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

 

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