Without Precedent

I often wonder about my love for The Beatles–why it is so inexplicable and embedded in my DNA and how millions of people, different from me in innumerable ways, feel precisely the same. Maybe this ingrained, intense feeling is why fans are so incredibly protective of the band’s legacy and equally critical of anything pertaining to The Fab Four, even if it is a feature-length documentary directed by an Academy Award winner named Ron Howard.

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John Lennon, with son Julian, visits Ron Howard and company on the set of Happy Days in 1974.

The producer of the film, Nigel Sinclair, who also produced Martin Scorsese’s documentary about George Harrison Living in the Material World, explained fans’ dual reaction to the announcement of the film: “Ron had people come up to him in the street and [they would] say ‘Mr. Howard, I’m so glad you’re doing the Beatles film.’ Ron said, ‘Of course the subtext is “And don’t screw it up.”’

From me to you (hey, I’m trying my zest here), he does not mess it up.

(My criticisms are few and minute, so let’s get them out of the way. I find the commentary from individuals not part of the Beatles’ circle superfluous, unnecessary, and rarely insightful. Do I care what Sigourney Weaver wore to see The Beatles at Shea Stadium? Not really. Do I care that Jon Savage’s parents wouldn’t let him go to a Beatles concert? Not really. What makes them different from the thousands of other ordinary people who loved The Beatles just as fervently? Oh, right, they are of some renown. Whatever. Get out. Secondly, the film’s tagline boasts that this film is about the band you know but the story you don’t…well, not really. I didn’t really learn anything new, but I did see lots of new photos and footage, and I got to see The Beatles on the big screen, replete with the entire Shea Stadium concert. Horrid snobby portion of this post over.)

Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years tells the story of The Beatles, using their live performances as its focus, which, on the surface, may seem odd, since The Beatles were never exactly synonymous with extraordinary live performances. They didn’t have pigs or light their instruments on fire or create auto-destructive art. Their audiences were not rapt in hearing the words of a lyrical poet, as Dylan’s fans were (a fact he was proud of in his early career, especially when The Beatles’ phenomenon surfaced). For much of their performing career, the music was secondary to the spectacle of seeing The Beatles. By choosing this least-regarded facet of the band, however, Howard is able to more fully reveal how the Beatles progressed and evolved by contrasting it with the circus-like atmosphere of their increasingly stagnant live performances.

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Foreshadowing in Hamburg, 1960: “Their name liveth for evermore.”

The Beatles’ stage performances weren’t always so stagnant, though, and their success was not an accident that happened overnight. Ringo states in the film that playing was the most important thing for the band, and their stints in Hamburg, Germany, allowed them the opportunity to perfect their craft while playing for eight or more hours every night—to unruly, difficult-to-please crowds or to an empty club (empty except for a bearded drummer from another Liverpool group, Ringo Starr). This was their apprenticeship, this is where they learned how to play in front of people–how to mach schau, and when they returned to England, they broke the jazz-only rule at Liverpool’s The Cavern Club, performing a total of nearly 300 times. Having dominated The Cavern Club and garnered a local following, the group was still looking to improve and to move the next step up the ladder.

That next step up the ladder was not what any of The Beatles expected: Beatlemania. Opening with color footage of the band playing in Manchester in November 1963, the film shows the excitement and the burgeoning mania: girls screaming, fainting, and the sheer joy John, Paul, George, and Ringo exude. The film illustrates this joy and excitement perfectly with its abundance of unseen (or, at least, under-seen) concert and interview footage. Fans debate the sexiness of the members (“Ringo’s got a sexy nose.” “George’s eyelashes are sexy.”) and declare their undying love for them: “Paul McCartney, if you’re out there listening, Adrian from Brooklyn loves you.” Fans’ adoration for the Beatles ignites laughter but is genuine—and contagious. Just as contagious and laughter-inducing is The Beatles’ humor—then and now. Just a few favorites: John introduces himself to a reporter as Eric, George uses John’s mop top as an ashtray, George thanks Ringo for his contribution to a fan club record and remarks “We’ll phone you,” and Ringo recalls his inability to hear the band’s music at their concerts, “I couldn’t hear anything. All I could see was Paul’s arse, John’s arse…” Ringo had the best seat, am I right?     

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After conquering Europe, the Beatles arrived in the United States, where the madness escalated to a whole new level. While the Beatles complied with the larger venues (and greater profits) and increasingly manic American crowds, they refused to accommodate the demands of segregated venues. In this regard, they were pioneers, standing for what they believed to be right. As journalist Larry Kane, who accompanied The Beatles on their 1964 North American tour, remarked, he was touched by The Beatles’ kindness, their genuineness, and their intelligence.

After 1964, though, The Beatles’ pioneering in the live arena stalled, except by breaking attendance records by playing in larger venues. The opposite was true of their recording career, where they continued to flourish. With each record, they progressed, wrote better songs, and experimented with new sounds and ideas, culminating with the release of Revolver in May 1966. Tellingly, the Beatles never performed any songs from Revolver live, demonstrating how the sophistication of their recording career had overtaken the circus that was their live show.

By 1966, the group’s rosy relationship with the public was fraying. Not only were their performances inaudible but touring had become a life-threatening situation, which escalated with John Lennon’s remark that The Beatles were, in fact, more popular than Jesus Christ. (Real talk hurts.) Even their relationship with the press, who had adored their wit and cheekiness, was verging on hostile. In a clip, one journalists asks The Beatles why they are so “horrid snobby.” Paul, irrefutably the most diplomatic Beatle, answers that they are not snobby but the journalists and their questions are not particularly nice and get what they deserve. (Again, real talk hurts.) Death threats, Beatle burnings, and exploding firecrackers at concerts became the new norm for The Fab Four. They arrived to their final concert, at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park on August 29, 1966, in an armored truck. They decided they’d had enough–of touring, at least. Still, in these tense moments, you can still see their camaraderie and the joy their music brings.

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Paul McCartney and George Harrison at The Beatles’ final concert in 1966.

Despite all the obstacles this band faced — touring was a money-making venture not an artistic one, their concerts lasted no more than thirty minutes and offered little variation in terms of set lists, and oh yeah, the screaming which made it impossible for them to hear one another — the film shows what a good live band The Beatles were. They could have easily not put any effort into their live shows at all, but they were often in tune and played as a cohesive unit. That unity is a testament to their closeness as individuals and their faith in one another, my favorite aspect of the film.

“I was an only child, and I suddenly felt as if I had three brothers,” Ringo states in the film. Paul gets emotional recalling the first moment Ringo played with the group, and George expresses how he was always glad that they had one another to lean on and share the experience, unlike an isolated Elvis or Sinatra, declaring, “We were very, very close to one another.” This is the band that went from staying in a single cramped room in the back of a theater in Hamburg to occupying the entire floor of the New York Plaza Hotel, where they found themselves gathering together in one room to get away from the pressure of being Beatles and just be with each other.

They loved one another and had faith in each other, just as many individuals around them had faith in them — notably George Martin having faith in their artistic vision to not touch the unorthodox structure and sound of “Tomorrow Never Knows” and Brian Epstein sacrificing so much for them and maintaining his faith in them despite no measurable success for so long (John Lennon once said there was a period where the only people who had faith in the band were Brian Epstein and George Harrison). And by having faith in each other, they inspired others to have faith in one another — so that it didn’t matter if you were black or white, weird or popular, young or old; The Beatles were a uniting force, beautifully encapsulated by the chorus of grown men singing “She Loves You” to celebrate their football club’s victory season. And there it is — that inexplicable feeling of love swelling inside me. I love The Beatles like no other. They are, quite simply, without precedent.

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The Toppermost of the Poppermost

I have read a lot of books about The Beatles, so many that I began to lose faith in ever finding another one that would teach me something new or let me see them from a different perspective. I have become more and more picky about which books I will spend my time reading, especially when it comes to the Beatles — so much so that when I am in the midst of reading one and an author refers to John Lennon as the oldest Beatle, I stop reading. Because if you can’t get something that simple correct, what else are you mucking up? So, this past holiday season, when The Fest for Beatles fans touted not just one but three books as essential for every Beatles fan, I was skeptical. But oh, was I wrong! These three books are, you might say, the toppermost of the poppermost when it comes to Beatles reading…

1. All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release by Jean-Michel Guesdon and Philippe Margotin 

I adore this book so much I’ve already read it twice, stuffing it with post-it notes along the way. As the title suggests, this book gives you the full story about every Beatles release. This first includes an overview of each studio album and EP, and then a delicious (yes, delicious) track-by-track dissection — we’re talking the genesis of each song (i.e. what inspired them to write the song or, if it’s a cover, when they started working the song into their impressive and extensive repertoire), discussion of each song’s production, technical details, who played what, who wrote what, recording and mixing dates, the technical team (bless ’em), and the number of takes (this gets kind of crazy around oh, I don’t know…”Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” Bang, bang!). Oh, and there’s also little yellow boxes exclaiming “FOR BEATLES FANATICS” (…who else?), and they are packed with the tiniest, coolest tidbits…like how there is no bass after the first minute of “Strawberry Fields Forever” or the mono version of “She’s Leaving Home” is slightly faster and higher than the stereo version (boo, mono forever). Here’s what a typical spread looks like:

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I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Paul definitely has the best butt in the Beatles.

Isn’t it beautiful? The spread design, I mean — not Paul’s butt (although it is pretty great, let’s be real, people).

All the Songs is a great (albeit hefty) reference book that I know I will return to again and again. William J. Dowlding’s Beatlesongs has been my go-to when it comes to specifics about the Beatles’ music for years, but All the Songs just may replace it. 

I love that this book’s main focus is on the Beatles as musicians, songwriters, and recording artists with minimal personal information or defamation. I thought I knew it all, but this book taught me so much more about their songwriting and recording processes, and I came away with an even greater appreciation of and love for their music and the Beatles as musicians — who would have thought that was even possible? Not I.

2. The Beatles: The BBC Archives: 1962-1970 by Kevin Howlett

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Again, the title gives it all away — this book digs into the BBC Archives and gives readers every available detail about the Beatles relationship with the indomitable BBC (who, eager housekeepers that they were, got rid of so many of their performances). The book comes with reproductions of some of the documents Howlett uncovered in his extensive research, including manager Brian Epstein’s application for the Beatles (which, at the time, still included Pete Best on drums) to audition for the BBC radio and the staff’s subsequent response to their audition: “An unusual group, not as ‘rocky’ as most, more C+W [Country and Western], with a tendency to play music.” The same staffer approved of Lennon as a singer but not McCartney (“Paul McCartney — NO.”).

The early years are fascinating because, like the recordings now available on Live at the BBC and On Air: Live at the BBC, Volume 2, they tell us so much about the Beatles as musicians and their personalities. First, the Beatles worked hard and often a relentless, frantic pace. Their first album (well, ten of its fourteen tracks) was recorded in about ten hours; this is seen as a remarkable achievement, but, as Howlett writes, their work rate at the BBC was even higher: “Apart from when they were performing in front of an audience for a broadcast, The Beatles had to complete five or six songs in a short session. They were not fazed by this requirement.” Furthermore, their radio performances were limited by the BBC’s equipment: they had to record on mono machines and any mistakes would have to either be edited out and replaced with a separate take or a lengthy overdubbing process. Thus, most of their BBC performances were recorded live, direct to tape, revealing their strength and talent as musicians and what exciting performers they were.

The other aspect of their BBC performances is that they offer insight into the Beatles’ as music fans — what they liked to listen to and what inspired them. During their radio program Pop Go the Beatles, 39 of the songs heard in the series were not available on the Beatles’ records by the series’ conclusion and 26 of those 39 would remain unreleased during the Beatles’ recording career. Of course, many of these are now available on the Live at the BBC series, and they tell us what the Beatles liked — lots of Chuck Berry, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and records and artists that remain rare and unheard to this day (“Devil in His Heart” by the Donays, anyone?). This large repertoire of songs that remained unreleased on record gives us an indication of what accomplished musicians they were and how much variety they were able to have in their set-lists in their early performing days. And not only did they cover these songs, they made them their own, they gave them the Beatles sound.

Then there were the interviews and on-air banter between the performers and presenters that tell us what naturally charming and witty people the Beatles were. Howlett’s book is full of transcripts of such banter, some available on the BBC recordings, some not (I would love to hear a recording of the 1964 interview with Paul by George, who, at the end of the interview, thanked Paul and told him he’d receive his “three shilling fee at a later date!”). They liked to call presenter Lee Peters Pee Litres (tee hee), and when presenter Rodney Burke introduced himself, “My name’s Rodney Burke, thank you very much!” John Lennon interjected, as only he could: “That’s your fault!”

Later, however, the Beatles simply had less time (and, likely, interest) to drop into the BBC and thus their final BBC session was in 1965. They still offered interviews and television appearances, and the details of these offer insight into how they were changing as a band and as people. For example, when interviewed for a program called The Lennon and McCartney Songbook, Howlett’s transcript indicates McCartney’s diplomatic nature, while Lennon is subdued, grumpy even, showing how he was becoming restless with being a Beatle (and likely very stressed and nervous about their upcoming tour of the US, who didn’t take kindly to his “more popular than Jesus” remark).

Interesting also is the interviews of 1969 and 1970, when relations between band members were very tense and strained at times. In 1970, George was asked about the split of the group and answered, in part: “It’s the end of The Beatles like maybe how people imagine The Beatles….I can see this year us all doing a separate album each and by that time people will probably think there’s no chance at all of there ever being Beatles again. And then suddenly, there’s Beatles again.” Only eleven days after this interview was broadcast, Paul McCartney announced he had quit the band (well, basically). Jerk!

The BBC Archives is a fascinating examination of the Beatles as recording artists and people, demonstrated by their recordings and interviews given to the BBC. I’d argue that the following statements made by Howlett are some of the most important to be written or uttered about this most-written and most-uttered-about band: “The brilliant innovations made by The Beatles in their latter years are, quite rightly, regarded as pioneering achievements that continue to influence musicians. But if you did not experience the group’s musical progression as it happened, listening to The Beatles without that chronological context can distort an historical view of their career. The picture on With the Beatles may not seem so now, but in 1963 it was extremely radical. So was the album’s music: energetic, visceral, and cutting edge. Indeed, the initial years of The Beatles’ success, 1963 and 1964, may well be their most revolutionary.” Yes, yes, yes!

This book, coupled with the Live at the BBC recordings, shows just how revolutionary and fun they were in those early years. In a BBC Audience Research Report, a solicitor, self-described as “definitely over-twenty,” wrote:  “How can anyone fail to like them? Their music is so gay and uninhibited, and they themselves are so full of joie-de-vivre.” Amen, brother.

3. The Beatles: All These Years, Volume 1: Tune In by Mark Lewisohn 

When Mark Lewisohn, renowned Beatles scholar and author, told the late Neil Aspinall that he was beginning a three volume biography about The Beatles, Aspinall responded, “Does the world really need another Beatles book?” Yes, Neil, it does, and this is it!

This first installment of Lewisohn’s trilogy takes us up to the end of 1962, just on the cusp of Beatlemania. In other biographies, this section of the Beatles’ story is glossed over — not here. The book is just over 1100 pages (and there is an extended version of the book but it’s currently only available in print in the UK, what gives? This is the 21st century, where is our global village?). Other biographers, too, make this period of the Beatles’ story somewhat dry — not here. I couldn’t put this book down. I even dreamed about it. That’s normal, right? And other biographers — still, here, now, in 2014 — repeat (or even create) myths and legends that simply are not true — not here. Lewisohn is a scholar. He has source upon source upon source. And as a result, his writing is scholarly but, at the same time, engaging.

Lewisohn gives the full facts and truth about so many parts of the Beatles story — how they finally got that coveted recording contract, where those haircuts come from, and yes, not only did Pete Best have zero drumming talent but zero personality. It’s so refreshing (…especially after the headache that was Larry Kane’s When They Were Boys).

Similarly refreshing is how Lewisohn portrays and discusses the Beatles’ individual faults without making them out to be horrible people. He does not excuse their faults (John and Paul’s early views on women, Paul’s jealousy, John’s strange fixation with cripples, etc.), but he does put them in perspective by putting them in context of their lives and times, allowing some understanding of why they were the way they were.

Reading this book, I came away with a greater appreciation of how hard the Beatles worked and similarly how hard the people around them worked — specifically Brian Epstein, bless that man — to make their career happen. I appreciate how certain people, whose lives had run parallel to their own, had to come together with them to make it happen. The Beatles always had the potential to be the greatest, they always had the talent and charisma, and they certainly always had the belief that something would happen…but without certain people and opportunities, it would not have happened, and we would still be listening to Pat Boone records.

One of the most interesting things I learned was how Decca didn’t necessarily reject the Beatles — well, they kind of did, but they also offered to assist Epstein in getting the Beatles on a record. But Epstein, amazingly (albeit thankfully), refused. Lewisohn explains Epstein’s thinking: “The bottom line seems to have been that Brian couldn’t accept the Beatles’ records being made by someone who didn’t appreciate them and was doing it only for money. In a perfect world they would come under the wing of a man who, like him, could see their potential and was interested in adding his talents to theirs.” That man, of course, was George Martin who was actually forced to sign the Beatles! Oh, what stories are in this book.

I especially love Lewisohn’s thoughts about a recording of the Quarry Men’s evening performance the day Paul met John. Writing of the tape and this early Lennon vocal performance, Lewisohn hits so many things about Lennon (and by extension, the Beatles) that make them so remarkable:

“And this, even more than its highly improbably existence, is the most extraordinary thing about the tape: it is unmistakably John Lennon. Although inspired by Elvis and Lonnie, he’s not attempting to imitate their voices or their style, and more strikingly still he’s not adopting any phoney American or mid-Atlantic accent. Singers always start off as impersonators, mimicking whoever made the record they’re performing, some perhaps going on to develop their own voice. That John Lennon already had it at Woolton, that he was so audibly himself, is the mark of a true original. Not only does he have a great rock voice, it’s an honest one.”

Influenced, yes, but unmistakable an individual, an original — a natural, honest original, not painstakingly groomed for prime time but just being himself.

I just finished this yesterday, and I am so depressed. I just wanted it to keep…going. It took Lewisohn ten years to research and write this volume, and he hasn’t written the remaining two volumes, and I don’t know if I can sustain the will to live long enough to see them written and released. I hope so.

Good Ol’ Freda (Ryan White, 2013)

When it comes to The Beatles, there are plenty of myths and legends. There are the tell-all books and exclusive interviews of close and loose associates of the band that sometimes create or perpetuate these falsehoods, distorting the truth in the process. Then there are the words, memories, and opinions of the Beatles themselves – and sometimes even they contradict themselves! (See their recollections of receiving the MBE in The Beatles Anthology!) And then, rarest of the rare, there are the untold stories of those who were actually there.

Good Ol’ Freda tells such a story.

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Freda Kelly had the dream job of countless teenagers (and adults, too, I’m sure!) in the 1960s: she was head of the Beatles’ fan club…and personal secretary to the Fab Four themselves, placing her in their coveted inner circle and giving her a front-row seat to the madness that was Beatlemania and all the crazy, wonderful stories that went along with it. There are so many stories — and kinds of stories — in Good Ol’ Freda.

There is the story of her close relationship with all of the Beatles and their families — how George’s father taught her to ballroom dance and how Ringo’s mother eventually influenced Brian Epstein to give Freda a raise. There is the story of how John Lennon’s laugh once saved her job. There is the story of how George, sweetheart that he was, got her all of the Beatles autographs. There is the story of how she made John Lennon, who moments earlier had declared she was “sacked”, get down on his knees and beg her to once again serve as his secretary. What a sight that must have been!

Then there are the stories of how she took care of the fans because she was, first and foremost, a Beatles fan, and she knew what that meant. She understood the intense devotion, admiration, and love the Beatles inspired in their fans. And so when fans wrote requesting locks of hair, she scoured the floor of the barbershop and sent them real locks of their hair. When a fan sent a pillow requesting that Ringo sleep on it and send it back to her, Freda made sure that Ringo slept on that pillow. And when scores of fans wrote for autographs, she did her best to make sure that they received genuine autographs. (She — like John Lennon — disliked the use of the stamped autographs Brian Epstein tried to make standard practice because, quite simply, they weren’t the real thing. And she understood the disappointment and frustration that a fan would feel when they received not only a stamped autograph but a stamped autograph that had smudged.) Even after the Beatles had disbanded, she gave away memorabilia worth literally millions to real Beatles fans in the mid-1970s.

And then there are the stories of Freda as a person — staunchly loyal, unfailingly trustworthy and honest, not swayed by materialism or wealth, and highly protective of the Beatles and their fans. Freda was kind, but she was not to be crossed, as the story of how she fired an assistant once she discovered she had cut her sister’s hair and tried to pass it off as the Beatles’ hair demonstrates. The situation was simple to Freda: she could no longer trust the assistant and thus she had to go. Freda was fiercely loyal. She was once offered money in exchange for as many bits of information she could fit into an envelope. Nobody would have to know — she could place an envelope through a door and an envelope, with a large check enclosed, would be returned. Looking back on the situation, Freda explains how everybody needs and likes money and often would like to have more money — but she did not want it that much. Her integrity was worth more to her. What a gal!

To Freda, fame and wealth do not mean much. Because, as she reflects on the deaths of those once part of the Beatles’ circle, all the fame and money in the world still can’t cure cancer, can it? Throughout the years, Freda has refused offer after offer to write a book and tell her story — and the only reason she chose to tell it recently was for her posterity, spurred on by the birth of her grandson and the death of her son who had often asked her about her memories of working with The Beatles.

Watching Good Ol’ Freda, it’s easy to fall in love with Freda. You recognize yourself in her because she, like you, is a Beatles fan. She has been one since she visited The Cavern Club during her lunch break one day and will forever remain one. And you appreciate that she was there, in the midst of all the craziness, to take care of not only the Beatles but also their fans. You see the genuine love she had for the Beatles, their families, and those other close associates she worked with. “I worked with a lot of good people,” she remarks toward the end of the film.

She, too, was one of the good people, and I am so glad her story has finally been told. Thanks, Freda!

Another Post About All the Little Things I Love About HELP!

Continuation of this post

Last time ’round, Ringo’s pants had just fallen down and Paul was very encouraging about it. Now, after the scientists’ failed attempt to remove the sacrificial ring from Ringo’s finger, the Beatles head back to their flat to…sing a song! What else?

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And Paul is trying to impress Ahme (Eleanor Bron). Typical.

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George, on the other hand, is verrrrrry suspicious of her.

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And when Ahme pulls out a needle, George passes out. Poor thing.

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This is the “intermission.” Remember, the Beatles smoked marijuana for breakfast around this time–and were just naturally very silly, very funny people.

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George is alarmed that Ringo would just give up this valuable ring; John is psuedo-alarmed at George’s alarm.

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Paul asks if the medicine about to be administered to Ringo is “habit-forming”; George assumes he is talking about the gum he is about to pop into his mouth.

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And believe me, it is very exciting. He wraps himself in a Wrigley’s Gum Wrapper. Need I say more?

 

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Clang and the gang have turned up, and I love how, amidst the confusion, George strangles John, responds nonchalantly when John tells him that it’s him, and continues to do so.

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George–always on the lookout for some extra cash and his friend’s best interests (and in that order!!).

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See what I mean? When the scientists arrive and inform Ringo that they shall have to operate on his finger, George wants to make sure it will be covered by the government. Ho!

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And then the Beatles go skiing…and they’re not very good at it. (It was their first time!)

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Not being very good at skiing, the Beatles decide to just sort of…fall over…

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…And sing a song instead! Convenient, that piano is.

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And hey, let’s have a picnic, too. And a toast! To us! Tonight!

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I love how this was the Beatles’ first time skiing, how they (or at least, Paul) asked that it be worked into the script somehow, and how John is really, really bad at skiing and just annoys anyone else on skis who happens to know how to ski. Ho ho!

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Pretty sure this is my favorite line in the entire film. Pretty sure I used to say this when coming out of the bathroom in elementary school. Pretty sure I had no idea what it meant. Pretty sure I should start proclaiming this to announce my farts. Especially now that I know what it means.

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I love how George is suddenly hungry.

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Ya think?

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Oooh, sassy.

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Look, if you watch this film with me, this is just one of those moments where I hit PAUSE. And there is a moment (or two…or three…or maybe even four…) of silence for The Cheeks. Once, I did this, and my dad was in the same room and got very flustered and said, “Why did it stop?” Uh, HELLO.

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The Beatles have now taken refuge in Buckingham Palace, and John decides this is getting a little to ridiculous and decides that it’s time to get of that ring…even if it means getting rid of Ringo’s finger, too!

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I know Paul was The Cute Beatle and all, but sometimes I like to call him The Bossy Beatle.

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Ringo does what Paul says (who has the will to disobey Paul’s wishes?), and George seizes this opportunity to sneak a peek at Ringo’s hand.

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George Harrison remembered this scene taking days to film, due to their incessant giggling  (a residue of their breakfast, remember).

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Two words: Paul’s face.

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Must be. That’s what I always do on my tea break. Actually, I don’t have tea breaks. But my sister does and that’s what she does.

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You gotta read this line in slow-motion. You just gotta. Done it? Don’t it sound a million times more AWESOME?

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George is very pleased with himself because he’s managed to avoid paying the pub bill. And John’s just…being John.

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Exclaimed movie audiences everywhere.

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Note: This is Paul speaking to Ringo, not the other way ’round.

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George, your face.

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You kind of have to hear John’s grumpy old man voice to fully appreciate this, but this is very nearly almost my favorite part in the whole movie. Wait, I’ve said that before about some other part, haven’t I?

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They’re going to the Bahamas, by the way. And we’re just gonna have to pause for a few more minutes. For obvious reasons.

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I love that George is playing this “drop something on Ringo’s head” game.

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My precioussssssss!

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Oops. I think somebody just touched something they weren’t supposed to.

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I actually have no idea.

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I love this expression of rare outrage from Ringo. The fiends!

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Perfect summary of this movie.

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I believe the expression is the cat who swallowed the canary!

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I love George’s imitation of Tarzan. Almost as good as Peter Tork’s, if you know what I mean.

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You tell ’em, Ringo! It’s good to see Ringo finally standing up for himself.

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A happy reunion!

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End of the film shenanigans.

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Just a bit of trivia: The “white cliffs of Dover” swimmer is played by one of the Beatles’ road managers, Mal Evans.

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And the final thing I love about this film is this closing dedication. Why was this film dedicated to Elias Howe? I don’t know. Does it really matter? No. It’s just reflective of the absurdist nature of this film…and I love it.

And that concludes all the little things I love about this movie. Okay, so it didn’t take me 250 posts to write about all the things I love about Help!, but it could have (I cut out a lot). Now do yourself a favor and watch this movie and laugh, laugh, laugh, and laugh. And watch out for those fiendish thingys. Ho, ho!

 

 

 

 

 

A Post About All the Little Things I Love About HELP! Part One of…I don’t know, 250?

Oh, Help!. There are just some days when I just feel like I need some Help!. Wait, I take that back. I don’t need “some” Help!; I need A LOT of Help!. In fact, I need all the Help! I can get.

I’m talking about The Beatles’ second feature film, by the way.

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A Hard Day’s Night is my favorite Beatles film and one of my favorite films, period. It’s perfect. It is superior to Help! in many ways, but Help! is special. In order to watch Help!, you have to suspend reality and allow yourself to enter this fantastical, absurd world where the Beatles reside, a world where Ringo (who else?) is in possession of a sacrificial ring that he cannot remove, and, as a result, various groups of people chase the Beatles for possession of the ring for sacrificial reasons and power. Whereas A Hard Day’s Night was a semi-realistic fictional representation of a day in the life of The Beatles, Help! has maybe one fraction of a fingernail based in reality. But that’s part of what makes it so much fun.

John Lennon recalled the experience of filming Help! in 1980: “The movie was out of our control. With A Hard Day’s Night, we had a lot of input, and it was semi-realistic. But with Help!, Dick Lester didn’t tell us what it was about. I realize, looking back, how advanced it was. It was a precursor for the Batman ‘Pow! Wow!’ on TV–that kind of stuff. But he never explained it to us. Partly, maybe, because we hadn’t spent a lot of time together between A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, and partly because we were smoking marijuana for breakfast during that period. Nobody could communicate with us; it was all glazed eyes and giggling all the time. In our own world.”

I think that sums up the movie pretty well. (By the way, I used the whole “The Beatles used to smoke marijuana for breakfast” as a conversation piece as an eight-year-old. Totally normal.) The Beatles certainly are in their own world, and through watching this film, they allow you into that crazy world for about ninety minutes or so. Result: delirium.

I’ve watched this film a lot. I think I know the script by heart. I love so many things about this film that it might actually take me 250 posts to share all of those things with you. But for now, here’s part one of all the little things I love about Help!–subtitles taken out of context, facial expressions, plot points…everything. Brace yourselves.

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But before we get to all those wonderful things, I’d like to point out this moment in the film and its effect on my young life. As a child, I shared my obsession with the Beatles with many, many people, but the most tolerant recipient of my nonstop enthusiasm for this band was my younger sister, Molly. So she watched Help! almost as many times as me. Now, Ringo was (and still is) Molly’s least favorite Beatle. (I’ve been trying to get her to agree to medical attention for years!) And I had many, many Beatles posters, but I had one particular poster that was my favorite–partly because I loved the photograph so much, partly because it was my first Beatles poster. And one day, I discovered that SOMEONE had inserted a tack into Ringo’s pupil. Yeah, I wonder who that was. And I wonder where they got their inspiration.

Point of this story: Be careful whom you allow to watch Help! with you, people. I mean, you do something REALLY nice for someone else by letting them watch this WONDERFUL, FUNNY film MULTIPLE times, and they end up using it against you. Wow. I repeat: BE. CAREFUL.

Now, onto nicer, pleasanter things!

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I love how many copies John has of his own second book, A Spaniard in the Works.

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I love how Paul has an organ that rises out of the floor and how, in place of sheet music, it is filled with comic books.

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Yeah, Ringo. (Note: all the copies of his book!)

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I love how John calls the others to wake them up via his alarm clock.

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Old people in purple turbans. Can’t even pronounce Beatle correctly. Geesh.

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Paul’s disappointment at not being the “Bea-atle” whom they seek. Poor Paul.

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This is my standard response to unsavory invitations, too. “Hey, wanna go see the new Twilight movie?” “No thanks, I’m rhythm guitar and mouth organ.”

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Nah…but your face did!

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That’s what first attracted all of us to you, Ringo. That and that humongous…ring on your finger.

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Nipple alert.

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This is how the others laugh at Ringo. Ho!

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Geeze, Ringo.

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John then says, “I like a lot of seasoning in me soup.” I think part of why I like this part so much is because before I owned a copy of Help!, I had a VHS tape of a televised airing. And during so many viewings, about three seconds of the film right around here got taped over because I pushed RECORD instead of PLAY on the VHS player. I cried myself to sleep for years over this. Then Help! was released on DVD, and I cried tears of happiness.

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I love George trying to wink.

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I love George sneakily shoplifting at the Jeweler’s.

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But I love John’s not-so-secretive attempts at shoplifting even more.

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Oh, no! The wheel! (Which breaks.)

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Ringo is so profound. How does one choose Ringo as “least favorite”? I do not understand.

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I repeat: How does one choose Ringo as “least favorite”?

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An accurate description of my life.

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I see where Bob Dylan got his inspiration.

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Yeah, my sister may have said she didn’t like Ringo, but I’m pretty sure she crapped her pants during this scene every time.

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Paul’s reaction to Ringo’s pants falling down, ha ha ha.

That’s all for now. There’s so much more to come. Stay tuned for part two!

A Really Big Shew

“Now yesterday and today our theatre’s been jammed with newspapermen and hundreds of photographers from all over the nation, and these veterans agree with me that the city has never witnessed the excitement stirred by these youngsters from Liverpool who call themselves The Beatles. Now tonight, you’re going to twice be entertained by them–right now and again in the second half of our show. Ladies and gentlemen, The Beatles!”

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(And just in case you weren’t sure, those really big arrows are pointing to THE BEATLES.)

February 9, 1964. A mere 79 days following the assassination of President Kennedy. Just two months earlier “Dominique” by The Singing Nun had been the number one single in the United States for four (!!!!) weeks straight. And a performance of five songs, with a total stage time of not even fifteen minutes, by these four ridiculously charismatic and talented long-haired Liverpudlians was all it took to change the musical and cultural landscape forever.

People remember watching this performance, a performance that signaled the beginning of the musical reign of The Beatles, a group who would mingle commercial success with artistry, musical experimentation, and pure talent like no other artist has managed to do since. But you do not have to remember watching The Ed Sullivan Show live on February 9,1964, and you do not even have to fully understand the musical and historical context of the time to recognize how seminal this performance was.

They–and their music–are buoyant, bursting with life, something the country sorely needed then (and more than likely has always needed and still needs). Just look at them! Aren’t their energy and smiles infectious? The answer is yes, yes, they are! And I want to dance around in my underwear because this music is so exciting and energetic and ALIVE!!

Okay, maybe not everyone would admit to feeling the latter, but I know ya’ll feel that way.

So here are a few of my favorite things about this performance, its cultural significance aside.

1. Meet the Beatles! 

I love how each Beatle is introduced, how we are supposed to want to learn their names, and how their individual personalities shine through. And I also love how Tom Hanks replicated this in That Thing You Do!, replete with the warning, “Careful, girls: he’s engaged!” under Jimmy’s name. And then I love how Jimmy bursts into the dressing room after the show and demands, “Which one of you BUTTS said we were engaged?” And I will have to talk about That Thing You Do! another time because I really, really, really, reeeeeaaally love it. Okay.

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It’s so appropriate that Paul is singing “Till There Was You,” one of those old-fashioned, cheesy sort of songs that he loved to integrate into the Beatles’ repertoire that lost its cheesiness and became oddly endearing once they put their stamp on it. It’s also appropriate that his eyebrows intermittently disappear under his hair because he’s raising them as he sings, melting millions (yes, millions) of girls. Not just melting girls’ hearts. He’s melting them entirely. That’s just the Macca way, ya’ll.

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I love how Ringo is initially so calm, cool, and collected, seemingly unaffected by the screaming girls, and then he just bursts into his big, contagious smile. Don’t you just love Ringo? I do. I really, really do.

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George! His smile is also contagious. And he just plays the guitar so effortlessly. And he just looks so effortlessly cool while doing so. But you don’t get the impression that he thinks he is so great (even though he is). He’s just….George! And would you believe that just earlier that morning he was too ill to attend rehearsals for the show? (Neil Aspinall filled so that cameras and lighting could be set up. Don’t believe me? See for yourself.)

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Awwwww. My precioussssssss! I know you’re married, but I just want to put you in my pocket for safekeeping.

2. The way Paul sings “I’ll aways be true-uh” in “All My Loving.”

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And how darn big his smile is while doing so.

3. Yeah, she loves you. And you know you should be glad. Whoooooo!

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Yeah!

Yeah!

Yeah!

Oh, I love it when they do that. Because I’m actually twelve years old.

Kenny Lynch, singer who toured with The Beatles in early 1963 said: “I remember John and Paul saying they were thinking of running up to the microphone together and shaking their heads and singing, ‘whoooooooo.’ It later became a very important, terrifically popular part of their act when they sang ‘She Loves You.’ But at the time they were planning it, even before the song was written, I remember everybody on the coach fell about laughing. I said, ‘You can’t do that. They’ll think you’re a bunch of poofs.’ I remember John saying to me he thought it sounded great and they were having it in their act.”

And millions of girls screamed. And millions of records were sold.

4. This little moment in “She Loves You”:

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Right before another chorus of “Whooooo” and “Yeah, yeah, yeah!”, John turns to George, and George breaks into this huge grin, and we see John begin to grin, too, as he turns back to the microphone. This just might be my favorite moment of the performance. I’m not sure why–maybe because it shows the camaraderie and affection between them, maybe because (once again) their smiles are just so dang infectious, or maybe because it is just another illustration of how adorable and precious this band is.

5. How the camera goes to Ringo during “And when I touch you, I feel happy inside…” during “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” 

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It’s just so appropriate. And oh so romantic. And so embedded into my being that I cannot listen to that part of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” without seeing the camera inch closer and closer to Ringo. That’s normal, right?

Oh, and then the camera totally goes to me in a former life:

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Yeah, that is so me. I feel that way every time I listen to this band. And by “that way”, I mean HAPPY! EXCITED! GLAD TO BE ALIVE!

Okay. Neeeeext!

In The Beatles Anthology, George remembered: “Later they said, there was the least reported–or there was no reported crime. Even the criminals had a rest for like ten minutes while we were on.”

I don’t know how accurate that report was. But I think it’s a fitting reflection of what the Beatles and their music partly represent–an escape from the ills and worries of the world into pure bliss. And they made millions of people feel that way 49 years ago today as they performed on a really big shew (translation: show, not shoe).

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P.S. Davy Jones, Monkee-to-be, also performed on the very same show as part of the cast of Oliver! (He was The Artful Dodger.)

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Jones later said: “I watched the Beatles from the side of the stage, I saw the girls going crazy, and I said to myself, this is it, I want a piece of that.” I think he got his wish. Can you believe it’s almost been a year since Davy passed away? We miss you, Davy!

I Don’t Know Why I Was Allowed to Watch This Film as a Child…But I’m Glad I Was

The Beatles, Magical Mystery Tour

In 1967, The Beatles were at a crossroads. They had ceased touring in August 1966, and they each pursued individual interests and projects before re-convening to begin work on “Strawberry Fields Forever,” which, when released (paired with “Penny Lane”) in February of 1967, was kept out of the top spot on the UK single charts by Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Release Me.” It was the first Beatles single since “Love Me Do” to fail to do so, and while the Beatles spent the next five months recording, overdubbing, (more) overdubbing, and mixing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the music press declared that the band had dried up.

Then Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released and everyone pointed and laughed at the music press.

Then came “All You Need Is Love” being broadcast worldwide to millions and a trip to Bangor, Wales, to attend a lecture by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and the shocking news that their manager and friend, Brian Epstein, was dead at 32. Ringo remarks in the Anthology that at this point, they were like chicken without their heads, “What are we gonna do? What are we gonna do?”

Why, make a film with no written script, a threadbare plot, psychedelic influences galore, and a handful of new songs, of course! Oh, and we’ll film, direct, and edit it ourselves (basically), too. Only in 1967. Only with these four individuals.

Magical Mystery Tour was finally released on Blu-ray and DVD on October 9, and having upgraded my beloved VHS copy, I was able to watch it for the first time since…well, I can’t remember. It is just as nonsensical, endearing, and, yes, magical as it ever was.

Meet the director!

The Beatles are credited as the film’s directors, but Paul was essentially the director, the premise of the film (uh, what premise?) being his initial idea and him being the bossiest and all, and so the film is now graced with his commentary. This translates to Paul saying, “Yeah, this was all ad-libbed…Yeah, there was no plot…Yeah, we just opened up this Actors’ Directory and picked people based off that…Yeah, this scene came from a dream…Yeah, of course we dressed up as wizards…Yeah, I don’t remember who was the walrus…” Yeah, I wonder why you don’t remember who the walrus was.

The film’s plot goes something like this: Richard B. Starkey (played by Ringo) buys two tickets to a “Magical Mystery Tour” for himself and his bickering Aunt Jessie. While on this tour, there are many strange and magical sights, mysterious dreams, and a car chase or two. This is all linked together by the song sequences, undoubtedly the best parts of the film.

One moment, Paul is chatting to a girl about how he is 30 but looks younger because of the sweater he is wearing. The next…

Two words: Not. High. 

“The Fool On the Hill”! Paul states in the commentary says that the previous Beatles films (A Hard Day’s Night and Help!) had been scripted and based off what people perceived them to be. Magical Mystery Tour allowed them to be free to just be themselves. Which is very true. And which translates to Paul running around the countryside in France by himself.

P.S. Paul McCartney: Pilgrim or Poet? I always wondered this as a child.

Another moment, Ringo’s Aunt Jessie and the creepy Mr. Bloodvessel are dancing and smooching on the beach (deemed “romantic” by the film’s director), and then, suddenly…

Turban time! Meet my favorite band, world. This is completely normal. Paul once said that the only defense this film ever needed was that it includes the only performance of “I Am the Walrus.” Ever. Touche!

And, as if this film wasn’t weird enough, these random sequences are occasionally interrupted by four (or maybe five…) magicians in the sky…

Talk about your magical mysteries, I was half an hour looking for that sugar! 

These wizards presumably are controlling the destination of the bus. One, who bears a striking resemblance to Ringo, repeatedly asks, “Where’s the bus?” This gives the film depth and compels the audience to ask themselves questions, such as, “Am I really in control of my own life? Or am I being controlled by wizards in the sky?”

And then the film goes back to answering the question, “What’s better than one George Harrison?”

Like, a million George Harrisons. Duh!

And then this huge, colorful bus just…runs over this tent that they were all sitting in only minutes earlier.

No big deal.

As the film draws to a close, there’s a drunken singalong (“IIIIIIIII’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts!” roars Ringo), Paul takes a bike ride with the midget photographer in tow on the beach, and the gentleman are instructed to follow Mr. Johnson. This is where I don’t understand how or why I was allowed to watch this film as a child.

Uh, they’re at a strip bar. Nothing excessively inappropriate is shown, but…Why? Was this suitable viewing for an eight-year-old? I probably had no idea as a child. (And neither did my parents.) Sample train of thought for eight-year-old me: “The Beatles, The Beatles, The Beatles!”

BBC1 broadcast Magical Mystery Tour on Boxing Day (in black and white disappointingly). Paul Fox, who worked for BBC at the time, admits in the Making of Magical Mystery Tour that the film was not screened before its broadcast. Amazing! There could have been foul language and nudity galore, and the BBC wouldn’t have known it. There of course wasn’t. How sad how the times have changed.

Paul also admits in the commentary that the only reason this scene was included was…well, they wanted to see a stripper. Of course.

(Bonzo Dog Do-Dah Band is cool, though.)

I in all likeliness fast-forwarded that scene, just to get one of my favorites that much quicker–the final musical number. One final number where Paul McCartney reveals that he actually is a 70-year-old man.

“Your Mother Should Know,” like “When I’m Sixty-Four” and “Honey Pie”, is a song written in the style of music that the Beatles’ parents would have grown up listening to–“a hit before your mother was born.” It’s old-fashioned. Its lyrics are meaningless. It’s downright weird. Kind of like this entire film (and its soundtrack EP). Yet the Beatles made it work–and wearing white tuxedos and carnations, to boot. This sequence proves just how big of a triple threat the Beatles were–boy, could they ever sing, act, and dance!

This isn’t my favorite Beatles film. But there is something about its rolley-polley-ness that is endearing and entirely representative of its time and its creators–no other group of people could have created this kind of film and pulled it off as well as they did in any other moment in time. And that’s quite magical.

 

P.S. I think Ringo and I have the same computer. Eight-year-old me is thinking that’s the coolest thing ever right now.