Two handwritten Beatles setlists from the group’s early days are being auctioned off by Bonham’s on October 28th. Only eight such setlists are known to exist, making them highly coveted by collectors. Each one is estimated to sell for $150,000 to $250,000.
The first one comes from a show at Liscard, England’s Grosvenor Ballroom in the spring of 1960. It was written by Paul McCartney and mainly includes covers like Elvis Presley’s “Stuck on You,” Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie,” Little Richard’s “Lucille,” and Buddy Holly’s “Words of Love,” but near the end, they do list the Beatles original “One After 909,” which wouldn’t be officially released until 1970’s Let It Be.
“At this point, the Beatles were about to become a band in the truest sense,” Bonham’s Senior Specialist of Popular Culture Howard Kramer tells Rolling Stone. “When these gigs took place, Pete Best had yet to join the band and the first Hamburg engagement was about two months out. Pretty soon, there was no looking back.”
The second setlist, also written by McCartney, comes from an April 17th, 1963 show at the Majestic Ballroom in Luton, England. It’s written on the back of a Parlophone Records publicity postcard and is signed by all four Beatles. Beatlemania was spreading across England at this point and they’d already scored hits with “Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me,” but the setlist still includes covers like Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally” and Arthur Alexander’s “A Shot of Rhythm and Blues.” It also features their new originals “I Saw Her Standing There,” “From Me to You,” and “Thank You Girl.”
“This setlist shows them as a working band that understands their role as entertainers,” Kramer says. “This is just one set of two played that night but we can see that they are still balancing their own developing work with songs from other artists and diverse sources.”
The Beatles played well over 1,000 concerts before retiring from the road in 1966, but it’s not surprising that so few setlists survived, especially since the vast majority of their gigs took place before they were famous. “Setlists generally have a short life,” says Kramer. “Once the gig is over, they’ve served their purpose. Collecting scraps of paper from pop bands wasn’t a thing yet in 1960 and 1963.”
That scarcity is what makes these setlists so interesting. “The Beatles’ career was relatively brief and there’s very few tangible, physical items directly used by the band that become available to the public,” Kramer says. “The Beatles are still the most collectible music group, and these two documents reveal their inner workings.”