A while back I turned on the tele late one weekend night and saw that they were replaying old videoclips of the Beatles. I watched mesmerised for about 45 minutes after which they went onto something else. I think I would have stayed a fair while longer if they’d kept playing them.
Why the attraction? I think a lot of people are nostalgic about bands that played “the soundtrack of their lives” when they were in high school and uni. The Beatles and my years in primary school co-incide almost exactly. I think I was in year 7 when it all came crashing down and the Beatles were no more. I vaguely remember sitting on Dandenong railway platform thinking stupidly “I guess this is it” and wondering if they’d ever regroup.
What was so special about them? Well, forgive me for this is just my take, but visiting You-Tube the other day I watched a clip of the retropsective faux Beatles song the (then) three survivors released in 1995 Free as a Bird. It was full of Beatles memorabilia. And, though it was far from one of their great songs, it was nevertheless a genuine Beatles song and a genuine Beatles videoclip - so it seemed to me.
It was typical Beatles in that I think they did their best with it, but they didn’t worry about whether it was a great song - whether it was up to their usual standard. It was, like many of their songs after about 1965, a musical experiment. It was quite modest like a lot of their songs were. Indeed if I have to guess, modesty or something like it is very close to what makes them so great - so gripping for me.
There’s virtually no attitude in the Beatles. And, though they were of course the acme of slick marketing in one sense, it never really defined them (except in the early Epstein years I guess). Where bands like The Who and The Rolling Stones anticipate modern rock in the way in which their whole act screams teenage machismo or some other confected and peer group contorted image, the Beatles had no such affectations.
I remember seeing this clip in the Magical Mystery Tour film in about 1967. It was a bit of a boring film. But it was an experiment. Without being a great song or a great favourite of mine it was a complete delight and revelation to me to watch it. The song and the arrangement suits Paul’s voice particularly well. And I remember when it was released it had that quality of sounding like a song you already knew but couldn’t put your finger on. Looking at the lyrics on the net they’re remarkably thin. But then it’s really just a ditty.
But look at the way the song is presented in the film. It’s certainly a big production. But the values are those of real theatrical fun, not teenage angst, agro and affectation. The Beatles were as sexy a thing as had come along, but that wasn’t because they pouted or teased. It was because they were so successful and they were so successful because they were so good and because they were having so much damn fun.
In the clip the four white-suited Beatles wander around a bit in a highly choreographed little number. And it’s a huge number with a cast of hundreds. I guess the boys spent a good while rehearsing, but there’s no attempt to disguise the result - which is roughly what most of us could have achieved with similar effort. There’s an amateurism about it all that somehow adds to its appeal (at least for me) rather than detracts. It’s genuine popular music. By the people, for the people etc.
Anyway, I’ve come to the end of this post thinking I’ve not done my subject much justice. I was going to talk also about how the joy is mixed with sadness - not only about the Beatles demise - how as George told us all things must pass - but also about how it seemed to leave them - all diminished in their own way. George, the quiet one is somehow the most mysterious, and gives every impression of being somehow completely traumatised by the whole thing.
It was George who, referring to a time long before the simple insanity of John’s murder, and long before he told everyone he was fine and then died of cancer, observed: “It was a very one-sided relationship between the Beatles and the fans. The fans gave their money, but the Beatles gave their nervous system.”
But there you go - I hope you enjoyed the clip. I did. And feel free to tell us what the Beatles mean to you - if anything!
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