[The Beatles] almost single-handedly rescued the Western musical system.”
— Howard Goodall, music composer named “Composer of the Year” at the 2009 Classical BRIT Awards
“It sounds ridiculous but it’s not. I’m convinced the Beatles are partly responsible for the fall of Communism.”
–Milos Forman, Czech film director/screenwriter/actor/professor
“The Beatles were in a different stratosphere, a different planet to the rest of us. All I know is when I heard ‘Love Me Do’ on the radio, I remember walking down the street and knowing my life was going to be completely different now the Beatles were in it.”
–Justin Hayward, The Moody Blues
“The greatest rock band of all time. Nobody even comes into the same planetary system in terms of songwriting and presentation. They never repeated themselves. They kept going from strength to strength.”
–Lemmy Kilmister, Motorhead
Peter Jackson’s Homage to the Fab Four.
First off, there is little to dislike about New Zealand director Peter Jackson’ three-part series Let it Be currently showing on Disney +. Except, you know, boredom. You have to be a dyed-in-the-wool Beatles fanatic to sit through the minutiae that permeate the first two episodes. (Spoiler Alert) The 3rd show is by far the best.
Context. What the Series Is Missing.
At the time of the making of Let it Be, January 1970, the Beatles had already reached mythic status. Sgt. Peppers/Revolver/Rubber Soul plus worldwide adulation. Record sales out the wazoo. That alone should colour the events which we see unfold. To hear them talk endlessly about possible locations for their forthcoming concert is to see how big they had become. Budgets were never discussed. Every little thing they did, must be earth-shattering. Each new effort must always be breaking some kind of artistic ceiling. The pressure to constantly exceed expectations must have been enormous. The entire world was watching them all for any and all breakthroughs. I simply can’t imagine the heat they must have felt. To say that their collective worlds were upside down would be an understatement. This, I feel, is where there should have been much more context given to viewers so they could better understand the fame and popularity these four gentlemen had experienced. Things that we see which were very noticeable. Paul plays with his hair constantly, John is side-tracked easily. Ringo and George feel, rightfully so, left out of the Paul & John bromance. Hubris is in the air. Producer George Martin and their engineers are afraid to rankle the feathers of
the Fab Four in any way. Like I said earlier, you had to be there in 1964 when the world shifted. Today, nobody can imagine how HUGE the Beatles were. It was literally biblical how massive an influence they were on every aspect of life.
The Beatles Were So Very Young.
When you’re watching this series, keep in mind that none of them had even turned 30. John would turn that age in October of 1970. So, they were very young to be under such scrutiny. Their Golden Age, from 1962 through 1970, was roughly eight years long. They sometimes put out three albums a year. John set up his skiffle band in 1956, around the age of 16. Paul McCartney joined him at age 15! George Harrison, after much back and forth, joined them at the advanced age of 15. So, they played covers for 6 years before they ever broke through with Love Me Do. Notice that the three got together after John heard Elvis Presley on the radio. “Before Elvis there was nothing,” said the witty Beatle whenever he was asked about motivation. So, we can see that even though the Beatles are cynical, worldly, and very sure of themselves, they had been working to be great a very long time before the film ever rolled on Let it Be.
Yoko is Surprisingly Quiet!
I know, Yoko Ono is often blamed for breaking up the band, but as you can see, especially in the 3rd part where John becomes the John Lennon we all venerate, she wasn’t the sole cause of the band’s dissolution. There was no villain. There was a Devil’s bargain that Paul was facing as we can see all too plainly throughout Jackson’s film. John was in love with Yoko, and wherever he went, she would be sure to follow. Was she a security blanket? I honestly can’t conjecture on that issue. What I do know is that surviving the cultural crush that came with being a Beatle would have failed many of us. John’s relationship with Yoko, which seemed taboo at the time, was probably a reaction to the immense hullabaloo that followed them wherever they went.
They Goofed off and Worked like Demons.
That the Fab Four played cover songs and knew them note for note is very apparent throughout the over six-hour series. The charismatic crew constantly break into songs that others made famous whenever they were searching for gold. Their almost encyclopedic knowledge of pop, country and rock songs was perhaps one of the most illuminating aspects of the series. They knew almost every song worth knowing and used that intimacy with chord progressions and harmonies to write their own songs. When one looks at their age, and love of music, it’s obvious that they were born for this. Remember, they had played together all the time since they were in their mid-teens. This can’t be mentioned enough. I know I was taken aback by this knowledge.
Billy Bridged the Gap Over Troubled Water.
Billy Preston dropped in to say hi to the lads at Apple Studios when the group decided, “Well, here is the piano man we need!” You can tell from the moment Mr Preston sits down and noodles on his keyboards that the mood in the room has shifted to a more positive place. All the Beatles welcome the playful interlude that Billy’s joyful personality brought to the proceedings. The fact that he was talented as all get out didn’t hurt, either. Thanks for dropping in, Billy!
This is a much-overused term that has been oversaturated in our modern culture, but it applies wholeheartedly to the Beatles. George Martin, who was their musical director and muse, said this.
“They weren’t hit material, I didn’t think anyway. But they had tremendous charisma, those guys. I fell in love with them really,” Martin said. “They were cheeky and they had this sparkle. When you’re with them, you feel enriched in their presence. And when they go away, you feel a bit diminished,” he continued. That is the impact these guys had on Martin, who was the man behind forty of their hits.
And in the End.
So, whatever your misgivings about this series and what you’ve heard, do yourself a favour and see what all the noise is about. The world is a richer and far better place because of the Beatles influence, and this series shows how they created that magic.
I’ll close with this reflection from a poet. This to me was the feeling you got from seeing them for the first time.
There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Appareled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.