It was a moment of television magic. I heard a brand new song from my favorite band and saw them on film, walking around and riding horses. If the expression "my mind was blown" had been created, I'd have phoned up my friends and told them that. All I can remember saying to my friends after seeing The Beatles' "Penny Lane" film is, "That was boss!" And now that film is back and more beautiful than ever.
It may be hard to comprehend, but as famous as The Beatles were in 1967, they were often heard but rarely seen. They'd stopped touring in the summer of 1966, bored by not being able to hear themselves on stage and not able to produce the sort of music they were beginning to create. In fact, Revolver came out just before the final tour and the group didn't play a single song off that record. You rarely saw current pictures of the band anywhere.
So I'm thirteen, living in Queens, N.Y. and I'm watching Clay Cole's Diskotek on a black and white TV on WPIX on a Saturday night in March. Clay Cole, the host of this music/dance party show, introduces The Beatles film and Paul McCartney's unmistakable bass and voice begins playing while John Lennon, looking very different than the last time I'd seen him, walks down an extremely English street. All The Beatles look completely changed: grown men with newly flourished facial hair including handlebar mustaches and flowing black coats, Lennon's new wire-rimmed glasses (which I'd later find the likes of at a flea market and wear).
Like most songs by The Beatles in those days, "Penny Lane" sounded like no other song ever. After three short minutes of strolling and horseback riding and upending a banquet table it was over. There was no replay button, no video tape. Everything was gone but the memory of that moment, which still sits in my head as one of the fondest moments of my youth.
Closing in on 50 years after that moment, what they then called a promotional film and what we'd come to call a music video when MTV launched nearly 15 years later is part of a collection being released by Apple Corps. It's a reissue of the hugely successful compilation CD called The Beatles 1, originally released in 2001. The new version of the album includes the 27-track No. 1 hits from the original album with new stereo mixes and 5.1 surround sound. There will be seven different editions, including an expanded version, called 1+, that includes a hardbound book and over 200 minutes of music and many promotional films for the hits on the album, newly restored. Among them is the other film I saw on Clay Cole's show back then, the first bit of dreamy psychedelia I'd ever seen, the film for "Strawberry Fields Forever."
There's more information on the various versions and trailers to be seen on The Beatles official site.