Last Saturday, my family and I saw a documentary directed by Ron Howard entitled, “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week” at a cinema in Greenhills, San Juan City. My daughter, Estelle, only knew about the Beatles through modern remakes of songs like “Yesterday” and “Imagine.”
It was her first time to watch a documentary about Britain’s most popular band and how it conquered the world through its music at a time when television shows were in black and white and transistor radios connected people. After the movie, Estelle had a newfound respect for the world’s first-ever, most loved boy band that filled stadiums with screaming audiences.
From the start, The Beatles did work hard, eight days a week, jamming in small pubs in Liverpool, writing songs that they believed in and performing on The Ed Sullivan Show. It is worth seeing the movie if only to witness how a much younger John Lennon and Paul McCartney collaborated on their biggest hits. Clearly, what held the group together was their insane love for music and the background that they shared as lads from Liverpool.
Paul, now officially known as Sir James Paul McCartney, still dashing at 74, reminisced about how he would often start talking about being a songwriter to friends, only to be brushed aside in favor of conversations about sports. When he met John, and Paul mentioned that he was a songwriter, Lennon said he was one, too. Neither one needed affirmation from any experts on what they were, or how good they were as songwriters. They wrote songs with their guitars, a pen and scraps of paper. Their songs became the soundtracks of our lives.
The film also paid a well-deserved tribute of sorts to Beatles manager Brian Epstein and record producer George Martin. It was Brian that gave them their “look” – “moptops” in matching suits, while George Martin became their mentor in cutting albums.
In one interview, a reporter asked The Beatles when they had their last haircut, and George said he just had one, and everyone laughed. It was that kind of a generation, when young men wearing bangs was a revolution in itself, and wit didn’t come with expletives.
In the Ron Howard documentary, John Lennon admitted writing the song, “Help!” because it reflected what he felt during that time when The Beatles was so much in demand.
Read the lyrics.
“When I was younger, so much younger than today”
“I never needed anybody’s help in any way.”
“But now these days are gone, I’m not so self-assured.”
“Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors.”
These lyrics make more sense when you watch the documentary. In one of their tours, The Beatles had the entire floor of a hotel but they all squeezed in a bathroom just to have some peace and quiet. It was that kind of life.
But what made it easier for them to get through was the friendship that they enjoyed. Comparing themselves with Elvis, one of the Beatles said Elvis had no one else to share the burden of fame, whereas the four of them being in a band experienced the same pressures together.
The movie did mention a brief stop in the Philippines. Paul McCartney recalled that they had to leave immediately because Brian Epstein declined an invitation from First Lady Imelda Marcos for dinner in Malacanang. In a subsequent tour, they were asked whether they expected any untoward welcome, just like what they received in the Philippines, and McCartney said no, that all would be good.
And, it was. The band continued winning hearts all over, across time and age zones, until John Lennon mentioned something about The Beatles becoming more famous than Jesus Christ. In an article that appeared in the London Evening Standard on March 4, 1966, Lennon was quoted as saying:
“Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that. I’m right and I’ll be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now.” (Source: www.ultimateclassicrock.com)
Religious groups and the media called for a boycott of The Beatles, and there were bonfires where records, photos, and other memorabilia were burned. Lennon had to apologize, though he had to insert this little cheeky line: “If I’d have said television is more popular than Jesus, I might have got away with it.”
That kind of wit and daring was also why The Beatles took over a generation, and continues to influence so many artists and music lovers up to this day. They were intelligent men that played music that they loved. No matter who we are, where we are, and how old we are, we will always have The Beatles. Thank you, John, Paul, George and Ringgo.