The Beatles 1+
The passionate scholarship devoted to the Beatles' archival projects is an accurate reflection of the continuing resonance of the cultural paradigm shit they ignited some fifty years ago. For the 1+ DVD/CD package, masterful technical expertise (including upgrade to the CD originally issued in 2000) combines with a rigorously academic attention to detail enclosed in the hardbound book, all of which underscores with the labor of love approach only genuine fans can muster. And in his introductory essay at the outset of the one hundred twenty-four page booklet, Mark Ellen exhibits a healthy detachment from his subject that only underscores that attitude.
Proceeding in quick succession based on the abbreviated duration of the recordings, often just past the two and a half-minute mark, the earliest videos of the Beatles in performance, whether lip-syncing (Love Me Do") for the purposes of television or singing live over a pre-recorded track ("I Want to Hold Your Hand," "She Loves You")), can seem quaint, yet the Beatles stage demeanor mirrored the restless nature of their creative impulses: notwithstanding how firmly planted are John Lennon's feet, set wide apart as befits his crucial role as the quartet's rhythm guitarist, he's constantly bouncing up and down as he sings on "Can't Buy Me Love."
Meanwhile, Paul McCartney twists as he shouts and harmonizes with his songwriting partner, further driving the band with his insistent fluid bass playingnever so prominent in such early material as in the up-to-date remastering given the twenty-seven number one hits on the audio disc. It's little wonder George Harrison belies his stoic concentration on his lead guitar work with the ever-present little dance steps and, swinging in time with his rhythm section partner, why wouldn't Ringo Starr be swaying back and forth as he sits at his drumkit?
And if it seems trite to hear the studio track of "Eight Days A Week," over footage of the foursome at Shea Stadium, take into account the science applied to that finished recording and how far short fell the technology of the times to match it in a concert context. The band takes a tongue in cheek approach to songs from the very next year, "Ticket to Ride" and "Help," evidence of their good-natured lip service to the medium with Harrison's gleeful smile in the rain of confetti on the latter and a deliberate stare (with the wink of the eye only implied)direct into the camera on the former.
The staid likes of the clip for "Paperback Writer" belies the creative fiction at work in McCartney's hard rockerthe band still sounded like a band at this point, that is they could swingand even the animation culled from the movie Yellow Submarine for the title song and "Eleanor Rigby" seems a holding pattern when juxtaposed with the footage of the now hirsute quartet (no longer the quintessential Fab Four of yore) for "Penny Lane:" the seemingly unrelated footage is a red-herring for the open-minded approach the Beatles were taking to their music now that they'd retired from touring. Exploration of the conceptual side of music video as it became the de rigeur medium of the Eighties, arrives with the interspersal of studio footage for "Lady Madonna,"
That direction would continue fitfully with the project initially titled "Get Back" eventually to assume the more ominous name of "Let It Be," excerpts from which carry over into the second DVD of this set, where the missing links of the band's evolution, in the form of "Rain" and "Strawberry Fields Forever," appear juxtaposed with alternate versions of earlier numbers and, in some cases such as the former, multiple takes indicative of the plethora of creative ideas in play with the Beatles through the better part of their time working together. The bonus inserts of commentary from McCartney are most insightful, given the depth of thought he gave to the band's later projects and while Ringo's are the happy go luck sort in line with his fortuitous role in the band's chemistry.
Depiction of each member with his significant other of the times in 1969 during "Something," only partly distracts from the resounding clarity of that recording because, again, it represents the point of maturity the Beatles had reached that rendered their own disengagement from each other inevitable. The caricatured animation for "Come Together" begs the question of why no footage correlating to the famous cover shot for Abbey Road
(Apple, 1969) appears here, but perhaps that's due to the level of disconnect apparent in the studio take of the title tune of their final album and even more so "The Long and Winding Road" here shorn of the Phil Spector orchestration that exacerbated the friction within the band in favor of the late Billy Preston's keyboards.
Yet if it's true, the Beatles' breakup, ragged as it turned out be due to business complications, was painful in retrospect, such demeaning aspects of their history pale in comparison to the level of boundless joy at the root of their creative urges as nurtured by their producer Sir George Martin. That his son Giles spearheads the preparation and release of 1+ is testament to the continuity of the foursome's work as it foreshadowed subsequent explorations of style within contemporary music as we know it to this day, a shadow cast so far and wide it engulfs the only other artists of comparable significance-and similarly meticulous vault explorations-Bob Dylan
and the Grateful Dead