The comedy I Wanna Hold Your Hand follows the hilarious misadventures of a group of New Jersey teens in February 1964 desperately trying to meet the Beatles, who are in New York City to perform on the Ed Sullivan Show. The 1978 film was co-written and directed by Robert Zemeckis.
It’s not an easy feat to cover a Beatles tune and do it justice, but there are some standouts:
Joe Cocker’s bluesy, gospel-tinged take on “With a Little Help From My Friends” is a masterpiece. The Woodstock performance of this song is often described as a highlight of the historic festival. I loved hearing even just a small portion of this song every week growing up when watching the opening theme for The Wonder Years.
The epic tribute to George Harrison at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony features rock ‘n’ roll heavyweights performing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” with Prince absolutely transcending on the guitar.
The Beatles versus the Stones: It’s highly debated but I think everyone can admit that the Rolling Stones have some pretty spectacular songs. The Santana-esque “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?” is a treat for the ears at over 7 minutes. “Beast of Burden” is a personal favorite and a prime example of the band’s trademark technique of guitar weaving, where there is no distinction between lead guitar and rhythm guitar, but rather the seamless blending between both guitars that creates synergy in the signature Stones sound.
I'm of the generation that grew up with the Beatles so I remember the excitement as our family watched their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. My parents didn't mind me and my older sister screaming our heads off. You can see it for yourself, along with their other appearances on this dvd. As a side note, Davy Jones (pre-Monkees career) appears with the cast of the musical Oliver as the Artful Dodger, and this was the first musical on Broadway that I ever saw, and I even remember waiting outside the stage door to get the cast's autographs (do they still do this?) So this show is pretty nostalgic for me!
I've seen all the Beatles movies in the theater but the only one I think is truly great is the first one, A Hard Day's Night. Shot in black and white, this joyous and original film is full of their British humor. I first saw it with my father, who enjoyed it even more than I, and then much more recently in the theater with my pre-teen daughter. As that iconic chord that opens the film burst upon the theater, the audience spontaneously leapt up and started dancing at their seats. It was such a kick for my daughter and all the young and old alike. As Roger Ebert says, "After more than three (almost six now) decades, it has not aged and is not dated; it stands outside its time, its genre and even rock. It is one of the great life-affirming landmarks of the movies."
Julie Taymor constructs a story around Beatles songs in Across the Universe. Although the songs (all from the time period depicted in the movie) are sung by the actors and are not the original Beatles recordings, the arrangements by Elliot Goldenthal are so true to the original that they work perfectly. And the movie is very creative in how the songs are woven into the story. The soundtrack is also available.
Imagine, by John Lennon post-Beatles, has become a world anthem for peace. The movie John and Yoko: Above Us Only Sky documents the process of writing and recording the song and album, especially the collaboration between John and Yoko. It also explains that the lyrics are from a poem by Yoko Ono who is now credited. Another documentary is Imagine: John Lennon, a deeply affecting account of the life of this complex, fascinating man with archival footage from his own collection, interviews with both children, first wife Cynthia, Aunt Mimi, George Martin, Yoko Ono and others.
For diehard fans who like to delve into the process check out these dvds: Deconstructing the Beatles, Eight Days a Week: the touring years and the new 3-episode Peter Jackson documentary Beatles: Get Back.
Living is Easy With Eyes Closed is a Spanish movie about a teacher who uses Beatles lyrics to help his students learn English. When he learns that John Lennon will be shooting a movie in Spain, he goes on a journey to meet his idol, and on the way picks up two teenage hitchhikers. A sweet, quirky movie, definitely worth seeing.
I am old enough to remember the Beatles rise in popularity in the U.S. and their domination of the pop charts in the 1960s. Their creativity, musical genius and impact on the world’s artistic culture simply can’t be denied.
I am fond of some of the early recordings of the Fab 4 performing on the BBC radio. Between 1962 and 1965 they broadcast 275 unique performances including lots of cover versions of popular hits of the day plus live versions of their own songs. Many of these can be found on the CD collections Live at the BBC and On Air Live at the BBC Volume 2.
The day-glo psychedelia of the animated movie Yellow Submarine was quite mind altering and I also particularly like their rather odd TV special Magical Mystery Tour, including a special appearance by the Bonzo Dog Band.
So many hundreds of artists in dozens of musical genres have done cover versions of Beatles songs that it is hard to choose what to recommend, but off the top of my head, I will suggest the reggae reworking of the entire Sgt. Pepper album by Easy Star All Stars, which they call Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band.
I haven’t found a way to see the documentary yet but there is a soundtrack and music inspired by the recent film Beatles and India available to check out from your library. It includes lots of Beatles tunes redone by Indian artists. British post-punks Siouxsie and the Banshees had their biggest hit with their version of Dear Prudence and they also covered Helter Skelter which can both be found on their live album Nocturne.
Are the Beatles to music what Shakespeare is to literature? I kinda think so, but only time will tell. Just consider how their music is employed in movies to create a classic moment or mood, as in the movie Love Actually with the song All you Need is Love or in the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off with Twist and Shout.
Taking a stroll down Abbey Road, I want to share two Beatles-related DVDs worth checking out:
The film Yesterday, is a fun fantastical story which proposes what the world might have been if only one man remembers the Beatles music and then he recreates it as his own. The actor Himesh Patel, playing the sole man who remembers the Beatles music, did a beautiful job performing the songs on the movie soundtrack too. Watch as he first sings the song Yesterday to his friends in the film.
Then check out A Concert for George, this benefit concert is a tribute to George Harrison and has a variety of performers playing music to honor him, including Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, Billy Preston, even Sir Paul and Ringo. There is one more performer who took my breath away with his uncanny likeness to George himself, worth watching just to see him!
Finally, just for fun check out the song All You Need Is Love as performed by 165 countries across the world, it even made me tear up a little. And then for some amazing guitar work, take a look at the song While My Guitar Gently Weeps in a mesmerizing performance by Prince et al.
Alongside of the British invasion of music, the British invaded film as well bringing a new sense of freedom, class conflict and sometimes gritty realism to mainstream and arthouse films alike.
A Taste of Honey - British dramatist Shelagh Delaney wrote the play that the film A Taste of Honey is based on when she was 19 years old. The story which includes interracial romance, single motherhood and an openly gay character was startlingly frank for its time and is still very moving and bracing in its depiction of working class people of the 1960's just trying to get by. Delaney adapted her play with the director Tony Richardson.
Tom Jones - Tony Richardson brought his sense of class conflict, dazzling film technique and sense of humor to the Oscar winning, international hit, Tom Jones. Based on Henry Fielding's 1749 novel about the adventures of a foundling boy and his rise in the world, this freewheeling adaptation is unlike most costume films that I've ever encountered. Modern humor and observation sit side by side with Fielding's classic story and structure. This beautifully restored film is worth checking out on blu-ray for the full impact of its visuals.
Help! - While A Hard Day's Night is the more important musical film, I still love the silliness and the gorgeous photography of the Beatles' next big screen adventure. Richard Lester comes back to direct and seems content to lightly satirize the secret agent trends of the time in a story of Ringo being mistaken for a spy and being threatened as he travels around the world. Happily there is plenty of time for songs from the band while they were writing tune after wonderful tune.
Movies & Music - Question of the Week
"Scrambled Eggs" was Paul McCartney's working title for this song.
"Two of Us"0
"Let It Be"0
Last Week's Trivia Answer: 50 Cent