Written by 4:55 am Audiophile Music

The Sound of Blu-Ray Beatlemania

Mark Smotroff basks in the sound of a thousand transistor radios…

By now I’m hoping that you’ve at least heard about the wonderful documentary about The Beatles made by legendary film director Ron Howard called Eight Days A Week : The Touring Years. Hopefully by now you have seen it in a proper movie theater and enjoyed both the stunning footage and the poignant story of the four lads in a rock band from Liverpool, England, who shook the world and why they put it all aside at the peak of their powers. 

AR-Beatles8DaysAWeekBluRayPackage225.jpgEight Days a Week : The Touring Years is a wonderful study of the Fab Four and it offers up detail and insight which even the most hardcore of Beatle fanatic didn’t fully know about. Beyond the revealing interviews, the film included wonderful live performances, some of which most average Beatle fans — and even some serious Beatle fans — hadn’t really seen before, especially in this sort of picture quality, taken from best available sources.

That said, the 48 kHz, 24-bit audio on the new Blu-ray Disc version of Eight Days a Week : The Touring Years is more than adequate for the mostly monaural sound of the music portions of the program. The surround sound mix is immersive when it needs to be and has proven to be quite impactful, especially when you are being immersed in the roar of 50,000 screaming teen age fans or a thousand transistor radios (but more on that in a bit)! 

Seriously, some of the archival footage is complemented by sound that is arguably better than the on-screen images.  Of course some of the footage is stunningly great, such as the clips from the ABC Cinema in Manchester. Others are inherently blurry due to the nature of early video and kinescopes used to preserve the performances.  

But overall, the audio sounds excellent. You can even feel Ringo’s kick drum at times — a little detail we often take for granted in these days of high resolution multi-camera multi-channel productions and massive live concert productions such as I experienced at the Desert Trip festival last year

It wasn’t always that way, folks. 

AR-Beatles8DaysAWeekBluRayInsideImages225.jpgLive concert promoters stepped up their game largely because of The Beatles and the need for better sound to reach more people at increasingly larger concert venues. Yet, it wasn’t until The Grateful Dead came along — who, with their audio wizard Owsley Stanley, pioneered the creation of genuinely high fidelity concert sound systems in the early 1970s  —  that live concert performances in large halls and stadiums started to actually sound good. 

That any sort of high fidelity comes across from these archival recordings and films makes the journey  of Eight Days a Week : The Touring Years all the more wondrous.

One of the most revealing parts of the documentary — at least for those of us who are into audio — is the point where Elvis Costello, one of several celebrities interviewed for the documentary, tries to describe what the sound at the 1965 Shea Stadium concert (the first concert held at a big sports stadium) must have been like.  He explains that the only public address (ie. PA) system available at the time was the house system which was used to announce home runs, balls and strikes during baseball games.  

In short, he presents the quite compelling analogy that the sound at Shea Stadium was probably like a thousand transistor radios playing at once.  And it is at that point in the movie where the sound design is really impactful as they cut to images of a bull-horn looking PA speaker (as might have been at Shea back in the day) while the sound cuts to that sort of uber-compressed, tinny transistor radio sound.  It is one of the first instances I’ve come across where a reduction of fidelity within a 5.1 surround mix has been used to make a dramatic point… usually surround sound is all about getting loud and big and boomier and bigger!

Its pretty cool and this sort of thoughtful production detail underscores the level care that went into the making of this documentary.  There is quite a history lesson running throughout Eight Days a Week : The Touring Years.

The two-disc special edition is overall a really nice package including a 30-plus page booklet chockfull of cool photos and interesting essays including one by the Director himself.  

The bonus materials are compelling too — I’m still working my way through them all but there are three mini features in addition to the five complete live performances.  

Every music fan needs to see Eight Days a Week : The Touring Years just to understand how we got to where we are today.  If you love The Beatles, you owe it to yourself to see it in a theater or on a home theater system in 5.1 surround sound.  Of course, if you are a Beatlemaniac fan you probably have seen it several times at a theater and already own this deluxe edition and perhaps an extra copy you are keeping sealed to put in your estate for your great great grandchildren to watch in the future.

Yeah… yeah… yeah…   

How could this package be improved? Well, Beatle fans always want more.  Accordingly, I would have liked to have seen the inclusion of at least one complete concert performance, not just a handful of individual songs from different venues.  I would have also liked to have had the Shea Stadium concert — which was shown in a stunning restoration in theaters immediately after Eight Days a Week : The Touring Years  — included in this package.  

Until those concerts are officially released in their entirety — many can be found up on YouTube if you poke around — we can at least enjoy the audio from the Hollywood Bowl concerts which has been lovingly restored (click through to read my reviews of the CD and the LP versions of that album which had staggered releases last year). 

We Beatlefans remain hopeful that The Beatles and their families are busy preparing some special gems for the future.  Perhaps we’ll soon see an updated version of The Beatles Anthology on Blu-ray.  

And … while I’m dreaming, I’ll ask : hey, can we finally have Let It Be reissued?  I wouldn’t mind a Directors re-edit as long as they put out the original as well. 

The dream indeed goes on forever…

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