This is the first in a three-part series. We are discovering 33 films in the series, with 11 films each over the next three days — at 3 PM — as part of our third “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week” installment.
As we developed this third “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week” in February, the 52nd anniversary of the Beatles’ final live performance in 1969 — shot for Let It Be (1970) — passed on January 30.
As you can tell by this article’s title, this isn’t about the Beatles’ movies, such as A Hard Day’s Night or Help! or Magical Mystery Tour or Yellow Submarine (well . . .) or Let It Be or any of the wealth of theatrical, television, and direct-to-video documentaries on the band.
And we are passing on John Lennon in Richard Lester’s How I Won the War (1967) and his work with the “supergroup” the Dirty Mac in The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (1968/1996), as well as Paul McCartney’s vanity piece, Give My Regards to Broad Street (1984).
And we are passing on chronicling the works of George Harrison’s Handmade Films, so nothing on Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979), The Long Good Friday (1980), and Time Bandits (1981), or his production of Shanghai Surprise (1986), in which he appeared and recorded five new songs.
And we are passing on Ringo Starr’s resume with Candy (1968), The Magic Christian (1969), and Blindman (1971), as well as his co-starring roles in That’ll Be the Day (1973) and Son of Dracula (1974), his work as the Pope in Lisztomania (1975), his starring role in Caveman (1981), his appearance as Larry the Dwarf in Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels (1971), and his work on Harry Nilsson’s animated film The Point! (1971). We’re also passing on Ringo’s appearances in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz, his document on the 1976 farewell concert of the Band, and the Who’s The Kids Are Alright (1979). And how can we forget, Ringo (1978), Starr’s made-for-television adaptation of The Prince and the Pauper, and Princess Daisy (1983), with wife Barbara Bach. And Ringo’s appearance in Sextette (1978), and directing debut of the T.Rex concert document, Born to Boogie (1972).
This exploration is concerned with the speculative biographical flicks, the films using the legend of the “Fab Four” as plot fodder, and the historical sidebars to their careers — both as a band and solo artists.
The films are listed by their year of release.
Yellow Submarine (1968)
We each have our fond memories of this sort of . . . and it’s not . . . but it is . . . Beatles film. Sam the Bossman remembers watching it on UHF-TV as his dad and grandad fixed the furnace. Me? My sister still doesn’t let me live down my nightmares . . . of the Blue Meanies coming to get me. What did my parents know about LSD trips? It’s those loveable moptops from A Hard Day’s Night, after all . . . and it’s a cartoon. What’s the harm . . . and I am still scarred by it, for life.
Initial press reports stated that the Beatles themselves would provide their own character voices. But all was not well at Apple Corp. and the lads weren’t enthusiastic about working on a new motion picture to fulfill their three-picture deal with United Artists, having been dissatisfied with their second feature film, Help!.
So, the Beatles bailed on project, giving the over 200 artists — who crafted the film across 11 months — all the creative space they needed. John, Paul, George, and Ringo composed and performed the songs (a mere six that comprises 22 minutes of Side One; the other half was comprised of George Martin orchestral compositions). As actors, the “real” Beatles only participated in the film’s closing scene, while their animated doppelgangers were voiced by other actors.
Obscure Beatles cover song hokum: There’s been a LOT of covers of Beatles tunes over the years . . . but one of the coolest covers of “Yellow Submarine” was done by Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s More Fiends from their album, Toad Lickin’ (1990). Here’s the rub: The song, titled “Yellow Spades,” is actually a cover of Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades” backing Paul McCartney’s lyrics.
I wonder if Paul has ever heard it? Did Micheal?
Micheal Jackson sold Northern Songs, Ltd., the publisher of the Beatles’ catalog, in 1995; the More Fiends, it seems, escaped the Gloved One’s legal wrath. The same can not be said of New York’s SST recording artists Das Damen. On their Marshmellow Conspiracy EP (1988), they recorded “Song for Michael Jackson to $ell,” which was actually an uncredited cover of the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour.” After discovering the unlicensed cover, Jackson’s lawyers assured the track was removed from future editions of the album.
Still, I wonder if Micheal would have unleashed the legal hounds of war on the More Fiends? “Yellow Spades” is still commercially available on Apple Music or Spotify. So, either no one cared or the legalese was settled.
And yes. There is a band called, Blue Meanies, a ska-core band from Illinois, U.S.A. that recorded several albums between 1988 to 2007 — with no illegal Beatles covers from Yellow Submarine.
All This and World War II (1976)
So, before the creation of the abyssal Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the sappy-hokey I Am Sam, and the not-much better Across the Universe — and before Robert Stigwood gave record executives a bad name by ravaging the Beatles — Russ Regan, president of both UNI Records and 20th Century Records, and vice-president of A&R at Motown, came up with the idea to document the horrors of war through newsreels. He wondered, “What if The Beatles provided the soundtrack?”
Instead of real Beatles tunes — and in a warm up for their later work with Robert Stigwood — the Bee Gees stand in for the Fab Four, initially contracted for the entire soundtrack. In the end, the Brothers Gibb recorded six songs; three ended up in the film: “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight,” “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” and “Sun King”; their versions of “Lovely Rita,” “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds,” and “She’s Leaving Home” didn’t make the cut. Elton John, Ambrosia, Rod Stewart, and a host of other chart-topping musicians take care of the rest.
All You Need is Cash, aka The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash (1978)
Eric Idle and the Monty Python troop devised rock mockumentary of skits and gags chronicling the fictional tales of Dirk, Stig, Nasty, and Barry, aka the Rutles, a band whose career mimics the Beatles’. Airing as an NBC-TV special, the movie earned the lowest ratings of any show on U.S. prime time television that week.
Are the proceedings are better than that? Yes. On equal with Spinal Tap’s exploits? No. But it’s darn close.
The ersatz Beatles tunes were written by ex-Bonzo Dog Band (friends of the Beatles appearing in Magical Mystery Tour) member Neil Innes, who portrayed John Lennon to Eric Idle’s Paul McCartney. Ex-Beach Boys drummer Rick Fataar portrayed George Harrison; Lou Reed band member John Halsey (1972’s Transformer) parodied Ringo Starr.
Yes . . . as with Spinal Tap, there is a sequel.
I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978)
Robert Zemeckis, later of the Back to the Future franchise and awards-sweeper Forrest Gump (and Used Cars is pretty fine, too), makes his feature film writing and directing debut with this examination of the hysteria of Beatlemania. It’s seen through the eyes of four teenagers (headed by Nancy Allen and the always-great Wendy Jo Sperber) as they try to meet the Beatles during their time in New York to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 8, 1964.
The Beatles show up, as well as Brian Epstein, in archive footage, while William Malone cameos in an uncredited role as George Harrison. And yes, we are taking about the writer and director behind Creature. And we get a “Ringo” in the form of Eddie Deezen’s nicknamed Richard Klaus in the film, so all is well. The soundtrack features seventeen original recordings — covers and originals — by the Beatles.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978)
The Beatles’ cover tunes by the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton, as well as Aerosmith showing up for an “evil” rendition of “Come Together,” for this tale about Billy Shears and the “band” of the title, are quite good; it’s the celluloid wrapped around it that stigs, uh, stinks. Oh, the overwrought Frankie Howerd (as Mr. Mustard) and ham-fisted Steve Martin (murdering “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”), why?
It’s been 43 years since seeing this in a theater — and never on cable or tape, no way; for once was enough for me. For the memory . . . the horror . . . is still burned into my cerebrum. I need a Beatles lobotomy, Joey. Where’s the Pepperland-invading Blue Meanies to stop the Bee Gees when we need ’em?
Birth of the Beatles (1979)
Dick Clark (who also made Copacabana . . . based on the Barry Manilow song) hired ex-Beatles’ drummer Pete Best as a Technical Advisor and Richard Marquand (Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi) as his director to give us this take on the early history of the Beatles — then known as the Silver Beatles. The film is noted as the first biographical drama on the band, released nine years after the announced break-up of the Beatles themselves, and is the only Beatles biopic to be made while John Lennon was still alive. While it was released as a worldwide theatrical feature, this was issued as a TV movie on ABC-TV in the States.
Courtesy of a publishing loophole — unlike the later and similar early-days-of-the-Beatles Backbeat, which used songs the Beatles recorded as covers — the songs in Birth of the Beatles were written by the Beatles themselves, only interpreted by the Beatles tribute act, RAIN.
The “loophole” of using cover versions of Lennon-McCartney compositions, of course, backfired. As result, Birth of the Beatles has fallen out of print and will more-than-likely never be reissued to DVD or Blu-ray. But there’s a TV rip uploaded to You Tube.
Marquand, who made his made his debut directing Roger Daltry in The Legacy, also directed ’60s folkie Bob Dylan co-starring with ’80s pop singer Fiona (the 1985 Top 15 hit “Talk to Me”) in the pretty awful, Joe Esztherhas-penned flick, Hearts of Fire (1987).
Beatlemania: The Movie (1981)
A smash Broadway musical-rockumentary advertised as “Not the Beatles, but an incredible simulation” that ran for 1,006 performances from May 1977 to October 1979 is a sure bet for a theatrical film adaptation.
No, it’s not.
The show — a multimedia production consisting of backdrops and projected images of art and video footage from the Beatles-era, as well as numerous clips of the Beatles — consisted of 29, chronologically-played songs, complete with costume changes.
So — with a Broadway hit on their hands — the managerial impresarios behind the production, Steve Lever and David Krebs (known for their handling of the Rolling Stones, Joan Jett, and Aerosmith; remember “Boston’s Bad Boys” appeared in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band), decided that — Apple Corps. lawsuits, be damned — it was time to take on the albums charts and the silver screen.
The original cast of Joe Pecorino (rhythm guitar, John), Mitch Weissman (bass guitar, Paul), Les Fradkin (lead guitar, George), and Justin McNeill (drums, Ringo), and the second cast of Randy Clark as John, Reed Kailing as Paul, P.M. Howard as George, and Bobby Taylor as Ringo, headed into the studio for a 1978 Arista The Album release — which bombed with record buyers as it scrapped into the lowest regions of the Billboard 200.
Seriously? Who wants to buy a Pickwick (Discogs) budget sound-alike of Beatles tunes?
Okay . . . well, maybe a movie would work, better.
Uh, no it won’t. Remember All This and World War II?
Production began in late 1980 — shortly before John Lennon’s December 8 murder — under the tutelage of TV director Joseph Manduke (Harry O, Hawaii Five-O, Barnaby Jones). The cast featured a mix of musicians from the Broadway production and album, with Mitch Weissman back a third time as Paul, David Leon as John, Tom Teeley as George, and Ralph Castelli as Ringo.
Released in the summer of 1981, Beatlemania: The Movie quickly became a critical and box office bomb. Apple Corps, who launched their first legal volleys regarding publicity rights and trademarks in 1979, finally won in damages in 1986.
And Ringo hated the concept, in whole.
You can learn more on the making of Beatlemania (the Broadway show) with this Chicago news station-produced TV documentary on You Tube.
John and Yoko: A Love Story (1985)
This NBC-TV effort chronicles the relationship between John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The movie was made with the co-operation of Yoko Ono, who controlled the song rights. The film begins on August 19, 1966, in the wake of a protest initiated by Lennon’s (misunderstood) comment that the Beatles “were more popular than Jesus” and end with Lennon’s murder in 1980.
In a production twist: Actor Mark Lindsay booked the role of John Lennon. When Ono discovered that was his professional name — and that his birth name was Mark Lindsay Chapman — the similarity gave her “bad karma,” so he was recast with Mark McGann.
In 2007, Mark Lindsay was cast as an “older” Lennon in Chapter 27 (2007) — the tale of Lennon’s assassin, Mark David Chapman.
Concrete Angels (1987)
Robert Zemeckis scripted his Fab Four tale, I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978), around the Beatle’s historic February 8, 1964, appearance on CBS-TV’s Ed Sullivan Show. In that tale, a group of friends schemed to meet the band.
This time, a quartet of ne’er-do-well teens from the wrong side of Toronto’s tracks form the Concrete Angels to enter a radio station’s battle of the bands contest and win the opening act slot for the Beatles’ gig. Will they win and escape their poverty or will they fall back into their juvenile acts of crime?
The Hours and Times (1991)
Christopher Munch makes his writing and directing debut with this fictionalized account of “what might have happened” during a real holiday taken by John Lennon and (the homosexual) Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, in 1963. Ian Hart, who stars as John Lennon, portrays him one more time, in Backbeat. The film was restored for a 2019 DVD release.
Secrets, aka One Crazy Night (1992)
As with the previous Beatles-inspired films I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978) and Concrete Angels (1987), this Australian production works as a coming-of-age drama — a retro ’80s John Hughes coming-age-drama — backed by Beatles folklore. Now, instead of trying to meet the Beatles at their first New York and Toronto concerts, we have five teens who sneak in, then find themselves trapped in the bowels of a Melbourne concert venue where the Beatles are set the make their June 11, 1964, Down Under debut. Saccharine soul bearing, ensues.
As with most Beatles films, you’re getting covers (most outside of the timeline of the movie) — this time from Dave Dobbyn, of New Zealand’s Th’ Dudes (their hit, “Bliss“) and DD Smash (their hit, “Outlook for Thursday“) (DD Smash would sweep the New Zealand Music Awards in 1982 and 1983, but a Men at Work or Split Enz crossover to America wasn’t meant to be). The Judd Nelson/John Bender of the bunch comes in the form of an antithesis Elvis fan stuck in the ’50s. Another looks like Wolowitz from The Big Bang Theory — only with out the nose (because he’s obsessed with George, not Ringo), who always wears Fab-inspired suits.
Join us tomorrow for our second installment with our next batch of films.