Danny Boyle’s film Yesterday asks a provocative question – how would the world be different if the Beatles had never existed for anyone else around you? Would playing them these songs elicit the same emotional response these tunes have had for decades, or would they be considered merely a bunch of twee melodies suitable for background enjoyment? Thankfully we don’t have to live the nightmare scenario of a world without these songs from Macca, Johnny, George and Ringo, graced with music that’s been the world’s shared soundtrack since the early 1960s.
Yesterday has some strong cover versions of the Fab’s tunes, with the performance of these “lost” songs central to Richard Curtis’ screenplay. Many other films have used reinterpretations of Beatles tunes in various ways, providing through reinterpretation a different look at what these songs fundamentally represent, using these themes and variation to celebrate the classical canon of Western pop music while making the works unique.
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A few years ago, director Danny Boyle sat at his desk and wrote several letters by hand. One he sent to Paul McCartney, another to Ringo Starr. The final two missives wended their way to Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, widows of John Lennon and George Harrison respectively.
Boyle was a huge Beatles fan. But that wasn’t his motive for putting pen to paper. He and Richard Curtis, the romantic comedy doyen behind Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill, were in the early stages of collaborating on what would eventually become the film Yesterday.
The movie is a love letter to the songs of John, Paul, Ringo and George. It asks us to imagine a world in which just one person – portrayed by former EastEnders actor Himesh Patel – remembers their music (with gooey, cheek-dampening results).
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It’s a film about stealing The Beatles’ songs, so it’s not surprising moviegoers are asking if the surviving members of the band show up in “Yesterday.” Sadly, it doesn’t look like Paul McCartney or Ringo Starr play themselves in the film. They are, however, definitely aware of the movie.
“Yesterday” follows a struggling singer-songwriter (Himesh Patel) who wakes up and discovers that he is seemingly the only one who remembers The Beatles. By passing off their hits as his own, his career skyrockets.
While there’s a chance for a surprise in the movie, McCartney and Starr are nowhere to be found in the official cast credits. However, Ringo is listed as an uncredited role on IMDb, played by David Lautman. If they appear, it doesn’t look like the real men will play themselves.
The Beatles are very much aware of the movie, though. “Yesterday” director Danny Boyle was worried about upsetting the men and the widows of George Harrison and John Lennon. He wrote them letters to tell them his plan.
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Yellow Submarine, a 1968 animated feature in which cartoon versions of The Beatles help the kindly citizens of Pepperland resist the authoritarian, fun-hating Blue Meanies. Based (very loosely) on a cheery, kid-friendly, sea shanty-like song that was originally released on the band’s 1966 album Revolver, the movie was the group’s third theatrical release, following the huge hits A Hard Day’s Night and Help! (The Beatles also starred in an hourlong 1967 TV special, Magical Mystery Tour.) Like those earlier films, Yellow Submarine is loaded with catchy music and absurdist humor, and it imagines band members John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr as fictional characters on a mission to make a drab world more entertaining.
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If you like a heavy dose of drama with your classic rock, then the late period of The Beatles has it all for you. Before the breakup, there were near-fistfights between John Lennon and Paul McCartney and an actual scuffle between John and George Harrison.
By 1969, you had George quitting the band during the Let It Be sessions, John saying he was leaving for good, and Paul falling into a deep depression. Indeed, there was enough drama to fill hundreds of books, and writers have been on the job ever since.
Yet before the arrival of Yoko Ono on the scene in ’68, you could argue the band mostly avoided drama having to do with women. To that point, John had been married to his first wife Cynthia; Ringo married his first wife Maureen in 1965; and George also tied the knot (with model Pattie Boyd) in ’66.
One of the problems about introducing your kids to the Beatles is assuming that the very obviously “kid-friendly” songs are the ones you should listen to. And while I admit that many children do love “Yellow Submarine,” or “Octopus’s Garden,” or “All Together Now,” let’s face facts. These songs are not cool, and by no means represent why the Beatles are dead-ass one of the coolest rock bands of all time. In other words, those three songs are kind of dopey. (You can throw in “Good Morning, Good Morning” and “Goodnight” while you’re at it.) If you’re going to listen to the Beatles with your kids, why don’t you actually listen to the Beatles, and not just the songs you think are kid-friendly?
With that in mind here are twelve great Beatles songs that I have tested out on my two-year-old with a vinyl turntable. “All You Need is Love” is not on this list, because that’s not the kind of list we’re dealing with here. These are songs that will make your kid move-and-groove and will remind you why the Beatles aren’t just “brilliant,” but more importantly, why they rock.
It’s a notion that would leave Beatles fans Here, There and Everywhere crying out for Help!
A world without the transcendent songs of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr seems almost impossible to imagine more than 50 years after the Fab Four changed music forever.
But that’s the concept explored in “Yesterday,” a new movie where everybody except one man forgets about The Beatles.
“In reality, if they didn’t exist, the world would be an infinitely more different place, and it’s hard to really unravel that thread,” star Himesh Patel, 28, told the Daily News. “The aim of the movie is to use this conceit of them disappearing to kind of conversely celebrate how amazing their music is and how important it is in terms of its love. How the message of so many of the songs is love and friendship and celebration of what’s best in people.”
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As The Beatles began experimenting with drugs in the second half of the 1960s, John Lennon and George Harrison formed a closer bond than they’d had in the past. They were both open to trying LSD, and you can hear the impact of the psychedelic drug on their music of the period.
By the time Yoko Ono entered the picture and recording for The White Album began in ’68, they had drifted apart considerably. On top of the strain Yoko’s presence had on relationships between the band members, George resented John’s lack of respect for his improving songwriting abilities.
The following January (’69), the tensions led to what producer George Martin described as a fistfight between John and George during the Let It Be sessions. However, by early 1970, they had joined Ringo in an alliance against Paul McCartney.
After the Beatles breakup, John and George remained friends and recorded together on John’s Imagine album. But their friendship fell apart as the ’70s dragged on. When John died, the two old friends from Liverpool were on bad terms.
‘I always used to joke that I ruined Linda’s career,” says Paul McCartney, sitting on a sofa in his office in Soho, London, with a selection of his late wife’s photographs spread on the table before him. “She became known as ‘Paul’s wife’, instead of the focus being on her photography. But, as time went on, people started to realise that she was the real thing. So, yeah, she eventually did get the correct reputation, but at first it was just blown out of the water by the headline-grabbing marriage.”
He has a point. Before she met and married him, in March 1969, Linda Eastman was an award-winning photographer. Born in 1941 and raised in a suburb of New York, she had studied under Hazel Archer – who taught the artist Robert Rauschenberg, among others – and was the first woman to shoot a Rolling Stone cover, featuring Eric Clapton. Her speciality was capturing pop stars in unguarded moments: a tearful Aretha Franklin; Jimi Hendrix mid-yawn; Janis Joplin backstage, her bottle of Southern Comfort already drained. But marriage to a Beatle tended to overshadow your own work and reputation, as Yoko Ono discovered.
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On the first two shows of the current North American tour by Jeff Lynne’s ELO, featuring Dhani Harrison (George Harrison’s son) as the opening act, Harrison performed The Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle With Care” with Lynne and ELO. You can watch a video of the June 20 performance in Anaheim, Calif., below.
The tour comes to the Prudential Center in Newark, July 16 at 8 p.m. Visit ticketmaster.com.
“Handle With Care” was a 1988 hit for the Wilburys, the supergroup formed by George Harrison and Jeff Lynne along with Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty. Only Lynne and Dylan are still alive.
Lynne had little to do with Electric Light Orchestra from 1986 to 2014, but has been recording and touring with them (as Jeff Lynne’s ELO) frequently since then. Only one other musician from The Electric Light Orchestra’s ’70s and early-’80s glory days, keyboardist Richard Tandy, is involved.
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