The Beatles on You Tube


A while back I turned on the tele late one Weekend night and saw that they were replaying old Videoclips of the Beatles. I watched mesmerised for around 45 minutes after which they went onto something else. I think I would have stayed a fair while longer if they’d kept playing them.

Why the attraction? I think a lot of people are nostalgic about bands that played ‘the soundtrack of their lives’ when they were in high school and uni. The Beatles and my years in primary school co-incide almost exactly. I think I was in year 7 when it all came crashing down and the Beatles were no more. I vaguely remember sitting on Dandenong railway platform thinking stupidly “I guess this is it” and wondering if they’d ever regroup.

What was so special about them? Well, forgive me for this is just my take but visiting You-Tube the other day I watched a clip of the retrospective faux Beatles song the (then) three survivors released in 1995 “Free as a Bird”. It was full of Beatles memorabilia. And, though it was far from one of their great songs, it was nevertheless a genuine Beatles song and a genuine Beatles video clip – so it seemed to me.

It was typical Beatles in that I think they did their best with it, but they didn’t worry about whether it was a great song – whether it was up to their usual standard. It was, like many of their songs after about 1965 a musical experiment. It was quite modest like a lot of their songs were. Indeed if I have to guess, modesty or something like it is very close to what makes them so great, so gripping for me.

There’s virtually no attitude in the Beatles. And, though they were, of course, the acme of slick marketing in one sense, it never really defined them (except in the early Epstein years I guess). Where bands like The Who and The Rolling Stones anticipate modern rock in the way in which their whole act screams teenage machismo or some other confected and peer group contorted image, the Beatles had no such affectations.

I remember seeing the clip above (I hope I’m right) in the Magical Mystery Tour film in about 1967.1 It was a bit of a boring film. But it was an experiment. Without being a great song or a great favourite of mine it was a complete delight and revelation to me to watch it. The song and the arrangement suits Paul’s voice particularly well. And I remember when it was released it had that quality of sounding like a song you already knew but couldn’t put your finger on. Looking at the lyrics on the net they’re remarkably thin. But then it’s really just a ditty.

But look at the way the song is presented in the film – in the clip above. It’s certainly a big production. But the values are those of real theatrical fun, not teenage angst, agro and affectation. The Beatles were as sexy a thing as had come along, but that wasn’t because they pouted or teased. It was because they were so successful and they were so successful because they were so good and because they were having so much damn fun.

In the clip, the four white-suited Beatles wander around a bit in a highly choreographed little number. And it’s a huge number with a cast of hundreds. I guess the boys spent a good while rehearsing, but there’s no attempt to disguise the result – which is roughly what most of us could have achieved with similar effort. There’s an amateurism about it all that somehow adds to its appeal (at least for me) rather than detracts. It’s genuine popular music. By the people, for the people etc.

Anyway, I’ve come to the end of this post thinking I’ve not done my subject much justice. I was going to talk also about how the joy is mixed with sadness – not only about the Beatles demise – how as George told us all things must pass – but also about how it seemed to leave them – all diminished in their own way. George, the quiet one is somehow the most mysterious, and gives every impression of being somehow completely traumatised by the whole thing.

It was George who, referring to a time long before the simple insanity of John’s murder, and long before he told everyone he was fine and then died of cancer, observed. “It was a very one-sided relationship between the Beatles and the fans. The fans gave their money, but the Beatles gave their nervous system.”

But there you go – I hope you enjoyed the clip. I did. And feel free to tell us below what the Beatles mean to you – if anything!

  1. When I posted this I included the whole clip from the movie, but that’s no longer available on YouTube sadly. I’m sure it’s worth it though. I’m sure the person who prevented you seeing it is making vast sums selling it. Not.
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12 Responses to The Beatles on You Tube

  1. Bring Back EP at LP says:

    hopelessly over-rated prats.

    When will the Butterfield Blues band be on? I will even settle for Mayall’s blues breakers or merely the Jeff Beck group

  2. Rex says:

    The Beatles were great. So were many other band of the sixties, but one of them had to be regarded as the best, and The Beatles by dint of their timing, their talent and their sales figures are very often regarded as being it. I see no reason to dispute this.

    What appeals to me about The Beatles is that they weren’t blues purists like other great bands. The Stones, Led Zep come to mind. They were quite happy to put styles like English pub singalong, and Butlins Holiday Camp corniness in the Mix with Ravi Shankar, Dylan, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the rest.

    The bluesy bands had plenty of street cred, but they weren’t anywhere near as ambitious with the size of the canvas that they painted on.

  3. It’s roughly 40 years ago now; surely that’s long enough to discard all the hoopla that surrounded the bands of that era and look at the music. Isn’t the most important thing whether the quality of the music stands up?

    And in the case of the Beatles, songs like Elanor Rigby and Strawberry Fields Forever, to pick two of many, are amongst the greatest bits of popular music ever recorded.

  4. Bring Back EP at LP says:

    gimme a break.

    a certain UNSW academic will have a coronary if you put the Beatles in the same league as any band with veryslow hand.

    The Who, Yardbirds, butterfield blues band all did much better stuff, musically and with innovation.

  5. D.W. Griffiths says:

    It’s easy to see this issue as generational – baby-boomers love making things generational :-) – but we do the Beatles an injustice if we ignore the issue of raw quality. Popularity over time suggests the Beatles were simply better than everybody else in their field. They did joy and fun better than anyone else, but they did a lot of other emotions better, too. (Think “Yesterday”.)

    I turned three in 1967. I didn’t discover the Beatles until late 1981. My 13-year-old discovered them from about 10 onwards. She tends to distrust most of the stuff dad likes, yet she’s a rusted-on Beatles fan. She’s not an outlier, either. She and a friend were in the car the other day running through their Beatles favorites. (The friend discovered the Beatles through an aunt.) Their favorite song kept changing: “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”; no, “Eleanor Rigby”; no, “A Day In The Life”; no, “Good Day Sunshine”; no, “I Am The Walrus” … until they started laughing about it. They concluded that one problem with the Beatles is that there are too many good songs to keep track of.

    The enduring appeal of the Beatles is also apparent in the success of Jet, a band that has risen to prominence in part by joyously embracing wholesale re-use of Beatlesque techniques. (Listen to “Look What You’ve Done” or large chunks of the just-released album “Shine On”.)

    It’s probably also true that the late 1960s were the golden era of popular music – just as the 1950s was the golden era for movie musicals and the past 10 years have been a golden era for animated film.

    P.S. Am I right in thinking that the “I Am The Walrus” performance in “Magical Mystery Tour” pretty much invented the modern video clip?

  6. It’s probably overstating the case to say that it “invented” the modern video clip, though the Beatles’ promotional films of the time were certainly very influential in this respect.

    Another famous early example is by that favourite of baby-boomer music snobs, Bob Dylan, for Subterranean Homesick Blues.

    As usual, the Wikipedia has a useful primer on the topic.

  7. Chris Lloyd says:

    I think it is pretty hard for someone from Nick and my generation to objectively evaluate the Beatles. There are plenty of numerical measures of how exceptional they were, but all of these under-estimate the extent to which they were the central characters for a whole generation of people, now around 50.

    I still remember the excitement that would surround the release of a new Beatles single. You would hear it on the radio for the first time and like it, the second time and love it, and thereafter it would become part of the fabric of 1969. Hello-Goodbye, Hey Jude, Strawberry Fields, Revolution. Magical Mystery Tour, I am the Walrus

  8. Yes, just re-reading this thread, the Beatles arriving somewhere was a quite different business to any pop star arriving these days. About as big in media terms as a royal visit was then and much bigger than a royal visit would be these days. I too remember sitting around trying to figure out what Sgt Peppers was all about at someone’s house. (I was in America with my father on sabbatical at the time). The other great album of that year in my house was Tom Lehrer’s “That was the year that was”.

  9. Tony.T says:

    The record playing in this Brighton Grammar student’s house in 1967 was Equinox by Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66, although I do remember their later versions of Fool On The Hill and Norwegian Wood. Not that I had much idea about popular music in Grade 1. Not that I had any choice. My mother was the DJ and she had Matt Monroe, Matt Flinders, Andy Williams, Cleo Laine, Petula Clarke et Al Martino on high rotation.

    The first Beatles album I ever heard was Essential Beatles which was released in 1972, my last year at BGS.

  10. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Just ran into John Lennon saying what I said above about the strutting pretentiousness of the Stones

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