“Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust.”
—The Clash, “London Calling”
Imagine a world without the Beatles. It isn’t hard to do.
Every older person reading this column knows who Bing Crosby is. He was the most popular recording artist in America for more than a decade and a movie star to boot. Now, young people may know “White Christmas” but they may never have heard his name. All his other hits are forgotten.
No artist is so big that he won’t be swallowed by the dustbin of history.
In fact, the bigger they are, the more likely it is that their hits were a result of hype. And the music was secondary to the marketing.
Two hundred years from now, I predict that The Velvet Underground (1965 to 1970) will be listed next to Picasso, Dali, Andy Warhol, and Stanley Kubrick as the greatest artists of the 20th Century.
In the unlikely event that The Beatles are remembered at all, it will be as a boy band with some okay pop songs, not unlike the Monkees. It is clear to me the Fab Four don’t have a song as timelessly amazing as “Daydream Believer.” You probably disagree with me. I suppose history will show who’s right.
“Yesterday” is the perfect Beatles movie. It’s poppy, funny, charming and crowd-pleasing. And it’s overly self-important, sappy, and quite forgettable.
Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a failed singer/songwriter who is just about to give up trying. Then, suddenly, Jack is the only person who remembers cigarettes, Coca Cola, and The Beatles. Instead of smartly founding Phillip Morris, he decides to start playing Beatles tunes as if he was the one who wrote them.
The cover songs are not an immediate hit. In one of the film’s most delightful scenes, Jack plays “Let It Be” for his distracted parents and they can’t be bothered to focus for the entire song. And they chuckle in bemusement when Jack announces that they are failing to appreciate a masterpiece.
Jack never wins his parents over. They remain caring but unsupportive. Jack’s parents represent the 50% who never saw what the big Beatles fuss was about.
Eventually, the world catches on and Jack Malik becomes a sensation. The scene where he plays “Back in the USSR” to an adoring Russian audience was a highlight.
Universal Records is eager to release a double album of Jack’s seemingly original songs. Jack suggests that they name it The White Album. “The White Album?” a record exec scoffs. “There is a serious diversity problem.” “What diversity problem?!” asks Jack, who is ethnically Indian.
Veteran British director Danny Boyle mines maximum comedy from every situation. Kate McKinnon is a laugh a minute as Jack’s cynical Hollywood agent. Usually, music industry snakes lie with every breath. McKinnon does the exact opposite: she exposes the miserable, vain, exploitive nature of celebrity and expects Jack to go along with it, anyway.
But all Jack really wants is his childhood friend Ellie – the only person who believed in him before he became a secret Beatles cover band. “Yesterday”’s romantic comedy mooring keeps it from becoming a truly great film.
“Yesterday” is pretty darn enjoyable, though. I even enjoyed some of the music. It’s not Clash good. It’s not Monkees good. They will be as forgotten as Bing Crosby in a few decades. But the Beatles were okay, I guess.