How Mad Men Got The Beatles

By Tom Breihan / May 8, 2012 - 9:37 am

If you haven’t seen this past Sunday’s episode of Mad Men yet, get thee to a DVR, because light spoilers are about to happen. As with the rest of the season, much of this week’s episode revolved around our hero Don Draper feeling old and out-of-touch. And after a few conversations about the feasibility of getting the Beatles (or, failing that, a reasonable facsimile thereof) to give a song to a commercial, it became painfully apparent that Draper didn’t really know what the circa-1966 version of the Beatles sounded like. So his much-younger second wife Megan bought him a copy of Revolver, and he spent the end of the episode zoning out to the swooping, squealing, psychedelic-as-all-fuck “Tomorrow Never Knows” before looking slightly perturbed and turning it off. It was a great character moment, but it also left me wondering how much the show’s producers paid to license the song. It turns out: A whole lot!

The New York Times reports that the use of the song cost the show $250,000. Even that could be considered something of a bargain, since the Beatles’ estate turns down most requests for their music to be licensed. And according to Mad Men creator and showrunner Matthew Weiner, the show’s producers had to accommodate a few requests from the Beatles camp to even be allowed to pay that much: “I had to do a couple things that I don’t like doing, which is share my story line and share my pages… It was hard because I had to, writing-wise, commit to the story that I thought was worthy of this incredible opportunity. The thing about that song in particular was, the Beatles are, throughout their intense existence, constantly pushing the envelope, and I really wanted to show how far ahead of the culture they were. That song to me is revolutionary, as is that album. And if the Beatles’ Apple Corps had rejected the episode after seeing those pages, Weiner says, “I don’t know. I would have changed the story.”

All that money and trouble was worth it, according to Weiner: “It was always my feeling that the show lacked a certain authenticity because we never could have an actual master recording of the Beatles performing — not just someone singing their song or a version of their song, but them, doing a song in the show. It always felt to me like a flaw. Because they are the band, probably, of the 20th century… Whatever people think, this is not about money. It never is. They are concerned about their legacy and their artistic impact.”

Read the full story at The New York Times.