What was it like to be a Beatle during the height of Beatlemania? For the answer, go see The Beatles: Eight Days A Week - The Touring Years (1963-66) directed by Ron Howard (aka Opie and Richie Cunningham). Being about to turn 13 when they appeared on the Ed Sullivan show, and only 15 in 1966, when The Beatles stopped touring, I'd never really understood that decision. Watching this film, I finally realized why it had to end.
Eight Days A Week captures the craziness of their lives from late 1963 through August 1966 and the hysteria and tumult that surrounded them. The film footage includes a lot I'd never seen before as well as new interviews with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr (who looks pretty good for a 76 year old) along with reflections on those years by George and John taken from old interviews.
The primitive state of touring and concert technology and organization is staggering. Even by the late 1960s it was immensely improved, but that was to be too late for the Fab Four. The Beatles had only three roadies on their first U.S tours! In one scene from a show in Washington DC, we watch Ringo, without assistance at first, trying to turn the platform on which his drum kit is sitting.
The sound equipment was miserable. For their 1965 U.S. tour, Vox made special 100-watt(!) amps for the band, which were no match for the wall of sound emitted by their fans. They had no special sound equipment for vocals. At Shea Stadium, with 56,000 screaming fans, their vocals were played through the public address system. Amidst the din of the screams, their fans could not hear them and The Beatles could not hear themselves. Ringo could only try to tell where the other three were in a song by watching their movements and the shaking of their heads.
One of the joys of the film is that Giles Martin, son of George Martin (1926-2016) reengineered and remastered the concert footage so we can hear what the band actually sounded like even with all the surrounding noise. They sound like a very tight rock n roll band. The irony is that the clarity of the movie soundtrack is not anything like what the audience and the band heard at the time.
The camaraderie of the four also comes through. They looked out for, and relied upon, each other, knowing no one else could understand what they were going through. In those days they shared rooms while touring; John and Paul wrote many of the one hundred songs they composed together between mid-1963 and the end of the recording for Revolver in June 1966, while on the road and in hotel rooms. The petty resentments, conflicting visions and desires that broke the band up only came to the fore after the touring ended.
Watching them is also a reminder of just how witty and quick they could be, with humor and cheekiness that stands up fifty years later. There are quite a few funny moments, along with stories even some of us who've been fans for many decades, had not heard.
So enjoy yourselves and look for the movie. It's only in limited release (only three theaters in CT are showing it), but it's worth driving a bit. It can also be found on Hulu, but you won't get the full impact of the sound track and visuals if you miss it on the big screen. And, if you see it in a theater, you might get lucky like we did - following the movie, they showed a remastered version of The Beatles concert at Shea Stadium (they only played for 30 minutes!).
Even if you are not old enough to remember them from the 60s, Eight Days A Week will give you a feel for why The Beatles were such a big deal at the time. And stick around to watch the credits until the end.