5 Great Beatles Videos to Watch After “Here Comes the Sun”
Today, a new “official video” for the Beatles’ half-century-old classic “Here Comes the Sun” was released on YouTube, as a promotional tool for the big Abbey Road 50th-anniversary reissue box set that’s coming September 27. Putting aside the question of whether “official video” is really a meaningful designation for something produced long after the song in question was recorded and the guy who wrote and sang it died, the new clip doesn’t offer much. There’s no video footage of the Fab Four, previously unseen or otherwise—just some flipped-through photos, a bit of pleasant-enough animation, and some vaguely artificial-looking shots of Beatlesque silhouettes against a wall. It’s hard to imagine anyone needing to see it more than once.
Fortunately, if the promise of an official video gave you an itch that this particular one didn’t scratch, there is more than enough genuinely compelling Beatle footage out there for your perusal. “I suppose, in a way, we invented MTV,” George Harrison once said in an interview for the TV documentary The Beatles Anthology. That’s stretching it a bit, but it’s true that the Beatles were among the first major artists to semi-regularly self-produce promotional clips for their songs, which were sometimes played on British and American television.
This started in 1964 with A Hard Day’s Night, the full-length scripted feature starring the band and containing several sequences set to their songs, which may have indeed marked the first time anyone thought to make a film for the explicit purpose of delivering pop music. Four more movies followed, all of which contained vignettes set to the band’s songs. The band began producing film clips in 1965 that were more like “music videos” as we know them today—short, set to a single song—and continued to do so in the following years, as they stopped touring to focus entirely on crafting albums the studio. (The public had to get their visual Beatles fix somehow, even if it wasn’t in person.)
Not all of these official videos are available on YouTube, but some of them are. There’s also a wealth of other Beatles footage on the internet—footage from the studio, TV performances, and so on—that doesn’t fit the category of “music video” per se, but does show them playing music on video. Below, we’ve collected five of the most compelling clips, in a mix of both categories.
“If I Fell,” from A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
From the movie that started it all, this clip shows the Fab Four playing “If I Fell,” the Hard Day’s Night album track that Lennon later called “my first attempt at a ballad proper.” In the conceit of the film’s plot, this scene is a rehearsal for a concert that happens later on. Like the rest of A Hard Day’s Night, it’s a showcase for the goofy but absolutely undeniable charisma that the band had in their teen idol days, as well as their musical chops. It’s hard not to crack a smile when Lennon sits down next to Ringo’s drum kit with his acoustic guitar and serenades him as he plays along.
The band made not one but three different promotional clips for this B-side to the 1966 “Paperback Writer” single. These were the videos that apparently inspired Harrison’s MTV comment because they work as cinematic miniatures unto themselves, and do things other than simply portray the band miming along on their instruments. That’s especially true of a color video that shows the band walking through a garden, but the more traditional black-and-white clip is worth a watch as well. And even if you don’t like the videos, one could make an argument for “Rain” as the greatest B-side ever released by any band ever, so why not listen? (For what it’s worth, the audio on the color version—as with “I Am the Walrus” below—seems to have been replaced with some unofficial version of the song in the YouTube video.)
“I Am the Walrus,” from Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
The Magical Mystery Tour feature film contained what were essentially standalone music videos for multiple songs on the accompanying album, including “I Am the Walrus.” For a song that sounds like little else in their catalog—and little else in the history of recorded music, period—the band assembled an appropriately whacked-out visual accompaniment, including now-iconic shots of them playing their instruments in animal masks, with a line of policemen swaying creepily in the background. For further extracurricular viewing, see this clip of Jim Carrey singing the song with an orchestra conducted by longtime Beatles producer George Martin. We’re not sure why it exists, but it’s excellent nonetheless.
John Lennon plays “Yer Blues” with Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Mitch Mitchell, from The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (1968)
This one isn’t technically a Beatles video, but it does feature a member of the Beatles playing a Beatles song, plus it’s one of the coolest clips of any musician you’re likely to see anywhere, so we’re including it anyway. In 1968, for a planned TV special called The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (it was never broadcast at the time, but got a theatrical release in the ‘90s and was released as part of a box set earlier this year), John Lennon convened a stupefyingly great group of musicians under the name The Dirty Mac. It was a supergroup that only performed once: Lennon on vocals and rhythm guitar, Eric Clapton on lead guitar, Stones guitarist Keith Richards on bass(!), and Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience on drums. Their performance of Lennon’s White Album ripper “Yer Blues” is incendiary. But even better is a droll introductory chat between Lennon and Mick Jagger, in which Jagger puts on a hilarious fake American accent and Lennon introduces himself as “Winston Legthigh.”
The band messing around in the studio during the Get Back sessions (1969)
The making of the last several Beatles albums is generally associated with resentment and fighting, but they apparently still had it in them to have some fun occasionally. A film crew followed them into the studio to begin rehearsals for Get Back, the 1970 album that would eventually be renamed Let It Be, and there’s a good deal of footage from those sessions floating around on unofficial channels if you know where to look. This short clip begins with a supremely silly take on Paul McCartney’s Let It Be tune “I’ve Got a Feeling,” which soon turns into an even sillier take on their old chestnut “Help!,” which soon turns into an even sillier take on the even older chestnut “Please Please Me.” They may have gotten old and bitter, but on some level, they never stopped being the charismatic goofballs of A Hard Day’s Night.