Watch HD Versions of The Beatles’ Pioneering Music Videos: “Hey Jude,” “Penny Lane,” “Revolution” & More

We think of the eight­ies and ear­ly nineties as the age of music video, as pre­dict­ed by the Bug­gles all the way back in ‘79. There’s pre­cious lit­tle rea­son to argue with the cul­tur­al pre­science of their “Video Killed the Radio Star,” the very first video MTV aired. After the rise of the music chan­nel, almost no one could push a sin­gle with­out a video in the rota­tion on cable. Even now, though MTV may have ced­ed the whole music video thing to the inter­net a long time ago, the prin­ci­ple remains.

Yet well over a decade before MTV debuted, pio­neer­ing musi­cians took to music video (or film) with the same nat­ur­al affin­i­ty as Michael Jack­son, Phil Collins, Prince, or Van Halen did dur­ing the network’s hey­day. Over a decade before the Buggles—a pun on The Beatles—there was, well… The Bea­t­les, bona fide music video stars, with hip pro­mos like that for “Pen­ny Lane,” above, which would have fit right in on MTV. (“Is that Oasis?” “No, it’s The Bea­t­les, man!”)

Shot in 1968 in East Lon­don, an estate in Kent, and Liv­er­pool (home of the real Pen­ny Lane), the video achieved its mod­ern look by chance, since direc­tor Peter Gold­mann had to find cre­ative ways to get around a Musi­cians’ Union ban on mim­ing for the cam­era. Before the ban, filmed musi­cal per­for­mances typ­i­cal­ly fea­tured bands lip-sync­ing to a back­ing track, as you can see in the pro­mo video for “Hel­lo, Good­bye” above, which debuted on the Ed Sul­li­van show in Novem­ber, 1967. This one was direct­ed by Sir Paul him­self, though he did not enjoy the expe­ri­ence, as he lat­er recount­ed. “It was some­thing I’d always been inter­est­ed in,” McCart­ney said, “until I actu­al­ly tried it.”

That Musi­cians’ Union mim­ing ban was still in place when the band went into the Abbey Road stu­dios in 1968 to record the video for “Hey Jude,” above. Direc­tor Michael Lind­say-Hogg got around it by invit­ing an audi­ence of 300 peo­ple into the stu­dio for the finale, mak­ing it seem like a live per­for­mance, though every­thing was pre­re­cord­ed but Paul’s vocals. The sin­gle had already gone on sale a week pri­or to film­ing, but the pro­mo film was the first intro­duc­tion many fans had to the song, first on David Frost’s The Frost Report, then on The Smoth­ers Broth­ers’ Com­e­dy Hour in the U.S. a month lat­er. In the first minute of the video, the band goofs around with some fake jazz (prov­ing that their gui­tars were, in fact, plugged in).

Though the “Hey Jude” film was shot in col­or, no orig­i­nal view­ers would have seen it that way. As Dan­ger­ous Minds points out, we get to view this video “in far, far bet­ter qual­i­ty than you’d ever have been able to see it dur­ing those orig­i­nal tele­vi­sion broad­casts, back when most peo­ple in Britain and Amer­i­ca would have been watch­ing it on low res­o­lu­tion B&W TV sets.” Com­pare, for exam­ple, the short clip from a broad­cast at the time above with the pris­tine “Hey Jude” video we have now. All of these Bea­t­les videos have been restored and dig­i­tal­ly enhanced in HD, and you can see these and more at The Bea­t­les Vevo chan­nel on Youtube. These come from the re-release of sin­gles col­lec­tion 1 on Blu-ray, which includes sev­er­al dozen more videos in addi­tion to 27 of the band’s #1 sin­gles.

Par­tic­u­lar­ly strik­ing is the 1967 pro­mo for “A Day in the Life,” above, edit­ed from film­ing of the orig­i­nal ses­sions. As The Bea­t­les Youtube chan­nel informs us, “this was no ordi­nary record­ing ses­sion. The clas­si­cal musi­cians, who had been asked to wear evening dress, took it upon them­selves to wear fake noses, fun­ny hats and gen­er­al­ly enter into the spir­it of the occa­sion.” The ses­sions were “filmed between 8pm and 1am with guests includ­ing Mick Jag­ger and Kei­th Richards,” both of whom you’ll see appear in the fray of musi­cians, along with many shots of Paul McCart­ney con­duct­ing the orches­tra.

Did The Bea­t­les invent the music video? That’s a debate for the forums. But they were sure­ly one of the first, if not the first, to use them as a pri­ma­ry pro­mo­tion­al tool—along with their films and mer­chan­dis­ing. As far back as 1965, the band released pro­mo films for their sin­gles, like that for “We Can Work it Out,” above, one of three dif­fer­ent videos the band shot for this song. In fact, it’s not anachro­nism to refer to this ear­ly exam­ple of the form as a “music video” since it was actu­al­ly shot on two-inch black and white video­tape. The for­mat had not come into wide enough use at the time, so it was dis­trib­uted on 16mm film.

Mak­ing music videos—on video—is just one of the many ways The Bea­t­les have antic­i­pat­ed, or pre­cip­i­tat­ed, the future of music. One of the ways they’ve lagged behind, or per­haps wise­ly held out, is in releas­ing their music to stream­ing and on-demand ser­vices like Spo­ti­fy, Google Play, or Apple Music.  That’s changed as of today, when 13 albums and four com­pi­la­tions become avail­able to stream on nine sub­scrip­tion ser­vices. No telling what Lennon and Har­ri­son would have thought, but Paul McCart­ney described the music’s dig­i­tal recep­tion as “fan­tas­tic” when the band first made a deal with iTunes in 2010. The remain­ing band mem­bers have released no state­ment this time around but a short pro­mo video and a jol­ly hol­i­day greet­ing: “Hap­py Crim­ble, with love from us to you.”

via Dan­ger­ous Minds

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Bea­t­les’ Rooftop Con­cert: The Last Gig Filmed in Jan­u­ary 1969

Lis­ten to the Bea­t­les’ Christ­mas Records: Sev­en Vin­tage Record­ings for Their Fans (1963 – 1969)

Down­load The Bea­t­les’ Yel­low Sub­ma­rine as a Free, Inter­ac­tive eBook

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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