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Can’t Buy Me Love: How $250K Netted ‘Mad Men’ a Beatles Tune

The Beatles / Photo by Getty Images

On Sunday night’s Mad Men, at the end of an episode involving the impossibility of licensing an actual Beatles song, creator and show runner Matthew Weiner pulls out a brilliant trump card: an actual Beatles song. And not just any actual Beatles song, but “Tomorrow Never Knows,” the closing track on 1966’s Revolver, and a recording marked by both John Lennon’s Tibetan Book of the Dead-inspired lyrics and Paul McCartney’s Stockhausen-informed tape loops. But this TV coup came at a steep cost: $250,000, according to separate reports by the New York’ ArtsBeat blog and the Wall Street Journal, both citing unidentified people familiar with the deal

Covers of Beatles songs are common enough over the airwaves, but as the episode, titled “Lady Lazarus,” correctly suggested, to hear the Beatles’ original studio recordings on TV is rare verging on never done. To nab the track, Weiner tells the Times he had to reveal his storyline and script to the Beatles’ Apple Corps. “It was hard,” Weiner is quoted as saying of the move, “because I had to, writing-wise, commit to the story that I thought was worthy of this incredible opportunity. The thing about that song in particular was, the Beatles are, throughout their intense existence, constantly pushing the envelope, and I really wanted to show how far ahead of the culture they were.”

While big pop songs typically can be licensed for less than $100,000, Weiner says he viewed the Beatles’ recordings as a crucial missing piece of his ’60s-themed series, according to the Times. “It was always my feeling that the show lacked a certain authenticity because we never could have an actual master recording of the Beatles performing,” Weiner is quoted as saying. “Not just someone singing their song or a version of their song, but them, doing a song in the show. It always felt to me like a flaw. Because they are the band, probably, of the 20th century.”

It’s worth pointing out that Weiner declined to discuss the price tag with the Times and contested the specific $250,000 figure with the Journal, so how much “Tomorrow Never Knows” cost Mad Men studio Lionsgate, tomorrow may really never know. But Weiner emphasized to both newspapers that the deal was about artistic integrity, not money. “The idea that this is a financial arrangement, there is nothing further from the truth,” he told the Journal. “This is completely an artistic collaboration.” That might be the only thing more difficult than the Beatles’ psychedelic revolution to explain to Don Draper.