"THE BEATLES ANTHOLOGY"
The greatest band in rock history tells their story, in their own words, with the definitive chronicle, "The Beatles Anthology," a six-hour television special airing over three nights in November on the ABC Television Network. The program features the world premiere of two new Beatles songs, the first new Beatles recordings since 1970, "Free As A Bird," and "Real Love."
By turns compelling, witty and poignant, "The Beatles Anthology" is a comprehensive look at the group's transformation from four cheeky lads who rocketed to stardom in their early twenties, to a band whose musical maturity and virtuosity continues to influence generations of people. Part I of "The Beatles Anthology" airs Sunday, November 19 (9:00-11:00 p.m. ET); Part II airs Wednesday, November 22 (9:00-11:00 p.m. ET) and Part III on Thursday, November 23 (9:00-11:00 p.m. ET).
"The Beatles Anthology" is a blend of exclusive interviews with the band members, home movies, performance clips, classic news footage, rare recordings, film outtakes, and more. For John Lennon's perspective, the filmmakers incorporated interviews from a rich archive on audio and videotape provided by Lennon's estate.
To bring together the Beatles musically for "Free As A Bird" and "Real Love," Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr added their voices, additional instrumentation and arrangements to two previously unreleased John Lennon songs on which the late musician sings and plays.
Beginning with the Beatles' roots in Liverpool, the special details the upbringing and the musical influences on each member of the band through personal reminiscences, family photographs, and rare recordings of John's first band, the Quarry Men. Some of the rare performances featured in Part I include an original song written by Paul, "In Spite of All the Danger," which is the first recording ever made by John, Paul and George. Additionally, audio is featured from the "Grundig tapes" (named after the make of the tape recorder) of the boys rehearsing two original songs, "I'll Follow the Sun," and "The One After 909," plus their version of "Always Be In Love With You."
With the addition of John's friend, Stu Sutcliffe, who became the bass player, the band soon began to call themselves the Beatles, and after success in Liverpool they headed to Hamburg for a series of club gigs in August 1960. There the Beatles honed their sound by performing daily for seven hours straight. When they returned to Liverpool from Hamburg, their popularity at home was assured, and the Beatles came to the attention of Brian Epstein, who became their manager.
Epstein got the Beatles an audition at Decca, and "The Beatles Anthology" includes audio recordings of several tracks from their demo tape, including "Three Cool Cats," which has only been available previously on bootleg. Though they were rejected by Decca, George Martin at EMI's Parlophone signed the Beatles soon after. At his urging, the band hired a new drummer, their friend Ringo Starr, who is seen in rare footage of the group performing "Some Other Guy" at the Cavern club in Liverpool.
"Love Me Do" was the band's first hit in Britain, hitting #17 in just two days, and the Beatles' success grew exponentially in the United Kingdom, with concert and television appearances. The Beatles discuss their early days of stardom, with John saying that this London period for the band "was the best time," and Beatles home movie footage from 1963 shows the group clowning at the beach and at a bar, clearly enjoying themselves. George remarks, "I always felt sorry for Elvis, because there was only one guy. With us, there were four to share the experience." But there were drawbacks to stardom, with Ringo recalling the moment he realized that his early celebrity had changed his relationship with some older members of his own family: "It was an absolute arrow through my brain," he says.
By October 1963, Beatlemania was in full flower in Europe, and in February 1964 the group began its "invasion" of America. "We always called it the eye of the hurricane," John says in the program, describing the band's-eye-view of the pandemonium that surrounded them everywhere they went. "The Beatles Anthology" shows footage from their historic appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show," U.S. press conferences, a performance of "She Loves You" at the Washington Coliseum, and footage of them relaxing in Miami during a brief respite from their concerts. The Beatles talk about meeting a few of their idols, Bob Dylan, in New York in September 1964 and Elvis Presley, at the King's home in California in 1966.
The U.S. and Canada tours also introduced the Beatles to sobering aspects of superstardom--the young men were greatly affected by the many sick and disabled fans who were brought backstage to meet the band. Ringo faced death threats in Canada, performing with a policeman onstage and hiding behind his cymbals. John was unfazed by the threat saying, "I feel as though I'm all right when I'm plugged in, and no one can get me." John described those early tours as "something we'll remember all of our days."
The band members talk about the fun they had making their feature films, "Hard Day's Night" and "Help!" Paul's memory of the Bahamian shoot for the latter: "It was bloody freezing!" Rare television performances from the British show "Not Only...But Also," feature John trading barbs with Dudley Moore and reading from one of his books in a surrealistic sketch on the show. Performances from the English program "Blackpool Night Out" are also featured, showing Paul playing and singing a solo version of "Yesterday" and the band playing "Ticket to Ride" and "I Feel Fine." The Beatles recall the hysteria during their Shea Stadium concert, especially during their performance of "Twist and Shout" which is shown in its entirety.
Over time, the Beatles grew increasingly disenchanted with touring and began experimenting musically in the studio with George Martin, learning together how to push the boundaries of their sound and deepening their lyrics. The band's music changed from pop songs directly addressed to their fans to "ideas that were much more potent," Martin says. George Martin and the Beatles discuss the genesis of many of their songs ("Strawberry Fields," "Hey Jude," "A Day in the Life," "Paperback Writer," e.g.) and their albums, especially "Rubber Soul," "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," "The Beatles" (The White Album), and "Abbey Road." Notably, Paul talks movingly about why a single line in "Hey Jude" resonates with emotion and memories of John, every time Paul sings it.
The Beatles' forays into psychedelia are apparent in their film outtakes of "Fool on the Hill" and "I Am the Walrus" from their television show, "Magical Mystery Tour," as well as outtakes and promotional footage for "A Day In the Life." In the mid-sixties, George Harrison began to explore Indian music and spirituality, and those influences permeated the Beatles sound in numerous songs. Extensive home movie footage shows the Beatles at Rishikesh, India. In an exclusive interview for "The Beatles Anthology," Paul, George and Ringo reminisce together about those days. During an impromptu moment, and at Paul's suggestion, George plucks out a tune on his ukulele, "Deradoon," which he wrote during his India visits, but has never performed or recorded.
After the death of Brian Epstein in August 1967, the band began to fray. "I knew that we were in trouble then," John says. Increasingly, John pursued solo projects with his wife Yoko Ono; Paul was involved with the Beatles' new company, Apple; George was developing other interests; and Ringo, who felt left out, briefly quit the band, which he candidly discusses. He reunited with them during the White Album sessions, but the Beatles' next venture, the shooting of the 1969 documentary, "Let It Be," proved very difficult for the band. The outtakes featured in "The Beatles Anthology" demonstrate, as Paul puts it, "how the break-up of a group works."
George Martin observes, "They'd been incarcerated together for the last decade," and George Harrison explains that, after the "Abbey Road" album, "The game was up. We all accepted that." Linda McCartney filmed the band for their last-ever photo session, and the idyllic film footage of that day that accompanies their ballad, "The End," belies their nearing break-up.
The essence of the Beatles' legacy is distilled in the lyrics of that song, as they sing, "And in the end the love you take/Is equal to the love you make."
The making of "The Beatles Anthology" and the associated video has been the responsibility of Apple Productions, Ltd., a company owned by the surviving Beatles and the estate of John Lennon, administered by his widow, Yoko Ono Lennon. Neil Aspinall is the executive producer of the special, the producer is Chips Chipperfield, and the director is Geoff Wonfor. Bob Smeaton is the series director and writer, Andy Matthews is the editor, and David Saltz is the "Anthology" projects manager.
On Monday, November 20, Capitol Records will release "The Beatles Anthology Volume One," a double CD which will include the new Beatles song, "Free As A Bird."
NOTES ON "THE BEATLES ANTHOLOGY"
"The Beatles Anthology" is a development of an idea from long ago and far away in time and space when Neil Aspinall put together Beatles footage and music for a project he called (tentatively) "The Long and Winding Road." This was in the early seventies.
Even then, when the breakup of the Beatles was so recent in real time, it was a fascinating record of what already seemed a bygone age. There was a worldwide willing-away of the sixties, that disputed decade of music, love and flowers on one hand, and of war, assassination and racial strife on the other.
Then, in the seventies, the Beatles increasingly became ex-Beatles and turned to solo careers and family life. Somehow, "The Long and Winding Road" became a shelved project. But...none of the ex-Beatles ever forgot it nor underestimated the public interest that would persist through the succeeding decades.
The Beatles' own generation remained committed and that slightly younger "baby boom" age group who numbered many millions (those who were teens or subteens when the Beatles arrived on the front page of everyone's lives) have, somehow, somewhat, avoided that hardening of temperament, of attitudes or of arteries that had marked previous generations. Age has not necessarily withered, nor the years condemned those who "got the point" of the sixties. Fashions dated, of course, and new music continued to be bought by the young, but through it all, the Beatles cast a long, benign shadow and never went away--for old, middle-aged or young. We could all remain youthful.
"To relive the sixties," Aaron Copland once (famously) said: "play Beatles Music." But now, in the mid-nineties, it's clear that the music is timeless, fresh, alive and still kicking its way into the charts. It is not nostalgia. Now that the surviving ex-Beatles are themselves past fifty, it is infinitely more comfortable for them to see, as with a bird's eye, that crowded time when they were the young Lords of the Earth. And it's easier for them to reconsider their role and their achievements.
They are able to reclaim their own history. So, with the passing of time and mindful of the absence of John Lennon, and the importance of making something that would be a tribute to him and reflect his initiatives, back to his founding of the Beatles' precursor, "The Quarry Men," they have placed on film and audio tape many hours of reminiscence and insight to present the Beatles' own story on TV and videotape.
Thus in three-four years since the first interviews, "The Long and Winding Road" has become "The Beatles Anthology." The old format (owing something to post-Woodstock split screen techniques) remains in its cans. All the production for the new story has been put together afresh by an Apple-owned company: Apple Productions, with a fresh director, producer and all the specialists of an independent production company.
The film is self-financed, in-house, without outside investment, influences or editorial interference. Neil Aspinall became Executive Producer, Geoff Wonfor was appointed Director, and Chips Chipperfield, Producer. Bob Smeaton and Andy Matthews became Series Director/Writer and Editor, respectively.
Researchers scoured the world for footage, and there were miles of archives; tapes and film came from everywhere, and all had to be seen and evaluated. The Beatles themselves provided home movies and tapes, and memorabilia. Early recordings, virtually from school days, were found and preserved.
Memories were searched, and when Paul, George and Ringo finally presented themselves for interviews in 1992, they found that they could remember in great detail much of what had gone down all those years ago.
Sometimes, individual recall doesn't match one with another. What was Priscilla Presley wearing when they met Elvis? Memories vary... "a tiara/a gingham dress/she wasn't there." The honesty of mistaken recall isn't avoided. There were no taboo areas.
Hours of interviews were finally in the can, some as late as this year. They were filmed in London, Los Angeles (Ringo on a rooftop), at home, at sea (Paul on a boat), in an aircraft hangar, and at Portmeirion--the "Italian"/Welsh village where "The Prisoner" was filmed.
The interviews were researched and schemed by Series Director and writer Bob Smeaton, and carried out by Jools Holland and Smeaton himself.
Jools is a well-regarded British pianist, composer, television personality and recording artist, a friend of George Harrison's who was very young when the Beatles were at their zenith as performing artists. But, as a musician, Jools is able to relate to the ex-Beatles without filters or explanations.
In all, the Beatles spent several days before the cameras. The work was shot on film and edited in the production company's own editing suite, each stage overseen by Neil Aspinall, and stage-by-stage results were shown to the ex-Beatles and Yoko Ono.
As for John...extensive and intensive research had to be undertaken to ensure his continuing and balanced representation in a narrative which had, by definition, to be the story of four young men, one of whom was unable to join his old friends to tell the story as seen from the nineties.
It is considered that proper respect has been paid to his honored memory, and in the sense that, as with all the Beatles, there is an immortality implicit in the music, John lives on as a Beatle in the "Anthology," in the songs and on the screen.
None of us who have been involved in the making of the "Anthology" expect to have anything as interesting to do again. This was The Big One.
That was the thing about the Beatles: They always were The Big One.