Beatles Anthologywas a mammoth project begun in 1992 that involved a mutli-part television documentary – later expanded for DVD release – plus three double-CD sets with unreleased songs and alternate versions of Beatles favourites, coming to fruition from 1995. The project actually began in 1970 with a 90-minute documentary entitled The Long And Winding Road. It was constructed by Apple boss (and former Beatles road manager) Neil Aspinall from all the Beatles footage he could get his hands on.
It appeared nothing would come of it until John Lennon referred to it in a court case brought against the producers of a stageshow entitled Beatlemania! in 1980. Lennon claimed that the Beatles were intending to stage a reunion concert that would form the ending of the Long And Winding Road doco. Yoko Ono concurs that it had been Lennon’s intention to return to England after he’d come out of retirement with the album Double Fantasy. His subsequent death put an end to the reunion and The Long And Winding Road.
In 1982, a two-hour documentary entitled Compleat Beatles appeared. It was not just an amazing revelation. At the time – when the remaining Beatles hated being described as ‘former-’ or ‘ex-Beatles’ and were so keen on retelling the story – Compleat Beatles told it through in-depth interviews with the likes of producer George Martin, Liverpudlian contemporaries like Gerry Marsden, Bob Wooler and Bill Harry, snippets of news footage and clips from throughout the ’60s, narrated by Malcolm McDowell. It was brilliant. So much so, it even had a brief cinema release in 1984.
Not that I ever watched it in its entirety. Not in one sitting anyway. Or rather, one standing. Because there was one summer when it was the hot video for Christmas, and was playing on endless loop on the biggest television the David Jones department store at Warringah Mall had at their disposal. It sat at the front of the audiovisual section, near the records (or ‘vinyls’ if must – but I prefer you didn’t) and on my regular pilgrimage – taking place more frequently than weekly, but not quite daily – I’d begin in the David Jones record department and end at the Mall Music Centre (one of the best independent record stores, in its time; my first summer job was at Mall Music, as was my first full time job).
I’d stand there for between 10 minutes and half an hour at a time – always at different stages (though never at the beginning or end, it seems) – utterly transfixed. I remember hearing George Martin divulge the way in which Paul McCartney’s ‘Got up, got outta bed’ interlude was inserted into John’s ‘A Day In The Life’, how the orchestral freak-out part was constructed and recorded to comply with Lennon’s desire that it be “orgasmic”. In a time before the Internet, this information, this footage and this detail was just not available anywhere else.
It was a massively successful video release, is my point, and my family did not have a video cassette recorder and would not, still, for some years. And when it got its limited cinema release, my area (possibly my country) wasn’t so blessed.
But it’s probably why EMI attempted to release The Beatles Sessions – a single album collection of the best completed but unreleased Beatles songs – in 1985.
Eventually, Compleat Beatles (and The Beatles Sessions) were superseded by Anthology. Yet, while Anthology was far more comprehensive, it was the official, sanctioned story, as approved by all the interested parties. Compleat Beatles provided an objective approach and a particular charm.
I know you can still get the Compleat Beatles VHS video from some sources. And I’m sure it’s doing the rounds as a bootleg DVD. But people've ripped their LaserDisc and VHS versions, and uploaded them YouTube, which is much nicer (ie cheaper). Enjoy it in all its un-remastered glory while you can.