Beatlemania at its most … high!

A review of Eight Days a Week; the Touring Years

A film by Ron Howard

Part Three: 1965 – Beatlemania at its most … high!

 

Read Part one here.

Read Part two here

 

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

… and in the end … part four of a review of Eight Days a Week, the Touring Years

A review of Eight Days a Week; the Touring Years

A film by Ron Howard

Part Four: 1966 and beyond…

 

Read Part one here.

Read Part two here.

Read Part three here.

 

1966 was the end of the Beatles as a touring band. The movie shows their frustration.

The year began with three months off! The Fabs are shown lounging in a pool. We see Ringo’s and John’s homes and family snapshots with their children – the only mention of their spouses and children in the entire film (and only Julian is shown).

Although John hardly lived in familial bliss, it showed the band start to drift apart physically and musically. We are introduced to George’s love of Indian music, for example.

We finally see their warts – something the film has avoided up until now. But then again, it had never affected their live performing.

The film tells us the story and shows a montage of the Butcher cover for the US album “Yesterday … and Today”.

On that subject: is this the ONLY documentary of the Beatles that does NOT even MENTION “Yesterday”?! They performed it live in 1966, but there is no clip of their singing it. Leaving out “Hey Jude” is understandable – the song is out of the movie’s timeline – but a song that has been played over seven million times? Of which there are over two thousand versions?

Wow …

The film next shows us the recording of the “Revolver” album. George Martin, Howard Goodall and the Fabs describe how their musical tastes are finally diverging. They are using Indian music and avant-garde techniques in their recordings. More importantly, they describe how hard (impossible) it will be to replicate these songs in a baseball stadium, where even an announcer’s voice sounds like white noise. “Tomorrow Never Knows?” Forget it …

There is one clip that I have never seen (it still amazes me that after over 50 years there are still film clips and photos that are truly so rare) and it shows the rot of 1966 – even the press is turning against the Fabs. In Hamburg a reporter asks the group why they are so “horrid snobby”.

“That’s your interpretation,” John says, in a tone we will hear a lot in the late 60s and early 70s usually in a bed with Yoko at his side. Paul gives a diplomatic answer (akin to “the quality of our answers reflects the quality of your questions”) which gets an applause, but his tone still has bite. Yikes! Even Paul is getting snippy!

The rest of the 1966 segment is filled with familiar Beatle lore: the protests in Tokyo, the Marcos “snub” in the Philippines and the US tour marred by protests over John’s “bigger than Jesus” remark – events even the poorest of Beatle documentaries portray (that’s not meant to be derogatory – it just means that I won’t go into detail about them here).

And again despite the complaints of their quality, Budokan (for example) is an excellent show with clear audio and video! Bootlegs of the concert exist.

The movie shows the silent film made of the last live performance in San Francisco, with the Fabs providing commentary.  George started the group’s anti-touring movement as early as the Shea stadium show, but by the time this Frisco show was finished, the other three finally agreed.

Paul McCartney has a poor cassette recording of this concert made by Tony Barrow. As bad as the sound quality (perhaps not the music) undoubted is, why didn’t he share it with the producers anyway? It can’t be any worse than the sound recording of the village fete where Paul met John …

The Mania Years were over.

***

For the next five minutes the movie does a recap of the Studio Years. They spend most of the time showing the evolution of “Strawberry Fields Forever” with the Beatles in their Carnaby-Street-pre-Sgt-Pepper clothing as well as clips of the party leading up to the recording of “All You Need is Love”. There is a photo montage of their last six albums.

A placard tells us of one last live performance on the rooftop of Apple Records in January 1969.

***

Three songs performed at the rooftop concert concluding “Let It Be” complete the film. The clips are clear, clean and sound fantastic! Despite assurances that everything Apple Corps is resolved we STILL do not have “Let It Be” in DVD. Why? I’m glad this movie managed to get permission to use more than just a brief clip: we hear nearly the entirety of “Don’t Let Me Down”, for example. Although “Let It Be” is available as a bootleg, it will be nice to finally get a clean copy.

***

“Eight Days a Week” is an excellent primer on the Beatles, their music and their live performances, along with the good and bad that came with it. It focuses on only one part of the Beatle mythos but does so thoroughly.

For other events during the Mania Years – or the Early or Studio Years – you may have to rely on documentaries such as “the Compleat Beatles” or “the Beatles Anthology”. Like those, “Eight Days a Week” is something of a white-washed version. For more dirt you may have to rely on books such as Cynthia Lennon’s books on John or former insider Peter Brown’s “The Love You Make”, of which Beatles insiders protesteth too much; if you know what I mean. Ron DiLello’s “The Longest Cocktail Party” is a rollicking fun read on the Fabs’ Apple Corp. The recent “Paul McCartney: A Life” by Phillip Norman is another warts-and-all biography. I am currently listening to the audio book and will review that in a few weeks.

Eric Idle’s “The Rutles: All You Need is Cash” is the closest anyone has come to likely capturing the real Beatles experience … from the Beatles’ viewpoint! George and John are on record as having loved it (George produced and appeared in it).

The only similar documentary is the recent “the Beatles: The First US Visit”, a re-release of a BBC documentary made in 1964 of the Fab’s US tour.

But “Eight Days a Week” has a broader scope than that made-for-television doc.  The movie is excellently done. It’s a great jumping-on point for young people first learning about their parent’s (grandparent’s?) favorite group and more about them can be learned elsewhere if their curiosity is whetted.

Old fans can bask in the Mania they may have been too young to experience. Plus there is enough “new” or unseen material to keep us interested.

5:50 into the movie is when Paul almost tears up. The movie is worth that alone.

It is available free to Hulu subscribers or on pay-per-view. It will be released in DVD sometime in the next few months.

I would buy the soundtrack if it consisted of live performances and the rehearsals. The movie rarely plays studio recordings and then mostly over commentary. If you have the Beatle’s music catalogue there will be nothing new here.

I already have the studio recording of “I Want to Hold your Hand”, thank you; but I’ll take the rehearsals of “Eight Days a Week” and the live “Nowhere Man”, please!

***

I cannot resist one personal story: when I loaded Hulu to watch it for the first time my six-year-old daughter walked into the living room and asked what I was watching. When I told her the film title she looked at me and said, “Daddy! There aren’t eight days in a week!” Which pretty much summed up her feelings about the movie.

 

I did not intend for this review to go on for four blogs; it must have meant I enjoyed writing about it as much as I enjoyed watching the movie. I hope you enjoyed it!

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

 

Beatlemania, American Style! “8 Days a Week” review part two!

A review of Eight Days a Week; the Touring Years

A film by Ron Howard

Part Two: 1964 Mania, American Style

 

Read Part one here.

 

“Eight Days a Week” shows us (and proves to us) the hectic pace set by the Beatles from 1963 through 1966. During this time they toured constantly, stopping only to record singles and albums.

Other documentaries focus on the press constantly asking about their long hair (particularly in the US), but the most frequently asked questions (as shown in this film) were “How long do you think you will last?” and “What will you do when the bubble bursts?”

Because of the fear of the bubble bursting, the Beatles were not only put on a grueling tour schedule, but an equally grueling recording schedule –a new single every three months and a new album every six months. Milk it, baby, milk it!

November 22nd, 1963 was the day US President John F Kennedy was assassinated, but also the day the Beatles’ second album, “With the Beatles” was released. The movie shows each album and it’s time at #1 on the British charts. These are placed chronologically along with the performance clips.

A British radio reporter tells us about the Kennedy assassination and Paul tells us the bands reaction. None, well, not much. Diplomatically, he says they were too young to comprehend what had happened and they were too busy touring to let it really sink in.

At that point, touring America is discussed. Paul tells us they did not want to go to America until they had a #1 record. They did not want to go to America, flop, and then come home with their tails between their legs.

During clips of their shows in Paris, we learn “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was #1 in America. While the song plays in the soundtrack, we watch photos of the Fabs clowning around in their Paris hotel room.

There is much Beatle lore left out of this movie – its focus is on live performances and their records. The movies “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help” were shown in clips, but only as it related to their recording and performing schedules.

There is no mention of, for example, John’s two books, their personal lives (two were married and two had children during this period) or their introduction to marijuana and LSD.

If you blink you will miss the one shot of Jimmy Nichols with the band. When Ringo had tonsillitis, Jimmy Nichols replaced him in shows in Denmark and elsewhere.

Ringo was back by the time the Fabs toured Australia to young people in the grip of a Beatlemania perhaps even larger than the American version!

During this time they were guests (and sometimes hosts) in many television shows all through Europe. Although the movie uses some of the interviews from the various television programs, it does not use the performances. Perhaps because of copyright issues; but it cements that the heart of the movie is live performances, not studio performances.

So no television performances.

With one exception.

A documentary set during the time of Beatlemania can skip Stuart Sutcliff and Yoko Ono; a documentary focusing on live performances can skip Lennon’s books of poetry and Jane Asher; but no Beatle documentary – even ones that are not Ameri-centric – can skip “the Ed Sullivan Show”.

The viewership was mentioned (half of the population of the United States watched) and bits of trivia (no reported crime in New York that evening), but the film focused on the performance itself rather than its impact.

That being said, the film does a fine job showing America in the total grip of Beatlemania with shots of fans at airports and hotels with newsreels and at-the-time interviews with the Fabs and the fans.

I finally have a complaint about the film: the first US press conference as well as footage of the Washington DC concert were colorized. Poorly so. Why? Why didn’t you colorize “Ed Sullivan” and “Hard Day’s Night”, too? Showing black-and-white footage won’t befuddle us or lose our attention. Treat us like adults, please? Ron Howard, you of all people should know … why don’t you colorize the black-and-white episodes of a certain show set in Mayberry, instead? Because you don’t have to. They are both fine as is. Leave them alone.

The only other complaint of the film? Another point that shows the producers do not have much faith in their viewers: unnecessary false audio. Documentaries showing silent films (particularly World War I docs) are bad about this too. In “8 Days a Week” it shows home movies of the Beatles swimming in a pool. We hear a “splash” at the appropriate time, but no other ambient noise. At other times the fans’ individual screams are dubbed in. At one point a girl screams Ringo’s name. It’s easy to lip-read. Yet the film-makers dub a youngster shouting “Ringo” 52 years after that clip was made. At no point while watching clips of girls screaming during Beatle concerts did I ever say, “What did she say? What’s wrong with the sound?” Again, please treat us like adults.

So, “Ed Sullivan” aside, no TV shows. During the US publicity tour, the film interludes with a brief biography of Brian Epstein and how he met the Beatles and became their manager. Bare bones – a youngster asked for a copy of their record in Eppy’s record shop, his curiosity made him seek the band out. He signed them on as clients. Back to the tour …

The Fabs move to Washington DC and then Miami (no concert footage) and back to the UK to film “A Hard Day’s Night”.

A little time is spent showing clips and some background on the film, but then back to the music and the grinding tour schedule; including an August tour of the US.

Which is a pity: Lennon didn’t like the film in retrospect. After two days following the band, the writers developed personalities for the Fabs that are still unshakeable – the smart one, the cute one, the quiet one, the lovable one.

However, one of the best lines from “A Hard Day’s Night” captures the essence of the Beatles on tour. “… so far I’ve been in a train and a room, a car and a room, and a room and a room,” says Paul’s film-grandfather. They should have used that – sums up their touring schedule perfectly!

Something I have not heard mentioned in Beatle movies or documentaries: the controversy over segregating the Gator Bowl! There were plenty of clips of the Fabs at the time decrying segregation – “Why treat other people like animals?” “We refuse to play a segregated hall”. How much controversy did this cause in the summer of 1964? The kerfuffle over Lennon’s Jesus quip in 1966 is brought up in nearly every documentary (this one, too), but surely bigots protested their comments on segregation, too!

And the movie probably gives the Fabs a bit too much credit on this point. The Gator Bowl may have been desegregated during their show, but afterward…? And segregation certainly did not end in the south due to their American Tour of 1964; more hearty seed had already been planted and would take root in the years to come.

Moving on to 1965 next time …

***

            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

The Mania Begins! Part One of my review of “Eight Days a Week”

A Review of Eight Days a Week; the Touring Years

A film by Ron Howard (yes that Ron Howard)

Part One: Mania Begins!

This documentary covers the Beatles during their Mania Years (March 1963 through August 1966) focusing primarily on their live performances and then their album recording sessions.

With only a few exceptions, the rest of the Beatle mythology during that time is ignored.

This is fine. As the title suggests, this is about their live shows. If you want a clip of John Lennon reading from “In His Own Write”, however, you had best look elsewhere.

Not that there was that much to leave out: during that time the band’s touring and recording sessions were marathons – it would have drained any mortal human beings. Their time “mach schau”-ing in Hamburg during the Early Years not only improved their musicality (as is frequently pointed out), but their stamina. 25 shows in 30 days while touring America? Grueling? You bet, but at least they are able to sleep at night. In beds. Separately.

The two big documentaries of the Fabs: “the Compleat Beatles” and “Beatles Anthology” encompass the members’ and their entourage’s lives up until 1970. This film has a much narrower focus. Only “the Beatles: The First US Visit” has a more narrow focus – their 1964 US tour. But that was a BBC documentary meant for television, not a feature film.

Most narrative films focus on the Early Years, of which little is really known and there are only vague photographs and fewer recordings extant: the band’s childhood, their formation and early days as a band. Movies such as the excellent “Backbeat” from 1994 and “Nowhere Boy” from 2009 are examples.

More rare are films of the Studio Years or the Solo Years showing the Beatles’ break-up and solo output. 1985’s “John & Yoko: A Love Story”, 2000’s “Two of Us” (although the creators state at the film’s outset that it is entirely fictional) and 2010’s “Lennon Naked” for instance.

And nothing more clearly shows the break-up of the band than “Let It Be”.

But this movie shows us neither the beginning nor the end, but the glorious middle, when Beatlemania was in full flower. For a fun fictional account, find the 1978 Roger Zemeckis movie “I Want to Hold Your Hand”.

The film as a whole shows the mania’s rise and fall. The movie opens with songs from their 1963 show in Manchester – the clips’ vivid color and sound are a wonder! Why isn’t the entire set released on DVD yet? Or has it been?

There is no narration for the film – no Malcom McDowell from “the Compleat Beatles”. It is told to us by the Fab Four themselves and their entourage ala “Beatles Anthology”. Current interviews with Paul and Ringo are interspersed with clips from John and George, as well as Beatle insider/roadie Neil Aspinall – who was with them from the beginning – and their film director Richard Lester. Most of George’s comments were culled from “Anthology” while John’s were taken from various lengthy interviews during the 1970s (Mike Douglas, Tom Snyder, Dick Cavett, etc.).

Note to Hulu: there were a few mistakes in your subtitles. You told us George was speaking when it was John. When asked about the fan reaction, John did NOT say, “the mob was incredible”, he said, “amazing, incredible”

The movie is chronological with only a few interludes taking us further back in time.

One such interlude starts about 4 minutes into the film for a three-and-a-half minute primer on the Early Years. But it was a very quick statement by John Lennon on bringing in Paul and then George and playing in Hamburg – but even here the focus is on the live performances as a upcoming band. Not of growing up in war-torn Liverpool. This means there is no mention of Pete Best, Alan Williams, Cynthia Powell or even Stuart Sutcliffe.

There is a surprisingly tender moment six minutes in – Paul talks about their first session with Ringo as drummer. His eyes mist up and he chokes back a tear. I’ve never seen him so emotional when discussing the Beatles …

After that the movie starts in earnest. It shows us the release of “Please Please Me” and then it’s on to the live shows!

One fun clip was of football fans in 1963 Liverpool singing “She Loves You” in unison. Young men bellow at full throttle whilst old men (wearing hats) are jostled as they keep smiling … but they don’t sing along.

There are the mandatory archival interviews with young people (“I love them!”) and the older generation (“They make an awful row!”).

The live music is real. No studio tracks with an audience dubbed in – as far as I can tell. The clips we watch may not be from the venue the soundtrack was recording, but the editors did an excellent job of splicing it together. Only on occasion does the mouth not match the soundtrack. In some spots, it is obvious the film is slowed down so the soundtrack can keep up, but that is forgivable.

And it is fun after all these years to still be able to see footage I have never seen before! Most notably the European concerts.

More next time …

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

The Day John F Kennedy Met the Beatles – the Story Behind the Short Story

Announcing my first frenetic foray into fiction

I’ve been writing fiction since I was a kid in grade school. I love writing as much as I love reading but getting my stories published has always been frustrating.

Alas, I am writing in an age where fewer and fewer publishers are … publishing.  Were that this be the early twentieth century when newsstands were lined with magazine after magazine filled with fiction of every genre in all their pulpy goodness!

Those days are gone, but now cyberspace has replaced the old newsstand. You can still read stories of any genre and of any length online.

I have published three books online with some success. Regular readers know the titles by heart as I hype them with the frequency of a carnival barker: Abby’s Road, the Long and Winding Road to Adoption, Toddler TV and The Brave & the Bold: from Silent Knight to Dark Knight. All non-fiction.

I have not published any fiction – novels, novelettes or short stories.  Until now!

(trumpet fanfare)

JFK Beatles moptops'

“The Day John F Kennedy Met the Beatles” is a short story (just over 5000 words) available through Amazon.

Wait, you say, John F Kennedy never met the Beatles. True.

All fiction starts with “What if…?”  What if elves and dragons were real? What if man could sail among the stars? What if vampires and zombies roamed the earth? What if three penniless sisters move to Kent, England during the Regency Period and experience love, romance, sense and …

What if Kennedy had lived? Either by surviving the assassination or by it not having occurred at all? What if he lived to see Beatlemania invade American shores? What if he asked them to perform at the White House?

Why would he ask them? Would the Beatles and their management agree? Would they say, “Stuff it”?

 

As a history buff, my recycling bin is filled with issues of History Channel Magazine (now defunct), Colonial Williamsburg Magazine (name and format now changed), Smithsonian Magazine and Renaissance Magazine.

I wrote “The Day John F Kennedy Met the Beatles” as if it came from such a magazine. It is very fact-driven – even with faux-footnotes.  Remember the old writing trope “show don’t tell”?  This is filled to the brim with “tells”. Think of it as a piece of fiction that thinks it is a piece of non-fiction.

And I like it! But then I say that about everything I’ve written.

But it’s true – I do like this story! It’s the kind of piece I would enjoy reading. I loved doing the research on the Beatles’ history and melding them with a fictional history of Kennedy’s second term.

I’ve also included quotes from the involved parties. Sometimes it was hard getting the voice correct – but I think I succeeded. I am particularly pleased with the quotes from George Reedy (LBJ’s advisor) and the humor in the press conference (“Did you vote for Kennedy?” Lennon: “I didn’t even vote for the queen.”)

I hope you enjoy it. Look for it on Amazon. It is available for viewing on Kindle and only costs $0.99.  You can enjoy it at lunchtime, before bed, or as one of many stories you can enjoy during a lazy summer.

Kennedy meets the Beatles

Here is the link to the short story available through Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Day-John-Kennedy-Met-Beatles-ebook/dp/B01HQQ7F8K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1467304185&sr=8-1&keywords=beatles+kennedy+curry#nav-subnav

More fiction to come!

 

Copyright 2016 Michael Curry

A Night of the Most Excellent Order – a review of “The Beatles – a Night that Changed America, a Grammy Salute

A Night of the Most Excellent Order
A review of “The Beatles – a Night that Changed America, a Grammy Salute”.
            Popular music and I have not said a kind word to each other in over twenty years. That is why, up until the afternoon of February 9, 2014, I had no plans to watch the CBS Special “The Beatles – a Night that Changed America, a Grammy Salute”. It was taped some weeks ago, but it aired 50 years to the day – to the hour – that the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan. It was the most-watched television program up to that time.
            Reading through the list of scheduled performers – the ones hyped, that is – was akin to reading “Entertainment Weekly”. Page after page of people I don’t know starring in TV shows and movies I don’t care to see. The only group I had heard of was the reunion of The Eurythmics. Oh joy. A combo I didn’t like 30 years ago are reuniting so I can dislike them all over again.
            But it was necessary to get the public to pry themselves away from reality shows to watch musicians play songs from fifty years before.
            It wasn’t until previews were available on Youtube that I decided to watch it. Well, Tivo it. Stevie Wonder performed. Okay, so it’s not just “American Idol” rejects wailing their way through the Beatle catalog. There was some talent involved.
            Fortunately, instead of a parade of the latest talent-less celebrities known more for their tongue and twerks, we saw some fine performances!
           
            And it was a great show! The performers – all of them – did an excellent job! The bits in between the songs were of more interest to me, but I was not disappointed by the performances. The ones I knew, the ones I only heard of and the ones I never heard of – all did superbly. I have no desire to run out and get their latest albums, but …
            I had to look up the spelling of some of the performers on Google, I apologize if I didn’t get them right…
            The show started with the original intro tag. Coming up next on the “The Ed Sullivan Show” … a great way to start it.
            LL Cool J gave us an introduction to the reason for the special and introduced a clip from the “The Ed Sullivan Show” – the Beatles performing “All My Loving”. It segued into Maroon 5 finishing the song and they then performed “Ticket to Ride”.
            Throughout the show shots of audience members peppered the performances. Mostly they concentrated on Paul and Ringo and their wives in the front row; but occasionally we saw Yoko and Sean and George’s widow Olivia as well as other stars. I only recognized a few of them.
            Next came Stevie Wonder with his hit “We Can Work It Out”. Rumor is he did it twice because he did not like the first take. “Fire me, sue me,” he told the audience. It’s Stevie Wonder. He could have done a dozen more…
            And now we get to see the house band – Peter Frampton doing his usual excellent guitar work. He was an uncredited guitarist on George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” album. Steve Lukather, a touring member of Ringo’s All Starr Band also played guitar excellently. Had he played this well with Toto they might not have sucked. Kenny Aaronson played thunderous drums. He played with everyone – EVERYONE – in the 1980s and I know him from the woefully underappreciated album “HSAS” with Sammy Hagar and Neil Schon. The director apparently loved Kenny too – they cut to him playing every six seconds or so.
            Johnny Depp introduced the song “Something” performed by rock veterans Joe Walsh and Jeff Lynne. They were joined by George’s son Dhani. It was the only stage appearance by a Beatle-spawn. Sean Lennon was in the audience but did not perform. Why didn’t he?
            Eric Idle appeared next, reprising his role as the narrator/TV journalist from his “Rutles” specials. They gave his character a name – Nigel Spasm (although his name was never given in the original Rutles programs). He mentioned the Rutles performing that night 50 years ago. He was hilarious.
            He introduced (and narrated) short biographies of the Beatles beginning with John Lennon. John’s was the most effective. It ended with the death of his mother and the line “… the love of music his mother shared … would … transport him our of Liverpool and across the universe.” Lovely.
            Why did they decide to colorize part of the black and white photos in these biographies? We the People do not need big, bright and loud colors to keep our attention; we can handle black and white photos, thank you. Treat us like adults and we will start acting like adults. Deal?
            Next began a series of excellent, excellent, walk-throughs and interviews with Paul, Ringo and David Letterman. They discussed the studio, the set list, their choice of name, etc. It was usually done after the commercial break and was one of the highlights of the show.
            Some of my favorite bits throughout were interviews from women (girls) who were in the audience 50 years before. This was peppered with Ed Sullivan performances of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “I Saw Her Standing There.”
            Kate Beckinsale (someone who starred in movies I’ve not seen) introduced Ed Sheeran (a singer I’ve never heard of) doing “In My Life”. He did an excellent job! Wonderful guitar work – I’d like to learn his version of this song (which was performed at my wedding).
            More audience shots. Ah, I recognize someone – Tom Hanks! Tom Hanks was in an audience that had camera shots and this was the first time he managed to get his mug in front one? Wow.
            They showed a clip from “Let It Be”. They got the rights to show a clip from “Let It Be”. This is akin to showing footage of Bigfoot. It was the rooftop concert version of “Don’t Bring Me Down”.
            In the middle of the song it segued into two singers named John Mayer and Keith Urban singing the song (ala “All My Loving” at the beginning of the show). They cut off a clip of “Let It Be”. THEY CUT OFF A CLIP OF “LET IT BE”. To use the previous analogy – is would be the same as showing ten seconds of authenticated proof of Bigfoot then airing a bit from “Harry and the Hendersons”.
            Katy Perry managed to cover her cleavage long enough to sing “Yesterday”. There was some controversy when she changed the lyrics by switching gender (“I’m not half the girl I used to be”). Oh, get over it. Happens all the time. That is no controversy; leave her alone. 
            Then came the Beatles’ Ed Sullivan performance of “She Loves You”.
            An aside: strange that the two songs most associated with the Beatles – not the most popular but the most iconic – “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You” are the two least-covered songs in their repertoire. They did not cut away to anyone “taking over” “She Loves You” from the Ed Sullivan clip – whereas they did twice earlier in the show.
            At this point, and peppered throughout the rest of the show, were my favorite bits. Interviews with the crew of the “Ed Sullivan Show” on that day 50 years ago. Bill Bohnert, art director/set designer, John Moffett, associate director, and Vince Calandra Sr, production assistant and George’s stand-in during rehearsal were interviewed about their work on the show that day and during rehearsals. Bill tells the story that Paul said, “We’ve always wanted to do ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’.”  Funny, not a half-hour ago Paul said they had never heard of “The Ed Sullivan Show” until they were booked on it. No one else seemed to care …
            There was a moving story of John Lennon’s awe at standing in the same spot as Buddy Holly when he did Sullivan a few years before.
            LL Cool J introduced the song “Revolution” performed by Imagine Dragons. “What!?” says I. “The kid’s band? Disney’s version of the Wiggles?”  No, that was Imagination Movers – this is Imagine Dragon. They did a very good acoustic version of the song.
            Dave Grohl was next. He was in the Foo Fighters and Nirvana with Kurt “what a weird bong” Cobain. He gave a moving tribute, saying his mother had always been a fan of the Beatles; saying his daughter is a fan of the Beatles; and lying about HE always being a fan of the Beatles. I recall 22 years ago he and his fellow grungy ilk saying they don’t like music by dead people.
            They stopped saying that when Cobain showed us what his brains looked like.
            I guess being invited to a Beatles tribute helped his love of the group along a bit.
            That being said, he and Jeff Lynne did a superb version of one of the Beatles’ best and least-known songs. “Hey Bulldog”.
            Back to Kate Beckinsale introducing The Eurythmics. There is no “The” in their official name. When they were popular they insisted that DJs NOT call them The Eurythmics, just Eurythmics.
            So THE Eurythmics played “Fool on the Hill”. I said that correctly – they PLAYED “Fool on the Hill”. If you recall The Eurythmics were a purely electronic band; all computerized. Yet, when they performed they had drums, back-up singers and guitars. “If they were true to their art,” I said on the radio back in 1985 or so, “they would set up a computer on stage, put in a floppy disk, press play and tell the audience to enjoy the show.”
            Annie Lennox has a lovely voice and is a powerful singer, but I’ve never liked it personally – oil to my water. Dave Stewart was once in a band in the 1970s called Longdancer. It was an EXCELLENT group. And some of his post-The Eurythmics bands harkens back to those rock ‘n roll days. So The Eurythmics reunite. From the hype you’d think this was the highlight of the show. It wasn’t. It was GOOD, mind you, but not the highlight of the show.
            Alicia Keys andf John Legend gave testimonials and then gave their rendition of “Let It Be”.  I had heard of them both but never heard their music. I only knew of John Legend when I would joke about (ironically) him being in the Beatles with Paul McKenzie.
            John Legend has an excellent voice! Alicia Keys … well, it’s like the issue I have with anyone – ANYONE – on “American Idol”. I would have more respect for her talent if she could sustain a solid note for more than two seconds. Was someone shaking her seat or does she cover the entire musical scale with every note?
            More bits with audience members and crew members. Here they included reminiscings from Mitzie McCall and Charlie Brill – a comedy duo who also performed on “The Ed Sullivan Show” that night! I wanted more of this – I wanted to know who else was on the show as well as what else was on that night? What did NBC and ABC air? This show’s main focus was on the Beatles, true, but it was also focused on “The Ed Sullivan Show”, too. I have the Beatles’ appearances on Sullivan on DVD, so I know who else was on the show, but a few clips of the other performers wouldn’t have taken up much time.
            Actress Anna Kendrick, who starred in movies and TV shows I’ve never seen, introduced the song “Here Comes the Sun” and gave us a history of its writing. Would it have violated some law to mention it was a hit for Richie Havens, who died last year? Pharrell Williams and Brad Paisley, whom I have not heard of, performed the song with members of Cirque du Freaks, er, Soleil pole dancing above them. Other members of the circus troupe sat in front of them holding dolls. This circus troupe is popular why?
            Gary Clark Jr., Dave Grohl and Joe Walsh did a rousing rendition of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. A fun moment was the camera cutting away to Ringo who was miming Grohls’s drums. I love Joe Walsh. He is an excellent guitar player and even shared some vocals here (not his strongpoint one must admit). He, as well as the other two, was wonderful, but … would it have been so hard to get Clapton? Really?
            Jeff Bridges gave a wonderful testimonial and introduced Ringo. Ringo then made us forget the past hour and a half and stole the show. He perfomed “Matchbox”, “Boys” and got the audience involved in “Yellow Submarine”. Musically, it was the highlight of the show. And kudos to Ringo for introducing at least one member of the house band – sometimes All-Starr Peter Frampton. Ringo gave a shout-out to Grohl and his daughter. You could tell Ringo was impressed with his drumming.
            Sean Penn, who is looking more and more like DeNiro, introduced Paul McCartney. After Ringo’s funfest this seemed almost anti-climactic. Paul went through rote versions of “Birthday”, “Get Back” and “I Saw Her Standing There”. The house band left and Paul performed with his group. By now Paul could do these songs in his sleep. He nearly did. Too bad. He had nothing to prove, true, but it was almost as if we were supposed to enjoy McCartney being McCartney and not enjoying his performance.
            Case in point: Paul did “Sgt. Pepper”. He would have been forgiven if he changed the lyrics to “50 years ago today…” The press would get on Kate Perry but not HIM. Just before Ringo joined him onstage, Paul sang “Billy Shears”. He could have said “Ringo Starr”. The audience would have loved it. I would have loved it! To me this shows how Paul was going through the motions rather than relishing the moment.
            Paul and Ringo have only performed together (post-Beatles) once in 2010. So their “With a Little Help From My Friends” was momentous and fun. Ringo brought back the enthusiasm he apparently took with him from his previous set.
            For the finale, “Hey Jude” they were joined by the house band and the other performers and producers.
            Yoko, Sean and Olivia never took the stage. I think that was a wise move. They would have been given a standing ovation, to be sure. But they were there to honor their husbands and father.
            It was a wonderful program and I enjoyed it very much. Probably not enough to rush out to get the DVD, but I liked it and was glad I saw it.
            I did have some problems with it: as I said earlier, this was about the Beatles, but there was enough about “The Ed Sullivan Show” to wonder why they didn’t talk about who else was on that “America-changing” day” Why not show a clip of Frank Gorshin’s hilarious stand-up from that night? Or a bit from Sophie Tucker?
            Would it have hurt to have Mickey Dolenz give a two-minute tribute to fellow-Monkee Davy Jones? He was on the show too that night, doing a song from “Oliver” as the Artful Dodger.
            Also, perhaps after two-and-a-half hours the powers-that-be were afraid We the People would not have the attention-span for another 50 minutes; but why not SHOW the entire Ed Sullivan program from February 9, 1964. It couldn’t have been a question of acquiring the rights – they showed a clip from “Let It Be” for god’s sake!
            And where the hell was George Martin?
Copyright 2014 Michael G Curry
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 
 
 
             

 

 


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A review of The Beatles: On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2

 A review of The Beatles: On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2
 
(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});             I received “The Beatles: On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2” for my birthday. While listening to it I kept thinking about a quote from Roy Carr and Tony Tyler’s excellent “The Beatles, An Illustrated Record” – my copy from 1981. They were critiquing “Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl” and said (I am paraphrasing) – “The Hamburg Tapes” show the Beatles live at their beginning, “Let It Be” shows the band live at their end, but “…Hollywood Bowl” shows them in their glorious middle”.
            The awkwardly-titled “The Beatles: On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2” also shows them in their glorious middle. At the beginning of their middle, so to speak.
            Most of the tracks aired on the BBC from 1963-1965. I prefer the earlier songs. This was when the Fabs just hit their popularity. Fame and fortune was still new and exciting. They were yet to be labeled “the greatest British composers since Schubert”. The mania was in full swing, but the hurricane had yet to reach Category-Five.
            John Lennon said by the time they reached the USthey were pros and already tired of it all. They weren’t musicians they were pop stars. They enjoyed the taste of fame but didn’t like gorging on it. In an interview on the disks, George Harrison says he was the first to get tired of people asking him the color of his eyes or what he drank at breakfast.
            “Live at the Hollywood Bowl” was in the midst of all that. The best and the worst of Beatlemania.
            “The Beatles: On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2” shows the musicianship of that glorious middle without the mania – when the Beatles were still enjoying being the Beatles.
            Both Volumes contain songs and banter from the various BBC programs from 1963-1965 – including “Saturday Club” and Beatles specials (“Pop Go the Beatles” for example).
            Only a few of the tracks are performed live in front of a screaming audience. But the rest are studio tracks recorded at the BBC per their regulations. In such shows the Fabs could not simply hand the producers their albums to play. Songs had to be recorded for their specific programs.
            Now we would call it “studio live”. The Beatles may have done many takes of their songs, but each one was done in one take and the best picked to be aired during the BBC specials.
            In other words, these were studio live cuts of their hits – without overdubs, without vocal or music effects. Do You Want to Know a Secret without the reverberated introduction. There’s a Place without the harp/harmonica. These different arrangements highlight their musicianship. I’ll discuss that shortly
            They recorded 88 songs for these BBC shows – all either studio live or live before an audience. 36 of these songs were never recorded in their official (EMI/Capital) catalogue.  
            Most of the non-EMI songs were on Volume 1 – here we have only two that have never been officially released – (1) the standard Beautiful Dreamer – a rocked out version of the ballad recorded before an audience but with awful sound quality; comparable to the Hamburg live tapes. Pity – such a rare track and it sounds as if it were recorded through a fish tank; and (2) the Chuck Berry Rocker Talkin’ Bout You.
            Other rarities include different versions of Hippy Hippy Shake, Sure to Fall, and Lend Me Your Comb – which sounds uncannily like Wake Up Little Susie in places – already released on Volume One.
            And there is a version of “Happy Birthday”. Happy Birthday to you! Now I don’t have to ever play Birthday from the White Album – one of the most overplayed of their third-tiered tunes – again! Oh thank you, BBC, thank you and it’s. about. time. … 
***
            This is where the studio live performances make me enjoy the volumes so much: Songs I have been listening to for (literally) my 49 years on this planet are done differently – even if it is only a difference in the mixing. We hear Paul’s bass much more prominently in most songs. Ringo’s drumming is excellent throughout (and isn’t it time we finally put to bed the critiquing of Ringo’s ability. He’s a good drummer! Accept it!).
            When the initial giddiness of listening to the disks for a few times wears off, I will start rearranging the tracks in the following way:
            I’d like to arrange the tracks from Volumes 1 & 2 in the order of their album releases: in other words, take the song order from “Please Please Me” (their first album) and listen to their BBC versions in the same order. I Saw Her Standing There, then Misery, etc…
            I’ll bet the difference is staggering. In the EMI album “Please Please Me” we have four scared kids from the North going to London on New Year’s Day and nervously recording an album.  The BBC versions will let us hear professionals who are at the top of their craft.
            Perhaps the only disappointment will be Twist and Shout.  In his famous interview with Rolling Stone, Lennon groused about the song ruining his voice during the “Please Please Me” sessions. He said he never recovered the full power of his voice after that. Of course, keep that in perspective: during those interviews he was more bitter over the Beatles than Pete Best was.
            Then I can reconstruct their second album, “Meet the Beatles” with these BBC tracks. And to an extent their movie soundtracks and on until 1965 or so. “New” arrangements of all their songs done studio live at the peak of their musical prowess as a group – as a group, mind you – not as individual musical maestros who happen to share an album – which began with “Rubber Soul” on through “Let It Be”.  With a few exceptions most of the Beatles songs after that were individual efforts, not collaborations.  And even some of those only consisted of adding a line or two. Keep in mind that by “The Beatles” (the White album) they hadn’t even liked each other all that much. Such discord is no where – no where – to be found on these disks.
            On “The Beatles: On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2”, they were still good mates and, as John Lennon correctly said in 1980, they were “the best fucking group in the goddamned world”.
***
            The banter in between is pretty banal. McCartney admits so in the liner notes. The hosts were the usual BBC announcers for such things and you could tell how square they were, man.
            The in-between-song bits usually consisted of the Beatles reading fan mail and requests – usually followed by the song itself. “Rita and Freda from West Hempstead love Ringo and think he’s gear and want to hear a song from him. So, here’s Ringo coming out from behind the drum kit to sing … Boys!”
            “And now it’s time for the lads to unshackle themselves as they sing Chains!”  You can almost see Lennon and Harrison look at each other and roll their eyes.
            The banter between the announcer and the band is scripted, although some of it sounds ad-libbed. John jokes about his going to college only to be called a “college pudding” and “posh” by Ringo. I can’t think of a more stinging insult to lob at Lennon. But everyone laughed, Lennon heartiest of all. Such genuine bits of humor are rare and I wish there were more of it.
            What makes up for the lack of non-scripted bits between the shows are interview segments with the four Beatles recorded individually in 1966 or so. Each of the segments are eight minutes plus and contain quiet and candid interviews. John talks about what kind of schooling he wants for his son/ He is hesitant to talk about politics and where he stands on certain issues. Quite a contrast to three years later when you couldn’t get him to shut up about it. George talks about his teen years in school and why he considers himself the Silent (not Quiet) Beatle. These interviews are the best part of the disk.
            Volume One was forgotten quickly, being released so shortly before the “Anthology” series because of the latter’s sheer volume of rare and then-unreleased tracks. “The Beatles: On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2” led me back to the first volume and I enjoyed it more than I had since its first release.
            Are there going to be Volumes Three and Four? More? I would like to hope so, but no, I doubt it.  The bulk of the 88 tracks have been mined in these first two volumes. There are 40 tracks in this Volume – so what does that leave? A disk of remaining banter would get dull very quickly. Were there guests on these shows? Do we really want to buy a Volume 3 with tracks by Billy J Kramer and Joe Brown (actually I would buy that…)?  I’m not going to worry about that now.
            I have four disks of excellent music from the Beatles’ glorious middle – all done studio live with interesting variations in arrangement and styling. I’ll enjoy those in the meantime.
            I hope you do too.
Copyright 2013 Michael G Curry