Remember that one day when you could wake up without an alarm? When you would get your favorite bowl of cereal and sit between the hours of 8 and 12? This is a blog dedicated to the greatest time of our childhood: Saturday mornings. The television programs you watched, the memories attached to them, and maybe introducing you to something you didn't realize existed. Updated every weekend.
The Beatles actually began as the
Blackjacks, and later as the Quarrymen, a band formed by a teenaged John Lennon
with his friends from Quarry Bank
School in 1957. Within a few months, Paul McCartney joined as did his friend
George Harrison the following year. The group toured and performed locally under
several different names before finally settling on The Beatles. In 1962, Ringo
Starr came on as the band’s drummer just after the group was led to their first
taste of success under producer George Martin and EMI’s Parlophone label.
As The Beatles’ popularity grew in their native land,
their manager Brian Epstein worked
hard to get them exposure overseas in the United States. Initially, their
label’s American subsidiary, Capitol
Records, refused to issue their music and rights issues had further
complicated any sort of prominent commercial release to the American market.
So, Epstein went directly to radio disc jockeys while launching a $40,000
marketing campaign. By early 1964, American radio listeners had finally gotten
their first samples of the music of The Beatles and clamored for more. In
February, the band came to America to make their historic live American
television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show.
With the “British invasion” now underway and
Beatlemania showing no signs of stopping, United Artists
Records pushed for their film division to give
the band a three-motion-picture deal as a way to commercialize on those films’
soundtracks. The first, A Hard Day’s
Night, and the accompanying album were well-received by critics and fans
alike, although the follow-up, Help!,was a bit more
mixed in reception by everyone, including the band. With their dominance of
music, film and late-night television, there was only one market left to tap:
"I don't think that's what they mean by being on TV, lad."
After the Ed
Sullivan Show, an ABC executive approached
producer Albert Bordax of King Features’ film division with the idea
of producing a cartoon based on the Fab Four. Bordax then approached Epstein about
bringing the band to animation, and with permission granted he set about
enlisting the crew needed to bring a series to life. London-based TVC Studios was contracted to
handle the animation along with Australia’s Artransa/Graphik company and Canawest Studios. Envisioning
a merchandising goldmine, toymaker A.C. Gilmer financed the series. The series
was largely inspired by A Hard Day’s
Night, utilizing the styles and elements introduced in it along with the
silly nature of the narrative. The band themselves, however, had nothing to do
with the series beyond signing off on the use of their names and likenesses.
John, Paul and George prepare to give Ringo a haircut.
and Jack Stokes handled the
character designs, making caricatures of the Fab Four inspired by the
moptop-and-suit look they wore in the film. Lennon (Paul Frees, who recorded in
America) was depicted as the group’s leader; although he rarely took his role
seriously. He was shown to be sarcastic, lazy and laid-back, but would do
anything for his bandmates. McCartney (Lance Percival, who recorded in London)
was depicted as the most poised and stylish of the band members, although he
did get excited to suggestions Lennon would make. He was also sarcastic and
laid-back with a happy-go-lucky demeanor and was always willing to help someone
in need. Harrison (Frees) was the most easily-influenced of the group,
succumbing frequently to peer pressure and was very superstitious. Starr
(Percival) was the most naïve and dimwitted member of the group, which often
left him the butt of a joke or prank to serve as the show’s comic relief. He
was also a bit of a jinx, falling victim to bouts of bad luck. But, despite it
all, he maintained a calm and gentle demeanor as well as a deadpan sense of
humor. Epstein was also mentioned and featured briefly, however his
characterization was made to resemble Bordax. The Beatles’ voices were
“Americanized” to be portrayed as how Americans perceived British accents,
believing younger audiences would have trouble understanding genuine accents.
Life's a beach when you're in a band.
debuted on ABC on September 25, 1965, becoming the first animated series based
on actual people. The show was largely made as a showcase for The Beatles’
music. Each episode contained two segments whose names were taken from the
titles of The Beatles’ songs. The plot of each segment would basically
illustrate the song in question and the song itself would play at some point
during the story. Between each segment, Lennon and Starr would lead the
audience in a singalong of two other songs; played over static images of the
cartoon characters with the words displayed on the screen. A brief comedic
vignette would bridge the gap between stories and commercial breaks. The
opening theme was a guitar riff from “A Hard Day’s Night” segueing into “Can’t
Buy Me Love”. Although uncredited, the series was written by Dennis Marks, Jack Mendelsohn,
and Bruce Howard.
Each script had to be approved by Bordax and ABC before it went off to
storyboard and animation. Because of the simplistic nature of the show, each
episode only took four weeks to animate.
ABC's Saturday morning ad.
A ratings success, ABC quickly renewed the series for
two more seasons. The theme was changed to “Help!” and “And Your Bird Can
Sing”, respectively. During the show’s run, the band had moved away from the
image depicted on the show and the producers acknowledged this by including
photographs of their current appearances during the opening sequence. Bordax
considered using the success of the series to produce a few prime-time animated
specials, as well as approaching other bands for a similar treatment. None of
those plans came to fruition, however Bordax would go on to produce the
animated film Yellow Submarine, in which Percival had a role.
"This Saturday morning stuff is hard."
Unfortunately, the show couldn’t maintain its initial
fire as CBS began to focus more on superheroes
after the success of ABC’s own primetime Batmanseries. During
the second season, it was aired opposite Space Ghostand was clobbered in the ratings. For the third season, ABC
attempted to salvage the show by having the episodes become more surreal to
appeal to an adult audience and by moving it later in the morning. The later
timeslot put it up against NBC’s Top Cat and CBS’ The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure which also overshadowed it. The show was
ultimately cancelled, although ABC did continue to air it for two additional
seasons of reruns on Sunday morning before removing it from the schedule in the
fall of 1969.
Hitting the road.
While audiences initially loved the series, the band
themselves hated it at first. So much so, that when the same crew put together Yellow Submarinein 1968, The Beatles
wanted nothing to do with it. It wasn’t until they saw and were impressed by
the footage for the film that they agreed to appear in a short live-action
epilogue for it. Over time, the band
came to appreciate the show more. It wouldn’t be until 1980 that The Beatles
would be first broadcast in their native England, since Epstein became
horrified at the Americanization of the characters and kept it from being aired
over fear at how it would go over. New generations were introduced to The Beatles when it began airing on MTV and the Disney Channel in the late 80s.
By the 1970s, the band had begun feuding with each
other frequently, clashing over ideas and personalities alike. Each had
released a solo album with some involvement of one or more of the other Beatles
and had begun to pursue their own solo careers. However, the music of The
Beatles continued to sell and receive radio airplay in the decades that followed;
inspiring musicians who would go on to make their
own recordings of their favorite songs or form tribute
bands to pay homage and keep the legacy alive.
EPISODE GUIDE (“*” denotes
songs not featured in Sing Alongs, “^” denotes songs not used in episodes):
Knows* / I’ve Just
Seen a Face*” (10/14/67) – The band falls to inner earth where a chieftain
wants them to marry his daughters. / The band sends Ringo to a haunted house to
scare back his lost voice.