“We’re bigger than Jesus” were John Lennon’s famous words, and judging by the scale of his fame with The Beatles, he might as well have walked on water. Having grown up with my ears pressed to The Beatles’ catalogue, I’ve gawked at the terrors of Beatlemania at arm’s length, but The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years gathers all the hysteria of the Fab Four’s early years and puts it into horrifying perspective. These weren’t superheroes saving the world. They were a bunch of clueless musicians, barely out of their teens, making the best music of our time. The world simply consumed them for it.
This is a taut and just documentary, honouring its title. There are bits and bobs about the years preceding and succeeding The Beatles’ touring years, but it works firmly within its parameters. If you’re looking for a biographical recitation, you’ve come to the wrong place. Eight Days a Week functions like a compression chamber; it batters you over the head with Beatlemania until it’s about all you can handle, then sneakily reminds you it’s just a film. John, Paul, George and Ringo are the ones who had to live it.
Their unified career as The Beatles lasted less than ten years. They recorded over three-hundred songs and produced fourteen albums (that’s somewhere in the region of two albums per year). “It wasn’t about the volume”, we are told. “Anyone can write 300 songs. It was the sheer number of great songs they wrote”. Indeed, The Beatles composed more than a hundred recognisable melodies, a feat the film compares to the likes of Mozart. It is remarkable to sit through Eight Days and identify deeply with each new song the soundtrack introduces. The entire Beatles collection behaves like a greatest hits compilation.
This is a documentary that’s not concerned with teaching. We don’t discover the influences that fuelled the Lennon-McCartney bloom, nor are we taken on a tour of their Abbey Road sessions. We are told to observe as wave after wave of crying, fainting, writhing teenage girls clamber over each other to get a glimpse of their mop-top heroes. “Can you hear us?”, asks John as they play to a record crowd at Shea Stadium in 1965, presented in stunning remastered video. That’s a preposterous question, if you think about it, considering they’re the headline act at a concert. But such was the volume of the screams. Here is a band who played to 55,600, couldn’t hear each other as they sang, and somehow managed to remain in tune throughout. Their live rendition sounds like it was fresh off the record.
Basically, it was all mayhem. And The Beatles, weary and exhausted, stopped touring altogether in 1966. They retreated to the sanctity of their writing and, in the years between 1965 and 1969, produced some of the greatest albums in music history. Eight Days doesn’t delve into that, but none of it has been lost to memory. The movie’s more about the feeling of claustrophobia and panic, and of the height of superstardom, reached in the shortest time possible. And all the while the genius of these four uniformed, brilliant young men made its way across the universe.