This one is no easy task. After all, at least initially, the Beatles seldom recorded live performances of the 1960s songs that made them most famous.
First, they stopped touring in ’66, long before such studio triumphs as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, the self-titled White Album and Abbey Road. And, immediately after their breakup, the Beatles’ individual members rarely looked back.
Next came the untimely twin deaths of John Lennon in 1980, after five years out of the spotlight, and then the similarly reclusive George Harrison in late 2001. More recently, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr have focused again on their early years, but that still leaves us with not nearly enough from their fallen brethren.
So you’d think a live Beatles playlist would be difficult to compile — perhaps impossible. Get back, Loretta! Here is the lineup for our definitive Beatles concert, focusing on favored takes from their solo years:
1. Sgt. Pepper’s (1990)/McCartney
2. With A Little Help (1998)/Starr
3. We Can Work It Out (1991)/McCartney
4. While My Guitar Gently Weeps (1992)/Harrison
5. Money (1969)/Lennon
6. Mother Nature’s Son (2002)/McCartney
7. Paperback Writer (1993)/McCartney
8. Here Comes the Sun (1971)/Harrison
9. Got To Get You Into My Life (1979)/McCartney
10. Yer Blues (1968)/Lennon
11. Hey Jude (2009)/McCartney
We begin — where else? — with the famous “Sgt. Pepper/With A Little Help” medley, connecting Paul’s 1990 live intro with Ringo’s 1998 version from his compulsively enjoyable All-Starr jaunts. Next is a grungy version of an early Beatles staple “Money,” recorded by Lennon in 1969 during a Toronto concert featuring guitarist Eric Clapton, bassist Klaus Voormann, and drummer Alan White of the art-rockers Yes. A hit single 10 years earlier by Barrett Strong for the Tamla label, “Money” also appeared on 1963’s With the Beatles, with George Martin playing the piano. John sang this during the band’s legendary failed audition for Decca Records in 1962, as well. (A rousing version of “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” from this ’69 show is also included later in our playlist.)
Clapton is likewise prominently featured on three of the four live Harrison tracks, including (as the uncredited Clapton initially was during sessions for the White Album) on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” — this time, from a 1992 concert that produced a similarly definitive live version of Harrison’s “Something.” As for “Come Together,” John recorded the tune twice at Madison Square Garden during the height of the Vietnam protests in 1972, but we prefer the one where Lennon substitutes “Stop the war!” for “over me” — included, finally, in the 1998 Capitol anthology box set — as opposed to the one on the posthumous single-disc Live In New York City.
At the time, we loved Wings Over America, the double-live album from the first stateside tour with McCartney’s wildly popular 1970s-era band. Fast forward to now, and there is nothing that grates more than Linda (bless her soul) singing many of John’s parts on the Beatles throwbacks — rendering gems like “I’ve Just Seen a Face” and “Lady Madonna” from that tour all but unlistenable. We kept “Blackbird” from 1976, but added “Mother Nature’s Son” (another former White Album standout) from 2002’s Back in the U.S.
12. Love Me Do (1998)/Starr
13. I’ve Got a Feeling (2009)/McCartney
14. Dizzy Miss Lizzy (1969)/Lennon
15. Strawberry Fields (1990)/McCartney
16. Old Brown Shoe (1992)/Harrison
17. Blackbird (1976)/McCartney
18. Magical Mystery Tour (1993)/McCartney
19. Come Together (1972)/Lennon
20. Something (1992)/Harrison
21. Golden Slumbers (1990)/McCartney
McCartney, then accompanied by a top-notch band that featured a couple of former members of the Pretenders, sang plenty of Beatles tunes on tours that produced 1990’s Tripping the Live Fantastic and 1993’s Paul Is Live. Included from ’93 are “Paperback Writer” and “Magical Mystery Tour.” The 1991 MTV unplugged concert produced a superlative new take on “We Can Work It Out,” even with the flub. (Maybe, actually, because of the flub, since it underscores the live setting.) A similarly acoustic “Here Comes the Sun” was a highlight of Harrison’s early-1970s Concert for Bangladesh triple-album benefit, the forefather of Live Aid. We took “Let It Be” and “Got To Get You Into My Life” from a 1979 benefit concert performed for UNICEF in London that included McCartney, and “I’ve Got a Feeling” from 2009’s Good Evening New York City.
Ringo’s anthematic version of “Love Me Do,” the first Beatles song he appeared on, comes from a previously referenced 1998 tour that featured one of his best backing bands — including guitarist Peter Frampton and former Cream bassist Jack Bruce. We returned to Good Evening New York City for a rousing take on “Hey Jude.”
Lennon tore through “Yer Blues” at Toronto in ’69, but we’ve always been a bigger fan of the version he did a year earlier as part of the Rolling Stones’ concert event Rock and Roll Circus, which is included here. Clapton again appears as part of a thrown-together supergroup dubbed the Dirty Mac that also included the Stones’ Keith Richards (on bass!) and Hendrix drummer Mitch Mitchell. This More Perfect Playlist’s final moments, a live take on “Golden Slumbers” from 1969’s Abbey Road, was also plucked off McCartney’s Tripping the Live Fantastic. His touching tribute to John — a medley of “Strawberry Fields” and “Give Peace a Chance,” again from ’90 — was from a UK release called All My Trials.