cats are stomping on their heels and toes.” The words may be silly, but Harrison convincingly dramatizes the narrator’s immaturity, his bright tones on lines like “I’m finding out what love is all about” sounding particularly youthful.
The Beatles’ BBC performances remain the best way to hear how the band excelled at live shows. As the tornado that was Beatlemania hit, their voices and instruments were drowned out by hysterical fans. Thoroughly burned out and believing their live performance skills were deteriorating, they retired permanently from the road in 1966.
Other than bootlegs and the official Live at the BBC compilation, few early live recordings exist. Tracks like “Nothin’ Shakin’” demonstrate how closely the Beatles listened to early rock and roll, mastered those songs, and eventually would carve their own musical niche.