Saturday, February 07, 2009

Elvis Is Wrong

by Billy Shepherd and Johnny Dean

And John told us: "We admire Elvis Presley a lot for what he has done for the pop business. But we'd never want to make films the way he does . . . he just knocks one out in a few weeks. The way we hear it, he knows almost exactly how much money he'll take at the box-office, because his following is constant. But we found, with the earlier films, that we did pretty well even in countries where there wasn't much of a pop-record market".

Pretty well? At this time two years ago, "Help" had topped four million pounds at the box-office and "A Hard Day's Night" was not far short of that staggering figure.

So the chats went on about what to do in films. And, of course, they're still going on today. The Beatles could have leapt in and done anything that looked remotely good but their high standards of professionalism meant that only the best would do. Finding the absolute best, in any field, is a long-term job. You just have to wait . . . and see!

A reader, and Beatle fan, wrote in to one of the pop weeklies as 1965 came to its conclusion and pointed out some interesting facts about the number of records which shot in the charts at the Number One spot in the first week of release. Now this is, obviously, a tremendous achievement. Oddly enough the first to do it, and that was back in 1958, was Elvis, with his "Jailhouse Rock" . . . and he repeated the dose later on with "It's Now Or Never" and with "Surrender". Cliff Richard and the Stones did it once each . . . but by the end of 1965, the Beatles had achieved this feat seven times.

The records involved were: "I Want To Hold Your Hand", "Can't Buy Me Love", "A Hard Day's Night", "I Feel Fine", "Ticket To Ride", "Help" and the double-edged biggie "Day Tripper" and "We Can Work It Out". Actually that last-named, virtually two "A"-sided record was the first two-sider to top the chart since had done so six years earlier--with "A Fool Such As I" and "I Need Your Love Tonight". This is the very stuff of which pop history is made and it stresses again, with no doubt, just how important the Beatles have been in comparison with other giants of the business.

Still, we were talking about December two years ago specifically . . . and it was all happening. The Hollies recorded a George harrison song; Peter Sellers tackled "Hard Day's Night" in the guise of a Shakespearean actor; "Rubber Soul", the LP, came out with an advance order of half-a-million; the single was an instant chart-topper.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Filming Promotional Videos for "Paperback Writer" and "Rain"

Taped: May 19, 1966
Aired: June 5, 1966

At EMI Studios (Abbey Road Studio One), beginning at 10 a.m., the Beatles taped promotional clips of "Paperback Writer" and "Rain" in both color and black and white for television stations around the world. Director Michael Lindsay-Hogg had worked with them before at Ready Steady Go! and they were to use him again in the future for Let It Be.

They had lunch at the Genevieve restaurant on Thayer Street, near EMI, and taped more film in the afternoon. That evening Alan Civil recorded his French horn solo on "For No One."

November 16, 1963 - The Jack Paar Program

Taped: Saturday 16 November 1963
Aired: Friday 3 January 1964

As part of the Beatles' autumn tour, they played Winter Gardens in Bournemouth. The three rival American television networks - NBC, CBS and ABC - were permitted to film the hysterical audience and part of the show. Paul and John were interviewed by John Darsa for the CBS coverage. Life magazine photographer Terence Spencer with his assistant also arrived at their hotel, the Branksome Towers, outside Bournemouth and was quickly accepted into the inner circle. Brian Epstein was particularly keen on the publicity that a large spread in Life would produce. However, The Beatles did not turn up for the shoot that would have given them the January 31, 1964 cover, which went to Geraldine Chaplin instead. Terence Spencer: "The Beatles must be the only people in showbiz ever to have turned down a Life cover."

November 16, 1963 - CBS Evening News
Taped: Saturday 16 November 1963
Aired: Thursday 21 November 1963

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Cowboy Ringo

by Billy Shepherd and Johnny Dean

We were in on a lot of the chats as to what the Beatles should actually do. You may remember there was talk of them doing a Western "A Talent For Loving," but eventually they scrubbed round it. Anyway, they'd bought the screen rights and Ringo especially was looking forward to donning the old cowboy gear. He wanted to be the fastest gun in the group!

This film situation has always caused trouble. Even now it is very tricky. Their producer Walter Shenson explained to us that hundreds of writers were suggesting script ideas but they were all based on the idea of something that happened in the course of a day of the Beatles. And this had been done before, of course. What was wanted was a story in which the boys could appear as John, Paul, George and Ringo, as individuals, not as the Beatles, a group.

We heard the rough story outline of "A Talent For Loving" and it seemed good. But the difficulty was that it had already been published as a book and it was almost impossible to adapt it for the screen without making it seem to have been hurriedly rearranged.

The Beatles Arrive in Japan (1966)

Location: Haneda Airport + Hilton Hotel, Tokyo.
Date: June 30, 1966

The Beatles arrived at Haneda airport, Tokyo at 3:40 a.m. They stayed at the Tokyo Hilton where they had their own floor, occupying the Presidential Suite. Hotel security was the tightest that the Beatles had yet endured, preventing them from making unplanned sightseeing trips around the Tokyo streets.

There was considerable right-wing opposition - including death threats - to the Beatles playing at Nippon Budokan Hall (Martial Arts Hall), because the building was regarded as a national shrine to Japan's war dead, and it was therefore seen as sacrilegious for a rock 'n' roll group to play there. Because of these threats, the Japanese lined the route from the airport and the perimeter of the hotel with 30,000 uniformed men. It went on to become one of the main rock venues in Tokyo. Some of the staged protests can be seen in the video below:

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Behind the Spotlight: Two Years Ago

by Billy Shepherd and Johnny Dean

A resounding plop echoed through the hallways of countless homes on a day early in December two years ago. A personal message from the Beatles, in the form of a six-minute record, the longest track they'd ever produced . . . and full of their zany sense of humour.

Called, simply, the "Beatles' Third Christmas Record," it started off with a crazy, off-key version of "Yesterday," and then John roared in singing "Bonnie Christmas" with a terrible old Scottish accent! And they also had their mickey-taking bit at the protest songs which were cluttering up the charts in the last few months of 1965. John wrote some special words to go with the tune "Auld Lang Syne," bringing in references to Vietnam and so on.

Good fun, all of it. And it ended with sincere messages of regard and thanks from each Beatle to all their hordes of fans. Took quite a while to get right, too--they spent several hours in the studios, working on ideas. It proved, once again, that the Beatles then, as now, are most anxious to keep faith with their supporters.

Actually this pre-Christmas scene in 1965 was much more hectic for the boys than life is this year. There was a tour due to start . . . and there were near-panic plans over their film scenes yet to come.

Beatles Q&A: Harrisongs, Sony/ATV

How exactly are George's songs affected by Sony/ATV holdings..? Are Harrisongs, Ltd (which I believe hold the publishing rights for all songs done after '68) affected or doesn't Michael Jackson have any management rights over them, which would add a layer of difficulty if later albums like 'Abbey Road' went to iTunes.

This is an excellent question, as it speaks to the issue of how Beatles music is released (or alternatively, why Beatles material often isn't released). As far as I know, there are three levels of approval required for a Beatles recording to be used commercially:

1. Copyright of the sound recording: EMI owns all of the Beatles' master tapes, and thus must give permission for them to be used. EMI has in the past suggested compilations (e.g. Sessions) that were never released due to #3 below. Note that this does not apply when only a Beatles song being used (i.e. a cover performed by another artist), in which case only #2 applies.

2. Publishing rights: Sony/ATV, as you point out, controls most of the Beatles' songs in terms of music publishing. The exceptions are Harrisongs Ltd. (post-1968 George Harrison songs), Startling Music (post-1968 Ringo Starr songs), and MPL Communications ("Love Me Do" and "P.S. I Love You"), which are controlled by the individual Beatles or their estates.

3. The Beatles/Apple: The four Beatles (or their estates) must approve any official Beatles products before they can be released. From most written accounts I have seen, this has been the major barrier in getting Beatles music released. While some compilations have been approved and released (Let It Be...Naked, 1, Love, etc.), it has been slow going in other areas (getting the full catalogue remastered, releasing Let It Be on DVD, getting Beatles music on iTunes, etc.).

So, to answer your original question, George's songs from 1963-1968 are controlled by Sony/ATV (a company co-owned by Sony and trusts formed by Michael Jackson), while from 1969 onwards they are controlled by the Harrison estate through Harrisongs Ltd. So that would mean that for Abbey Road to be included on iTunes, for example, you would need to secure the publishing rights from Sony/ATV (for Lennon/McCartney songs), Harrisongs (for George's songs), and Startling Music (for "Octopus's Garden"), plus approval from EMI and Apple. The inclusion of Harrisongs in the equation, to my mind, does not add a layer of difficulty, as you would already need to secure permission anyway from the Harrison estate (as part of #3) for any Beatles material to be released.


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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

December 7, 1963 - It's the Beatles!

Taped: Saturday 7 December 1963
Aired: Saturday 7 December 1963

After taping an appearance for Juke Box Jury, the Fan Club audience saw a special concert, shown later the same day as It's The Beatles! For this they played 'From Me To You', 'I Saw Her Standing There', 'All My Loving', 'Roll Over Beethoven', 'Boys', 'Till There Was You', 'She Loves You', 'This Boy, 'I Want To Hold Your Hand', 'Money (That's What I Want)', 'Twist And Shout' and 'From Me To You'.

Beatles Q&A: Last Live Song Performed

What was the last song performed live by the Beatles?

The last song the Beatles performed in front of an audience was "Get Back" on the Apple rooftop in Savile Row, London on January 30, 1969. The impromptu concert was filmed for Let It Be and this particular recording was eventually released on Anthology 3. After the song, John remarked, "I'd like to thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition."

The last song the Beatles played live in front of a paying audience was "Long Tall Sally" at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California on August 29, 1966. Part of the song was captured on tape by their press representative, Tony Barrow, but his tape ran out soon after the song began. After the song finished, according to some contemporary accounts, John played a few notes of "In My Life" on his guitar before the group left the stage.


Submit your Beatles questions here

Beatles Q&A: Submit Your Questions

Submit your Beatles questions in the comments section below, and if selected, answers will be posted on the site.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Reminiscing: The Beatles in Hamburg, 1960-1962

Vintage footage of friends of the Beatles from Germany recorded in 1966. Interviewees include Bettina Derlien (barmaid from the Star-Club), Hans-Walther "Icke" Braun (friend of the Beatles from the Top Ten and Star-Club), Peter Eckhorn (owner of the Top Ten Club), and Manfred Weissleder (owner of the Star-Club). Braun plays an early demo of "I'll Follow the Sun" recorded in 1960.

The Editing and Recording of Magical Mystery Tour

by Mal and Neil

The Editing:

Originally The Beatles reckoned it wouldn't take more than a week or so to edit all the film and make up a 60-minute programme. In fact the job took more than SIX WEEKS. Each day you'd find two or more Beatles busy in a tiny editing room in Old Compton Street, Soho. The work began around ten in the morning and they very seldom knocked off before six or seven in the evening.

Editing is something which could have been left to other people but The Beatles wanted to get everything exactly the way it should be and they know it was well worth spending all the time looking at strips of films and joining up all the scenes. All told there must have been TWENTY OR THIRTY HOURS of colour film to plough through!

The Recording:

Most evenings, after working all day on editing, The Beatles gathered at the EMI studios, to put together all the songs for the soundtrack.

All told there were six "Magical Mystery Tour" numbers including the title song and an instrumental called "Flying", "I Am The Walrus" and George's "Blue Jay Way" turned out to be particularly long recordings.

The big problem was to present these recordings to the public in the most suitable way. There was too much music to fit on a 7-inch EP disc and not enough to fill a full-length 12 inch LP!

At one stage the proposal was to use a 7-inch record at LP speed--rather like the special discs The Beatles have made for Fan Club distribution each Christmas. There was a technical problem here--George Martin advised us that there would be a loss of volume on a 7-inch LP record. In addition some of us were against the idea because it would mean that people with autochange record players would have to fiddle about with the speed control or play the "Magical Mystery Tour" disc in a stack of LP albums instead of with singles and EPs.

It was not until the beginning of November that everybody agreed on how the thing should be solved. There would be a set of two EP records inside a special book--plus a single.

The production of the special book was, in itself, a big job. It was to be 28 pages, mostly in full colour, plus a heavy cover with pockets built in to contain the two records.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Favourite Jacket Stolen

by Mal and Neil

Thursday was another busy, bright day--slightly spoiled for George because some fan had broken into the bus overnight and pinched his favourite old denim jacket.

And on Friday we headed back towards London. The weekend break was welcome but on Tuesday it was back to work with a very heavy filming schedule out at West Malling R.A.F. base. So heavy that, instead of driving 50 miles to and from the location each day, we decided to put up close to Maidstone in a hotel until the end of the week.

At West Malling all the main scenes were filmed. Before going out there we'd done the special Strip Club sequence with Jan Carson and The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah band in Paul Raymond's Revuebar, Soho. During the rest of the week we did the Magicians' Laboratory sequence, Aunt Jessie's Nightmare, a Recruiting Office scene with Victor Spinetti cast as a Sergeant, the Marathan Race (with four midget wrestlers, five clergymen, a Rugby team, a dozen tiny children playing Tug O' War and a bunch of racing motor cyclists), the bit where George sings "Blue Jay Way" sitting cross-legged on a pavement in thick fog, the lengthy and quite spectacular outdoor scene for the song "I Am The Walrus" and the huge Finale involving a couple of hundred "extras"--mostly formation dancers.

By supper time the following Sunday night everything was finished at West Malling. Well, everything except a few linking bits which we did with the bus later on PLUS Paul's "Fool On The Hill" song sequence (which was not shot until the first week of November) and a bit of outdoor filming with Ringo and Auntie Jessie for the very beginning of the show (shot at the end of October).

Much earlier on we said that The Beatles play other roles in the show. Well, John is the man who sells the tour tickets (with large false moustache!) and he is also a somewhat greasy waiter in "Auntie Jessie's Nightmare". Paul plays "Major McCartney" in the Recruiting Office bit and all four Beatles are joined by Mal to play The Five Mysterious Magicians who pop up at odd intervals to make all the magic in the show!

Perhaps we've been teasing you a bit by telling you little scraps of information about different scenes without giving you the complete story of the show. Well, that's the idea! You'll have to wait until you see the whole programme on telly before you find out the whole story!