The sound of the Fab Four is of course what made the Beatles over the span of one joyous decade, during which they used their unbeatable songwriting polish and boundless creativity to deliver the soundtrack for a generation—the biggest band in the world.
But the sight of those long-haired lads from Liverpool also helped complete the package, with everything from their fashion to the Beatles haircut to John’s rapscallion sneer, Paul’s cherubic grin, stern-faced George and the sight of good-natured, jolly Ringo complementing the fandom. Which is why new Beatles releases on the way this week—1 and 1+, which collect the band’s 27 No. 1 singles released between 1962 and 1970, remixed for a new generation of fans—also include treats like restored promotional videos and films that span the entirety of the Beatles’ existence.
The Beatles’ Apple label says it dug deep into its vaults for the packages, with the videos taking us all the way back to the early days. Set for release on Nov. 6, the result is an evocative visual and audio reminder of how the band got to the top and how it stayed there.
In “We Can Work it Out,” for example, we see an early John and Paul still cutting up, refusing to take the whole joyous enterprise too seriously, during one of three separate promo films they shot for the song at Twickenham Film Studios a little over three weeks after recording the single in late 1965.
The collection takes us on through the dazzling, colorful excesses of the experimental years, when we see the filmed results of the band’s excursions into psychedelia via promos for “Strawberry Fields” and “A Day in the Life.” It continues through the Let it Be era, when things begin drawing to a close.
That’s when we see the boys again on the rooftop at Apple, hopelessly fractured, disintegrating before the camera lens even as they give us one final live performance.
“The Beatles are still a band today where when you’re stuck in traffic and you hear something from them, you’ll tell yourself, ‘That’s a really good song,’” Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who directed several Beatles videos during the band’s tenure, tells Paste. “But the videos give you what they looked like. How they interacted. You don’t get that from the radio.
“The Beatles lasted, because they deserved to have lasted. And the videos actually show you who they were.”
Lindsay-Hogg is among those who saw who they were in-person. He directed the Beatles’ promotional video for “Paperback Writer,” for example, one version of which showed the band going through the motions of playing their instruments on the grounds of Chiswick House, an 18th century mansion in West London.
Beatles manager Brian Epstein had put the kibosh on Lindsay-Hogg’s original idea to shoot the band in a kind of newspaper office for the video while McCartney would be shown writing a novel at his desk, to go along with the lyrics for “Paperback Writer.”
Just keep it simple, Epstein told the director. The point of these promos is to sell the record—show the Beatles pretending to sing and play, he told Lindsay-Hogg, and that will do the job.
“When I met the Beatles for the first time, I was directing for a program in England called Ready, Steady, Go!” Lindsay-Hogg says. “The Beatles had stopped appearing in public. Things had gotten so crazy. They used to watch Ready, Steady, Go! and decided they wanted me to film what were then called promos for the songs ‘Paperback Writer’ and ‘Rain,’ because they didn’t want to actually appear at TV stations to promote them. It was very time-intensive in those days, and there’d begun to be security concerns about everywhere they’d go.”
The band liked his work enough that he came back in the later years to direct films for songs like “Hey Jude” and “Revolution.” He was also tapped to direct a documentary to accompany The Beatles’ Let it Be, which included filming the famed rooftop concert at Apple.
He still remembers the chill in the air, literal and figurative. Some of the resulting footage, of the band playing songs like “Don’t Let Me Down,” is included in the new package hitting store shelves this week.
“If this was just going to be a documentary of them making a record, I thought that although that was interesting, it was also aimless,” Lindsay-Hogg says. “I wanted finality. I suggested to them one day—let’s do a concert on the roof. That idea took hold.”
The original plan was to do it on a Thursday that ended up being too cloudy. The next day, on a Friday in 1969, the band with 11 cameras in tow trudged up a wooden staircase at Apple.
Lindsay-Hogg recalls they were still more or less arguing as they climbed the stairs, George wondering aloud, “Why are we even doing this?”
“Paul wanted to do it, because his nature is enthusiastic,” the director recalls. “And John said, ‘Ok, we’re doing it.’ And I think they ended up really enjoying themselves for those 40 minutes. It was just like they were teenagers again and showed what a great rock band they were.”
And now, it’s a moment fans can relive along with the rest of songs and videos the Apple team assembled.
Giles Martin, whose father George was the Beatles’ longtime producer, tells Paste there’s actually been demand from fans for a video-heavy collection like this for a while now.
The younger Martin brought his audio expertise to the package, which present new stereo, 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS HD surround audio mixes of the songs. A two-LP vinyl package is also in the works.
“It’s not as though we’ve been ignoring people—we just wanted to make sure we did it the right way,” Martin says of a video-heavy release. “Even though you can see some of this on YouTube, it’s bad quality. It sounds bad. It looks bad. So we set out to restore the audio and video to the highest possible degree.
“A lot of this is material people have never seen before. And it’s fascinating to see how much the Beatles progressed as artists in such a short amount of time. It’s actually quite emotional watching the story of the Beatles unfold in the box set.”
An 18-person team of film and video technicians worked with restoration artists tapped by Apple to undertake a frame-by frame cleaning, color-grading and digital enhancement of original promo films, TV appearances and other videos chosen for inclusion. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr also contribute commentary—audio only for Paul and filmed intros of some of the DVD content courtesy of Ringo.
The 1+ deluxe edition comes in the form of an illustrated book with commentary from music journalist and author Mark Ellen and detailed track and video annotation by music historian and author Richard Havers.
“For me, it was about going back to the original mono mixes and asking how I would capture the feel of those mixes in a stereo format,” says Martin, who worked from the original analogue tapes with Sam Okell at Abbey Road Studios. “Take ‘Paperback Writer.’ You have the drums and guitar that were done in one-and-a-half takes, the bass on the other side. In this new stereo version, we have the band and bass all coming out of both speakers, so it sounds way more powerful.”
As the Sound Experience Leader at the speaker company Sonos, Martin has been thinking a lot about the way people listen to music lately.
Helping keep the Beatles’ flame alive, though, is about something more.
“We were working from the heart on this,” says Martin, whose other recent projects include helping produce Paul McCartney’s latest album, New, and helping restore the sound from Beatles concerts for a forthcoming authorized documentary about the band from director Ron Howard. “I haven’t got some record company guy saying, ‘Where’s the number 1?’
“Even though this music is 50 years old, the Beatles catalog is full of the kind of music that people still aspire to make. And I think the great thing about that is you can’t explain it. If you knew what the answer is, we’d all be doing it. And let’s face it. The music does make you feel good. It’s easy to listen to and challenges you at the same time.”