By Jude Southerland Kessler
Over the last nine months, Recipe Records author Lanea Stagg and I have been asking our guests on the She Said She Said podcast one “bonus question” at the end of each interview: “Tell us who your favorite Beatle is and why?” And in posing this query, we’ve stumbled onto a trend.
Our female guests have all instantly piped up with a specific choice — generally Paul or Ringo, although once in a while, George, and even more infrequently, (the best Beatle!!) John. Our male guests, however, have tended to respond with a pause and then a response something like this: “Welllll, I don’t really have a favorite.” Or: “Hmmmm, it’s hard to separate the group. I mean, it takes all of them to make the music, right?” This “choosing a Beatle” question almost seemed foreign to them.
A month ago, I wrote an article for Culture-Sonar discussing the disappointing number of times that John Lennon’s songs are being aired on many Beatles streaming and radio stations…bemoaning the current “disappearing act of John Winston Lennon.” And the Facebook responses to this article’s observations were truly educational for me. Female readers answered with, “I’ve observed the same thing, and it’s aggravating!!” Or: “Well, Paul’s catalogue is much larger, so of course, he’s going to get more air time!” Or: “What if you were a George fan?! George was rarely heard from in the ‘fab days,’ much less now!!!!” You get the drift.
But my male readers (though not all!) saw my observations as rather “divisive.” One particularly well-written and insightful comment stated, “Interesting article, but I hate to hear the segregation of the songs through ’embryotic’ ownership. Beatles songs are Beatles songs. Start cutting them up and dishing them onto separate plates, and that is not how I want to remember them.”
This comment really set me on my heels. It made me stop and think. Because “in my life,” as it were, The Beatles have always been very distinct individuals, openly competing with one another, and good-naturedly vying for the attention of their fans. (Think, for example, of John “hmphffing” disgustedly on Live at the BBC Vol. 1 when he reads aloud a piece of fan mail that says, “Love to the boys…especially Paul!”) From the very first day that I was introduced to The Beatles and was given, by my elementary school friends, only two hours (“until recess”) to “fall in love” with one of them, The Beatles have been quite separate and very individual. I have never thought of them as one indivisible unit.
In August, as I drove cross-country to the Chicago Fest, I mulled over my lifelong devotion to one particular Beatle (clearly, John) and about that similar “singular Beatle” response from my friends throughout junior high and high school. I smiled remembering that my friends and I, back “in the day,” readily identified ourselves as “John girls” or “George girls,” etc. And even as adults, little has changed. In fact, not so long ago, Lanea Stagg and I aired a well-researched “John vs. George” debate on our She Said She Said podcast, discussing four of John’s songs from the White Album in contrast to four of George’s. And we saw nothing amiss in the act of adamantly “standing by our man.”
Terry Crain, author of NEMS and the Business of Selling The Beatles in the U.S., 1964-1966, will tell you that merchandisers realized this “Favorite Beatle” phenomenon from Day One. Indeed, the entire purpose of selling “I LOVE PAUL” or “I LOVE RINGO” buttons was to make money off of female fans who quite definitely connected with one particular Fab.
Going back now to re-watch YouTube videos of The Beatles landing at various locations throughout the 1964 North American Tour, I see scads of female fans holding signs lauding one Beatle over another. I see girls passionately screaming not the word “Beatles!!!!!!!!!!!” but weeping and shouting, “George!” or “Ringooooo!” or “John!” or “Paul!” And I see those same girls wearing sweatshirts, T-shirts, buttons, and hair bands with their favorite Beatle boldly emblazoned on the garment. From these earliest days of Beatlemania, the great majority of female fans (though not all) were unashamedly choosing one Beatle and his songs over the others.
Once ensconced at the Chicago Fest last August, I began asking those who visited my booth in the Marketplace one question: “Do you have a favorite Beatle?” And just as I had begun to surmise, less than 10% of male fans identified with any Fab in particular. In fact, they looked at me with befuddled expressions and said things such as, “Well, I’m a drummer, so I guess I’d have to say, Ringo…but uh, really, I like them all.” Or: “Well, I like John’s straightforward approach to life, but I mean, I don’t have a favorite Beatle, per se.” The majority of them simply stated, “Nope, I like them all.”
Beatles historian, Sara Schmidt (author of Happiness is Seeing The Beatles: Beatlemania in St. Louis), who is currently writing a book on the Beatles Fan Clubs in America, recently told me, “At the Fests and other places, I usually give those attending my talks a free photo of one or all of The Beatles at the end of my presentations. And what I’ve discovered is: women almost always select a photo of one particular Beatle. They don’t bat an eye when I give them a choice. They say, “I’ll take George.” Or “Give me Ringo.” But men generally select a photo of the entire group.”
The Beatles knew this. In fact, in 1965 when 16 Magazine’s editor, Gloria Stavers, flew to the Bahamas to interview The Beatles on the set of “Help!”, she asked John Lennon, “To what do you attribute your incredible success with these scads and scads of female fans?” And John’s very direct response was, “Well, I’m a man, aren’t I?” Yes, indeed.
Undeniably, a sociological, sexual connection does exist between the four handsome, charismatic, and often flirtatious young men known as The Beatles and their female fans, while a great many male fans (though certainly not all) tend to be drawn to Beatles gear, Beatles discography, and that creative collective known as The Beatles who created Beatles music. That being said…The Beatles World is varied and colorful in its many textures, shades, and hues, and there are all sorts of variations in between the majorities. There are plenty of women who like the Fab Four for their music only and plenty of men who find The Beatles attractive.
And all of us, despite our unique vantage points, can agree on this: A song without Ringo’s “Match 10” force and power would be lacking. A song without Paul’s bass brilliance would miss something wonderful. A song without George’s magical lead would fall short. A song without John’s grit and extemporaneous genius would be ho-hum. The Beatles are undeniably different but equal.
And so are we. It takes the different but equal outlooks of males and females to create the extensive, over-awing fan base that has kept The Beatles “front and center” for nigh on 60 years now. We may view them in slightly different ways, but our devotion is the same. And when I raise objections about the small quota of John’s songs in the film Yesterday, it doesn’t negate my pride in the fact that a 2019 film is still lauding “The Boys” as unparalleled. Whether you view The Beatles as an inseparable group or as a once-in-a-lifetime gathering of unique, individual musicians, it matters not. In fact, what a “blah” world this would be if we all saw things identically. Like the horrid, same-same world that Charles Wallace, Meg, and Calvin encountered in Madeline L’Engle’s Wrinkle In Time, such an existence would be terrifying.
Let’s celebrate our differences and enjoy The Beatles as we will. There is no right way to sing “yeah, yeah, yeah.” There is no one direction to Strawberry Fields or Blue Jay Way. There is no single ticket for the Magical Mystery Tour. And thank goodness, there is room on the bus for everyone.