I saw Ron Howard’s “Eight Days A Week” Beatles film the other night…wow! I moved to Hollywood to start my career when the Beatles first hit the U.S. While we knew their impact was unprecedented, I’m not sure anyone knew we were witnessing history. Surely, they would be like many of the rock stars of that time…have a few hits…go on tour…and ride those hits until the next phenom arrived and relegated them to “oldies” tours. The Beatles defied the odds.
Sure, some (still living!) of my generation had witnessed the first real “pop star”, Frank Sinatra. The “Chairman of the Board” remains the gold standard for every pop singer who followed.
Elvis Presley, “The King”, brought rock and roll into the mainstream, was its first superstar and reigned for many years. Frank and Elvis were always larger than life, but they remained Frank and Elvis until the day they died.
The Beatles were so big that they outgrew every arena they played. Security was overwhelmed and fans risked and sustained injuries from crowds surging to the stage. They pioneered the practice of playing in stadiums and packed in 55,000 in their New York concert at Shea Stadium. I had a chance to see them on their first U.S tour in Las Vegas. My brother Tom went but I decided to forego the hysterical teen girls whose screams made it impossible to hear the group. I never had a chance to witness them live again.
I did learn from the film that the Beatles felt the same way. They stopped touring because they felt that they had become a side show at a circus and nobody was listening to the music. And it was the music that they were all about. They were, from the beginning, a very good band…four Friends who honed their craft and paid their dues playing clubs in Liverpool and Hamburg for nearly three years. The recording studio became their sanctuary and there they wrote and recorded some of the greatest songs in history.
From 1965 on, The Beatles created one ground breaking album after another. With “Rubber Soul”,” Revolver” and “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, the group re-defined the concept of albums. Of “Rubber Soul”, producer George Martin said: “We had been making albums rather like a collection of singles. Now we were really beginning to think of albums as a bit of an art on their own.” What an understatement. Each album explored new ground in both content and recording techniques.
Looking back, the accomplishments of the group are beyond comprehension in the music business. They are the best-selling band in history. Billboard Magazine ranks them as the most successful artists in history. EMI estimates The Beatles sold between 600 million and over one billion units worldwide. In the U.S. alone they were awarded six Diamond albums as well as 24 Multi-Platinum, 39 Platinum albums and 45 Gold.
Knowing what we know now, the film was even more powerful to me. It took me back to the beginning of this incredible journey….four young men doing what they loved..not knowing where the road would take them. In the end, they blazed their own trail and followed it to the places no other artists had ever traveled. All of us at the time knew we had never seen anything like it, but no one could have imagined how historic it would become….not even the Beatles.