A Crash Course in Beatlemania
A smile planted itself on my face moments after the beginning of Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years, when the film showed the Beatles on stage in Manchester, England, on November 20, 1963. There they were, in full color and with pristine sound, singing “She Loves You” to a theatre full of adoring fans. I’ve seen lots of Beatles concert clips, but I can’t recall any other early film of the group that featured such excellent sound and video.
Credit today’s technology for both. Giles Martin, son of Beatles producer George Martin, managed to dampen the din from screaming fans and bring the music to the foreground. As for the video, it may have been colorized (and if so, that should have been noted somewhere), but the images are vivid. Watching this clip, you feel almost as if you’re right there in the theatre experiencing the thrilling first wave of the Beatlemania that would soon sweep the world.
The smile rarely left my face throughout the remainder of this 100-minute film, a labor of love that director Ron Howard (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind) made with the cooperation of Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and the widows of John Lennon and George Harrison.
True, unless you’re very young or have somehow managed to avoid the Beatles until now, you’ll find the movie’s tagline (“The Band You Know. The Story You Don’t”) to be at least 99 percent hype. There’s no news here, which is not surprising, given the countless books and documentaries that have been devoted to the group. Eight Days a Week barely scratches the surface, for example, by comparison with the eight-DVD Beatles Anthology. Then there’s Mark Lewisohn’s Tune In, volume one of a planned three-volume work, which allocates more than 900 pages just to the group’s pre-fame years. (An extended special edition of this book exceeds 1,700 pages.)
That said, Howard’s film is welcome because it succinctly captures the excitement that the band created, includes terrific concert footage, and features rare archival material plus new interviews with McCartney, Starr, and a variety of others, among them Peter Asher (then of Peter & Gordon), Elvis Costello, director Richard Lester, comedian Whoopi Goldberg, and journalist Malcolm Gladwell. It’s a crash course in Beatlemania that will bring back memories for longtime fans and be a revelation for the generation too young to know that Paul McCartney had a band before Wings—not to mention the youngsters who never even heard of Wings.
The movie touches on the Beatles’ formative period and film work and also briefly covers their studio efforts in the years after they waved goodbye to live performance. But Eight Days a Week focuses mainly on the concerts—from Liverpool’s Cavern Club and Hamburg, Germany to The Ed Sullivan Show, Shea Stadium, and San Francisco’s Candlestick Park—that left audiences screaming for more. We see why—and also why, by August 1966, they had had enough of touring. They would play in public only one more time, in an unannounced 1969 London rooftop performance that is excerpted here.
I recommend opting for the two-disc “special edition” of Eight Days a Week, which includes a 64-page booklet with extensive notes by Howard and journalist Jon Savage and a bonus disc whose features run as long as the movie. Though portions of these features have been lifted from the film, the highlight here is in fact the acme of the entire package: full-length performances of five songs from 1963 through 1965. These include the aforementioned “She Loves You,” plus “Twist and Shout,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “You Can’t Do That,” and “Help!” Though the five account for only 12 minutes total, fans are bound to find them priceless.
Among the other noteworthy bonus videos in the two-disc edition are “Words & Music,” in which the four Beatles and others discuss their songwriting and influence; “Early Clues to a New Direction,” in which interviewees ponder the group’s humor, early lives, and other subjects; and “A Deeper Dive,” which includes mini-features on shooting A Hard Day’s Night; Ronnie Spector’s encounters with the group; their performances in Japan and Australia; and the experiences of three fans.
Jeff Burger’s books include Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters, and Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters. His website, byjeffburger.com, contains more than four decades' worth of music reviews and commentary.