I Wanna Watch Your Clips

Rock historian Richie Unterberger screens rare Beatles footage.

It starts with one jangly, clanging chord, then a half-heartbeat of
silence, and then: It’s been a haaaard daaaay’s niiiight. Simple
yet sublime, this sequence has sent countless listeners squealing,
screaming, and squirming in ecstasy. Almost a half-century after the
Beatles first recorded their signature song, it still has that effect,
as rock historian Richie Unterberger sees whenever he screens
rare footage and plays rare audio clips to accompany discussions of his
book The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film.

“The Beatles have a huge cross-generational appeal,” says
Unterberger, who will present a program at the El Cerrito
Li
brary (6510 Stockton Ave., El Cerrito) on February 26.
Listeners in their fifties and sixties “feel a warm nostalgia,
remembering how exciting it was back then and how different the Beatles
were from anything they’d ever heard or seen. Meanwhile, people in
their twenties and younger, who have no firsthand memories of the band,
just can’t believe how good this music is, even though it was recorded
long before they were born.” Born in 1962 himself, Unterberger first
became conscious of the Beatles at around age four, when he saw
the 1964 film A Hard Day’s Night on TV: “The combination of the
music and how fun they were as people and how exciting they were when
they played made me an instant fan.” At age seven, he bought his
first-ever single: “Hey Jude,” backed with “Revolution.” Since then,
the San Francisco writer has contributed thousands of entries to the
All Music Guide and authored many rock-history volumes, including
Eight Miles High and Turn! Turn! Turn! Two new books,
The Rough Guide to Jimi Hendrix and White Light/White Heat:
The Velvet Underground
, will be released later this year.
Unterberger’s Beatles book won an Association for Recorded Sound
Collections Award for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound
Research.

Although the author’s library program spans the Beatles’ entire
career, one of his favorite clips captures the band’s first American
concert in Washington, DC, exactly 45 years ago this month. As they
perform to a shrieking crowd in full Beatlemania mode, the musicians
exchange glances, at times looking totally stunned. “You can see how
surprised and happy they are at how well they’re going over. You can
see that they didn’t expect all that hysteria,” Unterberger says.
Another clip from 1964 captures a dress rehearsal preceding the band’s
Ed Sullivan Show appearance. This footage was shot but never
broadcast. After the band performs “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” Sullivan
declares, “These are four of the nicest youngsters I’ve ever had the
pleasure to have on the show.” John, Paul, George, and Ringo respond
with impishly sarcastic smiles. “When you see them joking around and
just being themselves,” Unterberger beams, “that creates a whole
different dimension.” 7 p.m. 510-526-7512

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