TV Shows That Used Beatles Recordings?

by Jaime Weinman

Apart from reminding us of the rule that one casual sexual encounter will inevitably lead to pregnancy (the rule that every action has the worst possible consequences is dubbed “Can’t Get Away With Nuthin’” by TVTropes.org, and that’s about right), last night’s Mad Men also reminded us that if you’re going to make the Beatles a plot point in your episode, you had better find a way to write around the actual Beatles music. Though Don got Sally tickets to the Beatles’ famous 1965 New York concert, the only bit of Beatles music heard in the episode was an instrumental cover of “Do You Want to Know a Secret” over the closing credits. (Song choices on TV are often like the song choices in old cartoons: if we know the title of the song being played, we realize it’s a reference to the theme of the scene or the episode.) Though Mad Men has been able to spring for most songs from the various time periods in which it takes place, up to and including the Rolling Stones, a real Beatles recording seemed to be off-limits this week.

The Beatles records, of course, are the most difficult records to license for TV use and always have been. WKRP in Cincinnati had a music licensing deal that allowed them to get recordings for something like half-price, but even with that deal, the Beatles were so expensive that they only used three in the whole series (“I’m Down,” “Here Comes the Sun” and “Come Together”). I’m not saying Mad Men will never use a Beatles recording, but if they do, they’ll have to be very careful to use one in the episode where they absolutely must use it — otherwise, they either have to work around it, or use a cover version of the song (and the songs are expensive enough to license).

My question, then, is this: what are some other scripted TV shows that actually have used real Beatles recordings? I can think of two: WKRP, above, and “All You Need Is Love” in the The Prisoner. Any others?

Update: Thanks to regular commenter Anthony Strand for finding another clip from British TV in the ’60s — when it was perhaps a little less difficult to get the Beatles, since the group existed and the producers could contact them directly — an episode of Doctor Who where we learn that in the future, the Beatles are considered classics.




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TV Shows That Used Beatles Recordings?

  1. Has anybody ever tried to slip in "La Marseillaise" to try and reference the opening bars of all you need is love? That would be clever and cheaper!

  2. I have been watching Mad Men for about two years now. It's a well written television show and totally captivates me as well as that time period (the 60's). Someone has done a very good job researching that time period…look at the decorating and fashions progress as MM goes from season to season. What an interesting show.

    I have been waiting for some reference to the Beatles 1965 Shea Stadium to raise it's head during this season. It appeared with last night's episode. That was very cool. I think it would have been very well timed and impactful if last night's episode closed with the Beatles song Help! as Don was staring at his gorgeous secretary… can't remember her name … Laura? Lisa?

    Closing with the instrumental of the Beatles, "Do You Want To Know A Secret", was good as well … but for me, didn't leave a thunderous stamp that I think this episode deserved :)

    Not a big deal really … just an interesting observation and opinion.

    • Yeah, I think they probably would have used a Beatles performance if they could have — but it would probably have blown their budget, so they had to work around it.

  3. Actually, one casual sexual encounter inevitably leading to pregnancy is its very own trope – 'Law of Inverse Fertility' (since those who actually want a baby will always have big trouble concieving)

    • As evidenced by Pete and Trudy.

  4. Another group whose songs it's apparently very difficult to get rights to is Led Zeppelin. There's a good bit in the special features DVD for Jack Black's School of Rock, in which Jack Black explains how badly he had to beg and plead just to get that 5-10 second clip in the movie with Led Zeppelin's The Immigrant Song playing in the background.

    • This is kind of funny, given that Cameron Crowe has a long history with the band, and even wrote liner notes for their 1990 box set. From IMDB's page on alternate versions of "Almost Famous":

      "A scene was filmed in which William plays Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" in front of his mother and some high school staff, as well as Darryl (Anita's boyfriend). William introduces the song by saying that it was based on the works of Tolkien. During the song, the group is looking through the lyrics on the inner sleeve and a copy of Rolling Stone. William and Darryl are lip-synching and playing air guitar and drums. Elaine denounces the song, and the scene continues with her saying "no, no, no, no" before finally agreeing to let her go. However, rights problems forced Crowe to cut the scene. The scene is presented on the "Bootleg Cut" two-DVD set. The scene has no music, but there is an on-screen cue telling the viewer when to start the song."

  5. Doctor Who used The Beatles twice more in 1988. “Remembrance of the Daleks” featured “A Taste of Honey” and “Do You Want to Know a Secret” They were both pulled out of DVD releases, then reinserted.

    • What's particularly funny is that they then repeated the gag in the new series with… Britney.

      (I still say it would've been funnier if it'd been one of Billie Piper's songs)

  6. Well, there was "Life Goes On," used as the theme of the show of the same name. (I believe it was replaced on DVD, right?) Did The Wonder Years ever use a Beatles song? "With a Little Help From My Friends," of course, was its theme song, but that was the Joe Cocker cover, so it doesn't really count.

    • Nevermind, the YouTube video of the opening reminded me the cast sang the song. Thus it too doesn't count.

  7. Tour of Duty '87-'90 ?

  8. The Beatles performance on Doctor Who is actually just a recording from their appearance on "Top of the Pops". According to the BBC episode guide, "this was in lieu of a planned live appearance by the 'fab four' made up as old men, which was vetoed by their manager Brian Epstein."

    • Right, but that is the real commercial recording of "Ticket To Ride," which would be prohibitively expensive to use on a TV series today.

  9. I'm trying to think of other good British groups that might be cheaper: The Animals, The Yardbirds, The Kinks, The Zombies, etc. The cheapest would probably have been The Graham Bond Organisation, who released a couple of brilliant albums and some incredible singles between '64 and 66, but they never got a break in The States. Heck, they were little more than a cult sensation in the UK.

  10. I felt that the version of "Satisfaction" used in Mad Men season 4 (a couple of weeks back for us Brits) was not the Rolling Stones' original, but a cover, possibly even especially recorded to sound as much like the original as possible.

  11. Surprisingly, perhaps, the long-running ITV show "Heartbeat" has used original Beatles recordings quite often during it's 18 series'. Surely a deal must have been struck? I cant see any UK TV programme having the funds to spend on licensing music at a premium rate.

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