The Sixties, Tom Hanks’ ten-part documentary series on CNN, is slated to start this May. But last night saw the debut of “The British Invasion” episode, presumably to capitalize on the fiftieth anniversary of the Beatles’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. The hour kicked off with the Beatles arriving in the States, and as familiar as that story is, we’d pay to see a documentary just on that week: every moment is golden, from the interviews with hysterical fans to the Elvis impersonation by Ringo Starr. Then, armed with a huge budget for rights clearances, the program zipped through classic footage of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Kinks, the Zombies, the Animals and so forth – the editing was straight out of a Time Life Classics late-night commercial – only with testimonials from Questlove and the Bangles‘ Susanna Hoffs. Here are a dozen highlights.
Best Beatle Quote
Ringo Starr sitting behind a mixing board, saying, “Something happens on here, you know. I couldn’t tell you what, ’cause we have a special man who sits here and goes like this [mimes knob-twiddling]. And the guitar turns into a piano or something. And they you may say, ‘Why don’t you use a piano?’ Because the piano sounds like a guitar.”
“Paul, Ringo, George, John” – the ever-cooperative Paul McCartney, identifying the members of the Beatles at their first American press conference for a throng of journalists unfamiliar with them.
News footage of various British bands (Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Dave Clark Five) literally getting off the plane.
Bassist Who Held His Instrument Closest to the Vertical Axis
Bill Wyman of the Stones, no contest. Watch him at far left during their performance on The T.A.M.I. Show, where they famously followed James Brown.
Greatest Pairing of Two Eternally Youthful Performers in Their Actual Youth
Dick Clark interviewing Little Richard on American Bandstand.
Most Disturbing Visage
A tie between Dave Clark and Smokey Robinson, who both appear to be wearing masks that bear only vague resemblances to their youthful selves.
The Talking Head Who Most Seems Not to Have Liked the British Invasion
Morley Safer of 60 Minutes, who opines, “In the ’60s, lyrics are generally infantile. And it’s noise, not music.”
Artists Who Stretch the Definition of “British Invasion”
The Beach Boys, James Brown and Bob Dylan. But there was excellent footage of all three, so who cares? (The Beach Boys in the studio, James Brown live on The T.A.M.I. Show, Dylan surrounded by irate fans after he went electric at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.)
Mick Jagger in 1964, marveling that the Rolling Stones have persisted for two years: “I think we’re pretty well set up for at least another year.”