Are there any surprises left when it comes to the Beatles? Their music and history has been so thoroughly mined that superfans would argue no, and they may very well be right. But Ron Howard’s lively new documentary “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week” offers a few moments that might interest more casual enthusiasts. Here’s a look at a few of the revelations.
– Don’t knock Ringo. He was the secret ingredient.
Ringo doesn’t always get the same respect that John, Paul and George do. But as Paul McCartney tells it, when the drummer replaced Pete Best in 1962, it felt a little like love at first sight.
“I still remember that moment, the first time Ringo played with us,” McCartney says during an interview in the movie. “He kicks in, and it was an oh-my-God moment. . . . I remember looking, and we’re all looking at each other like, ‘Yeah! This is it.’ “
“Whew,” Sir Paul added. “I’m getting very emotional.”
– Long before pop stars perfected the sorry-not-sorry apology, John Lennon offered a template.
Lennon may have been a legend, but he was not above getting embroiled in the same kind of controversies that plague modern-day pop stars. Then, as now, cherry-picked quotes can lead to major kerfuffles with or without Twitter.
In 1966, Lennon gave an interview in which he talked about how kids had become less interested in religion and more interested in pop culture. The result, he mused, was that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. The story, which ran in the U.K., didn’t make much of a splash. But when it was reprinted in a U.S. magazine, the reaction was slightly more frenzied.
People marched with “Ban the Beatles” signs, and former fans stomped on and set fire to the band’s records.
Lennon clearly hoped things would die down, but when that didn’t happen, he had to admit defeat during a news conference.
“I’m not saying we’re better or greater or comparing us with Jesus Christ as a person or God as a thing or whatever it is,” he tried to explain. “I just said what I said, and it was wrong – or was taken wrong.”
He added: “If I’d said television was bigger than Jesus, I might have gotten away with it.”
Little did he know that decades later, celebrities would still be using the “I’m sorry if anyone was offended” defense.
– The band had some part in desegregating stadium shows
“We played to people,” Starr says during an interview. “That’s what we did.”
The band thought segregation was strange and stupid, and they didn’t want any part of it, so they said they would play the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1964 only if the audience wasn’t segregated. The band got its wish, and the show went on. Whether the stadium was desegregated because of the Beatles or because of the passage of the Civil Right Act is up for debate, but the fact the group was so vocal about the issue certainly made an impression.
– Journalist Larry Kane really wanted to turn down the chance to cover the Beatles.
Kane was a 21-year-old radio journalist when he sent a letter to Beatles manager Brian Epstein requesting an interview with the band. He got an unexpected reply: Epstein offered to let Kane tag along on the U.S. tour.
“And I said, ‘I’m not going,’ ” Kane recalls during the movie. “It’s one of the biggest news years in the history of the world. Why would I, a news guy, want to travel with a band that will be here in October and gone in November?”
In the end, his boss made him – and he seems to be pretty thankful for that. But before he left, Kane remembers his dad pulling him aside to say: “Watch your back. These men are a menace to society.”
– They had an “untidy stage presentation” until Epstein took them to a tailor.
Epstein was a bit older and more posh than the shaggy-haired quartet. When he saw them playing at clubs around Liverpool, they were “rather scruffily dressed,” wearing black leather jackets and jeans, he said in archival interviews.
The suits and ties were his idea, and it didn’t take long for McCartney to see the brilliance in the choice to unify the group with wardrobe.
“It was the simplest of ideas, but it suddenly made us one person,” McCartney says. “A four-headed monster.”
The guys didn’t take their legacy too seriously at first
One of the great revelations about Howard’s documentary is how cheeky the guys were early on. They seemed to be having a blast, playing tricks on journalists and outdoing each other with witty retorts to inane questions.
During one old interview, a reporter asked McCartney where he saw the Beatles within the history of Western culture.
“You must be kidding me with that question,” he said. “Culture? It’s not culture.”
“What is it?” the reporter asked.
“It’s a good laugh,” McCartney responded.
– At their Shea Stadium show, the music was piped through the PA system.
During the first stadium concert tour in history, the biggest of the Beatles’ shows was in New York. It was the first time Shea Stadium was used for a rock concert, so there were some kinks to work out. The music was played through the loudspeakers normally used to announce the batting order.
“It must have sounded like a thousand transistor radios,” Elvis Costello says during an interview.
Vox had made extra large amplifiers for the show, but they weren’t loud enough to drown out the screaming fans.
“I could not hear anything,” Starr says. He tried to figure out where they were in the song based on the way Lennon and McCartney were shaking their hips and nodding their heads.
– The group stopped touring in 1966 because they felt like a freak show.
Of their final stateside show at Candlestick Park in 1966, Lennon said: “There was no enjoyment in it. The music wasn’t being heard. It wasn’t doing anything. It was just sort of a freak show. The Beatles were the show, and the music had nothing to do with it.”
After that, they vowed to stop, even though concerts were the real moneymakers.
“The only reason to be a Beatle is to make music,” Lennon said. “Not be in a circus.”