Graham Reid | | 5 min read
Oddly enough, Elvis Presley's gold Cadillac was, if you will follow this thread, responsible for the rise of video clips.
In 1966 when the Beatles -- weary of touring and battered by the deafening screams of Beatlemania – decided to pull back from live appearances, they found a way of having a presence for fans while they recorded and enjoyed some rare downtime.
“We'd read a report somewhere,” Paul McCartney would say later, “that said, 'Elvis Presley has sent his gold plated Cadillac out on tour'. And we thought that was the greatest idea ever because we'd been touring and sending ourselves out. We thought that was a really good idea, you stay at home and send your car.
“[Elvis' car] did go on tour, people would come and pay money and wander around it like it was an exhibit, like Madame Tussaud's or whatever. And he didn't have to be there.
“At the time in the Sixties when we were thinking of doing Sgt Peppers [released in mid '67] and we didn't want to tour that idea suddenly sounded really nifty. But we hadn't got gold plated Cadillacs, we don't do that stuff . . . but we could send a record out on tour.”
And the way they did that was to make promotional films to go out with the records.
As George Harrison said, “The mania made it pretty difficult to get around, and out of convenience we decided we were not going to go into the TV studios to promote our records so much because it was too much of a hassle.
“We thought we'd go and make our own little films and put them on TV.
“So we started getting a film crew and shooting. There are a number of those films. I think the first proper ones we did were Paperback Writer and Rain [mid '66] in Chiswick House. They were the forerunners of videos.
“Once we actually went on an Ed Sullivan show with just a clip. It was great because we really conned the Sullivan show into promoting our new single by sending in the film clip.
“These days obviously everybody does that – it's part of the promotion for a single – so I suppose in a way we invented MTV.”
In fact, the Beatles – being so famous and having spent their early years doing so much live television – were the best documented group of the early Sixties. And that continued when they were filmed live in concert, on the road, for documentaries and then in the film clips they set up.
Some of those television shows and promotional clips can be found by time-consuming searches on-line, but now a swag of them plus previously unseen films and footage – 27 films in all – are being released along with the re-mastered reissue of their 2000 compilation CD The Beatles;1 which pulls together all their chart-topping UK singles.
And for the serious older fan – or those who missed the phenomenon and are curious about the larger picture -- there is also an expanded edition The Beatles; 1+ which comes with two DVD or Blu-ray discs (plus a 124-page book, both versions with audio commentary options by Paul McCartney).
Not only is this a journey through some of the smartest and most durable pop of the 20th century, but the films put the Beatles, their fans and the cultural climate of the era (go-go dancing dolly-birds for Daytripper, the serious psychedelic imagery coming later) back under the microscope.
Here's the remarkable musical story told in footage from a black and white version of Love Me Do filmed live in August 63 (with footage from the BBC doco The Mersey Sound) and a performance in Paris of A Hard Day's Night (French fans more reserved than American screamers) through Eight Days a Week at Shea Stadium with footage cut in from a long out-of-print doco of that legendary concert, (the first outdoor stadium show in rock) to songs accompanied by footage from Yellow Submarine, the David Frost Show and their break-up film Let It Be among other sources.
This is pop history in sound and vision.
And the film footage has undergone major digital restoration and enhancement so it all looks as fresh as yesterday, as crisp the re-mastered music.
What also comes through – especially in the 23 additional clips on the Beatles; 1+ set (which would be anyone's preferred option) is the careless disregard the Beatles had for miming along. When others, the rebellious Rolling Stones included, did their best to lip-synch for the cameras the Beatles – John Lennon and McCartney especially – treated the whole idea with amused disdain.
And when marijuana kicked in there are times when Lennon and McCartney could barely contain their laughter, as on the hilariously stoned non-mime for We Can Work It Out, which makes sense when you see the “sheet music” on Lennon's electric piano.
There's much to enjoy, be amused by and question across these groundbreaking films and candid footage.
See Mick'n'Keith mingling with classical musicians wearing penis-noses for the footage accompany A Day in the Life.
Turn off your mind and slide into the newly minted clip for the Love album mash-up of Tomorrow Never Knows/Within You Without You.
See Brian Epstein fussing around in his NEMS record shop in footage slipped into the new clip for Love Me Do.
Why would they be so artfully filmed eating fish'n'chips out of a newspaper and making chip-butties for the clip to accompany I Feel Fine?
Just how did McCartney chip that front tooth some time in early '65 and why didn't he see a dentist? (Oh, that's right, they did go to a dentist . . . and he gave them LSD).
So how come the unsmiling Harrison (even when obviously stoned) got a reputation for being . . . unsmiling?
Does George really say, “John smells like shit” just as the bruisingly distorted version of Revolution kicks off ?
Hard to believe but half a century on, the Beatles still have the capacity to entertain.
And when it comes to music with pictures, here was the band which created the notion of iconic images (collarless jackets and polo-neck sweaters of the early Sixties to tinted shades then retro-chic suits by the end of the decade) and everyone from Noel Gallagher to Justin Bieber and that guy from Glee copped Lennon's mid '65 hairstyle.
And they managed to make memorable hit singles along the way.
A whopping 27 of them – now with complete with evocative and often exciting films – topping the charts in just seven, culture-changing extraordinary years.
Who knew that Elvis' gold-plated Cadillac going on tour would have such a profound influence?
There is more on the Beatles at Elsewhere starting here. Take a deep breath.