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The Beatles Uncut
on 10 December 2014
This is an unofficial and unauthorised four DVD and book set. Although also listed as a `limited edition,' I doubt very much that it will become a collector's item. On first sight, it looks quite promising - nice, hardback book, with four DVD's set into the back cover. However, begin to scrape away the surface and the substance has less to offer. In fact, even the title is either ungrammatical, or twisted so they are not using an original song title (as an aside, and nothing to do with this review, fans should check out Donny Osmond's new album, which has a lovely version of, "The Long and Winding Road" on it).
Firstly, the book. I have come across dozens of these coffee table books about the Beatles over the years - glossy photographs and little else. You get a potted biography and a line or two about Beatles albums and tracks. I will give you an example of this great insight: "Another Girl - the lyric might allude to difficulties in McCartney's relationship with Jane Asher, but that is the only point of interest in an otherwise routine song." While Beatles classic, "You're Going to Lose That Girl," is dismissed with, "The Beatles are seen `recording' this unremarkable composition in the film." You get the picture...
Now onto the DVD's, which are as follows:
DVD 1: The Early Years
DVD 2: The Mania
DVD 3: In America
DVD 4:... And In The End
Earlier this year I purchased a DVD titled, "The Beatles In Their Own Write," which had previously been released as, "The Beatles - Composing the Beatles Songbook." These DVD's also borrow very heavily indeed from the first two volumes of the excellent "Composing the Beatles Songbook," documentaries. However excellent they were though, be aware that a lot of the same material is contained in this package. Apart from a few interviews with the same old people who turn up on every DVD about the Beatles - Pete Best, Allan Williams, etc, there is little of interest on here. So, if you do already have the Composing DVD's - and I highly recommend you get them - then you can probably leave this set.
So, let's look at the DVD's in more depth and you can decide if they are something you might want to watch.
DVD 1: The Early Years
This actually has the most material not borrowed from the `Composing' documentaries and has interviews with Allan Williams, Pete Best, Bill Harry, Tony Bramwell, Pete Doggett and others. Mostly, this DVD covers the Liverpool/Hamburg period and varies in interest. Tony Bramwell does at least attempt to be interesting and give some insight into events/relate some amusing anecdotes, while Bill Harry curbs his natural Lennon bias to be fairer than he usually is when interviewed. Since the Mark Lewisohn book, "Tune In," a lot of the myths discussed here have largely been de-bunked, but both Allan Williams and Pete Best blithely trot them out anyway. Now, I have a great deal of respect for Pete Best and it is hard on him that he has to continually answer the same questions, but Allan Williams just seems to snipe and sneer more and more in interviews these days. Again, it is implied that the Beatles were jealous of Pete and that Ringo was replaced with a session drummer for Love Me Do as he wasn't good enough - when the truth was that George Martin had no idea Ringo had replaced Pete and had set up the session drummer already and it has been shown in the Lewisohn book that Pete simply was not a good enough drummer and that was the main reason he was ousted (then you have his general remoteness from the group, his mother Mona's interference which was resented by Brian Epstein, meaning even his closeness to Neil Aspinall was not enough to save him; in fact, had Neil not decided to stay with the Beatles, they would have not hesitated to have changed him too) - even when the Beatles recorded in Germany, Tony Sheridan told how, in "Tune In," that his drum sound was whittled down to virtually nothing, as his timing was out. Ringo was never replaced with a session drummer again after that first session, so he obviously passed muster. If Pete was sacked for his popularity, then why did his huge fan following not latch on to his new band? The magic was in the compositions by John and Paul and the charisma of the members - of which Ringo played a large part, especially in America. There are also some unpleasant remarks about Brian Epstein that I felt were uncalled for. If he did fall in love with the Beatles, then he was certainly neither the first nor the last. Remarks about `cold showers' sound homophobic and disrespectful and the editors should have cut them out as offensive. We should all thank our lucky stars he DID see what was so special about them, or we would never have had the Beatles. Brian was essential in getting them a recording contract and believing in them as a group, and in John and Paul's songwriting abilities.
DVD 2: The Mania
This begins with the recording of "Love Me Do," and covers Beatlemania. Interviewees include music journalists, Neil Innes, Andy White, Norman Smith and Tony Barrow. Again, we cover similar ground with the whole session drummer scenario. There is a lot of discussion about early songs and touring, much of it from the `Composing' sessions. Now, I did really enjoy those DVD's and have reviewed them, so I won't do so again now. If you haven't seen them, you might enjoy this - but, I would recommend getting the original DVD's, as this does not include the full documentaries. Rather, they have taken pieces from the other programmes to fill in here.
DVD 3: In America
Again, we have a lot taken from the `Composing' DVD's, plus interview material from the late, great Sid Bernstein, discussion of the Ed Sullivan Shows, George Martin and "A Hard Day's Night." Mostly the soundtrack and not the film itself.
DVD 4: .... And In The End
As you can see, for a DVD set which promises a comprehensive account of the Beatles, this has left rather a lot to pack into the last 50 minutes. This covers all the music from "Help!" onwards, which is obviously not covered in any detail. In fact, things seem to fade out mid Sixties and the whole story is wrapped up pretty swiftly.
Can I really recommend this to fans? Not really. The book is pretty worthless, the DVD material has been available before. If you are a new fan and haven't seen very much footage, this will be of interest. If you have already got most of the releases, then this doesn't offer anything new. I would just like to suggest to Allan Williams and Pete Best that if they would like to offer fans something worthwhile, they re-release their first books, "The Man Who Gave the Beatles Away," and "Beatle!" respectively, out on kindle. Although in "The Man Who...." Allan Williams indulges in his usual exaggerations, it IS a fun read and was one of the first insiders books about the Fabs that I read. "Beatle!" was an excellent book and both have been out of print for a long time. Pete Best has offered us excellent music; his album, "Haymans Green," is a must listen for fans. He is always kind and has time for the fans and he is loved and appreciated in his own right. However, although he WAS a Beatle, it was a bit cheeky to have a track listing which contains, The Beatles: Pete Best, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr... These slights, however tongue in cheek, are unnecessary and, indeed, there is a bit too much ill feeling and sniping in many of the interviews. Overall, this is not a must buy or a need to have for your collection. If you get everything, then watch it - but it will probably be only once.