By Ken Sharp
Trendsetters in songwriting, recording, production, style and fashion, The Beatles set the bar in the field of 20th century popular culture. Back in 1966, they took one giant step that predated the MTV revolution by 15 years with the hallucinogenic tinged surreal whimsy and wonder of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” perhaps the first conceptual music video ever. For Beatles fans, a smartly assembled compendium of the group’s forward-thinking videos has stood near the top of a Holy Grail wish list that also includes the release of the group’s concert film of their 1965 appearance at Shea Stadium and their final film, “Let It Be.”
Now the long wait is over with “The Beatles 1” and deluxe edition, “The Beatles 1+,” multi-DVD/CD sets culling over 50 promotional films and select TV appearances. The package is a chronological way back machine kicking off with the band’s debut single, “Love Me Do” and winding up with “Real Love,” one of the two late ‘70s era demos spruced up by surviving members Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr and produced by ELO mastermind Jeff Lynne. Existing muddy, washed out and degraded versions of this material has been painstakingly restored to pristine visual quality enhanced by newly remixed audio overseen by Giles Martin, son of Beatles producer George Martin. The results are breathtaking and lend a newfound appreciation of The Beatles’ visual canon.
Michael Lindsay-Hogg, famed director of the group’s 1970 film, “Let It Be,” is responsible for overseeing several of the highlights of this outstanding collection, namely the promotional films for “Paperback Writer,” Rain,” ‘Hey Jude” and Revolution” along with a selection of clips purloined from “Let It Be” (“Get Back,” “Let It Be,” The Long and Winding Road,” “Don’t Let Me Down”). Join us for an illuminating conversation with Michael Lindsay-Hogg that details his historic visual excursions with John, Paul, George and Ringo.
GM: What has been your overall impression of “The Beatles 1” package?
: I thought this project, which is overseen by Jonathan Clyde from Apple, did a really spectacular of restoration, tidying up, brushing up, parting the hair in the right place on the images as well as on the sound. I think it’s a really great package. Also, over the years the clip that we shot of “Rain” in Chiswick House and in Chiswick Gardens was the one that I had seen more and the one you see more on YouTube. But I think the one we did in the studio was really good. It was interesting seeing the studio version we shot of “Rain” and then the Chiswick House “Paperback Writer.” We shot the band doing “Rain” and “Paperback Writer” at Abbey Road Studios because we were there and we had to get these songs done and then the next day we shot them again in a totally different way and a totally different look at Chiswick House.
GM: How did your background working on the TV show, Ready Steady Go! prepare you when working with The Beatles?
MLH: Well, I guess by the time I came to meet The Beatles — which was the spring of 1966 — I’d been doing Ready Steady Go! for pretty much a year. Ready Steady Go! had gone on in August of ’63 and I came on in March of ’65. But then I kept on it. Before me, there was sort of a rotating group of directors — three, or four or five of them. They were all nice but the problem was they were in their 40s if not older and they didn’t really like rock ‘n’ roll. They really wanted to be directing Shirley Bassey at the London Palladium rather than the Kinks or the Pretty Things or anyone like that. So I was the right age; I’m the same age John (Lennon) would have been so I started doing Ready Steady Go! and I formed early on good relationships with The Animals, The Who and The Rolling Stones., I’d always loved rock ‘n’ roll music since I was a school boy. I used to hurry home for Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. But having met these people and figuring out a little bit about the way they worked, and this was before I met The Beatles, I had a little more confidence that I had some rock ‘n’ roll chops then I would have if I’d met The Beatles a year before. I know that I’d shot some good rock ‘n’ roll. I’d done a couple of wonderful shows with The Rolling Stones when they first put out “Satisfaction”’ and I’d done some wonderful stuff with The Who. So to answer your question, working in rock ‘n’ roll and directing Ready Steady Go! gave me more confidence when I met The Beatles than I might otherwise would have had.
GM: The first fruits of your work with the Fab Four were for the films for “Paperback Writer” and “Rain,” their first in vivid color. Did you have a game plan in mind with these films? Was the band’s manager, Brian Epstein giving you input or ideas?
MLH: No, Brian Epstein wasn’t giving ideas but Epstein in fact was sort of putting his thumb on ideas. What happened was The Beatles themselves at that time were working on an album so that was their main focus. One of the things I learned about them is basically they’re musicians before they’re actors. Of course, they had acted in “Help!” and in “Hard Day’s Night” but they were musicians first and foremost. They wanted the videos to be good of course but it wasn’t their main focus. I’d had an idea for a kind of story video. Now story videos weren’t very much done at the time; I mean, videos weren’t very much done at the time. I did The Beatles in ’66 and then The Stones and then The Beatles and The Stones again in ’68. I almost did a Kinks one in ’68 also. I also did a Who one at the end of ’66.
GM: So you had a story idea initially for these songs?
MLH: No, only “Paperback Writer.”
GM: What was the concept?
MLH: The idea was they’d all be journalists working in a newspaper office but secretly one of them, Paul, was trying to write a paperback novel, and then it would be how they would help him or how they would not help him. But it would give us a setting of a newspaper office which I thought would be an interesting. So I suggested this to them which of course in those days would have been a very low tech newspaper office compared to what we have today. There still would have been typewriters and secretaries taking dictation or whatever. So I gave them the idea and they said, “Yeah, maybe, let’s think about it.” Then a couple of days later, which was probably about a week before the shoot, I got as phone call from NEMS, which was Brian Epstein’s company, saying quote unquote, “Mr. Epstein didn’t want anything unusual, just a video of the boys performing.” I suppose from his point of view, I guess they hadn’t been seen for a while. They hadn’t had any videos made since the ones that came along since “Help!” So I think he just thought it would be simpler and I’m not sure he wanted anything fancy or complicated; he just wanted to show them performing to the world., Brian was a nice man; he was interesting. He was quite a reserved, sort of reclusive person but he said no to that so that’s why we shot “Rain” and “Paperback Writer” the way we did.
GM: What was the appeal of location shooting at Chiswick House?
MLH: It wasn’t that far away and it had beautiful gardens. I thought it would be the complete reverse of a studio set up.
GM: Through the process of working with the band on those initial promos through the “Let It Be” film, was there one member of The Beatles most interested in the process?
MLH: I think the answer to that is really to do with them and how they changed over the years. I think when we did “Rain” and “Paperback Writer” they all had more or less the same degree of interest, which was on low boil, but sure there was interest. They were interested in all their work; music and movies. They’d made two movies and would go on to make “Magical Mystery Tour.” It wasn’t their primary thing they were interested in; that was always music. But yeah, in ’66, for the first two films we did, they were interested and asking, “What’s this shot gonna be?” When we came to do “Hey Jude,” “Revolution” and finally the “Let It Be” film, they were starting to pull in different directions because they hadn’t been touring since ’66 and they’d been starting to live separate lives, not sort of in each other’s pockets which was the way it had been since they were teenagers. I’d say that Paul was the one who was more focused on getting them all connected to a project because I think he thought if they were just wandering around in their separate worlds that it wouldn’t be so good for The Beatles. I think he was very keen for The Beatles to stay together.
GM: You can see that in the “Let It Be” film where Paul is trying to implore the rest of the band to do shows and work.
MLH: Exactly. He recognized that the original feelings they had for each other and for each other’s music was starting to fray and he didn’t want that. He recognized how absolutely transformational The Beatles had been and he knew they still had good years in them if they wanted to stay together. So Paul was the one who was more focused on getting projects going.
Thinking back to the shoot at Chiswick Park for “Rain” and “Paperback Writer,” what are your most vivid memories?
MLH: Well, first of all I chose that location and the most vivid memory I have (laughing) is about English weather. English weather can be pretty inconsistent. When we shot the videos, it was a gloriously beautiful day. We all turned up there, The Beatles, all the attendant road managers, chauffeurs and Brian Epstein, the vibe was very good just because it was a beautiful beautiful early summer day. That’s the thing I remember most it about it. We got great Beatles weather.
Did Paul or anyone else in the band or management tell you to stay away from close-ups of Paul as he’d recently had a biking accident and a large piece of one of his front teeth had been broken?
MLH: No, none of that happened. I’ll tell you one of the things that was interest tangentially. When we were gonna go and shoot “Revolution” I found myself walking along a corridor with John Lennon. He was looking a little tired like he had been up late and was a little pale so I said, “Do you wanna go to makeup?” And he said, “Well, what for?” and I said, “Well, it’ll probably make you look a little bit healthier.” And then he said, “No.” And I said, “Why not?” And he said, “Because I’m John Lennon.” What he meant was not that he was too grand or too famous to go to makeup, but that he wasn’t an actor pretending to be John Lennon. He was a person and as such if he didn’t look as good as he might have the day before it didn’t matter. That’s the way he looked that day. So going back to Paul and his chipped tooth, that was the same feeling they all had, which was, “we’re not actors pretending to be The Beatles, we actually are The Beatles and we’re musicians. If we don’t look so good today and one of us has a chipped tooth so be it.”
Two years later you were brought in to direct the clips for “Hey Jude” and “Revolution,” which are straight-ahead performances. “Revolution” has its own special energy due to John’s live vocal and live background vocals from Paul and George.
MLH: Those videos were shot at Twickenham Studios. There was some issue with the British Musicians’ Union in that period, I can’t remember what it was exactly, but it had to do with playing live and miming to do with promos and to do with television appearances. Going back to Ready Steady Go! for a second, we were the first musical show I think in history of rock ‘n’ roll to actually have live sound. Sometimes totally live sound like when The Rolling Stones did “Satisfaction.” Sometimes you’d have playback of the music and live vocals so it wasn’t that unusual. So The Beatles would mime to the backing tracks and John would sing live with Paul and George singing the “shooby-doo wop” backing vocals. Since we knew later in the day we were gonna do “Hey Jude” with a crowd, I spoke with Paul and the rest of the band and they felt it was important that we have a big distinction between “Revolution” and “Hey Jude.” So “Revolution” was filmed on purpose kind of down and dirty. We did that song in the afternoon and then “Hey Jude” after a short meal break on into the night. Both were filmed at Twickenham and we wanted to contrast one from the other so “Revolution” was down and dirty. That’s why it starts with the four of them onstage and the lights are dark and then the lights come up and they sing it and bam it’s over. The only note I had from them was John saying to me that for the lyrics (about) Chairman Mao ... that there be a close-up on him because he thought that was the key lyric for the song and he’d written the song. I was really glad to see “Revolution” at the recent Beatles 1 presentation for press in L.A. was really good because that looks great! I think it looks good and it sounds good and also shows what a great rock ‘n’ roll band they are. I mean, beat that, Rolling Stones.
GM: Of the four clips you worked on with The Beatles, which one holds the most significance?
MLH: I’d have said “Hey Jude” just because the song is so great until I saw “Revolution” the other day. I haven’t yet seen the restored “Hey Jude” but I’m gonna take a quarter out of my pocket. (flips coin) It’s “Revolution.” (laughs) but that was on a coin flip.
GM: Did you get any specific feedback from The Beatles themselves regarding the four promos you directed—“Paperback Writer,” “Rain,” “Revolution” and “Hey Jude?”
MLH: Yeah, once we did the first two clips, I got a call from the same person at NEMS that had called me originally saying The Beatles were all pleased with those. They were concentrating on touring America for the last time so I didn‘t get a bunch of flowers from them but got a call from their office saying everyone was happy with it and hoped we’d work together again. As for the latter two, which was “Hey Jude” and “Revolution,” I know when “Hey Jude” was shown on the Smothers Brothers TV show everyone was really happy because the next day it had sold like 60,000 more copies than it had the day before so it was obviously a good promo.
GM: The power of TV.
MLH: Yeah, the power of TV and also, it was great song and we did it well. But then the interesting thing was when we were shooting “Hey Jude,” we did about six takes and between each take there was about a 10 minute break for the cameras to get repositioned and to get notes and for the video tape to be reloaded and get a fresh reel and in those breaks after first standing on the stage doing nothing, The Beatles thought, oh well, there’s a few hundred people here, we better do something just to keep them from getting restive. And then they started to play old Tamla Motown, blues and even old Beatles songs. So they were able to connect with an audience again which they hadn’t done since they’d stopped touring two years before.
GM: Watching the “Hey Jude” video, the band seems jazzed to be in such close proximity to an audience.
MLH: Oh, they were. Then that made them think, huh, maybe we can do another project? So getting back to your original question, they enjoyed doing “Revolution” and “Hey Jude” and connecting with people again. That’s what led to what eventually ended up as “Let It Be.”
GM: There are several clips in “The Beatles 1” culled from the “Let It Be” film you directed. The initial plan behind what became “Let It Be” was a TV show/documentary, what precipitated that change from a TV show to a film?
MLH: Well, that’s when the sun really shined on me. I was working in November of ’68; we’d done “Hey Jude” and “Revolution” in August and I was working on The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, which we were gonna shoot in December. I got a call from McCartney asking, “Would I come over to Apple and talk to them for a little bit?” I mean, how lucky can you get? So I walked from The Rolling Stones office to The Beatles office (laughs). I went up to the boardroom and there were the four of them. It was late in the afternoon and they were drinking tea. The board room had a conference room and an area where they could eat and entertain guests. Paul said that they liked doing “Hey Jude” and “Revolution” and it gave them the idea that maybe they wanted to do a television special. I said, “That sounds great” and then they asked if I wanted to do it with them and I said, “Christ, well yeah, double yes.” (Laughs) So then as we were getting nearer to Christmas we’d meet about once a week and talk about what the television special was gonna be. None of us had a particularly firm idea of what it should be and where it should be shot but we figured we’d work it out. Then here’s where I give the credit to Paul, he said, “As well as doing a television special, why don’t we get a couple of cameras and shoot some documentary footage so that the week before the television special we can have a trailer of rehearsing for the television special?” So I said, “Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.” So we started filming on January 2nd of ’69 with them coming into the studios at Twickenham and starting to work on the album. I was very much conscious of the fact that they were musicians and not actors. Then as we were there in between them rehearsing or when they were doing nothing but sitting around, we talked about the television special. While we were doing that two cameras were filing documentary material which was very much the B project at the moment with the A project being the television special. Ringo had wanted to do the television special and suggested maybe we shoot them performing at the Cavern because that’s where they started. And I said, “Well no, I think now you deserve a bigger stage.” I‘d heard of this 2,000 year old amphitheater on the coats of Tunisia. I thought it would be great if it starts in the dawn; they come and set up and then gradually as they warm up and as they play the music goes out across the desert; you almost follow it like little musical notes going across the desert. It was very much a melting pot part of the world; there were Arabs and a lot of black citizens. There was an American airbase nearby and gradually as they were playing all these people would come across the desert, sort of like going towards Noah’s ark. Then by the end of the show when they were doing “Let It Be” and “The Long and Winding Road” and it would be peopled by the world. That was my idea. Mal (Evans) and Neil Aspinall got plane tickets to go to Tunisia to scout it for security and then John had the idea that what we should do is go on a boat. We’d all go in this boat and we’d take some of the audience with us and shoot the audience as they were rehearsing. So the idea became kind of grandiose but I was all for that.
GM: I understand the Roundhouse in London was also a location under consideration.
MLH: Yes. But the Roundhouse was the kind of go to place for slightly avant-garde musicians like Pink Floyd at the time. I never thought it was a really interesting venue to look at. Anyway, as we were talking about this, George Harrison is more quiet and into himself. He was wrestling with a lot of things at the time. He was wanting to be his own man and have his own album. But when The Beatles put out an album he’d only have one or two tracks and the rest would be by Lennon and McCartney. He knew how good he was but not in any immodest way; he just knew he was good and knew he was his own man. So I think George was into himself a lot of the time and figuring stuff out. As we were talking about this kind of stuff, he left one day. We were having lunch and he came up to the table and said, “See you around the clubs,” meaning, I’ll bump into you in the nightclubs but I’m leaving. He didn’t want to be distracted from making music, he didn’t want to do a television special; he didn’t want everyone to be talking about doing a television special. He wanted to work on the album and wanted to work on the music. After he left, there were about three or four days of everyone wondering what to do and then he came back. But with the proviso that we stop talking about a television special. But all the time we were still shooting with two cameras this little documentary footage.
GM: In documenting the sessions, you employed a cinéma vérité approach.
MLH: Yes. I’d never made a documentary before. As the special bit the dust, I realized this was all we had and this was the only footage you’d ever seen of The Beatles rehearsing except for some stuff that had been done at Abbey Road. But this was quite a lot of footage. It wasn’t footage just of them rehearsing; it was footage of them interacting and it was them being friendly and it was them not being friendly. It also showed very much how they worked on a song.
GM: The clips of “Let It Be” and “The Long and Winding Road” in “The Beatles 1” DVD finds the band performing the song inside Apple Studios. The band has spoken about enjoying the sessions more at Apple Studios than Twickenham, complaining that showing up 8am was not conducive to creativity.
MLH: (laughs) None of them ever turned up at eight in the morning. It was more like the call would be 10am and you’d get them between 11am and 1pm (laughs).
GM: Did the mood change among The Beatles once they moved from Twickenham Studios, the initial site of filming, to the band’s own studio?
MLH: Yes, I think the mood did change. I think the mood changed for two reasons: one is they were in a recording studio even though it was pretty primitive in those days versus a movie studio. So it was a smaller space but also Billy Preston joined the team. I think he just came by to say hello and then George brought him down to sit in with the band a bit. They didn’t want to be as fractious as they had been in the movie studio. They wanted to be more collegial with Billy being there and they wanted to work more constructively and not to be showing their frustration with each other. So I think to answer your questions, it was the smaller space and Billy Preston joining in that improved the mood of those sessions.
For years, “Let It Be” has been the document for the public to witness what the band was going through at that time. For instance, the famous verbal argument between Paul and George captured on film. But according to a book about “Let It Be,” which had access to audio tapes of the sessions, the real reason George left the band during sessions was due to an argument with John, not Paul. Do you think for the band, especially Paul and George, who have witnessed that argument being played over and over again, they’ve allowed that to become their reality of the sessions and judge it a bit more harshly than what really took place overall?
MLH: Certainly when we did “Paperback Writer” and “Rain” I think everyone was really getting on very well. Things were changing a bit, Brian Epstein had died and they had the time with the Maharishi. I think the movie, “Let It Be,” pretty much shows a version of what was going on at the time.
Tell me about the classic rooftop performance with clips featured of “Get Back” and “Don’t Let Me Down” in “The Beatles 1.”
MLH: Because I knew the documentary stuff was now gonna be the film of record of The Beatles, I felt we needed some conclusion, some place we’re going to, otherwise it was just going to be rehearing “The Long and Winding Road,” and then rehearsing it again. So then I came up with the idea of doing the concert up on the roof. Now whatever had gone on before in the interaction between them — they’d been through everything together. It was kind of like a marriage and people were starting to not get along as they had when they first got married. But when they got up on the roof they really loved it. It was cold but they had a very good time together. It proved to them that they were such a great rock ‘n’ roll band. They could still connect and they could connect as beautifully as they’d done when they were 14, 15 and 16 when it was just John, Paul and George, before Ringo joined.
GM: What were the technical challenges you faced shooting on the rooftop?
MLH: The biggest challenge was if they’d actually do it or not. We were gonna do it the day before and the weather wasn’t good enough. Then we had all the 11 cameras there including the one down in the lobby behind the two-way mirror for the police if they came in and we thought they would. Not that we wanted the police to come but we figured that was gonna happen.
GM: So the cops showing up wasn’t staged, that was real?
MLH: Oh yeah. The people next door who were cloth merchants, I think they sold fabrics, high standard wool. They represented the England that was, the generation that fought in the second World War; there ended up being much more privation in the country. I think in a funny way they represented what long-haired musical people did so they complained and the police came. So the police were real. It’s just that before we went up on the roof, the four of them, Yoko and me were standing in a room just below the staircase that went up to the roof and this was like 12:20 and we were gonna shoot this at 12:30 and it’s not really secure. Ringo pointed out it was really cold up there and George said, “What’s the point?” Those were two no votes and Paul was really trying to push them to do it and so it was sort of a stalemate and then John said, “Let’s do it” and that was the swing vote. Once Paul and John were on the same team it was hard to buck them so they went up there. Once they were there and once they committed to it they had a wonderful time.
GM: It was kismet the way the performance ended with John’s quip, “I hope we passed the audition.” You couldn’t have asked for anything better.
MLH: Since you know it’s their last time playing in public, and since you know they didn’t know themselves it as the last time, it’s kind of beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time because if anyone ever passed any audition it was them.
GM: In July of ‘69, you screened the film for the first time with The Beatles.
MLH: It was about an hour longer. “Let It Be” ended up at about 80 minutes so this cut I screened for them was probably about two hours. Some it was fat, although you couldn’t get enough of Beatles music, some of it might not have been paced right. But I think what we got rid of was a little more of John and Yoko. It wasn’t my decision so much but what you might call a group decision I think what they hoped or the most part is that “Let It Be” would be seen as The Beatles working on their music, developing these great songs and not letting anything leak out that they didn’t want to. So the fact that we got the argument with Paul and George — I mean, that wasn’t a big deal, it was only a big deal at the time because they weren’t that far from breaking up. Every artistic group can have their disputes every day so that wasn’t that unusual but it became noticeable in the context of them eventually breaking up. Then there’s this wonderful shot which I like pretty near the end of the film. It’s a shot on the back of Paul’s head talking to John about how they should go out and perform in public again. You see that Paul is trying to make the case that this is what they should do and this is what will keep them together and John looks more and more skeptical. I don’t know how we got those little things in there but we did.
GM: What were their overall impressions of the film?
MLH: When we showed the final cut 80 minute version. We all with our various girlfriends and wives went out to dinner together. Also present was Allen Klein and one of their lawyers. It was Paul and Linda, John and Yoko, George and Patti, Ringo and Maureen and me and my girlfriend Jean Marsh. It was very nice. We all had a very nice dinner. The place we had dinner also had a nightclub below so we all went down and danced. So in other words the first reaction to the finished “Let It Be” was more or less fine.
Do you have a favorite memory of sessions that weren’t included on the film?
MLH: Funnily enough, I think there were a few more the odd moment of tenderness between Yoko and John as opposed to her sitting there reading the paper, like her rubbing the back of his neck. Those kind of moments of tenderness. What’s very sweet is the first part of “Let It Be” ends with John and Yoko dancing together. There was more exchanges between the four of them mostly about musical stuff, which I thought was interesting but also slightly more combative stuff but not anything major. What got cut out wasn’t like anyone threw a bomb at anyone else. It was nuanced and subtle. Would the picture have been more interesting with that in there? Maybe. I think it’s very interesting anyway. It’s a very interesting document of these people working together and how they worked. Also, you get how they certainly had affection for each other. I mean, how could they not? But also it was starting to fray. I guess John and George could see the writing on the wall and I think Paul didn’t want to see it. But for a musical reason as much as a human reason. He’ such a beautiful singer and he’d grown up with these harmonies in his ear of John on one side and George on the other and I think musically he thought how much he’d hate not to have those two voices blending with his. That’s not discounting Ringo who is one of the best rock ‘n’ roll drummers but I’m thinking of those voices together. I think he was upset by the idea of missing that harmonic as much as anything else.
Knowing there are hours and hours of unused footage from the film in the archives, given the chance to put together new sequences or a new cut, would you be interested?
MLH: I wouldn’t be against it. You never know what Apple’s plans are (laughs). They are a very industrious little beehive of getting things out to the public and doing very well with it, too. Sure, if “Let It Be” came out again and if there was any additional material added, I’d be all for it. I hope it will be seen again. I’m sure if Apple want to release “Let It Be” again, they will work as diligently and as comprehensively as they did on “The Beatles 1” project. One of the things about “Let It Be” is it’s very interesting for its time. It didn’t have the euphoria of “Hard Day’s Night” because things were different. But also looking at it now it’s much more poignant because we know what happened to George and to John and so you look at “Let It Be” with a different eye now than how you saw it when we made it originally.
By From the Editors of Goldmine
You'll Love This If:
- You love The Beatles
- You want to know all about the lads for Liverpool
- You're looking for pricing information on The Beatles' records
In this Beatles guide, the editors of Goldmine take you through the all things Beatles, including and interview with drummer, Ringo Starr. Click through questions pertaining to "The White Album", what English pop was like before the Beatles, and recollections of the Beatles from Donovan.
In This Beatles Download You’ll Find:
- Exclusive photos from tour manager Bob Boris
- In depth looks at the making of "Yellow Submarine" and the TV series "All You Need is Love"
- Beatles-related feature articles from Discoveries and Goldmine magazines