All you need is Beatles
- Scott R. Garceau (The Philippine Star) - January 9, 2016 - 9:00am

One of the joys of the social media era is we get a chance to view ourselves on a timeline — Facebook offers us visual “memories” from the past year, or years past; we can arrange our lives as a series of childhood “throwback” shots, all the way up to our most recent drinking session last week.

That’s kind of what makes The Beatles 1+ a fascinating video component to the band’s bestselling “1” CD, and so much fun for fans. “1,” you may recall, compiled the band’s 27 No. 1 hits from 1963 to 1970, and surprised everyone by being one of the biggest-selling CDs of the 2000s. What we have with The Beatles 1+ is a chronological view of the band as a visual phenomenon — 27 videos to accompany those 27 hits, with live performances culled from Ed Sullivan and tour dates, as well as “promo” videos submitted to TV shows like Top of the Pops back when the band were busy touring the world or recording. On top of that, 23 extra videos (on Disc 2) show the band carousing in studios, lip-syncing to multiple versions of songs like Hello, Goodbye and I Feel Fine. Add to this a third disc of remixed versions of the 27 songs from “1” (remixes by George Martin’s son, Giles, bring new sharpness to drums and bass, and generally place vocals front and center, instead of left and right as on original stereo mixes).

To say that the Beatles “invented” the music video is overstating things, but they certainly brought a surreal sensibility to their video clips that would become a template for the ‘80s MTV generation: absurd, slapstick touches — cultivated by director Richard Lester in his earlier Beatles movies A Hard Day’s Night and Help! — find their way into clips for songs like I Feel Fine, We Can Work It Out and Strawberry Fields Forever. The Beatles, after all, were natural performers for the cameras, and the early clips are a joy for fans and a revelation for those wondering why the Beatles mattered (or indeed still matter).

Keeping in mind that the band was in the midst of nonstop touring, not to mention writing and releasing about three hit songs per year, the task of doing promo videos must have been low on their priority list. There’s a tossed-off quality to most of the early setups, with minimal props set up in a studio — showing the boys riding exercise equipment while lip-syncing, or holding umbrellas as confetti “snow” drops around them while miming the audio track Help! — and yet there’s undeniable magic at times.

It’s also magical to watch the band develop their personalities before the camera’s eye. Of the four, Lennon seems the most committed to fun, mugging while miming electric organ for We Can Work It Out, doing a bit of Elvis posing and mock-twisting on Hello, Goodbye. Clearly, even if videos were an afterthought for the Beatles, they still managed to enjoy themselves.

Yet you detect another shift taking place: we watch Lennon relinquish his bandleader role to McCartney. Whereas Lennon is front and center in early clips singing Love Me Do, From Me to You and Help, it’s McCartney the camera focuses on for later tracks like Yesterday and Hey Jude. (This shift is confirmed by the number of McCartney-penned hits on “1,” with Lennon’s excellent later songs relegated to B-sides, like Revolution and Strawberry Fields Forever.)

There are historical TV moments as well: The Beatles doing She Loves You on the original Ed Sullivan broadcast in 1964 that led to America’s “Beatlemania”; the 1967 live satellite broadcast of All You Need Is Love (John is shown singing lead while chewing gum); the David Frost intro of the band performing Hey Jude with a studio audience of about 100 jumping onstage. There are classic clips from the Let It Be rooftop sessions (Get Back, Don’t Let Me Down), plus animated vids from Yellow Submarine that stand up remarkably well.

An added bonus is that these videos have been painstakingly restored from original sources. Fans have likely seen them all before, but not all together, or this sharp. Enjoy the mid-‘60s cool of crystal-clear videos for Paperback Writer, or the intriguing collage of Beatles paired off with their respective mates in 1969’s Something (George with model Patti Boyd, later to become Eric Clapton’s muse; Ringo with wife Maureen; John with Yoko; and Paul with new mate Linda Eastman), as though pointing toward their post-Beatle futures. Enjoy the Carnaby Street fashion of the band (or as Paul calls it, “our normal everyday clothes”) wandering around London in Penny Lane; or the lethargic pull of the garden videos shot by Michael Lindsay-Hogg for Rain; or the behind-the scenes studio glimpses of Day in the Life and Hey Bulldog.

One quibble is that much of the material comes off as slapdash; video concepts are a bit thin (the Beatles stand behind cardboard cutouts of trains for Day Tripper); bits and pieces are resurrected, shown again and again. We get three versions of Hello, Goodbye, with different costumes, but the same hula dancer girls showing up for the song’s coda. It’s hard to escape the notion that the Beatles, then as now, are simply being repackaged as commercial fodder. (One gets a similar sense of ennui from McCartney’s commentary for Penny Lane, where the only memory the shoot inspires is of “Ringo on this big horse he couldn’t ride, galloping off over the horizon.”)

And while it’s hard to see how an “alternate” version of I Feel Fine in which the Beatles are shown eating fish and chips on the studio floor while halfheartedly miming to the song adds immeasurably to the band’s canon (the cameras were apparently still running while they had their merienda), it just might be the kind of thing that Beatles completists have been looking for. After all, there’s only so much Beatles material left in the world to go around.

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