A review of Eight Days a Week; the Touring Years
A film by Ron Howard
Part Three: 1965 – Beatlemania at its most … high!
A film chronologically showing the Beatles touring and recording during the years of Beatlemania.
52 minutes (and three years) into the film we have an interlude focusing on George Martin. With Martin’s brief bio (Goon Show producer, he explains how he “produces” a Beatle song) we see a longer segment of the Fabs working in the studio than anywhere else in the movie except at the ending.
But who is complaining? We get to hear the evolution of the song Eight Days a Week – from which the movie gets its title – beginning as a demo to rehearsing the “Oooo”s to the final song. Wonderful!
This segment has my favorite line. Ringo: “On the early records, George Martin was a god.”
“Later ones, too,” I shouted from my couch in the living room! Good for you, Ringo!
For the Mania Years (as opposed to the Studio Years), 1965 was the band’s highlight. The Beatles were the first band to do a stadium tour, including the now-legendary Shea stadium performance in front of 56,000 people (bootlegs of the show on DVD and VHS can still be found – the picture and sound quality are wonderful but WARNING: the music MAY have been reproduced by the Fabs sometime later and dubbed in).
The Fabs, in current interviews as well as old ones, discuss how awful their performances were becoming. They could not hear themselves on their monitors. Ringo said he had to watch John or Paul to see when a song ended. Baseball stadiums used their own sound systems in which it was hard enough to hear at-bat announcements let alone rock music. The film gave an example of what the Beatles’ concert must have sounded like through that kind of system. An AM signal going through a tunnel was clearer…
But I disagree. I have always disagreed with that. The few legitimately-recorded concerts (where the producers strived for quality) – such as the Shea stadium (although some of it may have been overdubbed by the Fabs themselves), the Hollywood Bowl (the only – to date – legitimate Mania-era live performance released as an album) and 1966’s Budokan shows were excellent! Not superb, but they were great and exciting live shows!
The movie, as are most Beatle documentaries, is sprinkled with modern interviews as well as archived interviews, press conferences and newsreels.
Along with Paul and Ringo, we meet writers, historians, musicians and celebrities telling us their Beatle stories: why they are fans and the impact on themselves personally and professionally: Richard Curtis, Eddie Izzard, Whoopie Goldberg, Elvis Costello, Malcolm Gladwell, Dr. Kitty Oliver (who tells us about sitting in a desegregated audience for the first time during a Beatle concert), Howard Goodall (I gasped when I saw him. And of course he discussed the Fabs’ musical writing style and impact, comparing them to Shubert and Mozart – his being a Beatle fan should not have been surprising…), Jon Savage, and Sigourney Weaver.
Sigourney Weaver’s story of attending the Hollywood Bowl show is a highlight. Being a descendent of media royalty (her father, Pat Weaver, was president of NBC in the 1950s and the creator of “Today” and “the Tonight Show”), she was filmed at the concert. We hear her in 2016 telling the story and watch her as a teenager shouting for John. And she hasn’t aged a day.
Whoopie Goldberg’s comments were the most moving. “You like that white group?” She would be asked. To me, she explained, the Beatles were neither black nor white. They were just the Beatles. And it didn’t matter if you were black, white, rich, poor … everyone loved the Beatles and they helped her learn she could be however she wanted to be and it was okay – you were still a Beatle fan!
Especially moving was the story of her mother, somehow, affording two tickets to the Shea stadium show. You’ll swallow back a tear just like she did.
Throughout the movie, especially during the 1964 US tour, was the commentary of Larry Kane, a reporter who toured with the Fabs. The movie replayed his 1964 reports along with his current thoughts, opinions and reminiscences.
He was a witness to these events. At first he was cynical (he was warned by his father to not do it) but quickly became a fan and friends with the Beatles. To hear him describe being mobbed by up to 7,000 screaming teenagers is at once thrilling and terrifying…
… and touching. When his mother died in1964, for example, John and Paul were especially sympathetic. Paul then tells us of him and John losing their mothers as well. It was the only time the movie harkened back to pre-Beatle days (a clip of George Martin and the Goon Show aside).
Kane is to this movie what Shelby Foote was to Ken Burns’ “Civil War”.
As with 1964, there was a segment on the filming of that year’s movie, “Help”. Here is where some of the cracks begin to show.
Surprisingly, Paul admits that the band was stoned during the filming. George and John had admitted this long ago, but for Paul to say so means only one of two things: 1) either HE was stoned during the interview, or 2) the band was REALLY stoned during the filming of “Help”.
The Beatles being awarded the MBE at the end of 1965 was a strange addition – the film ignores any event that had nothing to do with the music (including, up until now, their drug use).
But the MBE segment allowed the Fabs to talk about their dissatisfaction with touring and the constant pressure of being a Beatle. They found the studio more and more liberating. Lyrics such as “was she told when she was young that pain would lead to pleasure” would hardly be heard let along understood through baseball stadium PA systems and 50,000 screaming teens (paraphrasing Elvis Costello).
As a live group, the normally unbendable Beatles bent. In 1966, they would break.
Part Four the last is next …
Corporate shill department: I published a fictional account of John F Kennedy meeting the Beatles, titled, appropriately enough, “The Day John F Kennedy met the Beatles”, available here on Kindle. I hope you enjoy it!
Original Material copyright 2016 Michael Curry