‘Yesterday,’ ‘Imagine,’ ‘Penny Lane’ & More of The Beatles’ Essential Videos

Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, John Lennon of The Beatles
Courtesy of Everett Collection

This is an excerpt from TV Guide Magazine’s The Beatles on TV Special Collector’s Edition, available for order online now at BeatlesonTV.com and for purchase on newsstands nationwide.

In the decades before MTV, the Beatles practically invented the music video. Ahead of The Beatles: Get Back docuseries coming to Disney+, here are 10 of their most iconic clips.

Yesterday

Year: 1965

Album: Help!

Director: Tim Kiley

Style Points: After a brief introduction from George Harrison (as the audience’s screams fade for a moment), Paul McCartney performs a close-up, solo acoustic version of his poignant song, smiling occasionally through the renewed screams. Let’s call it one of the earliest-ever videos in the simple filmed-performance style.

Fun Fact: “Scrambled eggs/Oh my baby how I love your legs.” Not quite as meaningful, lyrically, as the opening lines of “Yesterday,” but those were the nonsensical words Paul tossed in to remember the melodic phrasing once the tune first came to him. As to his performance of the song on the Sullivan show, Paul later recalled, “I had to do ‘Yesterday’ on my own; I’d always had the band with me. So I was standing there—‘Come on, get it together, it’s OK’—and the floor manager said, ‘You nervous?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘You should be. There’s 73 million people watching.’”

Day Tripper

Year: 1965

Album: Yesterday and Today

Director: Joseph McGrath

Style Points: After a brief shot of dancing women wearing matching dresses and sunglasses, the rest of the black-and-white video consists of the boys performing the song in matching suits while they stand surrounded by some scaffolding. This being one of their first promotional films, it’s all simple shots and a lot of smiling by the youthful foursome. But any fan of the variety shows that would dominate American TV in the 1970s (The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, This Is Tom Jones, etc.) will recognize this particular video—and its opening—as foundational to the form.

Fun Fact: Along with “We Can Work It Out,” “Day Tripper” was the Beatles’ first promotional film in support of one of their singles. It was seen as a way to avoid the industry norm of making numerous personal appearances on television shows, and would help a year later when the band stopped touring. In other words: This was MTV more than 15 years before the network first appeared.

Rain

Year:1966

Album: None; B-side of “Paperback Writer” single (recorded during Revolver sessions)

Director: Michael Lindsay-Hogg

Style Points: There were three promotional films made to support this song, all filmed at or near the band’s Abbey Road studio. The two in color see the quartet standing and singing in a garden and greenhouse, or, for a time, softly bouncing together on a long tree branch—sans Ringo, who sits atop a statue platform and slowly taps his hands. John is pioneering the laissez-faire stance of lip-synching. In the third clip, filmed in black-and-white, they perform on a soundstage, and we see some of Ringo’s best-ever drumming as a Beatle. Other band videos decades later that were shot on location owe a debt to “Rain.”

Fun Fact: Director Lindsay-Hogg’s work on this and other Beatles videos earned him the chance to direct the film Let It Be.

Penny Lane

Year: 1967

Album: Eventually on Magical Mystery Tour but first, a double-A-side single with “Strawberry Fields Forever”

Director: Peter Goldmann

Style Points: A short film that indicates the band was ready to break out and experiment with mixing image and plot. Less about the lip-synching band, this clip features footage of Liverpool but was mostly filmed in Stratford, in London’s East End, and King’s Road, Chelsea. “Penny Lane” also blends street scenes of Lennon alone with footage of the band riding on horses.

Fun Fact: The video is rightly recognized as a pioneering work, and was part of the Museum of Modern Art’s 1985 exhibition of the most influential music videos ever. A press release written by the museum in 1985, citing “Penny Lane” and others, praised the “promotional tools of the music industry” for spotlighting experimental image process techniques and creating something that is “equally striking in sound and image.” The Beatles riding around on horses and being served their instruments by gentlemen in 18th-century clothing proved videos could be arty.

Strawberry Fields Forever

Year: 1967

Album: Eventually, on Magical Mystery Tour but first, a double A-side with “Penny Lane”

Director: Peter Goldmann

Style Points: It would be difficult to sum up the influence of this wondrously bizarre clip. The arresting set design includes a large tree that resembles a piano and harp combined. There’s also abstract imagery, slow shifts from one shot to the next, jump cuts and extreme close-ups. At one point, McCartney is made to appear to leap from the ground to a branch high in a tree. But any fan of Coldplay’s reverse film effects video for “The Scientist,” which won a ton of MTV Video Music awards in 2003, will enjoy the eye-popping opening here, as the Beatles walk backward into a frame while a car drives forward down a road in the distance. The Swedish director Goldmann managed to capture the song’s psychedelic aesthetic perfectly.

Fun Fact: The video also introduced the band’s mustachioed look and colorful period fashion. The Fab Four had come of age.

A Day in the Life

Year: 1967

Album: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Director: The Beatles

Style Points: The promotional film utilizes a disorienting quick cutting style that would be a staple of videos in decades to come. It also perfectly matches the song’s patient-then-frenetic feel. There is footage from recording sessions with a large orchestra of about 40 classically trained musicians combined with
video recorded over five hours in the company of the band. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones make brief appearances. The orchestra members’ costumes are something straight out of a darkly comic carnival. The clip was remastered and used years later to promote the Beatles’ top-selling 1 album in 2015.

Fun Fact: The BBC banned airplay of this trippy number for nearly five years, claiming it advocated drug use. The band denied all charges, but the dizzying video wouldn’t have helped their case. When it was seen more widely decades later, McCartney called the clip, “a spectacular reminder of the era we lived in.”

Hello, Goodbye

Year: 1967

Album: Magical Mystery Tour

Director: Paul McCartney

Style Points: The video features the Fab Four donning their brightly colored Sgt. Pepper uniforms as they perform in front of a psychedelic backdrop. Hula dancers join them at the tail end. Is Ringo playing miniature drums? Wait—is he then later smacking the sticks on a giant tom-tom? (Yes…and yes.) At one point, the boys wave goodbye to us wearing their older mop top–era jackets, as if to bid farewell to their own early glory days. Come the 1980s, plenty of bands would create videos that spoke to their own past and present. McCartney later said he hated the experience of directing after first being enthused about giving it a try.

Fun Fact: The band’s plan was for the BBC to air the video on the show Top of the Pops, but that was nixed because of a Musicians’ Union ban on TV performances that were mimed. Instead, it premiered first in the States, running on The Ed Sullivan Show, November 26, 1967.

The Ballad of John and Yoko

Year: 1969

Album: Eventually Hey Jude and other compilations, but first issued as a stereo single

Director: Unknown

Style Points: The video is fascinating, playing like a travelogue accompanied by one of the most spirited songs the band produced. The clip includes footage from Lennon and Yoko Ono’s various stops on their honeymoon, including Amsterdam and Vienna, along with shots of Yoko and the entire band in the studio. The quick mix of images reflects the pacing of the song, and Lennon’s humor (he wrote the song) is seen throughout, from eyebrow raises to a funny shot of him speaking on two phones at once. In the decades to come, many bands would make home video–style clips that owe a debt to this one.

Fun Fact: The couple typically filmed all their public activities, and many others were left on the cutting room floor to make this three-minute video. Interestingly, a shot of an exclamation point is seen each time John says “Christ!” in the song. And while the Fab Four are all present in the video, only Lennon and McCartney played on the song.

Something

Year: 1969

Album: Abbey Road

Director: Neil Aspinall

Style Points: Here’s a pickle: The four members of the world’s greatest band are growing apart, but you need a new clip for one of the most romantic songs ever…what to do? This famed video, shot shortly after Lennon announced he was leaving the group, features each Beatle walking alongside his respective partner. All four parts were shot individually and edited together. Neil Aspinall, a longtime associate of the group and head of Apple Corps, compiled the very separate segments into a single clip. Now that’s something.

Fun Fact: Critics loved this one. Allan Kozinn, writing in The New York Times following Aspinall’s 2008 death, said the idyllic film avoids showing how the Beatles were, at that point, barely on speaking terms with one another. Another music journalist, Rob Sheffield, noted in Rolling Stone that each couple presents a different vibe in the video, suggesting that John, Paul, George and Ringo were content as they headed toward their separate futures.

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We reflect on the lasting impact of the Fab Four's films ahead of the release of Disney+'s 'The Beatles: Get Back.'

Imagine

Year: 1972

Album: Imagine

Directors: John Lennon and Yoko Ono

Style Points: True, it’s not a Beatles video; it is, however, one of the most inspired clips ever produced and its simple elegance remains powerful. Taken from an 81-minute film accompanying Lennon’s debut solo album, the video begins with John and Yoko walking together through a densely foggy morning toward their Tittenhurst Park mansion. They suddenly disappear, and then reemerge in their dark, spare living room, with John at the piano and Yoko slowly opening one curtain after another, letting more and more gorgeous light in. The style is simple, the message clear. Few videos are as moving and powerful.

Fun Fact: The song, cowritten by Ono, was the bestselling single of Lennon’s solo career. It also landed at No. 3 on Rolling Stone’s 2004 list of the 500 best songs of all time. The video helped cement the timeless meaning of a song that has long outlived the man who first imagined it.

The Beatles: Get Back, Premiere, Thursday, November 25, Disney+