The Beatles, Anthology (EMI Music DVD, 2003)

I am a child of the 60s, I guess. The Beatles will always be the standard against which I measure pop music. There is nothing like them today -- maybe that's why I don't listen to pop music anymore. But the Beatles, WHEW, they were something. If you didn't live through it, you can't really appreciate what it was like. We didn't even have a record player when the first songs came through on AM radio. We ran out and bought the first Beatles album only to discover that our turntable only played 78s! My dad took it in to the shop and had a new turntable installed, for 45s and 33rpm albums. The night it came home was magic.

Some of that magic is contained in this set of five DVDs. I've been watching them one episode at a time. Seventy-two minutes each, they fill the evening well. The Liverpool-Hamburg years. The first recordings, "Please, Please Me," and "Love Me Do," sound marvelous in the improved DVD sound. Well, maybe a bit bass heavy, but McCartney was (and remains) the most melodic bass player around. The rare and scratchy early black and white footage is still exciting. Who would believe that a rock band would make the world stop!

When A Hard Day's Night, their first film, came to the movie houses of Canada we had to sit through it twice just to hear the dialogue; girls were screaming just as though the four moptops were in the room with us. When John Lennon talked about The Beatles being more popular with teenagers than Jesus Christ...he was right. At least if you polled my friends, you'd have discovered that they all thought about "Paperback Writer" a lot more than they thought about their immortal souls!

It's all here. Record burning fundamentalist responses to Lennon's off the cuff comments; Imelda Marcos banning them from the Philippines; Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band; "Hey Jude." You name it and they've included it. Some might call it overkill. Who wants to watch 10 hours (more if you include the bonus disc) about these four fellows? Hasn't it all been said before? Well...I want to watch!

I already saw the shows in their first broadcast in 1995. That Christmas my mother bought all three of her sons the VHS boxset. We all have the Anthology book, and the six CD set, and all the official releases. Dozens of books and magazines. The trading cards. Some dinner ware! Christmas ornaments. Prints framed on the wall. We've seen the Ringo Starr All Starr Band tour; McCartney's shows; Lennon's solo acting debut in How I Won The War, George Harrison's triumphant final album Brainwashed. And still, I sit transfixed by these DVDs.

My sixteen year old son flops onto the couch for episode 5. He laughs as Ringo remembers an event one way, George another, John and Paul can't agree either...then they show the video and they're all wrong! His older brother watches as the Threetles reform for some sloppy but still somehow marvelous jamming on old rock tunes. My wife joins us for an hour or so of episode 6.

This is history. Musical history. Social history. Magical mystery history. My history. I lived through it. The day "Hey Jude" was released I bought the 45, with the green Apple logo, a sliced Apple on the back ("Revolution"). We were on shifts at school because registration was so high so we didn't have to be in til noon. From 9:30am till 11:45 my friends and I played that single over and over. Front and back. Back and front. Obsessed? Maybe...

I completely understand the music fans of 2003. Why is Mojo devoting another cover story to the Fab Four? Isn't anyone else deserving? Well...there's the Groundhogs. But nobody...nowhere...no time was like the Beatles. For a few short years they captured our imaginations, they owned the radiowaves, they influenced other bands, other films, clothing, eyeglasses, writing, design -- they were unique.

Maybe five discs is too much, for all but us loony obsessives. But if you are one of us you MUST own this set. And if you're not yet part of the cult...well you're young yet, there's still time!


[David Kidney]