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DVD to Finally Feel the ‘Love'

12 May, 2008 By: Billy Gil


You can't fault Tony Palmer for swiping the title for his 17-episode music documentary “All You Need Is Love” from The Beatles. After all, the series, due May 13 in a five-DVD set from MVD Visual ($99.95), was John Lennon's idea.

“I first met him at Cambridge when The Beatles came to give a concert in November of 1963,” said Palmer, who was working at Cambridge's student-run newspaper. “He asked, would I show him around Cambridge?”

The two struck up a long-time professional friendship. Three years after their meeting, Palmer, who was working for the BBC, visited Lennon in London, where Lennon first brought up putting rock stars on television.

“He said I really had a duty, he put it, to get onto TV a lot of groups of musicians he admired who simply couldn't get onto TV because rock 'n' roll was not taken seriously by the BBC or by TV generally in '66-'67,” he said. “Or, if it was, you were surrounded by gyrating nubiles, and he thought that was disrespectful to what these guys were achieving.

“I said, ‘fine, who?' And he gave me a list of names.”

Those names included Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Frank Zappa and Pink Floyd, whom Palmer began filming in 1967 for his first pop music doc, All My Loving (on DVD from MVD).

Years later, in New York in 1972, Palmer said he ran into Lennon, who asked, “Are you doing anything useful these days?” recalled Palmer.

Over lunch Lennon made another suggestion.

“He said to me, what we're really missing is something that sets the whole of the development of American popular music into some sort of social and political context so we understand where all these different strands came from, how they influenced each other and, most importantly, how they eventually gave birth to rock 'n' roll,” Palmer said.

Palmer got to work chronicling the development of pop music through its disparate predecessors, from ragtime to musicals to rhythm and blues. Each episode of the series takes on a genre or theme; one episode is devoted to The Beatles.

Palmer said most artists were glad to be recognized after so many years. Palmer and his crew had to trek around the globe to find some of the musicians, finding one in particular playing piano in the lobby of a Holiday Inn — that was Jerry Lee Lewis.

The series aired worldwide from 1976 to 1981, but it had never been brought to home video because of distributor and music-rights issues. Palmer said the series hasn't been seen in the United States in about 30 years.

“When someone would look at the music cue sheet, you could see their brain frying at having to sort it all out,” Palmer said.

After 10 years, the series is coming to DVD, with all of its performances and interviews intact with the likes of Stephen Sondheim, Benny Goodman, Bing Crosby, The Beach Boys, Tina Turner, Dizzy Gillespie, Muddy Waters, Phil Spector and more. The set comes with a booklet and a message from Lennon, culled from a telegram he sent Palmer when the series was completed.

“It says, ‘A mighty achievement. Thank you,’ Palmer said.

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