I heard a story—possibly apocryphal, but too good to dismiss—that when The Beatles played The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964, something happened that never happened before or since in the history of New York City: not a single crime was reported. For the 10 minutes that the Fab Four played “All My Loving,” “Till There Was You,” and “She Loves You,” even the criminals of Manhattan stopped and took notice.
Approximately 23 million households, 34% of the American population, tuned into The Ed Sullivan Show that night. Something magical was happening, something more than music. The culture was shifting, the mania was taking over, and the revolution was beginning. It was a sea change. From The Beatles forward, nothing was going to be the same.
On August 29, 1966, The Beatles waved goodbye to their fans from the field of San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. They weren’t breaking up—they still had four good years and six seminal albums in them—but the fans weren’t there for rock ‘n’ roll anymore. They probably couldn’t even hear the band over the constant hysterics in the stands. How could they? Down on the stage, The Beatles couldn’t even hear each other. So why bother? Their music was getting more complex and impossible to perform in public anyway. Why waste their time playing speed-up renditions of “She Loves You” if no one was listening and the musicians had nothing invested? With that, The Beatles hung up the touring life and retreated into the studios.
But all of this is well-known and well-tread material. What is there left to say about one of the greatest and most influential bands of all time? Frankly, not too much, but our understanding of history is a fickle one. How we understand the events of the past is often affected by how they are contextualized and presented to us. And if they are not presented frequently enough, we quickly forget, distracted by something else. Maybe that’s why every couple of years, a new Beatles documentary comes out. Or a rerelease and remaster of the albums are made available on a new platform. The music is still good, great even, and the story is still fascinating. Every day, babies are born, and they have just as much right to know the story of John, Paul, George, and Ringo as the rest of us. For those newly inducted, Ron Howard’s The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years is a wonderful introduction and the perfect primer for another round of Beatlemania.
Composed primarily of archival photographs, some footage, and new interviews with surviving members Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, Eight Days a Week focuses on the years 1962–66, from Liverpool’s Cavern Club to Candlestick Park. The documentary tracks the Fab Four learning their craft in dingy clubs in Hamburg, Germany, to the beginning of their experimentation with studio trickery and more complex sounds. Along the way, they started a revolution, recorded a multitude of No. 1 hits, and pissed off the establishment.
McCartney and Starr add anecdotes and some insight, but nothing contradictory or brand new. There is a sense that the longer they live, and the more they are asked these questions, the less confident they are in their answers. It’s hard to understand something so large from the inside out. To outsiders, The Beatles changed the world and many of our lives with their music. For The Beatles, they were just playing music with their mates.
Eight Days a Week draws much of its archival footage and studio recordings from Geoff Wonfor and Bob Smeaton’s dense and revelatory eight-hour The Beatles Anthology. Howard does a commendable job condensing the material into a primer for some and a refresher course for most. The story moves swiftly, the music is crystal clear, and, once again, we’re reminded how big of a sensation those lads from Liverpool really were. It’s astounding. Lennon was wrong when he said, “We’re bigger than Jesus.” The Beatles were bigger than everything.
The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years (2016)
Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: Mark Monroe with story consultant P.G. Morgan
Produced by: Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Paul McCartney, Scott Pascucci, Nigel Sinclair
Starring: Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon, George Harrison
Abramorama, Not Rated, Running time 99 minutes, Opens September 16, 2016