Even the Beatles found it hard to escape their image; they were trapped by it.
All you could do was to see them. We were backstage when the Beatles were on and you could just about hear a noise. It was just literally screaming.
Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue with that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock and roll or Christianity.
At the end of the Beatles, I really was done in for the first time in my life. Until then, I really was a kind of cocky sod.
We were the Spice Boys.
There is really not much more that can be said about the Beatles that hasn’t already been said. Groundbreaking, historic, revolutionary, overrated. Yes, it has all been said before. But it hasn’t been said on here so let’s do this shit. I think just about everyone can find a song they like from their substantial catalog. They released 12 studio albums. One seminal album that will go down in history as an all time classic, the White Album, and 11 other “good tries”. I’m sure people still remember some of them but it’s mostly filler. Anyways, the Beatles were a charismatic trio. A generous group of men who took in a simple lad from the street and let him pretend he was playing drums for them. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison. All would eventually enjoy some success as solo artists but never the level of overhyped fanaticism they would see as a group. So let’s begin with the early history of the group and the build up to their invasion of the 16-25 year old demographic. This early section, and each proceeding, will owe some of it’s content to the fantastic book “Beatles Anthology”.
Before the Mania
The Beatles were actually cool at one point. When John, Paul, and George finally got going as “The Beatles”, they were all leather jacket, greaser types. They played crazy music and were best known for eating fried chicken on stage and setting condoms on fire. Plus they played A LOT of
titty bars gentleman’s clubs. It was as rock and roll as rock and roll lifestyles get. Lennon said that, at the time, they viewed it as a job. Looking back he realized they were just some kids having fun playing music. Before they were “robots playing on stage”, as he put it. But in the moment they just wanted to make enough money to get through the week and get a new slate of gigs. And they did a lot of different kinds of gigs. Some nights it would just be them and whatever drummer happened to be in the building that night, other nights they would pull 15 or 20 musicians on stage and do shit no one had heard before. They really didn’t want to repeat themselves and wanted each show to be a unique experience.
The band was heavy into the American rock n roll scene. Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, the late Big Bopper. And being the young, crazy assholes they were they liked their music loud and with a quicker tempo that would become more and more popular in rock music as the decades progressed. During this time the first of a series of conversations began between Lennon and McCartney. It basically involved Lennon saying, “I believe I’m the front man. I’m carrying the vocals”, McCartney replying, “I don’ t know about that”, and Harrison remarking under his breath, “Really looking forward to 2 more decades of this bullshit”.
All kidding aside, Paul and George did look up to John. Greatly respected him. He was older than the two and often took on the role of mouthpiece for the group. But their music did most of the talking in those early years. The band was good. Local music magazine Mersey Beat, named for Merseyside county, featured them on the cover of their second issue and stayed closely involved with them. The publication was founded by an art school friend of John Lennon and Lennon even contributed a column for awhile. In their 13th issue the magazine published a poll to find out who the most popular band in the area was. It was no surprise that The Beatles won. They weren’t just the most popular band in Liverpool, their fame was spreading all across the county and beyond. They had a simple formula of guitar, guitar, oh look over here, what’s this?, it’s more guitar. McCartney admitted he never wanted to play bass. No one did. When the band finally became The Beatles we know he just accepted it. But I’m betting they gambled for it and he lost.
Beatles shows became experiences. Many of the groups out at the time were copycats. Same look, same sound, night in and night out. The Beatles were experimenting more with blues and R&B riffs and this made them must see performers. They had also added something of a permanent drummer in the form of Pete Best. But don’t let the name fool you. He was a shitty drummer. The Beatles had written a ton of material and actually sold a lot of it instead of recording it. Such as The Hippy Hippy Shake, which McCartney claims to have written. A recording of the song being played by the group well before the album release pretty much proves it. But they did get a few tunes out and this led to some gigs outside of England.
Hamburg, Germany. The city of lights. Wait….. Paris? Anyways, the boys show up in Germany in the fall of 1960. Harrison, who is only 17, has to lie to authorities about his age to stay in the country. A local promoter booked them for a 48 night tour of the various clubs. The promoter, Bruno Koschmider, had a healthy dose of gigs lined up for them. Plenty of bars and strip clubs. During this time the boys violated their contract by performing at a club contracted by a rival promoter. Bruno immediately went to the authorities and ratted out Harrison on his age. He was immediately deported. Two weeks later McCartney and Best were kindly asked to leave after starting a fire in a hotel by lighting a condom pinned to the wall. The usual.
Designated bassist Stuart Sutcliffe, the original “Fifth Beatle”, decided to stay in Germany with his new fiance. Lennon returned to Liverpool not too long after. They did return to Hamburg though. Their popularity there was at an all time high. During the return trip, Sutcliffe officially quit the band. Lennon later commented that they all really liked Sutcliffe. He was a dedicated musician, a good friend, he was just boring to be around. After he left they made the decision that they would not have a fifth member again. Harrison said that he and Lennon both stated firmly they did not want to play bass. McCartney just went with it. Though I’m sure he was disappointed. Germany was full of long tours and epic performances. They casually fell into drug use while on tour there. Mostly speed and the stimulants most athletes were hooked on in those days.
Back home in Liverpool the band’s popularity was reaching new levels as well. Enter Brain Epstein. Epstein had visions of being a star in the theater but found he had an affinity for the business side of show business. Epstein took charge of the record department of his father’s music store, turning it into a huge success and grew it into a profitable franchise. He loved music but his job in the store bored him. In his free time he contributed to the local mag Mersey Beat. I was here hat he discovered the Beatles. And I mean just him. Most of Liverpool and Merseyside already knew who they were. McCartney and one other person involved in the story state that Epstein always knew who the Beatles were. They were on the cover of the second issue of the magazine Epstein contributed to and old in his shops. Their music was everywhere in the area. But Epstein did know they had something special and he wanted in on it.
Harrison, McCarntey, and Best were all still under 21 and couldn’t sign any agreements without consent of a parent or guardian. McCartney’s dad agreed but told his son to “watch his finances”. A shot at Epstein’s Jewish heritage. Harrison’s parents also approved. Lennon’s aunt, his legal guardian, warned him that Epstein was rich and had the money to drop them when something else that interests him came along. But since Lennon was already of age it was completely his decision. Ironically, Best’s mother seemed the most exited about the idea and thought it would be the best thing to ever happen to them. I say ironic because after the Beatles finally signed their life away to Brian Epstein, he fired Best only a few months later.
There are many reasons given for why Best was let go and most of them revolve around him not being a great drummer. He was adequate for bar tours and strip clubs but if they wanted higher profile gigs they needed better drumming. Kind of a slap in the face to Best, who did go on to be a pretty successful drummer, but he just didn’t fit the image Epstein was going for. Lennon and McCartney said that Epstein wasn’t trying to change their style or who they were, he just knew his shit and they had to look the part to play the big gigs. Lennon hated the suits but if the money was good he’d wear them. Lennon never lamented the ideas. He knew this was what they had to do to get to the point where they were calling all the shots.
Epstein worked his ass off to get the band off the ground. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. He genuinely believed in the band and that they could be the biggest act in the world. From the start he envisioned a great take over of the American music scene. With Best’s dismissal Epstein inserted a simple minded mechanic who they let play drums in the studio every now and then, Richard Starkey. Starkey asked the fellas if they’d call him Ringo and they all smiled and commented on how adorable he was. It was a surprise when they later discovered he could actually drum. And somewhere Pete Best cried into his warm beer. In the band’s first meeting, the catchphrase “Shut up Ringo” was first coined. A staple of the band ever since.
It’s 1962, Epstein is the band’s official manager, and the band is ready to break out. Epstein’s years in theater gave him a certain eye for the stage. *Funny side note – Lennon married Cynthia Powell that year and Ringo did not get an invite to the wedding.* The band adopts the matching suits and haircuts that would be their look for many years to come. If they wanted to play the big stages, make all the TV appearances, they had to look and perform like professionals. Epstein got them touring the countryside while he prepared them to record their debut album. Lennon and McCartney wrote Please Please Me in about a day.It was released in March of 1963. There was no focus on precise composition and, to them, the lyrics were meaningless. They just wanted to turn out catchy pop hooks that would get them played on the radio stations. Please Please Me went to number one in England and many Beatles aficionados still consider it one of their best albums.
In November of 1963 the Beatles followed up Please Please Me with With The Beatles. Featuring the single “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” it skyrocketed the band to superstar status in England. They were developing a decent following in America btu Capital Records was slow to release their material overseas. Same old story. Some old fart in a boardroom who thinks he knows what the kids like. CBS did a report on “Beatlemania” in Britain that December and American interest int he band quickly elevated. Capital rushed to release I Wanna Hold Your Hand. Epstein knew they were ready. In February of 1964 he loaded them up and flew across the pond to the colonies. “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” was closing in on 3 million copies sold in only a few weeks and excitement in America was building for the Beatles arrival.
Paul had talked about how nervous they were at that point. A large adoring crowd had seen them off at the airport but what reception was waiting when they landed. Would anyone even care? Lennon wanted so bad to make it in America. Get that recognition and launch it into a global tour. The boys worries were put at ease before they even landed when they spotted a large crowd gathering near the runway. They exited the plane to cheers and screaming adulation. Paul thought, “We’ve arrived! Finally.” Two days later they would know just how big they were. February 9, 1964 the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show , the most popular variety show in the country. It was a historic moment as 74 million people, 40% of the U.S. population, tuned in to see them perform. It was ridiculous. Beyond ridiculous. At some points you could barely hear the music over the din of screaming teenage girls. The band themselves admit to worrying if they were being drowned out by the reaction.
They returned one week later and shared the time with Muhammad Ali(then Cassius Clay) as he trained for his next bout. it was an outdoor performance and the crowd was enormous. Police were pushing back piles of screaming teenagers as the boys raced for their instruments and began playing. Harrison remarked that it was quickly surpassing his wildest expectations. He had no doubt they would be successful but who gets police escorts?! They were in Elvis territory. And they hit at the right time. They had a new look and a slightly different sound than many of the pop acts that were big in America at the time. Americans were chomping at the bit for something new. It also didn’t hurt that the trio was extremely talented. Their performances went like clockwork. Almost flawless execution. As Lennon said, “Robots playing on stage”. Epstein took care of the look and the presentation, worked the promoters and had a hand in how they were televised. They were a well oiled machine and they were running all over young America.
On February 22, the band returned to England. They had 12 singles on the Billboard top 100 including all top 5 positions. Another ridiculous accomplishment. This opened the door for other acts and the “British Invasion” began. You’re welcome Rolling Stones. In June they launched their first major international tour. In August they returned to America for a tour and the screaming crowds had only increased. Again there were problems with acoustics as the noise of the crowds almost completely absorbed their instruments. The equipment at the time wasn’t great. No one ever expected these kinds of crowds. The Beatles completely changed the way concerts are set up and performed. Drove the pursuit of new and better concert equipment and speakers. The Beatles are why you constantly ask those kids to “turn down that damn loud music!”. Given the fact their concerts were nothign more than photo ops the boys became weary of the constant touring.
Growth and The End
The Beatles fan base was obvious. Teenage girls. Not exclusively but the by far the vast majority. And Epstein loved it. These girls would buy up their merch, come to all the shows, and be there on day one for every album and single. The band wanted more. But change is scary. You could lose your old fans and not gain any new ones. A fateful meeting with Bob Dylan at the end of August set them down the path to widening their musical range. It also introduced them to the wonderful world of cannabis. It was quite an epic meeting. At the time Dylan was the most respected musical act in America. The Beatles the most popular. The boys all loved Bob. Especially Lennon who admitted to being a bit starstruck. Not long after the meeting Lennon would incorporate aspects of Dylan’s performance into his own. His nasally delivery and philosophical demeanor. It was a meeting that would greatly influence the kind of artist Lennon would become. It also gave The Beatles legitimacy with an older audience.
Capitol records was still showing weak interest int he band and other labels stepped in to try and scoop them up. United Artists stepped in and offered them a movie deal. A Hard Day’s Night was born from this collaboration. Shot in spring of 1964, it was a lighthearted comedy about the band’s daily life starring them and it proved to be a huge success financially and critically. That October they followed it up with their fourth studio album, Beatles For Sale. It would mark a change in the band’s direction. songs became more introspective and moody. The band was “growing up”. Lennon and McCartney were struggling to still write all the catchy pop hooks they had been cranking out. They were just tired of it.
By the time Rubber Soul came out a year later they were no longer a commercial pop group. The album had a more Dylanesque folk rock sound to it and the maturity of the lyrics brought them a whole new audience as their teen fans were quickly drawing away and finding younger acts. It was barely noticeable. They were a generational band with an unmatched global audience. Each subsequent album release marked a new growth in the band’s music. But inner friction was slowly driving them apart. Lennon and McCartney had a very real feud for many years over songwriting. In 1968 The Beatles released their opus, The White Album. It was perhaps the boys at their best. Sgt. Pepper may have been their most successful album but the White Album showcased everything the band was and had been. Remarkable considering they were all but officially broken up by this time.
Two years later The Beatles would be no more, capping one of the most successful and influential decades in music history. But they probably weren’t meant to last much longer. Their star was far too bright to burn for very long. The legacy though is enormous. 4 decade after their split the Beatles still set records. The re-releases of their music have set records in every format it’s been introduced to. The first day their music went on I-Tunes the servers shut down from the activity. Fathers and mothers all over the world want to introduce them to their children. Global cultural icons, their legacy will exist long after we are all gone. Personally, I don’t get it.
When they arrived here in the US I thought that they and their screaming girls were…..silly. Then I saw them on the Ed Sullivan show and loved them. I started dreaming of being on a roller coaster with Paul (???!!!) and having fun.
I was a young 23 and was expecting my 3rd baby. He was premature and we both almost died. He was my little miracle boy.
Time went on and things changed and the music changed and was woven into our lives.
Here Comes the Sun…..Lucy in the Sky ( oh so special)…..divorce and then Lady Madonna and friends singing Hey Jude (Judy)……
And then that baby boy was killed in 1980…..and Let It Be…..John was murdered about a month later…….sigh……..so, I am still on the roller coaster and so is Paul….
I just noticed this…
Never heard of the Chemical Brothers…same drum licks and lots of other stuff. Often emulated but never duplicated!
Adonai, thanks for the memories! I was in my very early 20’s when the Beatles hit the States. I remember the first Ed Sullivan performance…I would not have missed it, but I have to admit that the screaming was ridiculous! I was a huge fan from the outset and I wanted to hear the music, not a bunch of silly teenage girls screaming their heads off!
Yes, it’s all been said. But they did change the course of popular music. Even now, you can hear the Beatles’ music played by symphony orchestras to enthusiastic crowds of classical lovers!
Having grown up having to listen (for lack of anything else) to Pat Boone, Perry Como, and Patti Page, this music was like something I had never heard before, leaving acoustic guitars behind in the dust. I can still remember the first time I heard “I Wanna’ Hold Your Hand”! I was stunned and destined to be a life-long fan.
No performers/writers/artists can produce ONLY hits. Some efforts will not measure up. But the Beatles came as close to producing ONLY hits as anyone else with the possible exception of Elvis. Their early music came at a perfect time when pop culture was changing along with attitudes. Young people were tired of the staid culture of the prim and proper 50’s. The Beatles wore their hair long (gasp!) and their pants tight! An outrage to the older crowd. It was a merchandiser’s dream and a delight to those of us with something of a rebellious streak.
For those of us who were not huge fans of “rockabilly” with its southern roots, the Beatles were a real breath of fresh air, radically different from the Pat Boone “covers” of black R&B which was still not on the playlist of many radio stations in the South.
I personally think that it will be a very long time before we see another “trio” of musicians who can write music like they did. We are definitely richer for their efforts. I will always be a fan!
Em, I can’t argue your points. They were god like. After they left America the first time they were beyond superstar status.
I left out a story about them meeting Elvis around the time Rubber Soul came out. People were actually wondering who the bigger star was at this point.
And they certainly changed music at the time. In a decade of copycats and safe bets they actually experimented with their sound far more than most. And I honestly feel the White Album is one of the best recordings ever made.
Adonai, I would have to heartily agree with you! 🙂 Thanks again for bringing back the memories of that time. It was special for a lot of us. Their music was much of my own personal “soundtrack” of my life during those years.
Pink Floyd came later and provided the back-drop for my college years! I think they owe the Beatles a tremendous debt of gratitude for the foundations.
Indeed Em. Any British band that has enjoyed success here in the 60’s and 70’s owes The Beatles for paving the way and making America a British market.
And you’re welcome for the nostalgia!
Honestly I just wanted to write a piece about the Beatles that would totally piss off KT 🙂 but I started lik9ng them the more I read about them. Their early years and late experimental phase. Great music came from that period.
Ha! Well Adonai, you almost succeeded! 😉 America was still white man’s heaven and the Leave It To Beaver” society”was still prevalent. The Beatles really helped change all that nonsense. Their influence was monumental. 😉
Honestly, Ringo is just an awful, uninspired drummer. Such a talented songwriting and harmony trio, but they’ll never be ‘supergroup’ in my eyes for that fault. Just atrocious…
Then again, had they had a good drummer there might have been an ego criticial mass. I found vids of Pete Best drumming for a cover band called The Beats. Kinda humiliating if you ask me. Marginally better than Ringo, maybe.
If I were Sutcliffe I’d kick myself every day. I wonder if he grew to resent his wife, or was content with his decision and his true love.
…Oh, and I respect you for making no Oasis references.
I think Ringo did what drum basics call for in a rock band. He kept the beat. Technique really wasn’t a big concern back then. You know Sutcliffe died a few years after the Beatles made it big?
The Beatles weren’t competing with classical or highly polished professional musicians. What you saw is what you got, basically. Even After the rock and roll of the 50s, the Beatles were something new. Society was exploding with change. The old ways were being challenged at every intersection. Actually, the Beat Generation got the ball rolling. The jazz of the Beats got replaced by a newer form of rock and roll. The Beatles were very versatile. They were much more than just a “band.
Oh, so I guess that’s fitting for Sutcliffe.
As for the attitude that the drummer is just replaceable, like in Spinäl Tap, well I find that a little condescending.
There were plenty of great drummers who could have been found. Like Bernard Purdie, whom recorded tracks for 21 Beatles songs. It’s said that Ringo didn’t even do much studio recording, at least at first. He was just used ’cause he fit the image and was a beat-keeping fourth body, I imagine.
Ringo had rhythm, the ability to do 3-4 things at once in time (pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time, if you can’t do that, you can’t drum). Very few people have this inborn-ability. But he never had much chops. It kills me to see him listed in Modern Drummer lists. He’s just there ’cause he was with the right band.
Lennon, McCartney and Harrison were like Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs. What did that make Ringo?
I think for the basic rock and roll tunes, they didn’t need a real technician on the drums. The songs were pretty basic as far as time goes.
I don’t know that I’d compare any of the Beatles to the giants of the Beat Generation. Maybe Lennon. Paul was more of a business man as well as showman.
Ringo was the odd man out, definitely. There is even a sequence in the movie Ä Hard Day’s Night,” were they can’t find Ringo and he is off somewhere own his own trying, to “find himself.”
Hey KT, don’t forget George Harrison. He had some great music inside him. What a shame that he died so early! We can only imagine what he still had left to write, kinda’ like Chopin who died in his 30’s. 🙂
Yeah, George sort of had his own sound. And his messages of peace and inner happiness were just what the world needs more of.
I’m too young to have ever had a favorite Beatle, but I always thought he’d have been mine.
Well, it was meant as a comparison. Three musical giants, three literary giants, and then, well, Ringo. Truly the odd many out.
Tomorrow Never Knows is painful for me as well as quite a few others. One doesn’t need to be fancy to be good. It’s the little things that count.
I like the Beatles, I just don’t love ’em. I always focus in on the drums, naturally. And with Ringo I just start getting annoyed with what I think he should have been doing instead. He certainly doesn’t commit the common drummer sin of overplaying, but almost goes to far on the other end.
Some drummers stick (lol, stick) up for him and make a fair case. Like you said, he served his purpose and wasn’t as horrible as maybe I made him sound. He just doesn’t light a candle to the other members.
Khirad, Ringo did what was required of him. He had little talent to do anything else. He was just in the right place at the right time. You could almost feel a little sorry for him to have been out-shown by the others are he was.
Not only do what he had to do, perhaps more importantly, he got along with the others in the group. A group can have the best drummer/bass/guitarist but if all of the other members dislike him, the group won’t work. The best players don’t make the best group or team.
Oasis never came to mind my friend. Even I know better than that!
Ringo and Best are just trimming. The band always was that trio up front. Epstein wanted full control of this band and Best was proving difficult to control. Since no one felt he was a world class drummer, they dumped him. Ringo already had a semi-working relationship with Epstein and could follow orders so in he went.
Adonai, you had to be there!
I grew up with The Beatles. I remember seeing them live on The Ed Sullivan Show. I didn’t like them at first. I was jealous because all the girls were going wild for these 4 strangers with shaggy hair from a country I had never thought about much.
As I grew older, so did The Beatles. Their music became more mature and complex. With “Revolver”and “Rubber Soul,”they really started to break away from basic rock and roll. They were playing songs with a style that people never heard before. They became very versatile and ventured into several styles and started playing more instruments.
Then, in 1965 or so, Ken Kesey and Timothy Leary discovered the wonders of lysegic acid diethelymide. And this new frontier, an inner frontier, made it’s way to a certain dentist. Dr. Roberts slipped acid into John and Paul’s tea one night after dinner. Bang, Wow and Shazaam! The seeds of the psychedelic era were firmly planted in the mediocrity of the mid sixties. An entirely new American Revolution began, with The Beatles at the helm, along with Kesey and Leary and a few others.
Kesey bought an old school bus, refitted it and he and his Merry Pranksters hit the road, with several gallons of ëlectric koolaid, turning on many many people as the drove through the South. Leary, on the east coast was turning people on, more and more and more.
The Beatles were 4 guys that many young people looked to for something new in their lives. Lennon and McCartney were viewed as the New Prophets of what was to come.
Sure they were molded and produced and sold to the public in the same way that is still going on now.
They were the 4 mop tops. A pretty boy band with charming English accents. Although Lennon and Harrison referred to themselves this way and they were certainly correct, they were really very much more than just a pretty boy band with English accents.
KT, I love the pre-America Beatles. So many great stories. They would have fit right in to the late 70’s punk scene in Britain.
And reading their backstory did give me more appreciation of what they did and what they became. They did what they had to do to become what they wanted to be. I can respect that.
Their Hamburg days were pretty wild, from everything I’ve learned about their beginnings. Playing before a crowd of drunken German sailors. Fights would break out and the band just kept on playing. Smashing glass, broken bar stools sailors yelling at each other (and the band) in German. But they just kept on playing.