Fascinating depiction of a phenomenon catching fire
In the second talk of his "second season" of multimedia lectures on the Beatles, Freiman irises in on a single year ... the one in which the boys from Liverpool broke free of their home town and London, and neared the precipice of world stardom with the release of two singles that would hit number one in the U.S. the following January.
As always, Freiman opens with a quiz. This one features the original working titles of Beatles songs and you try to guess the real, final name. It's a lot harder than the quizzes in previous Freiman shows; instead of a chorus of replies, some of the unfamilar titles are greeted with silence from the audience at the Jacob Burns Film Center, where these presentations are shot.
This two-hour show features the usual thrilling mix of rare photos and video footage, and studio outtakes. Three things stood out for me.
First, Freiman shows that even this early, well before "Rubber Soul" and "Revolver," the Beatles were innovating: He claims that "P.S. I Love You," released as the B-side of their very first single, "Love Me Do" (which had peaked at a respectable #17 in the UK in October 1962) was the first rock song to feature a flat six, flat seven, and tonic chord (they recur at the end of each verse).
That climbing trio of chords under "you, you, you" had been used in other musical genres such as jazz and classical, but not in rock and roll. It would reappear in the Beatles' work, of course ("Lady Madonna") but everywhere else as well, from The Kinks "Lola" and Abba's "S.O.S." to Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" and Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" (even in the background music to the Super Mario Brothers video game).
Second, there's a lengthy discussion of the multiple takes the band and their producer tackled to arrive at the final version of "From Me to You." It's still early March 1963, yet the band did 13 takes: seven before adding John's harmonica, trying the humming on take 11 at Martin's suggestion, da-da-da-dos on 12, and an octave singalong on 13. Martin would stitch together parts of takes 12, 8, 9, and 10 to make the master. A lot of work to do something that's easy today, as Freiman observes.
Third, Freiman explains how hard the Beatles worked outside the recording studio that year, and how much material they generated and simply gave away to other acts. On June 1, they performed live on the BBC show "Pop Go the Beatles," and sang half a dozen songs -- their own mixed with Chuck Berry and Leiber/Stoller covers. (They would eventually perform live on the BBC 53 times.)
Among the songs they passed on to others, The Fourmost had a #17 chart single in the UK with Paul's "I'm In Love" in November, Peter and Gordon would go all the way to number one with Paul's "World Without Love" the following winter, and of course they shared "I Wanna Be Your Man" with a new and upcoming London band called The Rolling Stones.
In October, they achieved their dream of appearing on the premiere UK TV show "Sunday Night at the London Palladium." John would josh the queen and her box three weeks later. But oh, there would be more - so much more - to come!
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