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This Anthology is an authorized bio-pic--the official history. If Paul, George and Ringo have stepped back into the Beatle spotlight, they have done so on tiptoe. The lads freely discuss their drug use--what Paul calls the "herbal-jazz cigarettes," which garnered arrests for several of the Beatles, and the experiments with lsd. When they were told that acid could alter their minds, McCartney recalls, "John was rather excited by that prospect, and I was rather frightened." McCartney also talks about the strippers they dated in the Hamburg bars. But all are mum on sexual escapades after those early years. If any groupie got to stay overnight during one of the tours, her secret is safe with the remaining Beatles.

In the new interviews, George talks as if he's Old Gramps in the garden on a fine Sunday afternoon. Every remembered epiphany evokes a dry giggle, except when he's waxing wrothful on Beatlemania ("They used us as an excuse to go mad, the world did, and then they blamed it on us"). Paul sounds earnest and superficial, like a Tory spokesman, and Ringo is still the ideal, unflappable pub mate. Even the grating last years, when Paul would rag George about his guitar playing, or sneak in to redub Ringo's drum parts, are events to look back on in sorrow, not anger. From the grave, Lennon has to give perspective to the breakup: "It was a slow death."

Yeah, sure--but wasn't it a wonderful life? It sure looks swell on TV. You'll see the infant Beatles in matching leather outfits (Lennon: "We looked like four Gene Vincents, or tried to"). Lennon talks of his love for Elvis--"a guy with long, greasy hair wigglin' his ass and singin' Hound Dog." Their long slog to the top (John and Paul met on July 6, 1957, so that by the time the Beatles hit the U.S. in 1964, their career together was already half over) gets a brisk treatment, lighting for but a moment on the specters of Stu Sutcliffe and Pete Best, band members who fell by the wayside before the big time. The group defined its early cheekiness at the 1963 Royal Command Performance before the Queen, where John famously said, "Would the people in the cheap seats clap your hands, and the rest of you, if you'll just rattle your jewelry." But America was the promised land, and the Anthology's first evening climaxes with their conquest of the colonies.

I Want to Hold Your Hand, the first Beatles single to get much airplay in the U.S., premiered on Nov. 26, 1963, the day after John Kennedy's funeral; the song's chipper vitality offered instant reprieve from the tragedy. The Beatles' last album to be issued, Let It Be, came out the month of the Kent State killings. The group's music was the soundtrack of the '60s, and the Anthology footage makes for a compelling, long-form music video, a reminder of what the fuss was all about.

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