Over five decades ago, four young men from Liverpool stepped onto the Ed Sullivan stage in New York City.
In that moment, The Beatles performed a number of their top hits to the largest television audience in American history. The music industry changed forever and a new force, Beatlemania, was born.
From the age of four, dancing like an absolute maniac to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and dealing with Dad’s obnoxiously loud Blink-182 cassette tapes, I grew up loving and listening to music.
From age 12, I started obsessively collecting everything and anything music related – records, CDs, music documentaries, ticket stubs, books and so much more. But of all the artists I loved, nothing compared to my adoration of The Beatles.
My teen years were spent in absolute awe of the Fab Four. My catastrophic bedroom walls could have been easily mistaken for a museum installation of “a typical 1960s Beatles-crazed fan girl”. I was completely and utterly obsessed.
I attributed this obsession to my maternal grandmother, Nana. She idolised George Harrison and still does to this day. My mum always told me the story of Nana travelling from Cowra to Sydney to see the Beatles in 1964. To me, the thought of a small town country girl travelling to Sydney to see the biggest band in the world seemed unimaginable.
Ron Howard’s latest documentary, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years, catches the magic and exhilaration of the first half of The Beatles’ career, as they embarked on various world tours between 1963 and 1966, around the same time Nana saw The Beatles in Sydney.
The documentary is not particularly revelatory. In fact, the majority of this story is fairly familiar to the average well-informed Beatles maniac, like myself. However, it’s the undeniable wit and charm of the Fab Four that is sure to bring a smile to anyone’s face.
From the band’s thrilling debut on the Ed Sullivan Show to their stint at Shea Stadium and Lennon’s controversial “bigger than Jesus” comment, Howard’s rock doco covers the tumultuous rise of Beatlemania worldwide throughout The Beatles’ early touring years. The cultural phenomenon of Beatlemania was something the world had never seen before. Sure, there was Elvis and Frank Sinatra among others, but The Beatles created a unique sense of unity through fans of all races, classes, and nationalities, worldwide.
The time of The Beatles’ rise to fame was a time of innovation and significant social change. In a 1965 tour, the Beatles refused to perform in front of a segregated audience in Jacksonville, Florida. Whoopi Goldberg, who was featured in Howard’s doco, recalled the experience of seeing The Beatles perform at Shea Stadium to an unsegregated audience. It was something she had never experienced before in her childhood and it left an indelible mark.
The documentary tracks The Beatles ability to cross over from teen heart throbs to one-of-a-kind musical innovators. While their fan base grew, their music continued to improve and become more and more cutting-edge.
Howard’s doco shows The Beatles’ transition from ‘the touring years’ to ‘the studio years’, where Lennon, McCartney and Harrison began to experiment with new ideas and new styles of music. These changes are seen most prominently in the 1966 album Revolver, which coincided with the band’s final tour. Although the album was praised by British critics, it was initially rejected in the United States as it came out following Lennon’s controversial “bigger than Jesus” comment.
As seen in Howard’s doco, Revolver was the beginning of The Beatles’ magical mystery tour of musical innovation. During their career, The Beatles revolutionised the music industry, releasing the first music video (Paperback Writer), the first concept album (Sqt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band), the first print of lyrics on an album sleeve and the first self-contained record label. They also experimented with new studio techniques including Artificial Double Tracking, tuned feedback and distortion while also trialling new instruments such as the sitar.
The pinnacle of Beatlemania, in my opinion, is still completely unrivalled. No band or artist has come close to the degree of influence The Beatles have had on music, history, and culture. The Beatles have been an influence in our lives for over half a century. Their music and influence resonates through old and new generations and their names remain familiar in the average household. Howard’s documentary proves that while some artists may come and go, Beatlemania is well and truly here to stay – not just in my life, but in anyone else’s who chooses to come on this magical mystery tour. – Jessica Staveley
Photo of The Beatles – publicity still by Robert Whittaker; photo of Paul McCartney and John Lennon – publicity image, photographer unknown.