Last Monday brought the news of the death of longtime TV interviewer David Frost.
There are far better places to read about his life and career, including the several times he hosted and interviewed The Beatles together and individually. But a specific moment in Beatles history with a tie to Frost, one touched on plenty on this blog, is worthy of its own post.
It was 45 years ago today — Sept. 8, 1968 — ITV’s “Frost on Sunday” variety show debuted the “Hey Jude” promotional video, which was filmed four days prior. The performances — they filmed three complete takes of a dozen attempts total — along with the rooftop show nearly four months later, marked the only times The Beatles would play together to a live audience after they stopped touring in 1966.
Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who had last worked with the group that same year directing “Rain” and “Paperback Writer,” was hired again for the shoot at Twickenham. And with the formal introduction is Frost, who is serenaded, primarily by John, with the show’s theme song (which, as it were, was written by George Martin).
If you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it a thousand times. But because it’s so good, make it 1,001:
The “greatest tea-room orchestra in the world” really does stage an inspirational, iconic performance. OK, so they weren’t really live, playing with an actual orchestra in the house over a recorded track with Paul double-tracking himself in parts and adding freshly scatted vocals during the extended outro. Musician union rules had forbid a strictly lip-synched act.
It’s a new generation of Beatlemania on display here in this new phase of the Beatles’ career. Gone are the screaming fans drowning out the group, instead replaced with the 300 guests encircling then and joining the coda’s chorus. Lindsay-Hogg captures the fresh, optimistic tone of the song, and the band’s jubilant mood, with a clip to match. Things almost get out of control, but never do. It’s perfect.
(For a fun bit of frivolity and another bit of Get Back session foreshadowing, listen in during the coda in the above clip for Paul quoting “The Weight” by The Band at around the 6:20 mark — they were already serving as a bit of inspiration).
A great first-hand account of the day from audience member Marc Sniden — the “geek with the horn-rimmed glasses and school blazer behind Ringo” — was published in a 2009 article in the Liverpool Daily Post.
They just walked in holding their guitars, then walked round and shook our hands saying, ‘Hello, I’m John’” he says, still incredulous at the memory. “It was the days of screaming, but nobody screamed. We were suddenly in the presence of God. That’s the only way I can describe it. These people had changed history. We grew up with them.
To alleviate the boredom, John started to play a song on his acoustic guitar. “Everyone went, ‘wow’,” says Marc. “Filming started before we could ask what it was. When it was later released, we realised it was Back in the USSR. That was strange.”
Marc says they were almost telepathic as a band. But, as the afternoon wore on, even they became fractious.
“Paul had been banging away on the piano and John was swearing a lot, asking ‘Haven’t you got it yet?’ to Lindsay Hogg,” says Marc. “After take 12, Paul said, ‘I think that’s enough’.”
While the song gave The Beatles a monumental hit song to launch Apple Records, the experience of the performance also had its own significant repercussion: The band was open to playing before an audience again.
“They hammed it up, putting in some naughty lyrics about George Martin,” Sniden said. “It was all jokey, they were very relaxed.”
The director took notice.
“They were jamming and having a good time and having a better time than they thought they were going to have,” Lindsay-Hogg said in Steve Matteo’s 33 1/3 book on Let it Be. “So they sort of thought maybe there is some way they can do something again in some sort of performance way.”
And thus, the seed of the idea for the Get Back/Let it Be sessions was planted, before they’d even completed recording the White Album. The Beatles would be back at Twickenham with Lindsay-Hogg and producer Dennis O’Dell in less than four months time. The clip would be a cited repeatedly on the Nagra Tapes as a benchmark for what they were trying to achieve, be it the composition of the audience, the focal point of the camera or the location of the show.
Just a footnote in Frost’s long career, the “Hey Jude” promo filming proved to be a pivotal moment in The Beatles career.