“Where are we goin’ lads?”
“To the toppa most of the poppa most!”
The Beatles are the greatest popular music band of all time. There’s no contest.
They’re not my personal favourite, as much as I do love and admire them, but for sheer impact, influence and innovation, it’s indisputable. Their consistency in producing such a large volume of defining, classic music was and is unrivalled, and their influence reaches further and wider than any other band in history.
Ron Howard’s new film, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The touring years – to be known as (TB:8DAW) from this point onwards – assembles both previously seen and unseen footage, along with rare audio snippets, photographs and newspaper cuttings, given an effective, lightly-animated, 3-dimensional makeover in places. It’s memorabilia amassed from those early years of what proved to be a remarkable career, when, as a band, they took to the small venues of Britain and Hamburg, playing themselves almost to a standstill whilst undertaking the most gruelling of tour schedules.
But it would all come to serve them well.
Years of honing their craft on stage gave their live performances an outstanding edge. Tight and bang on the money they delivered their own particular fusion of Rhythm and Blues and skiffle-infused Rock n Roll to the masses, with devastating affect. Millions of swooning, screaming, fainting girls, beside themselves with emotion, can’t be wrong after all .
Every generation has its own band or two that re-write the rules to an extent, but it’s largely within already well-explored areas and well-defined parameters, so it must have been something else altogether to have been there and experienced The Beatles usher in a new dawn of genuine originality and brilliance. Of course the boys were never ones to accept any fawning or sycophantic acclaim from a clearly bewitched media who would routinely proclaim them to be the most important cultural event of the times. Paul and John were usually quick to retort with something along the lines of: “Nah, we’re just having a laugh.”
And indeed they were, at least until the charm of frenzied fame inevitably wore off and what was once the huge adrenalin kick of live performing gradually turned into an act of going through the motions – just an every day routine of drudgery for the band. Add to this the realisation that they were increasingly turning into performing monkeys for the tour promoters, in the full glare of celebrity and everything that that particular freak show brings to the table.
From the early days of Brian Epstein’s significant and enduring influence, to being the first band in 1965 to perform a gig at anything as high capacity (56,000) as New York’s Shea Stadium, right through to the band’s later years in which they increasingly sought the sanctuary (and the greater creativity it afforded them), of Abbey Road studios, not to mention the calming influence of their later guide and producer, George Martin; (TB:8DAW) covers it all, and with a confident swagger.
It’s edited beautifully. Seamlessly. And it rattles along with tremendous momentum and flow, much as we’ve come to expect from the Ron Howard school of slick, no-nonsense direction, capturing the all important feel and emotions of the time – a sense that everyone was just riding a wave and winging it the best they could – and helping those that were lucky enough to remember it to relive the magnificent, society-disrupting insanity that was ‘Beatle-mania!’
There was something of a sense of personal unworthiness I felt as I watched this beautifully restored footage of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr on the big screen, performing with such energy and innate playful brilliance to a whole swathe of audiences around the globe. A real feeing that I was witnessing something remarkable, the like of which we will never see again. The all-time greatest band.
They were a true phenomenon. As Whoopi Goldberg remarked: “It was fine for absolutely anybody to love The Beatles…” They were boundary-less. Their influence transcended race, class and status. Four hugely talented, charming, and very witty fellas from Liverpool. Just having a laugh. And everyone could be in on the joke.
The Beatles’ story, in all of its wonder, writes itself, it’s true, but it still takes something special to deliver their story with as much power and impact as Ron Howard’s film undoubtedly does. It comes across as more of a homage than a straight forward bio-pic. All signs point to (TB:8DAW) as being every bit a labour of love – and that can only be a good thing.
Not even footage of a spontaneous Beatles sing-along by Liverpool supporters at Anfield could dampen the mood of this one.
With a grin as wide as the river Mersey, I watched this, and you will too.