The SmarK DVD Rant For The Beatles Anthology

The SmarK DVD Rant for the Beatles Anthology

In a deleted scene of Pulp Fiction, Mia talks about how the world can be divided into two groups: Elvis men and Beatles men. I’m a Beatles man.

In a world where groups like Def Leppard take 7 years between ALBUMS, it always blows my mind to think back on the career of the greatest band ever, the Beatles, and how their entire span of work only lasted from 1963 until 1970. Even more amazing is that there are people who don’t know that Paul McCartney was in another band before Wings, but that’s another rant.

Oddly enough, I’m not a big fan of either John Lennon or Paul McCartney as solo acts — Lennon completely lost his edge once he met Yoko, and McCartney no longer had Lennon to reign in his sappy love song tendencies.

My own fascination with the Fab Four actually went backwards from the usual teenage discovery of them — these days it seems like everyone gets into the White Album first and sticks with the pre-breakup material, but in my case being stuck in the back seat of my parents’ cars while they constantly listened to Oldies radio stations meant that I was much more well-versed on the “Red” era before ever understanding that they went psychedelic in 1967. In fact, in elementary school, songs like “When I’m 64” and “Yellow Submarine” were used for singalongs, and it was only years later that I discovered that these were in fact later Beatles songs and not just catchy kids songs. Hey, I was like 10 years old, what did I know? Besides, “Yellow Submarine” has one of the greatest choruses ever written, so it was easy to mistake for a folk song.

It took me a while to get into the later stuff — I was aware of the existence of Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road, for instance, but it wasn’t until I started listening to a local classic rock station’s late night programming in my teen years and they started playing the Abbey Road medley (Sun King/Mean Mr. Mustard/Polythene Pam/She Came In Through the Bedroom Window/Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End) on a regular basis that I was really interested in hearing more. And man, once I heard Abbey Road for the first time all the way through, I was THERE, dude. Of course, I bought everything on cassette at the time and have only recently started rebuilding the albums into my CD collection, but the Red and Blue sets have served me fine over the years as a stopgap. Since then, my love of the group has kind of spanned all their stuff now, and I can appreciate everything from “Love Me Do” all the way to “Long And Winding Road” (well, actually I hate that song, but it was the last hit before that silly “Free As a Bird” nonsense). It’s kind of amazingly cool how much their early stuff rocks — “Hard Day’s Night” is like the first cowbell rock song and I’m shocked someone hasn’t cranked up the volume on it and done a cover lately. In the days before producers created guitar solos with computers, their harmonies and recording tricks had to be done from scratch, and it all sounds just as good today as it did back then.

Anyway, enough reminiscing, on with the reminiscing

The Film

Created in 1994 for ABC as a mini-series, The Beatles Anthology is an expanded version of a movie originally done by former roadie Neil Aspinall in the early 70s, where he basically collected all the footage he had of them into a two-hour feature, and then put it on the shelf for 20 years. Using live performances, then-recent interviews, archive footage of John Lennon, past interviews, newsreel footage and home videos, a 5 hour look at the career of the greatest band in the world was assembled, in their own words and focusing on the music. At the same time, they took a grainy mono recording of John Lennon banging on a piano with a song fragment called “Free As a Bird”, added some superfluous lyrics and a zillion layers of production via Jeff Lynne, and called it the first new Beatles song in forever. I think the song blows, but to each their own. At the same time, a 6-CD collection of rarities, early recordings, alternate takes and live concerts was released, also titled Anthology. I love those things, especially stuff like the alternate version of “Tomorrow Never Knows”.

Anyway, this DVD set presents the Anthology in it’s full form, as a 10-hour extravaganza with added footage and interviews and expanded coverage of the snippets of performances included in the original. Watching the new one, I have no idea how they managed to edit it down to 5 hours in the first place. Starting with Ringo Starr’s birth and proceeding through the early years of the Quarrymen and Stu Sutcliffe, it takes a leisurely stroll through the 60s through the eyes of the Beatles and in their own words. You get performances from the Command Performance for the Queen, the Shea Stadium show, early arena shows, and just about any other place where someone was filming.

Just about every notable song and album in their career is covered in detail, with stories about their creation and recording. You get to practically watch the stress destroying them in 1966 and leading to the end of their career as a touring group and beginning of their experimental phase. By the 7th episode, as they’ve gotten to the White Album and things are falling apart, it starts to get pretty depressing, especially when Yoko Ono comes into the picture and there’s practically a big line drawn the screen saying “HERE IS WHERE THE GROUP SELF-DESTRUCTS”.

The nice thing about the documentary is that it gives equal time to all the Beatles, even Ringo. They also don’t duck any of the bigger issues (like the drugs, drugs or even the drugs). Although oddly the “Paul Is Dead” stuff isn’t even mentioned.

Even at 10 hours, this will leave you wanting more and have you listening to the albums all over again with new appreciation. I couldn’t even begin to do justice to this thing with a recap — suffice it to say that it’s a vital piece of history that no Beatlemaniac, casual or hardcore, should be without. You’ll learn about the evolution of the music industry and the evolution of pop and rock music in the process of watching the Beatles grow and fall to pieces, and it’s insanely fascinating stuff throughout. You’ll never get bored once, I promise.

The Video:

Well, it’s a TV documentary from 10 years ago and most of the source material is pretty dodgy, so you get what you expect, more or less. 1:33 full-screen and colors are great for the new stuff, and the rest depends on source material.

The Audio:

Oh. My. Holy. GOD.

Everything has been completely remixed in Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, and uncompressed PCM stereo, and each one would be enough to qualify it as the greatest music mix I’ve ever heard on a DVD. The DTS mix of the early stuff, with full separation to all channels on the remastered stereo versions of the pre-65 stuff, will rock your world. For the most amazing example of the new clarity and range of the material, check out their performance of “Ticket To Ride”, where a live performance in mono is suddenly switched to the proper studio version and literally engulfs the room with the bassline. “Day In The Life” in particular is eye-poppingly great in 5.1 (as you might imagine), but the digital zing of Ringo’s drums and George’s guitar is now felt in all their intended glory rather than mixed to the back behind John and Paul, in ALL the songs. They sound better than the original CD versions, by far. Even stuff like the Shea Stadium concert has been properly mixed to get rid of the screaming girls and presented in full surround sound. This is truly an incredible experience for people only used to hearing the fairly-lazy Red and Blue studio dumps of their stuff. The audio alone is worth upgrading to DVD if you already have the video set or just watched the show in 1994.

The Extras:

You get another disc with nearly 90 minutes of bonus material.

– First up, the three surviving Beatles hang out at George’s estate in 1994 and jam on ukuleles and “Blue Moon Over Kentucky” while reminiscing about Beatle boots and hairstyles. That runs about 15 minutes.

– Then, you get them at Abbey Road a year later, playing on the sound board with George Martin and arguing about who was playing the bass on “Golden Slumbers”. I LOVE that kind of shit. Another 10 minutes there.

– Another featurette has the group talking about compiling the Anthology CDs and previewing some of the material on them (like John’s “sugarplum fairy” version of “Day In The Life”). More great stuff.

– A 10-minute look at the recording process for “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love”, where they’re obviously having a blast. The only thing I wish they included here was the original mono track of Lennon’s demo so you could hear just how weak the base material was. I have heard it, and there’s no way Lennon would have intended it as anything but throwaway material.

– A 10-minute look at the making of the “Free As A Bird” video.

– A 10-minute look at the production team for the documentary, which is also surprisingly interesting stuff.

– Finally, the video for “Real Love”, which sounds so impressive in 5.1 that you’ll wish they had recorded more stuff during those sessions.

Basically, a whole other episode of the show on that disc. Awesome.

The Ratings:

The Film: *****
The Video: **1/2
The Audio: *****
The Extras: *****