Brian Epstein

Eight Days a Week — Movie Review

this Ron Howard-directed rehash of the thrills and chills of Beatlemania is pretty much all that you would expect and then some! In a way, this film wasn’t really that much better than the Elvis documentary that I reviewed last month, because it’s all so familiar. Eight Days a Week earns an extra star because it isn’t 4 hours long, Howard doesn’t use the Ken Burns interview technique and there is some new footage, like clips of the band in Manchester in late 1963 (below). Supposedly, this was the first color movie with sound of the band performing and it’s pretty cool by anybody’s standards.

Of course the film is praised in every review because even though there seems to be a retelling of the Beatle story every 3-5 years, every media outlet falls over themselves and each other to say how great! and how new! and unseen footage! This time is no exception:

Still, there was the promise of undiscovered gold. One woman approached the filmmakers with footage she had from The Beatles’ final public concert, the 1966 show at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. It had apparently lain under her bed, unviewed, ever since.”

But about that new footage: It actually translates to the Beatles running offstage for the last time. Big whoop, ya know? Except for the above footage from Manchester and a few other snippets here and there, the “new footage” does not equal “performance you’ve never seen”. Even the the performances of She Loves You and Twist and Shout from Manchester are not really that earth-shattering because the Beatles were well-rehearsed and very consistent performers. If you’ve seen footage of them playing these songs before… The footage from their first US gig in Washington DC is great quality, but that performance has been on YouTube for years, albeit at much lower quality.

The PROS: The one aspect of this film I really liked was shots and interviews of regular people: A huge crowd of male Liverpool soccer fans singing She Loves You! Killer! A hilarious group of New York girls talking about which Beatle they loved! Awesome! Sigourney Weaver talking about seeing the Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl! Hotness! Whoopi Goldberg, who saw the Beatles at Shea Stadium! Whoopi! Elvis Costello in a cool hat talking about Revolver! Elvis! Dr. Kitty Oliver, who saw the Beatles in Jacksonville when they refused to play to segregated audiences, and it was the first time she had ever been in a mixed race crowd of people! Beautiful! Finally, newsguy Larry Kane, who was a major presence in the Philadelphia market for over 30 years. A pedantic, uncool, almost Howard Cosell-type guy who, through his traveling with the band, became good friends with the Beatles, especially John Lennon. His reports are so unhip, they are completely hysterical! He was always like that…but he was a good news reporter.

The CONS: Not one shot of George Harrison playing a guitar solo, although there is a brief minute of him singing Roll Over Beethoven in a snarly tone I’ve never heard before. Too much Starr/McCartney reminiscing that’s been done before. Instead of a few more restored or colorized clips of the Beatles playing in Washington in 1964 or at Budokan, Japan in 1966 we are treated to endless still photo montages of the Beatles traveling, running from girls, having pillow fights in their hotel rooms, running from the stage, doing photo shoots, doing press conferences, and smoking. They did a lot of smoking and for some reason this film needed to animate the smoke from still photo cigarettes. Then there are the shots of helicopters in Vietnam, rednecks burning Beatle records because Lennon said something about Jesus, people rioting, Oswald’s rifle, Kennedy’s motorcade…Yea, I know context. The problem is the context always seems to overwhelm the music and before you know it, you’re watching another very familiar-looking special on the 1960s. If you know that story or have seen it before, you won’t find much in this movie to celebrate. If you have no idea who the Beatles were, don’t understand what the 60s were about, or are a fan that needs to see everything, you’ll probably enjoy this. I watched this with my girlfriend and she didn’t like it either but we both enjoy watching the old concert footage. We’re going to try to find a collection of the old concerts if something like that has ever been made?? My birthday is in a few months.

Joe Meek, Telstar, and Brit Hard Rock

Back in July I wrote a post on Space Age Pop. (This was part of a ShortRiff and all of those never-to-be-repeated series are located up top in the header menu). Probably the most famous Space Age Pop song [and the most successful] was a British recording from 1962, the instrumental Telstar (named after an American satellite) performed by The Tornados. Telstar was written and produced by Joe Meek, a guy who was already legendary in Brit circles for being an independent mad scientist of a record producer/recording engineer who operated outside the bounds of the (at that time) very conservative British sound industry. Unfortunately, he was also (probably) psychotic, addicted to amphetamines, gay when it was completely illegal to be so and eventually became financially insolvent because of a debilitating suit brought against Telstar by French Composer, Jean Ledrut. The suit prevented Meek from collecting any royalties from the song during his lifetime, but ironically (?), tragically (?) the case was found in his favor three weeks after he killed his landlady and himself with a shotgun on February 3, 1967 (the anniversary of Buddy Holly’s plane crash). Other not so good things included knowing Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein, but thinking the band was “rubbish”; hanging up on Phil Spector; and thinking everyone was stealing his work (taking enough speed that one night a week of sleep suffices will do that to you).

But in his home studio, the search for his vision of a sonic ideal never abated and included: building his own gear, using cutting edge techniques like multiple overdubs, echo, delay, close-miking, direct input and compression, and generally just approaching the art of recording from whatever off-the-wall perspective he thought would bring the right sound to the record. He was fascinated by space and, in addition to Telstar, he recorded I Hear A New World a fantasy concept album about life on the moon in 1960. His fascination with the occult led him to record creepy songs, sounds in graveyards and cats “talking”. The dude was from another world.

What is really interesting for guitar players is how a couple of the future heavyweights from 60s and 70s rock were doing sessions associated with Joe Meek. This group included British Sessions guy Big Jim Sullivan, Ritchie Blackmore, Steve Howe, and Jimmy Page. Ritchie Blackmore became Meek’s first-call guitarist between 1962-65. While Page’s legacy in the studio in the early 60s is/was common knowledge, I never knew Ritchie was a session guy. He was a very happening guitarist by the time he was 18 though and he was acquainted with Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page in those early days. He was also in a band with the very colorful Screaming Lord Sutch, a horror-show-themed personality modeled after Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, who not only recorded with Joe Meek, but also was associated with some of British rock’s most famous personalities. Anyhow, this article has a laundry list description of Joe Meek’s guitar recording techniques and it’s definitely worth a read. He was a man with a passionate ear and very ahead of his time. Would not be surprised if Page learned a thing or three about recording and filed those ideas away for later when he was in that really huge band whose name escapes me at the moment.

There are many Joe Meek recordings on Youtube. Many listeners will probably find a fair amount of the music has a kitschy, lounge-y production value along with the musical weirdness that was Space Age Pop. But there was also a lot of raunchy rock and roll — You Keep a Knocking by The Outlaws (with a stinging Blackmore at 18 years of age guitar solo), Train Kept a-Rollin’ by Screaming Lord Sutch (once again with Blackmore on guitar), Have I the Right? by the Honeycombs — a band notable for having a female drummer, Honey Lantree, in 1964. They churn out a slammin’ Dave Clark 5-y single with this big hit produced by Joe Meek. As a matter of fact this song and Telstar were 2 of the 3 Number 1 songs that Joe Meek produced. There are a couple of compilations that have some great sounding stuff with great guitar work, here and here. While some of the “pop” stuff is weird and dated, I’m telling you, the songs and sound grow on you…like an evil plankton out of a Stephen King novel…one of the good ones…ya know…from a long time ago. Or… some of the tunes can sound as sappy and syrupy sweet as a can of Geisha White Peaches and believe you me — that is pretty sweet! Some of the KRAZY KUTS (especially Meek’s “concept” records and the wackiest of the Sutch and the Savages-type offerings) is like Dr. Demento-type novelty music. If you have read this blog, you know I have some experience with that genre and the twisted, silly, outrageous and sometimes flat-out dumb recording process involved. But my experiences during those years were a whole lot of fun and extremely interesting when it came to the various processes how instruments, musicians and even the entire studio can be manipulated to create otherworldly music.

In 2008 there was a film made, Telstar: The Joe Meek Story. While it looks like The Commitments—30 years later I’m sure it’s entertaining in a madcap and informative way if that’s your cup of tea. There are also some very informative documentarytype things on YouTube. I believe there was some made-for-television presentation done back in the early 1990s. There is also a NEW DOCUMENTARY coming out next month titled, A Life in the Death of Joe Meek, which should be very interesting. They have input from Page, Howe, members of The Honeycombs and The Tornados! I will be looking to see that ASAP and then report back…
So stay tuned for that!