Sunday, October 9, 2016

Beatles – "Eight Days a Week" (1965 (part 1 of 3)

Hold me
Love me
Hold me
Love me

The posters and other promotional materials for The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years, which is director Ron Howard’s new documentary about the 1964-66 Beatles, feature this line:

The band you know.  The story you don't.

Actually, I do know the story – and I'm guessing you know it, too.

Howard's movie present an oft-told tale: how four cheeky lads from Liverpool became the biggest pop stars in history . . . how the demands of their fans and the press became overwhelming  . . . and how they got sick and tired of performing before audiences full of teenaged girls who screamed so loudly the entire time they were on stage that they couldn't hear themselves play.

 Howard is a Beatles fan, and his movie is strictly for other fans.  It has the Apple Corps seal of approval, and doesn't contain anything negative about the Fab Four.  It's sort of a coffee-table-book of a movie.

No matter.  Eight Days a Week is a very pleasant trip down Memory Lane for all of us baby boomers, although I would have preferred fewer talking heads, less hagiography and more commentary-free film of the Beatles performing live.

Here's the trailer for the movie:

The movie opens with some concert footage that was filmed in Manchester, England, by newsreel producer Pathé News on November 20, 1963 – just two days before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

The Pathé short, which shows the Beatles performing “She Loves You” and “Twist and Shout,” is earliest surviving color film of the Beatles that includes sound, and it is electrifying.  (You can click here to view the entire short.) 

That Manchester footage looks and sounds almost too good to be real.  One could almost believe that Howard filmed it just last week using computer-generated imagery or well-coached Fab Four impersonators.  (Howard and his crew obviously took advantage of all the modern-day technological tricks that money can buy.)

Nothing else in the documentary is quite as wonderful, but all of the archival film in Eight Days a Week is compelling stuff — even the blurry stuff shot by fans who brought their home-movie cameras to Beatles concerts. 

As far as I’m concerned, Howard could have done without the interviews that are interspersed throughout the movie.  Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr do a lot of talking, and what they have to say is only intermittently interesting.  

Most of the other interviews are even more forgettable – especially Whoopi Goldberg’s (whose real name, by the way, is Caryn Elaine Johnson.)  

Whoopi waxes philosophical about how much she loved the Beatles – even though she was a nine-year-old black girl from New York City and they were four young white men from the UK.  “They were colorless, and they were f*cking amazing,” she gushes.

After the Eight Days a Week credits rolled, there was a screening of a 30-minute excerpt from a documentary about the Beatles’ 1965 concert at Shea Stadium.  It was fabulous, and not just because it was free of Whoopi Goldberg’s yakety-yak.
The Beatles performing at Shea Stadium
Here are a few random thoughts about Eight Days a Week:

Less was more when the Beatles performed live.

Thankfully the Beatles didn’t stretch their songs out with interminable instrumental solos or do any on-stage shtick comparable to Pete Townshend’s “windmill” power-chord move, or Roger Daltrey’s constantly swinging his microphone around by the cord.  (I love the Who as much as anyone, but that stuff is pretty tired.)

Playing it straight is fine with me – I wish more bands kept it simple when they perform live.  But when you go to a live performance, don’t you want to hear something that’s a little different than what’s on the record?

Hearing the Beatles play a concert is like listening to a Beatles cover band.  When the Fab Four played live, they essentially replicated their records note for note.  There were no surprises, particularly when it came to the guitar playing of John, Paul, and George.  (John’s guitar work was especially pedestrian.  I’ve seen more interesting playing by guitarists on American Bandstand who weren’t plugged in because the band was lip-synching its single.)
The Beatles were a very good vocal ensemble, and their singing carried the live shows.  John, Paul, and George could each handle the lead, and their two-part and three-part singing was solid.  (Given the noise generated by their live audiences and the fact that they didn’t use stage monitors prior to the last year of their touring career, it’s amazing they managed to sing in tune as well as they did.)

Of course, most people didn’t go to Beatles concerts to hear the music.  (That’s good, because all the shrieking made it impossible to hear much of the music.)  They went to Beatles concerts to see the Beatles in person – and so they could tell their friends that they had seen the Beatles in person.

Ringo Starr was a very underrated live drummer.
Although Ringo was much beloved by Beatles fans, he was never taken very  seriously as a musician.  But I was pleasantly surprised by energy and power Ringo displayed in the Eight Days a Week footage of the Beatles playing live in 1963 and 1964 – at times he reminded me of the Who’s Keith Moon (which is high praise indeed).

John Lennon was kind of a dick.

I always attributed John Lennon’s jumping the shark and breaking up the Beatles to drugs and Yoko Ono.  But Eight Days a Week presents the pre-LSD, pre-Yoko version of Lennon as a wiseass who clearly thinks he’s too cool for school.

John has been described by both Paul McCartney and ex-wife Cynthia Lennon as painfully insecure, and perhaps that explains why Lennon came across as such an obnoxious showoff at times.  (That insecurity may also explain why Lennon trivialized George Martin's enormous contributions to the Beatles' later recordings – although he did eventually give Martin the credit he was due.)

John was the only Beatle who was the least bit annoying in the live performances shown in Eight Days a Week.  His between-songs patter was always affected and unfunny.  And when the Beatles closed their Shea Stadium concert by playing “I’m Down,” Lennon performance on a Vox Continental organ consisted of little more than ripping off of glissandos with his elbow– as lame a rockstar move as you’ll ever see.

About 99% of the audience at Beatles concerts was female.

And those females were very, very young — most of the girls in the film footage of Beatles concerts in “Eight Days a Week” looked too young to have a driver’s license.

The audience at the “Eight Days a Week” screening I attended was very old not young. 

Just before the movie began, I overheard this exchange between two audience members:

Man: “I bet there aren’t three people here tonight who are under 55.”

Woman: “And they're with their parents.”

(I'll explain why this comment was significant in the next 2 or 3 lines.)

I don’t know why Ron Howard chose to title his movie “Eight Days a Week.”

“Eight Days a Week” was a #1 single for the Beatles in 1965, but the Beatles never performed the song live.  (John Lennon once called it “lousy.”)  So it seems like an odd choice for the title of a movie that's all about the Beatles' touring career.

One final note: If Eight Days a Week isn't showing in a theater near you, you can always view it on Hulu.  (I don't have the Hulu personally, but I hear it's good.)

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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