The Beatles: 1+ appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Given the range of clips found here, the visuals seemed up and down, but they were more than acceptable.
That wide variety of clips does make it impossible for me to offer concrete assessments of picture quality beyond my feeling that the videos looked as good as one could hope. For the pre-1966 videos, quality appeared pretty nice overall. Of course, some softness occurred, and the black and white elements could seem somewhat mushy. Still, the images came across as fairly well-rendered given the nature of the source.
Matters improved markedly with 1966’s Paperback Writer. Shot on film, it offered a visual revelation and nearly popped off the screen. Similarly excellent image quality accompanied “Penny Lane” and “Hello Goodbye” as well. They demonstrated solid sharpness, terrific colors and generally smooth reproduction. The two videos from Yellow Submarine also looked strong, as expected.
The other 1966-1970 videos offered mostly good visuals, though not at the same level as the clips mentioned in the last paragraph. Parts of these videos could look very nice, but they also came with occasional soft/murky elements, and the colors were less dynamic.
For most of the videos, source flaws seemed surprisingly absent. Some of the early clips suffered from video-related artifacts – like lights that bloomed – and the Let It Be videos portrayed more than a few defects. In particular, gate hairs during the song “Let It Be” threatened to overwhelm the image! A few other minor defects cropped up elsewhere, usually via archival footage in videos like “Ballad of John and Yoko”.
Despite those instances, the clips tended to be surprisingly clean. They showed a nice layer of grain when appropriate and seemed to represent the source material well. At worst, the videos looked pretty good, and at best, they seemed stunning. I felt very happy with the picture quality on display here.
As for the DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio of 1+, it didn’t reinvent the wheel. While the songs got multichannel remixes, these tended to stay focused on the stereo spectrum, so we didn’t get a lot of material from the rear speakers.
Really, use of the back channels popped up only a few notable times. I didn’t hear any unique surround elements until we got to the two Yellow Submarine songs, and after that, the rear speakers seemed pretty passive the rest of the way.
This made me wonder why the disc’s producers bothered to create 5.1 mixes. The package provides a stereo option, so it’s not like they had to protect the integrity of the source. I don’t think the remixes needed to go “surround crazy”, but they should’ve done more – I don’t see the point of 5.1 tracks that essentially remained stereo.
Some of the songs lacked the wherewithal to spread much due to the nature of the source recordings. That occurred with the live versions of early songs; multitracks wouldn’t exist for those, so they couldn’t be recreated as 5.1 versions in an organic manner.
Since the original tapes for “Love Me Do” no longer exist, it also needed to be reworked without access to the original tapes – and the earliest Beatles recordings were two-channel anyway, so there’s not a lot that could be done with them.
Rather than stay monaural for one-track recordings like the live material, the 5.1 mix went with “broad mono” that filled the front speakers. For the most part, this seemed fine – except for “From Me to You”. That song spread out the material in a loose, unnatural manner that didn’t work. It sounded much better when played via the disc’s stereo option; it still wasn’t “actual stereo”, but it came across as better focused and clearer.
Other live recordings seemed more satisfying. Though tracks like “She Loves You” opted for “broad mono” as well, the results appeared a lot more listenable than the muddy “From Me to You”.
I’ll probably opt for the standard stereo mixes when I watch 1+ in the future. The 5.1 soundscapes didn’t offer much to broaden the 2.0 material, and in some instances, the 5.1 didn’t work as well.
Except for that loose, boomy “From Me to You”, audio quality seemed very good. As was the case with the visuals, sound depended on the source, which meant the handful of early live recordings fared the worst. Other than the 5.1 “From Me to You”, though, I thought these tracks offered perfectly positive audio; they weren’t up to the level of studio tracks, but they showed better than reasonable clarity.
The majority of the videos used those studio recordings, and these delivered excellent audio quality. Vocals were crisp and distinct, and instrumentation sounded clear and smooth, with tight highs and warm lows. Although I thought the 5.1 remixes weren’t especially valuable, the songs sounded great.
With that, let’s go to the set’s extras. On Disc One, we get three audio commentaries from Paul McCartney. He chats during “Penny Lane”, “Hello Goodbye” and “Hey Jude”. Paul gives us some basic memories of the videos, but he doesn’t provide great insights. Still, it’s fun to hear him reminisce.
Disc One also includes four introductions from Ringo Starr. The drummer discusses “Penny Lane”, “Hello Goodbye”, “Hey Jude” and “Get Back”. In these, we see Ringo watch parts of the videos and make some remarks.
Ringo offers some of the same info from Paul’s chats and doesn’t tell us a lot overall. As was the case with Paul’s commentaries, it’s enjoyable to spend a few moments with Ringo, but his intros don’t give us much detail.
In addition to the 27 clips on Disc One, Disc Two provides a 23 more music videos. All together, these fill a total of one hour, 21 minutes and 14 seconds. I’ll discuss those in the same manner I covered the pieces on Disc One.
Twist and Shout (Scene at 6:30, Granada TV, 1963): Recorded for a TV program, this one offers the most basic of lip-synch performances. Essentially it comes with two camera angles: John as he sings and Paul/George as they sing. It’s most notable for the odd positioning of John on stage right and Paul/George on stage left. 4/10.
Baby It’s You (promo video, 1995): Created to sell the first Live at the BBC release, we get the expected radio performance of the song along with a montage of photos and film. Some of the footage seems appealing – especially when we see the Fabs vamp in front of the BBC studios – but overall, this becomes a forgettable clip. 3/10.
Words of Love (promo video, 2013): And here we get a video made to market the second Live at the BBC package! Like its predecessor, it mostly shows archival footage, but in a silly choice, it adds lots of poorly done CG animation to go with the band’s Beatlemania “rollercoaster ride”. Someone must have thought this was a good idea – I’m not that person. 1/10.
Please Please Me (Ed Sullivan Show, 1964): My comments about the clip of “Yesterday” on Disc One continue to apply here. It’s a good version of “Please Please Me” but it’s also one fans will likely already own. On its own, though, it’s enjoyable. 5/10.
I Feel Fine (promo video, 1965): Back on Disc One, we saw the Fabs mime to “I Feel Fine” in a stark setting with a punching bag and an exercise bike. Disc Two’s version places them in the same location, but this one shows them as they eat fish and chips. A few shots almost make it look like John’s singing the lyrics, but I think those are coincidental -–the "video” was shot during a break and doesn’t appear to be an attempt to mime the tune.
All of this leaves the “fish and chips” version one of the oddest things I’ve ever seen – and strangely entertaining in its own way. No one will call it art, but it’s kind of fun. 6/10.
Day Tripper (The Music of Lennon and McCartney, Granada TV, 1965): I thought the “Day Tripper” video on Disc One seemed pretty lazy, but Disc Two’s offers a little more imagination – though not a lot. It starts out on a promising note, as the video opens with “mod” female dancers, but then we just watch the Beatles as they lip-synch – the dancers run away and we never hear from them again. Sigh! 4/10.
Day Tripper (promo video, 1965): Wow – a third version of “Day Tripper”! And it’s the most creative of the bunch, though “creative” remains a relative term. On one hand, the Fabs still simply mime the song, but the video places them in odd sets, and those add a smidgen of spark. Just watching Ringo destroy parts of the set is enough to make this the best of the three “Day Tripper” clips. 5/10.
We Can Work It Out (promo video, 1965): Now we find a second version of “We Can Work It Out”, but it doesn’t differ much from the one on Disc One. Honestly, beyond a change in clothes, there’s not much to differentiate the two. 4/10.
Paperback Writer (promo video, 1966): Unlike the artsy “Paperback Writer” on Disc One, this version offers a simpler lip-synch in the studio clip. It’s more creative than its predecessors, as it comes with a variety of camera angles and other visual touches, but it’s not nearly as good as Version One. 6/10.
Rain (promo video, 1966): Shot during the same sessions that gave us Disc One’s “Paperback Writer”, “Rain” works – but not as well. Clearly all involved invested more creativity in the video for “Paperback Writer”, which made sense, since it was the single and not the B-side. Still, “Rain” seems unusual for its time and works reasonably well. 6/10.
Rain (promo video, 1966): This version of “Rain” resembles Version Two of “Paperback Writer”, as it’s another basic lip-synch video. However, it seems less varied and creative when compared to the alternate “Paperback”, and the fact it’s black and white doesn’t help. It’s nice as an archival piece, but it’s not much of a video. 4/10.
Strawberry Fields Forever (promo video, 1967): A companion to Disc One’s “Penny Lane” video, “Strawberry Fields Forever” offers a clip that feels much more like a modern video than its predecessors. It’s less coherent and trippier than “Penny Lane”, but so is the song, so this makes sense. It’s a weird little masterpiece of its age. 10/10.
Within You Without You/Tomorrow Never Knows (promo video, 2006): Made to promote the >Love show/CD, this video creates a montage that uses a mix of circa 1967 snippets in a psychedelic manner. It’s not great, but it’s one of the more effective of the “modern day” videos. 5/10.
A Day In the Life (promo video, 1967): A montage video, this one mostly consists of footage from the Sgt. Pepper’s sessions, with a mild emphasis on “Life” itself. It all gets the requisite trippy/psychedelic makeover, which works fine. Honestly, I’d rather see this footage in documentary format, as it doesn’t really suit the song, but there’s still good material to see here. 5/10.
Hello Goodbye (Version 2) (promo video, 1967): Time for another alternate take, though not one that varies its predecessor’s template much. The Fabs still lip-synch the song and they do it on the same stage – they just wear different clothes this time, as they abandon the Pepper’s outfits. Paul plays a Rick with a different paint job, too.
Otherwise, this seems a lot like Version One – right down to the hula girls at the end. Even so, Version Two is a lot of fun, partly due to the shots that show John and Ringo together, as they exchange glances that make the whole video worthwhile. It may be somewhat redundant, but it’s still a blast. 8/10.
Hello Goodbye (Version 3) (promo video, 1967): Version Three should be called “Hello Goodbye – The Blooper Reel”. It mixes shots from the sessions for Versions One and Two but emphasizes silliness. That’s fine with me, as it creates a fun little romp. 7/10.
Hey Bulldog (promo video, 1968): As mentioned earlier, the video for “Lady Madonna” largely came from footage shot during the recording of “Hey Bulldog”. That means this video’s material will look familiar to a large degree, but it makes a whole lot more sense here. It’s nice to see recording studio footage that actually matches the song – one of the great lesser-known Fabs tracks, too! As a slice of the band at work, it’s very good. 7/10.
Hey Jude (Alternative Version) (promo video, 1968): Like Version One, the Beatles shot this “Jude” for David Frost. It uses a different intro and much of an alternate take, so we get a different vocal from Paul. It’s not a substantial change from the “regular” video, but I like it. With a looser vocal from Paul, it might even be better than the other version. 8/10.
Revolution (promo video, 1968): Also shot for David Frost, on the surface, “Revolution” provides nothing more than a mimed performance, albeit one with live vocals. That’s what it offers beneath the surface as well, but it’s still awesome, mainly due to those live vocals. This has always been my preferred version of the song, so I love the video as well. 9/10.
Get Back (Let It Be… Naked Version) (promo video, 1969): Created to sell 2003’s Let It Be… Naked album, this video uses that release’s version of the song and pairs it with footage from the recording sessions. It’s a bit of a melange but it gives us a decent look at the song’s creation – and still makes me irritated there’s no Blu-ray of Let It Be. 5/10.
Don’t Let Me Down (promo video, 1969): Where would this collection be without Let It Be? Much shorter, obviously. This offers one of the better of the Let It Be clips, though, and it gives us a good view of the song. 6/10.
Free As a Bird (promo video, 1995): The first “new” Beatles song in 25 years, “Bird” came from the first Anthology release. We see no new footage of the then-surviving Beatles, as “Bird” mixes archival bits of the Fabs with newly-created materials, all intended to refer to various songs.
That makes “Bird” a highly clever video, as it prompts fans to play “spot the reference”. It loses some points solely because the visual effects have held up poorly over the last 20 years – and it doesn’t help that the Blu-ray presents the video in windowboxed 1.78:1, which means we get an enormous black border around the visuals. I assume this was an unfortunate outgrowth of the original footage, but it still makes the video tough to watch – literally. 7/10.
Real Love (promo video, 1996): And here we get the second - and final – “new” Beatles track! As a song, I always preferred “Real Love” to “Bird”, as I think it’s peppier and more “Beatley”.
As a video, though, “Real Love” is less interesting than “Bird”. It’s not much more than a mix of archival footage and shots of the Threetles from 1994/95. It’s a watchable clip but nothing better than that. 5/10.
Disc Two gives us one more Paul McCartney commentary and another Ringo Starr introduction. Both men discuss “Strawberry Fields Forever”, and they provide notes similar to those found on Disc One. That means a few minor memories but nothing great.
Both discs offer a Jukebox feature. This lets you program a playlist with up to 27 tracks. I guess it could come in handy, but I doubt I’ll ever use it.
Disc Three gives us a CD copy of 1. This offers the same 27 songs on Disc One – and on the original 1 CD from 2000 – but here they’ve been remixed.
And remixed with erratic results. I appreciate the chance to hear moderately different mixes of these songs, but I don’t think they’re especially successful. I’ll stick with the original mixes.
The package also comes with a booklet. Actually, at 128 pages, “booklet” seems like a weak description of the text. It provides “an appreciation” from Mark Ellen as well as photos and background notes about all of the songs/videos across both Blu-rays. The booklet complements the set well.
With 1+, we get a fine collection of Beatles music videos. These lack the sophistication that the format would boast even a decade later, but they’re entertaining and a nice slice of Fabs life. Picture and audio seemed very good, and with a slew of bonus videos, supplements became satisfying. Any “serious” Beatles fan needs to own this set.
Footnote: in addition to this two-BD 1+, a single-disc 1 Blu-ray also exists. It offers the 27 videos on 1+’s first platter but loses the 23 videos on Disc Two as well as the 1 CD. I believe it includes a booklet but not the same 128-page text in 1+.
Because it costs about half the price of 1+, some fans may feel tempted to just get 1. Don’t do it! Even if you don’t care about the remixed CD, Disc Two includes far too much essential material to be ignored. I can’t recommend 1 to anyone - 1+ is the only way to go.