All You Need is Love, Episode 14: Mighty Good: The Beatles
The Beatles’ segment of All You Need is Love, the long series of films covering the history of popular music, begins on the right note. A screech. Massive, lengthy screeching and screaming, all for the new royalty in England and beyond. Fan frenzy; girls crying at concerts and on the streets. That’s the way it was; the basis for A Hard Day’s Night.
That said, this is not even close to a definitive look at the Beatles phenomenon, just as this series, produced in 1976 by the director Tony Palmer, is not a history of popular music. Even with 17 hour-long programs, he can’t come close. Nobody can.
For two things, there’s almost no Ringo or George; no comments from them, anyway. It’s all John (a friend and supporter of Palmer’s) and Paul, who, along with John, was the band’s best quote machine. Still, for those who aren’t about to go and get a multi-DVD box set about the Fab Four, this will provide an OK overview.
McCartney covers the wide range of roots of Beatles music—in his case, “from Fred Astaire to Big Bill Bronnzy.” Their starts, in Liverpool and in The Cavern in Hamburg, are briskly covered. So is manager Brian Epstein, through his mum. Producer George Martin traces the boys, as he called them, from “pretty awful” demo tapes to fellow sonic pioneers in the recording studio.
Beatlemania; fifth Beatles, Shea Stadium. It’s all here. What’s missing is context. Why did Beatlemania happen? Derek Taylor, their publicist and a constant presence in this film (he’s credited with helping script it), says that music “was only part of it.” But he doesn’t point to anything else.
And then it’s over. Nineteen minutes out of the 51-minute show. Yes, the Beatles come back as the film wends its way through the rest of the ‘60s, with bits on their Apple Boutique, on Ravi Shankar with Harrison, and the “more popular than Jesus” brouhaha. But the film swerves into mini-reports on the Byrds, the Beach Boys, Donovan, concert promoter Bill Graham (who doesn’t get the hippies’ lack of a work ethic and goals), and the Monterey Pop Festival (but only the Mamas and the Papas are shown performing.)
We then see Brian Epstein’s mother again, talking about his death in 1967. John and (finally) George are asked for their responses that same day. Years later, McCartney, from a Wings tour, sings “Yesterday.” Credits roll.
That was the Beatles story? Of course not. But I expect that there’ll be more of them—and the Sixties—in other episodes of All You Need is Love. We shall see.