12 Bands Who Tried (and Failed) to Imitate A Hard Day's Night
Editor's note: Since Oct. 6, 2012 (the 50th anniversary of the release of the Beatles' debut single "Love Me Do") we've been on a half-century celebration cycle in which we are scheduled to relive every Beatles innovation, every release of the Beatles' landmark career in real time, right until the inevitable 50th anniversary of their breakup in 2020. But what other long-forgotten anniversaries are being overshadowed by the Fab Four (Again?) To answer that question, we present another installment in this series: "The 50th Anniversary of Something Else."
When the Beatles' first feature length film premiered at London's Pavilion Theater on July 6, 1964, it changed forevermore the way pop music was presented on the big screen.
Well, not really. Loads of terrible rock exploitation films followed A Hard Day's Night -- witness anything starring Herman's Hermits and Freddie and the Dreamers for the immediate fallout, and let's try to forget Spice World and One Direction -- This is Us.
But it did cause a paradigm shift that won the Beatles a lot of respect from their harshest critics -- parents. Who could argue that Lennon & McCartney weren't the greatest songwriters since Schubert when you have the likes of responsible adults like Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy Lee covering "Can't Buy Me Love" and "A Hard Day's Night" respectively? Andrew Sarris of Village Voice would go on to call it the "Citizen Kane of jukebox movies." Even stodgy old Time Magazine called the film "One of the smoothest, freshest, funniest films ever made for purposes of exploitation."
And let us not forget that the goal was exploitation. United Artists, the conniving buggers, found a loophole in the Beatles' EMI contract that would give United Artist Records the rights to a US soundtrack if the Fabs signed on to make a United Artist movie. Before Hard Day's Night, no film ever recouped its costs before opening night due to advance sales of its soundtrack album.
Across town from the lights of Piccadilly Circus, director Frank Gilpin was exploiting what he hoped would be the next wave of Beatles in two 30-minute British shorts: Swinging UK and UK Swings Again. A Hard Day''s Night featured The Fab Four, huh? Well Gilpin had The Wackers! And the Four Pennies!! Some of these bands, like the Animals and The Hollies, would go on to have long careers, at least longer than The Wackers and The Four Pennies. Others, like The Swinging Blue Jeans, would have one hit before vanishing. But all these bands were cheerful and did what they were told, and in 1964 that was more important when you're trying to capture lightning in a bottle like Frank Galpin was.
So roll out the giant cake and let's celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Something else -- the screen debuts of 12 British bands, in descending order of significance.
1. The Animals One of the first bands to have a number one in Britain and the U.S. in 1964 and not have members named John, Paul, George, or Ringo was the Animals, with "House of the Rising Sun." A cheerless song like that wouldn't do on this smiling cinematic jamboree so they performed another song they learned off Bob Dylan's debut album, "Baby Let Me Take You Home," perhaps the Animals' most chipper hit until singer Eric Burdon discovered acid in 1966. The Animals would make another big screen appearance in the "Swingingest Blast Ever Filmed!" The Animals would appear in MGM's Get Yourself a College Girl co-starring alongside Mary Ann Mobley and Chad Everett. But without the security of a ladder nearby.
2. The Hollies They had more hits than anyone else in the UK with the exception of the Beatles, and they had more teeth, as evidenced by these clips of them singing "Baby That's All" and "Here I Go Again." Amazingly, this deep into 1964 and the front line of the Hollies, Alan Clarke, Graham Nash and Tony Hicks had defiantly refused to comb their hair downward, like a band of Pete Bests. What else is the explanation? Were they still holding day jobs? Could no one push them in the pool? Drummer Bobby Elliot was already losing his hair and he managed to sculpt one with the few strands the Lord let him hang onto.
3. Lulu and the Luvvers Of course we remember Lulu from her 1967 cinematic turn as a bratty Brit opposite Sidney Poitier in To Sir With Love. But here she is at her jailbait best, barely 16 and incapable of not twisting for a mere two seconds of her rendition of "Shout." She finally dropped the Luvvers in 1966, no doubt when it was brought to her attention that it was superfluous to have two maracas players on the payroll.
4. Millie Small The first artist to chart with a ska song in the U.S. with "My Boy Lollipop." It was a huge hit, but the ska invasion never materialized, despite Atlantic Records and the Jamaican government conspiring to introduce ska dancing at the World's Fair in New York that summer. Here, Gilpin decided to construct a set that looks as if Millie Small is singing from inside a house of detention. Was the ladder in use at the time?
5. The Tornados Few remembered by 1964 that The Tornados actually spearheaded the British Invasion in 1962 with the first stateside chart-topper by a British group with "Telestar." by this point all the original members were gone and the band had no original members and a Chris Farley lookalike playing drums.
6. The Swinging Blue Jeans You've gotta have a gimmick to make it in this business circa 1964, and The Swinging Blue Jeans, who scored a Top 30 hit in America with "Hippy Hippy Shake," had two. One was their insistence on all wearing powder blue jeans. The other was always singing in the direction of Mecca. OK, that isn't true. The second gimmick was they also wore fucking white sweaters. Far out, huh?
7. Brian Poole and the Tremeloes It's still seems like a head-scratcher but this was the band Decca Records signed after turning the Beatles down, but looking at this photo it's plain to see why the Tremeloes prevailed. Clearly Brian Poole and the boys had way more pockets than the Beatles. The prevailing wisdom of the day? "Groups with fewer pockets are on their way out."
8. The Applejacks Speaking of the Beatles' Decca auditions, one of three Lennon-McCartney originals were performed on that fateful day, one of them being "Like Dreamers Do." The Beatles wouldn't deign to record it for EMI, but the Applejacks, six cheerful jack-o-lanterns from Birmingham, were more than happy to lap up this Fab Four reject like a starving man can be counted on for licking a pie tin. It is during that number where Frank Gilpin shows his greatest innovation. Sure, Hard Day's Night director Richard Lester had quick edits, jump-cut techniques, hand-held camera work and stream of consciousness sequences, all of which would turn up in music videos a dozen or more years later. Gilpin could film all six members of a band in a straight line, like a police lineup. And spend an awful lot of time focusing in on guitar players with big noses, as if Ringo's proboscis was the real secret of the Beatles' appeal.
9. The Merseybeats The band that promised to wear their hair just for her in their cover of "Wishin' and Hopin'" seemed desperate to distinguish themselves from all the other beat groups. Groups who distinguished themselves by not wearing ridiculous shirts that make them look like daisies...
...or standing on platforms that rotate like cake display cases in a diner.
10. The Four Pennies This group never amounted to much, no pun intended. I blame their lack of name recognition on their timekeeper, who always had a staircase obscuring his bass drum.
11. The Wackers How wacky were the Wackers? Here they are performing "Love or Money," none of which ever came their way from the U.S. Get a load of their rhythm guitarist, wearing his axe at an altitude most people reserved for bow ties.
12. The Cockneys This band's apparel took a pinch of The Wild Bunch and mixed it with a little dash of Carnaby Street, which resulted in a look that ensured both Mods and Rockers will beat the living shit out of them up as soon as they left Shepperton Studios.
Bonus Video: Jugglers and Acrobats (1964)
Also making its debut in July 1964 was this short, which went out as a support feature with A Hard Day's Night in Britain and was rarely seen again. Imagine how a cinema full of crying, screaming hysterical teenage girls urinating all over themselves over the Beatles must've fidgeted during Jugglers and Acrobats, and you can guess why no one grew up wanting to be a knife thrower or a plate spinner after 1964.
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