I can’t say I have a great sense of how many world citizens who aren’t heavily into sixties culture and music, psychedelia, the Beatles and/or Beatles side projects would know about the 1968 Joe Massot-directed film Wonderwall—a technicolor surrealistic daydream featuring astoundingly attractive people (including Jane Birkin as Penny Lane) and moody acid-inspired background music.
The first time I saw it, it was being screened at the then-annual Mods & Rockers Film Festival, which for a couple years descended on Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood around the Fourth of July. I was blown away by the rich jewel tones, the textures, the heavily embellished costumes and perfect sixties maquillage—and the butterflies. I adore those butterflies.
And no, I didn’t bother to make much sense of the freaky goings on. In very short summary, the film is about a peeping Tom who is so bewitched by the model next door that he loses the plot. But really, it’s a 92-minute advertisement for the brilliance that was The Fool design collective. If you like what they did for the sixties, then by default you’ll enjoy this trip down Trippy Lane—even if you’re just tuning out and gazing at it as if peering through a kaleidoscope. (It’s a great one to have playing on a big screen during a party.)
Now Martin Lewis, a specialist in all thing sixties who used to host the Mods & Rockers shindig, offers an excellent rundown of George Harrison’s involvement in Wonderwall here. Merging psychedelic and Indian music—a naturally congruous union as we now know—he created a hypnotic soundscape that is quintessentially George and masterfully suited to these visuals.
The gorgeous masterpiece that was originally left out of the movie but unearthed in time for the film’s reissue is “In the First Place,” composed by Colin Manley and Tony Ashton of Liverpool’s the Remo Four and produced by George Harrison. According to Lewis, Harrison, who also contributed lead vocals, was firm on crediting Manley and Ashton for their work. They’d been through the pop-music ringer and were absolutely deserving of any accolades. Of Harrison’s decision, Lewis wrote:
Close friends say that Harrison’s insistence on sole credit going to a forgotten and long unsung band of pals (and to not take any credit for his performance) is a typically generous gesture by the reclusive ex-Beatle.
For me, “In the First Place” is one of the most intricate and entrancing songs I’ve ever heard in my life. It quite easily makes my Best Songs of All Time list, and I could listen to it over and over again. Luckily a CD and 7″ of two versions of the song were packaged with this amazing collector’s edition DVD box set put out by Rhino several years ago. But you can easily hear the song on YouTube.
In recent past, Sidewalk Society, a band out of Southern California that has done covers for the English psych label Fruits de Mer, did a impressively seamless rendition of the song that is every bit as haunting as the still little-known original. It’s certainly a wonderful thing that Wonderwall lives on.