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The Beatles Anthology

The Beatles Anthology is the name of a documentary series, a set of three double albums and a book, all of which focus on the history of The Beatles. The surviving members of the group participated in the making and approval of the works, which are sometimes referred to collectively as the Anthology project.

The Beatles Anthology documentary series was first broadcast in November 1995, with expanded versions released on VHS in 1996 and on DVD in 2003. The documentary used interviews with The Beatles and their associates to narrate the history of the band as seen through archival footage and performances. The initial volume of the album set was released in conjunction with the documentary in November 1995, with the subsequent two volumes released in 1996. The albums included unreleased performances and outtakes presented in roughly chronological order, along with two new songs based on demo tapes recorded by John Lennon after the group broke up. The book, released in 2000, paralleled the documentary in presenting the group's history through quotes from interviews.

Documentary series[]

Main article: The Beatles Anthology (film)

Approximately coinciding with the release of the "Free as a Bird" single and Anthology 1 album (the first of three double-CD albums), The Beatles Anthology series of documentaries was broadcast on ITV in the United Kingdom and ABC television in the United States in 1995. The Anthology series takes a form similar to that of the Anthology book, by being a series of first-person accounts by the Beatles themselves, with no linking, external "objective" narration. Footage in the Anthology series features voice-over recordings of all four Beatles to push the narrative of the story, with contributions from their producer, road manager and others. As well as telling their story through archival footage, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison appear in interview segments recorded exclusively for the series itself; John Lennon appears only in historic archival footage. The Beatles' wives past and present do not appear (excluding archival footage such as video from India and the music video for Harrison's "Something").

The series, which was made over five years of planning and production, is composed of numerous film clips and interviews that present a complete history of the band from the Beatles' own personal perspectives. The series was later released on VHS, laserdisc and as a boxed set of five DVDs.

  • DVD 1 Episodes 1 & 2 (July '40 to February '64)
  • DVD 2 Episodes 3 & 4 (February '64 to August '65)
  • DVD 3 Episodes 5 & 6 (August '65 to June '67)
  • DVD 4 Episodes 7 & 8 (June '67 to The End)
  • DVD 5 Special Features (MPJ)

Air dates on ABC:

  • Sunday, 19 November 1995: 9-11 p.m.
  • Wednesday, 22 November 1995: 9-11 p.m.
  • Thursday, 23 November 1995: 9-11 p.m.

In promoting the series during this time, ABC became known as "ABeatlesC" and several of the network's prime-time sitcoms replaced their regular opening credit themes with Beatles tracks.


Main articles: Anthology 1, Anthology 2 and Anthology 3

To accompany the Anthology series, three double music albums were released, each containing two CDs or three vinyl discs of mostly never-before-released Beatles material (the exceptions being the Tony Sheridan era material), although many of the tracks had appeared on bootlegs for many years prior.

Two days after the first television special in the series had aired, Anthology 1 was released to stores, and included music recorded by The Quarrymen, the famous Decca Records audition tapes, and various out-takes and demos from the band's first four albums. It also included the song "Lend Me Your Comb", omitted from the collection Live at the BBC, released the previous year (1994). The song "Free as a Bird" was included at the very start. 450,000 copies of Anthology 1 were sold in its first day of release, the most sales for an album in a single day ever. The Beatles' first drummer Pete Best, replaced by the band's three founding members in 1962 before they recorded professionally for EMI, received his first substantial Beatles royalties from this album, for the inclusion of early demo tracks on which he played.

On 17 March 1996, Anthology 2 was released. The second collection presented out-takes and demos from the Beatles' sessions for Help!, Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Magical Mystery Tour. These included selected early demos and takes for Lennon's "Strawberry Fields Forever", previously available only to bootleg collectors. The new song "Real Love" — which, like "Free as a Bird", was based on an unfinished Lennon recording — was also included in the two-CD collection.

On 28 October 1996, Anthology 3 was released. The third collection featured out-takes and demos from The White Album, Abbey Road and Let It Be as well as several Post-Beatle tracks from Harrison and McCartney.

Anthology cover

The full Anthology cover collage

The three album covers, when laid side-by-side, become one long painted collage of various peeling posters and album covers representing the different stages of The Beatles' career. This was the work of Klaus Voormann, who also created the album cover for Revolver in 1966. The Anthology covers required Voormann to recreate elements of his cover for Revolver within the collage (Voormann's picture in the middle of George's hair is even updated to how he looked in 1995). During the music video for "Free as a Bird", the Anthology collage appears as posters on a shop window as the camera pans quickly across the street. The design also adorned the VHS, laserdisc and DVD releases, again to be properly encountered by laying the cases side-by-side. Upon the release of Anthology 3, HMV stores made available a cardboard sleeve designed to hold all three CD volumes of which each side of the sleeve make up half of the collage.


Main article: The Beatles Anthology (book)

In October 2000, The Beatles Anthology book was released, which included interviews with all four band members and others involved, plus rare photos. Many of the interviews quoted are from those featured in the documentary films. The book is designed as a large-format hardback, with imaginative artwork throughout, and several visually impressive and colourful spreads featuring graphics relevant to the proceeding chronology, photographic arrays and a variety of text styles and layouts. The book went straight to the top of the New York Times bestsellers list.[1] In 2002, the book was released as a large-format paperback.

Unreleased recordings[]

During early 1995 as work on The Beatles Anthology continued, Yoko Ono and McCartney recorded an avant-garde piece called "Hiroshima Sky Is Always Blue". Ono provided vocals and McCartney played bass, while Sean Lennon, Linda McCartney, and McCartney's children played various instruments. The piece was broadcast on Japanese public television in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

The track "Carnival of Light" recorded during the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" sessions was intended to be released on the "Anthology 2" album, but was vetoed by George Harrison.

It was reported that McCartney, Harrison and Starr worked on a new composition called "All for Love" in March 1995, intended as a track on Anthology 3, but the effort was abandoned. No version of the song has reached the public.

Promotional items[]

Each of the three Anthology albums was accompanied by a promotional CD sampler sent to radio stations shortly before the official release dates. These CDs have since become highly sought collector's items. Even rarer is a vinyl version of the sampler for Anthology 2, which was only sent to college radio stations and featured a different cover (though the contents were the same).

Promotional displays used in stores for each of the three album releases are also now fetching high prices amongst collectors.


The Rutles Anthology

The 2013 Parody boxset.

The success of the Anthology albums was parodied by the release of the Rutles' Archaeology some months later. This album even included a spoof of "Free as a Bird", entitled "Don't Know Why." In Anthology style, the album included both outtakes from the original Rutles album and new material. Perhaps fittingly, delays in the release of the third volume of the Beatles' series ultimately meant that the Rutles' parody arrived in shops on the same day as its inspiration. In 2013, The Rutles Anthology DVD was released, a box set with the first two movies parodying the Documentary.

"Weird Al" Yankovic parodied The Beatles Anthology in an Al TV special. He said he had a copy of a fictional Anthology 17, which he claimed would not be available to the public for a while. He played for the audience a track of Paul McCartney brushing his teeth.

The Dana Carvey Show aired multiple interview parodies shortly after the broadcast, titled "Leftover Beatle Memories".