The Beatles are a curious band. Not because their music became so very ingrained in the fabric of our vulture that it began to fuse our disparate threads, but because they managed to do most of their best work out from under the spotlight. In the 21st century, a band or artist simply cannot survive without performing live on stage, but The Beatles needed to avoid the open stage.
By 1966, the band had made up their minds and, having spent most of their careers on the road as a “music hall band”, decided that enough was enough and they would cease touring forever. It was a creative choice that would allow the band to focus more heavily on producing albums for their audience without worrying about how they would perform them. The band may have created some of their finest work after this period, but there is still a nagging sense that they turned their back on a vital facet of their fame and talent. Below, we’re looking back at a searing reminder of just how good they were live.
The clip comes from the Threetles reunion, which, in 1995, saw Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison pick up where they left off and get the old band back together. Largely put together as a promotional tool for the Beatles Anthology, the three band members were happy to chat about their time in the biggest band on the planet. It begins with George Harrison neatly explaining why the group avoided the road after ’66.
“In those days, there was no technology”, begins Harrison with his unique drawl. “There was two guitars, bass and drums, and that was it. If we did stuff in the studio with the aid of recording tricks, then we couldn’t just reproduce them on stage. Nowadays, you could do ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ and have all the loops up there on a keyboard, kinda emulator stuff, have as many piano players, drummers and orchestras or whatever you wanted. But in, those days, we were just a little dance hall band. We never really sought to augment ourselves.”
As the clip switches to the group shot of Harrison, Starr and McCartney, the latter reiterates this point by suggesting the harmonies would also have been tricky to complete on stage. “The hard stuff was the complicated harmonies. It was hard to do them live on stage, like, for instance, ‘Nowhere Man’. That kinda thing.” Perhaps settling into old ways a little too quickly, Harrison quickly replies, “That was good. ‘Nowhere Man‘ was okay, wasn’t it?”
“It was okay,” replies McCartney, “hard though.” The video then switches to some vintage footage of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr performing the song back in around 1965. It’s a quite stupendous performance that not only highlights the band’s talent but their charm too. The song also typifies the genius songwriting skill f Lennon, even if the track did come to him at a strange time.
“I’d spent five hours that morning trying to write a song that was meaningful and good, and I finally gave up and lay down,” he told David Sheff for Playboy in 1980. “Then ‘Nowhere Man’ came, words and music, the whole damn thing, as I lay down.” It was a sentiment that he reiterated when speaking with Hunter Davies: “I was just sitting, trying to think of a song, and I thought of myself sitting there, doing nothing and going nowhere. Once I’d thought of that, it was easy. It all came out. No, I remember now; I’d actually stopped trying to think of something. Nothing would come. I was cheesed off and went for a lie-down, having given up. Then I thought of myself as ‘Nowhere Man’ – sitting in his nowhere land.”
The performance is anything from lazy, however. As the group negotiate the aforementioned difficult harmonies, they display an unwavering sense of calm, performing to the highest standard without so much as a bead of sweat on their brow.
It’s always saddened me that The Beatles didn’t go on to keep their vibrant live show moving forward. With hindsight and The Rolling Stones’ example, it may have even been the lifeblood that would have kept the group evolving as one. However, for sure, the Fab Four didn’t stop because they weren’t any good; they stopped because they were too good.