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Beatlefest 2009 March 31, 2009

This weekend was the 35th annual New York/Metro area Fest for Beatles Fans (“Beatlefest”, or just “the Fest”, for short), held on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday on the first and second floors of the Crowne Plaza Meadowlands Hotel in Secaucus, NJ.  This was my fifth consecutive year at the Fest (though altogether my tenth or eleventh Fest; I also used to go about every year from the age of five to about ten or eleven).  Throughout my recent Fest-going years, my reasons for attending have varied, as have my company and the focus of my interests.  The first three years were spent with a whole gaggle of people, including my parents, my little brother, a handful of second-cousins and first-cousins-once-removed, and my Uncle “Otto” (real name: John.  I don’t get it either) and his band, which play in the Fest’s “Battle of the Beatle Bands” (a contest between amateur Beatles cover bands that takes place every year on the last night of Beatlefest) every few years.  Those years were spent primarily between the marketplace, buying exorbitant amounts of Beatles merchandise; the hotel room where the band was staying; and the second-floor lounge where Fest-goers can dance to a live Beatles cover band called The Bootlegs.  Then in the evening, we watched “The Battle of the Beatle Bands”.  Last year, I went with two of my friends, one who’d never been to the Fest before and another who goes every single year.  While the main focus of that Fest was showing my Fest-virgin friend as many of the regular Fest attractions that we possibly could, we also spent a great deal of time in the marketplace, as well as waiting on line in vain (I can’t remember if we got tired of waiting, if they never showed up, or if they left before we could get to them) to meet some cast members from “Across the Universe”.  This year, I went with my mother and Uncle Otto (who’s been taking a hiatus from the “Battle of the Beatle Bands”), and our main focus was the special guests.

 

We arrived at the Saturday Fest earlier than usual, so the only thing there really was to do (besides shop, which we’d have plenty of time for later) was watch the early-bird puppet show with Bob Abdou, a.k.a. “Mr. Puppet”.  Abdou puts on puppet shows at Beatlefest every year, but I had never seen one until this year, mostly because I rarely show up so early to the Fest.  Due to my lifelong fondness for puppets (blame it on my early exposure to “Fraggle Rock” and “The Muppet Show”), I decided to convince my elderly companions that we should see it, if for nothing else, for lack of anything better to do.  Though the audience was primarily made up of prepubescents and their parents, the show kept the childless adult minority happy with some surprisingly daring jokes (not offensive, but not kid-oriented either), though the puppeteer having his magic talking whiteboard (Ringo’s face, in cartoon form, was drawn on what initially looked like a regular draw-erase board, but the puppeteer somehow got the pupils and mouth to move.  I still can’t figure out how this thing worked, which is what made it so cool) sing Ringo’s “No No Song” — with its blatant references to marijuana, cocaine, and moonshine whisky — was just barely crossing the line.  But since it’s more of an anti-drug song than anything else, I let it slide.  Besides the whiteboard, the puppets included Muppet-like versions of modern-day Ringo (with the ring-adorned fingers on each hand fixed into permanent peace signs) and “Give Peace a Chance”-era John Lennon (long auburn hair, shaggy beard, all-white suit), a marionette Paul McCartney who sang “Yesterday” (who was creepy by default, being a marionette, but as far as marionettes go, he was more cute than creepy), and a simple hand puppet of George Harrison, who appeared very briefly to introduce “Yesterday” (I just wish there could have been more George in the show, as he is my favorite Beatle).  The Muppets themselves even appeared at the end singing their own version of “All Together Now” (Mr. Puppet called upon four or five pre-adolescent volunteers from the audience to help operate hand-puppet versions of Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, and Cookie Monster).  I enjoyed the puppet show immensely (’cause I’m a big kid like that).  I’ll have to remember to come to Beatlefest early more often!

 

After the puppet show, there was still time to kill before the guests we wanted to see showed up, so we headed for the marketplace, naturally.  Since I’d already bought enough Beatles t-shirts in the previous years to last me several weeks, and had bought all The Beatles buttons I could ever wish to own (besides maybe the “I slept with George Harrison” button I spotted at the fest this year, which I decided against buying due to the awkward questions it would inevitably elicit), I was content with making the modest purchase of three magazine back issues (a special issue of “Mojo” with photos of The Beatles’ early to middle years, an issue of “Q” with a cover story on Dylan, and an issue of “Record Collector” with articles on The White Stripes, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones.  The only thing keeping that issue of “Record Collector” from being 100% perfect for me was its lack of anything on Tom Petty), and my mom treated me to a “Help!” DVD so I’d have something for the guest I most looked forward to seeing — Welsh actor Victor Spinetti, who was in The Beatles’ first three films — to sign in case I got to meet him.

 

At around 2:00 we went to the Imperial Ballroom to hear Spinetti talk for an hour, which flew by as he fondly recounted his experiences with The Beatles and talked about the significant cult following he had amongst Beatles fans.  Afterwards, he went out into the lobby to sign autographs, and I had him sign my DVD case and take a picture with me.  When viewed from a distance, he looked unrecognizable from the young, slim, less balding version of himself that I was familiar with, but up close he had the same face I knew so well from “A Hard Day’s Night”, “Help!”, and “Magical Mystery Tour”: the oddly upturned nose, the cunning grin.  Next, I met Neil Innes of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, “The Rutles”, and Monty Python (not an official member, but sometimes referred to as the “7th Python”, the Python equivalent of “5th Beatle”.  In “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, he was Robin’s singing minstrel and the head-smacking monk whose hooded face is seen at the beginning of the “We’ve got a witch!” scene).  He was extremely nice, and when I asked him if he’d sign a Rutles CD for my roommate (who really wanted to meet Innes, but couldn’t make it to the Fest due to family obligations), he asked if I was in college and if I was enjoying my college days.  I later met guitarist Earl Slick, who played on John Lennon’s “Double Fantasy” and “Milk and Honey” albums, and who, despite being in his late 50s, looked like Sid Vicious, only healthier and friendlier.  He signed my Beatlefest program without much conversation (I guess meeting Innes beforehand spoiled me), and the only thing left to do after that was wait in line to meet Ronnie Spector of the Ronnettes, which took a very long time (during which I spotted Bob Abdou walking around with “Ringo” and got to take a picture with the puppet), but was totally worth it.  Spector, in spite of the diva-type image her massive beehive hairdo and outrageous eye makeup (think Amy Winehouse, only cuter and without the tattoos, missing teeth, or perpetual wastedness) may have conveyed in the early sixties, was very friendly, and her page-consuming signature would have made John Hancock envious.  After signing my program, she even complimented my hat (I was wearing the snazzy fedora that I’d bought over spring break).  I’d say this was yet another successful Beatlefest.

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The Beatles’ Films March 26, 2009

During their career as a band, The Beatles made five films together — in fact, if I’m not mistaken, they were under a contract to make at least five films.  For a while, after filming their first two or three films, they were throwing some crazy ideas around which never came to fruition, including a “Lord of the Rings” adaptation (I kid you not), but what they ultimately wound up with were  two full-length comedies, one short “experimental” film, an animated feature, and a documentary.  Each film has its own particular style and plot (when there is a plot, that is.  Not all their films had one) that sets it apart from the other four, and each film shows a different side of the Fab Four, due in part to their ever-changing interests, musical style, appearance, and tolerance toward each other.

 

 

The Beatles attempt to flee from their screaming fans in "A Hard Day's Night"

The Beatles attempt to flee from their screaming fans in "A Hard Day's Night"

“A Hard Day’s Night” (1964)

 The Beatles made their first film, “A Hard Day’s Night”, right when Beatlemania was on the verge of becoming an international craze.  What better way, then, to represent The Beatles in film, than to show them running from flocks of screaming fangirls?  With the exception of “Let it Be”, “A Hard Day’s Night” is the most realistic portrayal of The Beatles as a rock band.  Not that “A Hard Day’s Night” is an extremely realistic movie, but it does feature the band having to deal with the usual strains that come with superstardom:  bossy managers, humorless newspaper reporters who don’t “get it”, humorless teen magazine publishers who think they “get it” but don’t, fussy TV producers with no fashion sense, and of course, the stampedes of hormone-charged teenagers.  And when they’re not dealing with those things, the boys have to struggle to keep Paul’s sinister grandfather from causing mayhem.  Songs featured:  “A Hard Day’s Night”; “I Should Have Known Better”; “Can’t Buy Me Love”; “And I Love Her”; “Tell Me Why”.  Recommended if:  You’re a fan of The Beatles.  Avoid if:  You simply cannot endure to watch anything in black-and-white (what’s wrong with you?!  Don’t you know how many great films you’re missing out on?!  Jeeeeeez).

 

The Beatles making music on a snowy slope in "Help!"

The Beatles making music on a snowy slope in "Help!"

“Help!” (1965)

After making a relatively realistic (if a little far-fetched) black-and-white film about a day in the life of a typical world-famous rock group, The Beatles took a totally different approach with “Help!”  While the majority of “A Hard Day’s Night” took place all in the same city, “Help!” has The Beatles traveling all over the world with the life of their very own Ringo at stake.  It all starts when a religious cult all the way out in the “East” (i.e. Asia) are about to make their daily sacrifice to their goddess, Kaili (at least I think that’s how it’s spelled), when they find that their sacrificial ring, without which they cannot continue the sacrifice, has gone missing.  But how did it wind up on the finger of The Beatles’ drummer?  And what will happen to Ringo now that the ring won’t come off?  And why are a couple of third-rate mad scientists suddenly after the ring as well? Whatever the case, pretty soon the boys will either have to find a way to get that ring off their drummer’s finger, or find themselves a new drummer.  “Help!”, unlike “A Hard Day’s Night”, is in color, which really enhances the aesthetic effect of certain scenes, like the ones inside the band’s groovy color-coded apartment.  Songs Featured:  “Help!”; “You’re Going to Lose That Girl”; “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”; “Ticket to Ride”; “She’s a Woman”. Recommended if:  You like action/adventure films; Ringo Starr is your favorite Beatle; you enjoy Monty Python-type humor.  Avoid if:  You are extremely sensitive to outdated ethnic stereotypes, particularly those pertaining to Asians.  This movie isn’t racist or anything, and the stereotypes are pretty mild for a movie made at that time, but I know those things bother some people, so I’m just putting it out there.

 

John is the walrus!

John is the walrus!

“Magical Mystery Tour” (1967)

“Magical Mystery Tour”, having virtually no plot and playing out like an hour-long acid trip, is panned more harshly than any other Beatles movie.  However, there are many who still enjoy it nonetheless (Me, for one.  Steven Spielberg is apparently also a big fan, and it just so happens to be my roommate’s favorite Beatles movie).  It also features some memorable musical sequences, which are basically music videos inserted between scenes.  And keep in mind that this is almost two decades before MTV.  Also notable is a guest appearance by The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (I’m not quite sure who they are, either.  But my Uncle Mark loves them), who sing “Death Cab for Cutie” (way before the title became the name of a band) during a striptease (nothing explicit — a huge censor bar covers up all toplessness).  There’s not much more I can really say about “Magical Mystery Tour”, since the movie is just too weird for words.  But if your movie tastes are anything like mine, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, now is it?  Songs Featured:  “Magical Mystery Tour”; “Fool on the Hill”; “I am the Walrus”; “Blue Jay Way”; “Your Mother Should Know”  Recommended if:  You like weird movies; you’ve even heard of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band; you’ve always wanted to see John Lennon in a walrus suit.  Avoid if:  You prefer movies that have plots.  There’ll be none of that in this movie!

 

The Beatles in cartoon form.

The Beatles in cartoon form

“Yellow Submarine” (1968)

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this one.  I’ve been watching “Yellow Submarine” since I was a little kid, even though the first time I saw it, it scared the crap out of me.  In this film, animated versions of the Fab Four travel the seven seas in the titular submarine in order to aid their new friend, Old Fred, in rescuing the undersea utopia of Pepperland from the tyrannical Blue Meanies.  How do The Beatles defeat the Meanies?  With music, of course!  Sadly, The Beatles do not provide their own voices for the cartoon versions of themselves, and in fact had very little to do with the film at all.  It wasn’t until after they saw the film that they decided that they liked it, and a brief live action scene of the four of them was filmed and tacked onto the end of the film.  Songs featured:  “Yellow Submarine”; “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”; “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”; “All Together Now”; “When I’m Sixty-Four”.  Recommended if:  You’re looking for an animated movie that looks nothing like Disney; you like fantasy films.  Avoid if:  You hate the sight of 1960s psychedelic posters; you’re looking for a good animated movie to show your very young scaredy-cat child (just wait a few years, and then they’ll love it).

 

The Beatles' rooftop concert at the end of "Let it Be"

The Beatles' rooftop concert at the end of "Let it Be"

“Let it Be” (1970)

“Let it Be” was a documentary filmed in 1969.  It was meant to document the recording of an album, but it wound up being most of all the portrait of a band falling apart.  The Beatles were practically at each other’s throats at this point, with Paul bossing everyone around and John’s girlfriend Yoko Ono encroaching on the band’s recording space.  At one point, Paul and George get into a huge argument over a guitar solo in a song.  Nevertheless, this film also shows that, when The Beatles put aside their differences long enough to make music together, the result still sounds incredible.  And in spite of all their quarrelling, they really all seem to have a lot of fun during the rooftop concert at the film’s end.  The movie also features lots of great keyboard work by Billy Preston, one of the people most frequently regarded as the “fifth Beatle”, due to his work on the “Let it Be” album.  Unfortunately, due to the fragile egos of the two remaining Beatles, “Let it Be” will not be released on DVD any time soon.  But if for some reason you ever get the opportunity to see “Let it Be”, I would not recommend that you pass it up.  Songs featured:  “Let it Be”; “The Long and Winding Road”; “Don’t Let Me Down”; “For You Blue”; “I’ve Got a Feeling”.  Recommended if:  You ever wondered what a band breakup looks like; you want to see an honest portrayal of The Beatles, warts and all.  Avoid if:  You want to continue thinking of The Beatles as a happy band that never had a quarrel in all the years they were together.

 

5 Beatles Albums Every Fan Should Hear March 24, 2009

Think you’re a Beatles fan after listening to “1” and/or the soundtrack to “Across the Universe”?  Think again, my friend.  If you really want to get acquainted with the Fab Four’s most significant material, I suggest that you check out at least a couple of the following albums as soon as possible.

 

Rubber Soul“Rubber Soul” (1965)

After several relatively homogenous albums of upbeat pop-rock love songs (which are the main reason why some of my peers dismiss The Beatles, claiming “all their songs sound the same”) , The Beatles came out with the folk-infused “Rubber Soul”.  While this album still features many songs about love, they tend to focus on less-than-perfect romantic situations.  In fact, many of the songs on the album were inspired by the real-life relationship issues Paul McCartney was going through with his then-girlfriend, actress Jane Asher.  The most positive love songs on “Rubber Soul” are about a different kind of love entirely:  “The Word” deals with universal love, a subject which The Beatles would later expand upon with “All You Need is Love”; “In My Life” is about love for every person who’s had an impact on one’s life.  This album also marks the first time a sitar was ever used in a pop song, on “Norwegian Wood” (the sitar would figure prominently in popular music for the rest of the 1960s).  And then there’s the album’s closer, “Run for Your Life”, which is so catchy that it might take several listens before you realize how horribly misogynistic it is.

 

Revolver“Revolver” (1966)

“Revolver” came out right after “Rubber Soul” and right before “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, and the transistion between the band’s folksy rock sound on the former and the psychedelic and orchestral sounds they adopted for the latter can be plainly heard on this album.  “Revolver” has The Beatles experimenting with instruments not typical to rock music (“Eleanor Rigby” features a string quartet; several Indian instruments are used in “Love You To”), backwards tracking (“I’m Only Sleeping” features a backwards guitar solo),  social commentary (“Taxman” is told from the point of view of a ruthless tax collector, who asserts “You’re working for no one but me.”), and just altogether weird sounds (i.e. “Tomorrow Never Knows”).  Love songs are even fewer on “Revolver” than on “Rubber Soul”, although it does feature the tender “Here, There, and Everywhere”, and the joyous “Got to Get You Into My Life” (which is for all intents and purposes a love song, even though I’ve heard that it’s actually written not for a woman, but for a certain mind-altering herb.  But you’d never know that just from listening to it).  And of course there’s everybody’s favorite (NOT!), “Yellow Submarine”, which I’m sure you’ve probably heard countless times before (I know I have.  And if you ever meet a hardcore Beatles fan, my best advice is to NOT sing “Yellow Submarine” to them.  I shudder to think of the possible consequences), as well as one of my own personal favorites, “And Your Bird Can Sing”, which the typical Beatles novice has never heard of.

 

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (1967)

What can I say about this album that hasn’t been said already?  Honestly, this isn’t one of my favorite Beatles albums, and I have serious doubts regarding the claim that it’s “the first concept album ever”, but the fact is that “Sgt. Pepper” is an important album and therefore is essential for anyone who claims to be a Beatles fan to hear.  Highlights on this album include the trippy “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”, the heartbreaking “She’s Leaving Home” (try not to cry the first couple of times you hear this one.  I dare you), the bawdy “Lovely Rita”, and the epic “A Day in the Life”, which I consider to be one of the greatest songs The Beatles ever did.  I’d advise you not to doze off around the end of this album, or you might be startled out of your skin by some weird noises that come up after “A Day in the Life” fades out.  Fear not:  it’s just the boys messing around in the studio.

 

The White Album“The Beatles”, a.k.a. “The White Album” (1968)

Remember those people I was talking about before, the ones who complain that “all The Beatles’ songs sound the same”?  They’ve obviously never heard “The White Album”, which is by far the most ecclectic album The Beatles ever recorded.  There’s thirty tracks on this double album, and not a single one sounds like any of the others.  On “The White Album”, The Beatles dabble in genres such as the blues (“Yer Blues” and “Why Don’t We Do it in the Road?”), country (“Rocky Raccoon” and “Don’t Pass Me By”), ragtime (“Honey Pie”), folk (“Mother Nature’s Son” and “Blackbird”), and doo-wop (“Revolution 1”).  The album also includes some harbingers of future rock genres, most notably with the shockingly proto-metal “Helter Skelter”.  And then there’s “Revolution 9”, a creepy, 8-minute montage of noise that defies explanation.  This album has something for everyone.

 

Abbey Road“Abbey Road” (1969)

“Abbey Road” was the last album The Beatles ever recorded (“Let it Be” was released after “Abbey Road”, but was recorded before it), and one of their best.  The fact that the band’s members could hardly stand to be in the same room at that point clearly had no bearing on their ability to sound more amazing together than they ever had.  The first half of the album includes gems like “Something”, “Oh! Darling”, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” (a delightful little ditty about a homicidal maniac which, for some reason, even my most Beatles-resistant friends seem to love), “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”, and “Here Comes the Sun”; the second half of the album is made up of a couple of medleys, plus “Her Majesty”, the brief and charming “extra track” tacked on a few seconds after “The End” ends.  I don’t think The Beatles could have ended any better.