One of my favourite soundtracks from the 1990s, from my favourite Beatles biopic, it was a touch of genius to put a contemporary band together to record these early Beatles favourites.
Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum) and Greg Dulli (The Afghan Whigs) share lead vocals, Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth) and Don Fleming (Gumball) provide vocals, Mike Mills (R.E.M.) plays bass and Dave Grohl (Nirvana) completes the band on drums. In fact, it’s the last Nirvana-related release before the death of Kurt Cobain just four weeks later.
The film, directed by Iain Softley, feels very Hollywood, despite it being a UK / German co-production, and it reeks of the ‘90s with heartthrob Stephen Dorff in the lead role as the doomed Stuart Sutcliffe. The script is effervescent, and the casting is superb, but it is Ian Hart’s uncanny turn as the acerbic John Lennon that stands out (the second of three times he has played the character).
The Backbeat Band play a selection of covers the Beatles played in their Hamburg days – no expensive licensing required here – and they’re belted out with gusto. There’s just enough reverence for the songs, and the late ‘50s era of rock and roll, to prevent the songs from descending into a grunge-fest. It was great to see them play a couple of these songs live at the 1994 MTV Music Awards, followed by a heavy cover of the White Album’s Helter Skelter.
The final shot of this film, showing Sutcliffe and Lennon and their respective girlfriends (Sheryl Lee as Astrid Kirchherr and Jennifer Ehle as Cynthia Powell) playing in the twilight on a German beach is a deeply evocative moment of 1990’s filmmaking. The first screams of Liverpool’s Beatlemania fade away, replaced by the stark guitar and piano of Don Was’ score. Slowly, the intertitle text tells of cruel twisting of fate around Sutcliffe and Lennon’s doomed friendship:
Stuart Sutcliffe died of a brain haemorrhage in Hamburg on April 10th 1962. His legacy is a highly acclaimed collection of paintings that has been exhibited all over the world.
That same year, Pete Best left the Beatles and was replaced by Ringo Starr, on December 17th they entered the charts with “Love Me Do”. The following year, the McCartney / Lennon song “I Want To Hold Your Hand” sold 13 million copies worldwide.
They went on to top the U.S. charts a record 20 times and remain today the biggest selling pop group of all time.
Klaus Voorman designed the cover of the Beatles’ 1966 “Revolver” album. After the break-up of the Beatles in 1970 he joined John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, playing bass on the “Imagine” album.
Today Astrid Kirchherr’s photographs are recognised as the definitive record of the Beatles in Hamburg, and her visual ideas influenced the Beatles’ “look” throughout the sixties. She now lives happily in Hamburg.
On December 8th 1980 John Lennon was shot dead in New York City.
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