The five Beatle movies are not only essential threads in the entire Fab Four tapestry, they hold a deep personal connection to me and my experience with the band. Having been born in 1971, I wasn’t even alive until nearly a year after my favorite Liverpudlians had disbanded. Therefore the concept of “The Beatles” during my childhood in the mid/late 1970s was of some kind of hazy singing group that existed long, long ago. But that all changed sometime around 1975 or so, when the family gathered around the family room TV to watch the animated Yellow Submarine movie on a local channel. I was utterly and immediately transfixed by the songs, the color, the animation, and the characters. Animation constitutes almost instant joyous escapism for any small child, and Yellow Submarine, with all its Peter Max-inspired pop art lunacy, brilliantly fit the bill for me. It was even slightly scary and at times disturbing, but I couldn’t turn away from it if I tried.
We had the soundtrack album on vinyl; I remember listening to it religiously, staring at the album cover, and imagining myself fighting alongside the Beatles for the power of Love against the evil Blue Meanies. Like I said before — pure escapism.
Cut to the 1980s, when I became a raving Beatlemaniac thanks to the cheeseball ‘Stars on 45’ Beatles Medley that somehow because a huge hit on North American radio. Having become aware that there were in fact five Beatles movies out there, I wanted to see all of them. Immediately. Well, easier said than done — especially in 1981/1982 in the South Florida suburbs. We didn’t own a VCR or even have cable yet. If it wasn’t on antenna TV, it just wasn’t happening unless a local arthouse/revival theater decided to show an old print. And that’s just what occurred in the Spring of 1982, when Universal re-released the 1964 classic A Hard Day’s Night to theaters on a limited basis. I begged my Dad to take me to go see it, which he did, and if I recall correctly, he rather enjoyed the movie (rock/pop music of ANY kind was not on his radar, but he loved and still loves British humor). As for me, I was in total heaven. I probably could have stayed and watched it again and again. (Eventually that year I caught Magical Mystery Tour on videotape in band class, and Let It Be on home video once we got our first VCR that summer. I can’t remember when I saw Help, but it had to be around then.)
As an aside for South Floridians who remember old-school Coconut Grove, this was at the Grove Art Cinema, owned by The Fabulous Flying Fendelman Brothers. I think it’s now a post office. Oy.
Capitol Records, the American label that was responsible for Beatles releases in America, decided around 1982 that they wanted more Beatle product in stores. This was a scant 15 months after John Lennon’s murder, and there was a sense of renewed interest in the Fab Four music. Hence the release of Reel Music, a repackaging of the “greatest hits” from all five movies. I suppose that, financially, this must have made some kind of sense. Thematically it held together pretty well. These guys made five movies: here’s a taste from all of them, many of them songs of which you’re already mostly familiar. That barely definable chord that opens up ‘A Hard Day’s Night’? That’s rock legend right there.
The package itself is at the same time wonderfully fascinating and horrifically gaudy. The cover is a painted image that covers both the front and back, featuring a “Capitol Cinema” that is presenting all five movies. The Beatles themselves, from all five movies, are in attendance: you can see them entering the theater in their monochrome ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ suited attire, and posing in front of the box office in their snow outfits from ‘Help. Exiting a convertible parked in the center of the cover is the band in both their Wizard and Walrus costumes from ‘Magical Mystery Tour’. The animated Fab Four from ‘Yellow Submarine’ also make an appearance (John looks to almost be making a metal gesture, while the animated Ringo seems to be having a fun conversation with his counterpart from ‘Help’). Finally, the rather dour foursome from the rather dour ‘Let It Be’ flick are huddled in the corner, rather removed from all the Beatle hoopla.
As an album cover, it’s one of those ‘cool in concept, YEESH! in execution’ things. It’s a bit busy, and doens’t really strike that iconic vibe something Beatle-related should usually do. Again though, this wasn’t an “official” Beatles album, but rather a cash grab from the record label. No matter. Dad and I hit Q Records N Tapes later after watching A Hard Day’s Night and I came home with the record, plopped down, and played it immediately.
Let’s review the tracklist shall we?
A Hard Day’s Night
I Should Have Known Better
Can’t Buy Me Love
And I Love Her
You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away
Ticket to Ride
Magical Mystery Tour
I Am the Walrus
All You Need Is Love
Let It Be
The Long and Winding Road
It’s pretty much just as you might have expected: the big “hits” (or at least, the most “familiar” songs) from each movie, presented in chronological order. A quick 42-minute musical journey through the Beatles films, nothing more, nothing less. There’s not a bad song in the bunch, with the huge exception of “The Long And Winding Road”. I know it’s simply a matter of preference, but I have never much liked that song, *especially* with the over-saturated, cheesy, bloated bombast of Phil Spector’s late-fourth-quarter production.
But, save for the Yellow Submarine album, which only has six Beatles songs on it (two of which had already been previously released) and the entire second side consists of orchestrations from the film’s score, there’s not a single moment when you wouldn’t be better off listening to the original soundtrack album from each individual movie. The UK albums — the “definitive” releases — were specifically sequenced by the band themselves, but even the US albums make a better listening experience.
Sonically, the tracks on this album are mostly the same as their standard American releases, but there are a few interesting finds for the truly Beatle obsessed. “I Should Have Known Better” featured a new stereo mix that fixes a harmonica drop-out. “A Hard Day’s Night” is the first US stereo release of that song, although the vocals were slightly off-center (which would be fixed in another release down the line in 1993). “Ticket To Ride” had previously only been released in “fake stereo” in the US, and as such made its true stereo North American debut with this album.
Reel Music was not a big seller for Capitol Records, and by 1984 the album was discontinued and went out-of-print. My copy — like all my Beatles vinyl — was sadly destroyed in 1992, when Hurricane Andrew roared through our neighborhood, flooded our garage, and wiped out my entire vinyl collection. Bummer doesn’t even begin to describe that particular experience. Thirty-one years later, the album is little more than a historical footnote for Beatles collectors. It’s not an entirely unappealing record, though. It did come with a 12-page “program” that featured text pieces and photographs from all the films, which I recall pouring over religiously while listening to the album. But again, this is a basic “greatest hits” theme package, and little more. For most that might be enough, and you can’t fault the music (mostly).
Incidentally, here is how I would sequence a “Beatles Movie Album”, based on my personal preferences. The only rules I place on my record is that the songs therein must have been featured in one of the movies, and that the entire album can’t go longer than 45 minutes. So without further ado:
Hokeyboy’s Cinematic Beatles Hootenanny
(Running time: 44 minutes)
Magical Mystery Tour
And I Love Her
Ticket To Ride
The Fool On The Hill
For You Blue
You’ve Got Hide Your Love Away
I Am The Walrus
Two Of Us
I Need You
You’re Going To Lose That Girl
I’ll Cry Instead
It’s All Too Much