July 2nd 1963 Remembering the Beatles’ Greatest BBC Session

On a 1963 episode of their ‘Pop Goes the Beatles show,’ the group covered their idols and showed that they were ready to surpass them

There always comes a time when the learner tries to compete with, and become, the master. It happened with Van Gogh and Millet, Beethoven and Mozart, Kobe and MJ, Darth Vader and Obi-Wan.

It happened with the Beatles on July 2nd, 1963, at London’s Maida Vale Studio, where the band were taping their fifth installment for the BBC of their Pop Goes the Beatles radio series. The Beatles were deep into their tenure as BBC regulars at this point. They would field requests mailed in from fans, blast through a raft of covers, some of which they’d never return to again, work in originals from their own burgeoning catalogue, and joke with the presenter, and, of course, themselves. It was a band as human jukebox, capable of excelling in all styles, while also dishing out that particular brand of Beatle-y jocosity.

Between March of 1962 and May of 1965, the Beatles cut 52 BBC sessions, with the vast majority occurring during 1963, the year of their ascent, when their first two LPs, and a brace of early career-defining singles – “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” chief among them – marked the band as entrants in a contest that had dated back to 1954, when Elvis released his first Sun sides, to determine the reigning gods of rock & roll.

But the session they taped on July 2nd, subsequently broadcast on the BBC’s Light Programme two weeks later, is unlike any other BBC session, the Beatles in their Janus moment of greatest potency. This was when the Beatles pulled even with their heroes, and then surpassed them.

The band started rehearing at 6:30 at night, recording commencing shortly thereafter, the session wrapping at half past nine. The broadcast begins with a cover of Elvis’ “That’s All Right (Mama),” with Paul McCartney on lead vocals. It’s difficult now to overstate how risky a venture this could be, an English band taking on the King. And not just the King, but the King at his apogee.

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[bloggers note – this is a great article about an amazing Beatles session. Even more amazing as is was just a day after the Beatles had recorded ‘She Loves You’ at Abbey Road!]

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