In early 1967, barely six months after they gave up touring, the Beatles released "Strawberry Fields Forever" – along with a surreal promo film showing the newly mustachioed-and-bearded quartet bounding about a spider web-covered piano.
Dick Clark, who played the color short on the black-and-white broadcast of "American Bandstand," polled his studio audience for reactions. "I thought it was weird," one teenage girl opined.
It certainly may have seemed so at the time, as the Beatles hurtled from mop-topped pop sensations to shaggy psychedelic pioneers. But all these years later, the weirdest part is how little the groundbreaking promo has been seen beyond its "Bandstand" bow.
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The "Strawberry Fields" short marks a highlight of a bounty of restored Beatles footage being officially released for the first time Friday as part of the new “1” video collection – 27 promos to go with the hits on the huge-selling “1” album compilation first issued in 2000. The batch of the recently polished pre-MTV gems offers a fab opportunity for a new look at the act we’ve know for all these years.
Sure, the Beatles didn't invent the music video, just like they didn't create rock and roll. But they revolutionized both, even if their visual efforts haven't gotten anywhere near the attention of their classic song catalogue.
The Beatles’ movies, beginning with 1964’s "A Hard Day's Night," married music and movement, becoming part of the group's iconography. But they more quietly produced a slew of promo films, showing varying degrees of innovation. For decades, the mini-masterpieces were relegated to bootlegs or snippets in documentaries.
More recently, different versions of the promos have turned up on YouTube, though with spotty quality. Judging from previews of the restored versions, we're in for a visual feast.
The hues of their proto-“Sgt. Pepper” attire pop off the screen in "Strawberry Fields Forever." The once-muddy behind-the-scenes clips from the "A Day in the Life" recording session crawl out of an Albert Hall-hole into glorious clarity. The music in the promo film for "Revolution" may be canned, but John Lennon's searing vocal was recorded live, along with Paul McCartney and George Harrison's "shoobie-do-wop" backing.
In some cases, the shorts are as close as we'll come to live performances of songs the band created after they gave up touring in 1966. The collection also bodes to extend the enduring, inter-generational appeal that fuels an insatiable demand for new material from a group that broke up more than 45 years ago. That hunger is evidenced by the hoopla surrounding long-lost photos recently found and published by Ringo Starr, and by Ron Howard’s plans for a documentary (with McCartney and Starr’s cooperation) about the band’s live performing days.
The Holy Grail for fans, though, remains a restored version, complete with voluminous outtakes, of the Beatles’ cinematic swan song, “Let it Be.” The technology, as evidenced by “1,” is available to breathe new life into the documentary chronicling band’s final days and their rooftop goodbye concert. In the meantime, check out some promos from the new promos collection.
Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.