The Beatles' Hamburg Recordings on Record

by Joseph Brennan, copyright 1994, 1996.

In the summer of 1961, the Beatles recorded eight songs for Bert Kaempfert Produktion in Hamburg. On six songs they were the backup band for Tony Sheridan, lead vocal and guitar. On two, "Cry for a shadow" and "Ain't she sweet", the Beatles performed alone.

These recordings originally appeared on the Polydor label in Germany and the United Kingdom, and on various labels in the United States. Their discography has not been well documented, unlike that of the later EMI recordings, and this paper attempts to straighten out some problems.

UPDATE: Since I wrote this piece, an excellent book appeared called The Beatles: From Cavern to Star-Club, by Hans Olof Gottfridsson (Premium Publishing, Sweden, 1997). If you are interested in the pre-EMI recordings this book is essential. He has reproduced much of the surviving documentation, and has interviews with important figures like Karl Hinze, the engineer at the 1961 sessions.

The "My Bonnie"/"The Saints" single of 1961.

Polydor issued two different singles of "My Bonnie"/"The Saints", both numbered 24 673. (The space in the record number is simply the German equivalent of writing 24,673; Germans use comma for a decimal point.) The artist is listed as Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers. One version is pictured in Gareth Pawlowsky's "How they became the Beatles" (1989), pages 38-39. The picture sleeve has the title as "My Bonnie" in large letters, front, and as "My Bonnie (Mein Herz ist bei dir nur)" on the back and on the record label. This is of course the mono mix with German introduction.

The other version has the same sleeve except that near the lower left is a large box with the legend "TWIST", and the back and record label do not have the German parenthetical subtitle. This has the English language introduction. The disk, in a standard sleeve, is pictured on Robert York's web page.

Just as the recording date has varied from the traditional May 1961, based on Tony Sheridan's recollection of Whit Monday, to the more recent report of June 22-24, based on a session document Mark Lewisohn has seen, the release date of the single has varied from May to October.

"Mersey Beat" of 20 July 1961 has the article "Beatles Sign Recording Contract!". This article was inspired in part by the Beatles providing a copy of the record that they brought back with them from Germany. This must have been a test pressing, an idea supported by there being only two copies for four Beatles. Judging from the article, the slow intro was present, described as a waltz, and probably was the English language intro since no mention is made of it being in German. Following Brian Epstein's later story, Stu Sutcliffe, who stayed in Hamburg, sent copies of the single over to the Beatles, and perhaps it was only at this point, whenever it was, that they knew the record was available for sale. An undated letter from Paul to Peter Eckhorn also mentions Stu having sent the record. The legendary request for the record by Raymond Jones at NEMS, finally revealed as fiction in 1996, was dated at October 28, and perhaps that does at least suggest roughly the date Brian Epstein ordered it.

Castleman and Podrazik's "All together now" (1975), the first comprehensive discography, lists June, but this is based probably on the May recording date they give. What makes June seem unlikely for the release date is the Beatles' contract with Bert Kaempfert Produktion, which started July 1 (as seen reproduced in Lewisohn, "Chronicle", page 33). While it is odd that the contract postdates the recording session, it is very hard to believe it postdates a record release. ATN also does not state which version of the song is referred to.

German Beatles discographies, not so well known in the US, provide some more information. A vinyl discography, "The Beatles - Here, (There And Everywhere?)" by Mathias Wlaschek and Wilfried Pelz (1983), gives a date of October 23 for both singles. "Die Beatles: ihre Karriere, ihre Musik, ihre Erfolge", by Rainer Moers, Wolfgang Neumann and Hans Rombeck (1988), has the "Twist" English-intro single as June and the "Mein Herz" German-intro single as October, and states that the German intro was recorded separately around August. The notion of a special session for the German intro has not appeared in English-language sources. The German book "Mach Schau - Die Beatles in Hamburg", by Thomas Rehwagen and Thorsten Schmidt (1992), reports Bert Kaempfert's wife recalling that the record was out by the time one of her children was born on October 4, but she believes in a July or August date, which seems wrong.

Mark Lewisohn remarks in "The Beatles Chronicle" (1992), page 33, that the single was issued in August. But at the time, the record factories actually closed for a couple of weeks in August, and it seems that the record would have been held until after that.

In an earlier version of this article, I stated that the only reason to use the same catalog number would be to combine sales reports. But it now looks as if Polydor wished to fulfill later orders for the single with an alternate version.

The "My Bonnie" EP of 1961.

This record is bogus. The earliest report I can find is ATN, where it is listed as September 1961 without catalog number, the only record in the whole book without one. No source ever gives a picture of this one or a 1961 catalog number. While it appears in many discographies, no one seems to have seen a copy.

Moers, who lists ATN as a source, lists it with number 21 610. But that is the catalog number of a July 1963 EP issued in the UK and Germany. Polydor had not yet reached EP number 21 610 in June 1963, confirmed by the numerical listings in the annual publication "Der Grosse deutsche Schallplatten Katalog 1964", compiled in June 1963, but they were close to it, confirming July 1963 as the original issue date for 21 610.

No one has this 1961 EP. Some have 21 610 and think it is from 1961. It's unfortunate that the 1964 "Katalog" is the first ever issued-- if I could find a Polydor catalog from 1961, we could put this one behind us. Instead, we'll have to let its absence speak for itself. The day someone shows me a copy, I'll change my mind.

A 1961 EP also defies logic. When Brian Epstein claims to have ordered the single from Germany, after October 28 1961, wouldn't it be odd that the sales agent at Polydor didn't ask whether he'd like some of this just recently released EP by the same artiste? Ray Coleman's "The man who made the Beatles" (1989) tells the story of Brian playing the single and asking people to ignore the singer and listen to the band. Why would he do that rather than play "Cry for a shadow" off the EP, with just the band, and their own composition as well? No, Brian clearly did not have the EP, or know about it. Does this make sense?

The "My Bonnie"/"The Saints" singles of 1962.

The single with English intro was issued in the UK in January 1962 as Polydor 66 833. At this time Polydor used a separate number series for the UK. The date of 5 January, as found everywhere, is in a Brian Epstein announcement written before the fact. In Lewisohn's "The Beatles Live!" (1986), an ad for 2 February (page 106) calls the Beatles "Polydor recording artists", while earlier ads, like that for 12 January (page 105) do not. Possibly the real date is a little later than 5 January, but that is about right.

Brian Epstein credited his work the release of this single in England, supported by sales in Liverpool. The artiste is now Tony Sheridan and the Beatles, instead of the Beat Brothers, either Brian's influence, or simply the use of their proper name. (The problem originally was said to have been the similarity to "peedle", German slang for "piss".) The same single was issued in the US on Decca 31382, referencing the UK catalog number as "DGG 66833" on the label (Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft is the corporate parent of Polydor as EMI is to Parlophone). Note that Decca of the US is not related (except historically) to Decca of England, which is known as "British Decca" in the US industry. British Decca at the time was associated with London Records in the US.

The "My Bonnie" LP, 1962.

A Tony Sheridan LP called "My Bonnie" was issued in Germany in June, Polydor 46 612 mono and 237 112 stereo. This has the "Twist", English intro, version of the title song. The inclusion of only "My Bonnie" and "The Saints" tends to suggest nothing else from those sessions was up for consideration, not even Tony's own song "Why".

The stereo LP is the first use of stereo mixes of the two songs, although lack of any known mono-stereo difference makes one wonder whether the mono is just combined. This could use study. The band are credited as the Beatles under these two song titles on the back cover, and confusingly the name Beat Brothers is now used for Tony's backing players on the other songs.

The "Ya Ya" EP, 1962.

"Sweet Georgia Brown" appears to be the third Beatles song to be released, first on this "Ya Ya" EP of October 1962, Polydor 21 485. Tony recorded the song twice: without the Beatles, probably in December 1961, and then with the Beatles, probably in April 1962. The April 1962 date is disputed by some experts but is supported by letters in Bert Kaempfert's files seen by Lewisohn and by a report in "Mersey Beat" of May 1962. It seems once again that the 1961 sessions had been put behind them, and only this newer recording was considered. This EP is of course the mono mix of the original vocal. Tony re-recorded the vocal in 1964 (see below) and that is what appears on later issues.

This EP, while rare, is well known in the collectors' market, and is offered for sale (at high prices) regularly. Contrast the supposed "My Bonnie" EP of 1961 that no one ever sees.

The "My Bonnie" EP of 1963.

The July 1963 release of this record, Polydor 21 610, marks it as Polydor's first attempt to cash in on the newfound success of the Beatles in the UK. Someone went into the vaults at Polydor to see what they had, and they came up with two more songs for an EP. Even in Germany, this follows two singles and a May 1963 EP of Beatles recordings on EMI (Odeon label in Germany).

Why these two songs in particular? One could argue that "Why" is the best song in the lot, and "Cry for a shadow" may have been picked because it is a Beatles composition. The use of two public-domain songs and two written by the band is also mildly suspicious: are the publishing rights all in Polydor hands here? Did that make this a quick or cheap release?

The nagging question is why the John Lennon vocal on "Ain't she sweet" didn't come out at this point. I recently heard in another context from a new fan asking which Beatle sang on which song, which seems so self-evident that I'd nearly forgotten a time when the voices were not so familiar. Can it possibly be that the Polydor staff assumed Sheridan sang all the songs *even after listening to them*?

Reissues of the Four Songs, 1964.

The new Polydor singles 52 273 and 52 275 are the familiar four songs: a reissue of "My Bonnie"/"The Saints", and a new single of "Cry for a shadow"/"Why" respectively. Several books have the English release as 28 February, and Moers gives the German date as 9 March. This presents no problem. "My Bonnie" here appears with no intro, as it does for two decades of releases afterwards.

At this point, with those four songs, some sort of line was drawn. The four appeared on a compilation LP, "Let's do the Twist...", Polydor 46 422 mono and 237 622 stereo, probably April 1964, both Germany and England. This is the first appearance of the stereo mixes of "Cry for a shadow" and "Why".

Somewhat similarly, MGM got the first four songs for US release. The same two singles were issued 27 January and 27 March respectively as per ATN, and the MGM album appeared in February. MGM got only the mono mixes: does this tell us the stereo mixes weren't prepared yet when the songs were shipped in probably late January, or just that no one cared?

Release of the Last Four, 1964.

Things moved fast, and within a month of the familiar four songs on singles, the other four songs appeared. Polydor 52 317 marked the first release of new material since July 1963, "Ain't she sweet"/"Take out some insurance". Moers has this as 8 April in Germany, and several books have it delayed to 29 May in England. Here they finally found the John Lennon vocal, although why it was held up almost two months in England is a mystery.

Polydor 52 324, issued in Germany the same day per Moers, has the odd coupling "Skinny Minnie" (Tony without the Beatles)/"Sweet Georgia Brown" (Tony with the Beatles)-- although some people say "Skinny Minnie" is the Beatles, from the same April 1962 session as "Sweet Georgia Brown". This is supposed to be the new vocal on "Georgia", so if it is, Tony had recorded it by then, but it seems thrown away here. The sleeve, advertising the Beatles prominently on the B side, and the disk are pictured on Robert York's web page. The A side of the sleeve does not say "Beatles" but "Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers".

A second "Georgia" single, using the last Beatles song, "Nobody's child", on the flip, was issued on Polydor 52 906. Many books list this single as January 1964, from ATN onward. The correct date is probably June. The catalog number alone should make this obvious. The English quarterly "The Gramophone" lists it as a new record in the September 1964 issue, which covers June to August. (I believe Polydor jumped numbers from possibly 52 399 to 52 900.) Mark Lewisohn dates the re-recorded Tony vocal as "early 1964" ("Chronicle", page 70), which means he's thrown out the January 1964 date too, but he doesn't give any more information than that.

In the US, Atlantic jumped on the bandwagon and outbid or outmaneuvered MGM for the second four songs. They recoupled the songs for their Atco label as "Sweet Georgia Brown"/"Take out some insurance" on 1 June and then "Ain't she sweet"/"Nobody's child" on 6 July, using the dates in ATN. Their album was delayed until October, and once again, as with the MGM album, the stereo is fake. In this case, a possible reason is that all four songs had been subjected to overdubs (guitar and drums) and two songs to editing ("Take out some insurance" and "Nobody's child").

Album release, 1964.

The canonical album with all 8 songs was issued in Germany as "The Beatles' First", Polydor 46 432 mono and 237 632 stereo, probably in June 1964. Moers gives it as August, but it made it into "Der Grosse deutsche Schallplatten Katalog 1965" (June 1964), and the number is close to the "Let's do the twist..." album. This would mean the last single, 52 906, may have been a simultaneous release or nearly so.

This album was not issued in England until July 1967. This remarkable fact becomes clear from a study of "The Gramophone", the quarterly of available records. Polydor 236 201, the English version, is stereo only, as a result of its late date. The July 1967 release is listed as a reissue in all books I have consulted. The German LP must have been available for sale as an import, but not in a way that got it listed in "The Gramophone", which does include some imports.

CD release.

All eight songs are on the Polydor CD "The Beatles' First", reissued as "The Early Tapes". For some reason "Ain't she sweet" is the mono mix as overdubbed by Atlantic, but the rest are in stereo. The other songs filling out the album are Tony Sheridan recordings made in 1961 and 1962.

"Ain't she sweet" has been released in stereo on CD in Japan, perhaps from source tapes sent there years ago. Did Polydor Germany lose the masters, or, less drastically, did they file the Atlantic mono version someplace where staff keep pulling it as if it were the stereo master?

The Apple CD set "Anthology 1" includes three of the songs but with mutilations. "My Bonnie" has talk over the English intro, and an edit where the stereo image reverses at the end of the intro. "Cry for a shadow" is intact but has stereo reversed. "Ain't she sweet" is again the mono version as overdubbed by Atlantic.

Joe Brennan             Columbia University in the City of New York    ("affiliation shown for identification only")