Yes, they’re making bootleg DVDs now, too, and this one is a great place to start for Beatles fanatics, though it’s not quite as wide-ranging over time as the dates indicated seem to promise. In reality, the group’s live appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show ended late in 1965, and anything beyond that is merely a filmed studio performance introduced by Sullivan. But those 1964 and 1965 appearances are worth the cost of this disc, displaying as they do the Beatles in performance at a point when success was new to them, and as they adjusted to the attention and the audiences and began having fun with them. Their earliest Sullivan appearance shows dropouts (i.e., intermittent thin horizontal lines) in the image that are in the original source material, which may annoy some viewers, but this does seem to be a function of the original masters (no one at the time could have guessed that these videotapes would have mattered to anyone 30 or 40 years later, and that is the apparent state of their preservation). There are no flaws in the sound, apart from what was created by a studio filled with several hundred screaming teenaged girls, and that’s what makes this disc fascinating — you get to hear the different ways that the Beatles approached and embellished their songs, including the hits. Their concert recordings of the same period never revealed much of this, as the group’s sound was totally overwhelmed by audiences numbering in the tens of thousands; the odds were a little more evenly stacked and the microphone feeds more direct on the Sullivan show. The occasional cuts back and forth between the group and the audience are interesting, showing just how genuine the reactions — especially among the girls — were to the band. Sullivan‘s directors were never less than respectful and careful with the band, so that all of the correct camera cues are there — the close-up on George Harrison as he goes into the solo on “All My Loving” in their first appearance, and the shots directed at each member on “Till There Was You” (a wise choice, as not a huge amount happens on that song), etc.
Even the sound is above average for live television of this period; the crew must have liked the quartet, because they were allowed to turn up their instruments and were miked at a healthy volume — guitars, bass, and drums alike. The only real flaw in that department was an obvious microphone flub in their second appearance, doing “I Saw Her Standing There,” in which Paul McCartney‘s microphone went out — he can’t be heard at all during the first half of the song, until the balances are restored. The shows from late 1964 (by which time it was clear that the Beatles provided a huge ratings boost to the show), however, also show greater care in the microphone placement and more elaborate sets and direction. The truth is that, given the problems of recording them in concert, the Sullivan appearances are the best body of live performances on camera that the band left behind, and it’s even a pleasure to hear them approach the same song on different U.S. tours and using different equipment — the delineation of the lead and rhythm guitars on “I Saw Her Standing There” from the group’s first Sullivan appearance, for example, makes it possible to pick apart the song more easily than the closely mixed studio rendition does. Further, the band’s early Sullivan visits featured them playing songs that didn’t last in their repertory long enough to make it onto their attempts at an official live album, including “This Boy” (with Ringo Starr giving a vigorous performance on the drums and John Lennon‘s rhythm guitar way out in front of the mix), “From Me to You,” “Please Please Me,” and “I Saw Her Standing There.” Add to that the fun that the group started having interacting with the cameras and the audience, and this is a nearly essential Beatles item to own.
The makers of this DVD-R have loaded it up with handy features. For starters, there’s an actual menu, albeit showing only one option, but that still provides a fixed starting point for players. Each group of performances from each Sullivan show gets a chapter marker of its own, and they’ve also included not only every one of Sullivan‘s announcements about the Beatles, but every announcement in which Sullivan even mentions the group — and each of those has been indexed so that one can skip past them to the music performances. The total running time, including those announcements, is 110 minutes, but the last 15 minutes is comprised of film clips of “Paperback Writer” and “Rain,” the “Hello Goodbye” promotional video, and an except from Let It Be. The whole disc is well put together, and is such a good idea that the Apple and Sullivan organizations should probably look at emulating it legitimately.