2 PM: Scott Erickson
3 PM: Joe DeJesu
Side One, Track Two
“Norwegian Wood”: A “Roll” Reversal
By Jude Southerland Kessler and Bruce Spizer
Throughout 2021, The Fest for Beatles Fans blog will take a deep dive into the songs that comprise 1965’s innovative, transitional Beatles LP — a record that Mark Lewisohn dubs “a major turning point in The Beatles’ career” — Rubber Soul. (The Complete Beatles Chronicles, 202) In our second of the series, Louisiana natives and Beatles authors Bruce Spizer and Jude Southerland Kessler look at what we already know about this edgy song, “Norwegian Wood,” and what we can discover in a fresh, new look! Enjoy!
Date Recorded: 12 October and 21 October 1965
Time Recorded: 7.00 – 11.30 p.m. on 12 October
2.00 – 7.00 p.m. on 21 October
Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith
Second Engineers: Ken Scott and Phil McDonald
(Margotin and Guesdon add Ron Pender)
Original Song Title: “This Bird Has Flown”
Stats: Recorded in 4 takes on 12 October and then completely re-made in 3 takes on 21 October.
Instrumentation and Musicians:
John Lennon, the composer, plays acoustic rhythm guitar and sings lead vocal.
Paul McCartney plays bass, piano, and supplies backing vocal.
George Harrison plays lead guitar and sitar. This is the first time the sitar has been used in a pop recording, according to Mark Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 63, and Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 201.
Ringo Starr plays tambourine, maracas, and finger cymbals. (In the 12 October session, Ringo played bass drum and on 21 October, he also played bass drum at the end of Take 3. Winn, 362 and 366.)
Sources: The Beatles, The Anthology, 194, Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 202-203, Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 63, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 200, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 278-281, Winn, Way Beyond Compare, 362, and 366-367, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, 63-65 and 73, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 89, Riley, Tell Me Why, 158-159, Spignesi and Lewis, 100 Best Beatles Songs, 139-141, Miles, The Beatles’ Diary, Vol. 1, 212, Babiuk, Beatles Gear, 169-173, Badman, The Beatles: Off the Record, 147-148, Norman, Shout!, 155, and Goldman, The Lives of John Lennon, 184-185.
By the autumn of 1965, The Beatles were no longer the innocents of “From Me to You” or “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” They were multifaceted in their mastery of the studio, technological production, and lyrical composition. In “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” composed very early in 1965 (and performed by John for George Martin on a skiing holiday in February 1965), John had progressed eons past his ingenue status. Indeed, he had become so introspective about his work that he could record a successful initial offering on 12 October — heavily laced in sitar and boasting superb harmony as well as an honest, raw Lennon vocal — and then reject this version to start all over again on 21 October, producing a cleaner, more commercially viable work. All of The Beatles were coming into their own as musicians, but even very early in 1965, Lennon seemed to be surging forward into the experimental “studio era.”
Furthermore, in the manipulation of the melody, John also artfully added a second level of meaning to the song. In “Drive My Car,” the powerful and independent female “running the show” speaks on one note only. Thus, she emerges as a powerful but one-dimensional character. We can’t “see” her; she exists in caricature. But the woman in “Norwegian Wood” is vividly depicted as an alluring and mysterious female — through John’s exotic melody and use of remarkable instruments. In the song’s opening waltz tempo, she beckons. In the sexy sitar sound, she seduces. She serves wine in her own boudoir and dominates her potential sexual partner. Throughout her seduction, the lilting music flows as freely as the wine, but when she resolves to sleep alone, the bridge becomes sharp, staccato, hard-hitting. John not only uses words to portray his glamorous femme fatale, but he also adds the music itself to, in clever double entendre, reveal her nature through her emanating “siren song.” Quite clever. Quite Lennon.
Rubber Soul is indeed replete with finger cymbals, a ching-ring (in “In My Life”), maracas, tambourines, and a “wound-up piano” (to imitate a harpsichord, in “In My Life”). (Babiuk, Beatles Gear, 169) In “Norwegian Wood,” we hear the curious and exciting sound of a sitar. Most Beatle fans know that George Harrison had been introduced to the sitar in the spring of 1965, when Director Richard Lester employed musicians to play the instrument for “comical purposes” in Help! (Norman, Shout!, 255) Badman quotes John as saying, “On the set [of Help!]…an Indian band [kept] playing in the background, and George kept staring and looking at them.” (The Beatles: Off the Record, 147-148)
Almost immediately, Harrison purchased his own sitar — “a 1940s or 1950s Kanai Lal & Brother sitar…[from] India Craft in London (Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, 63, and Babiuk, Beatles Gear, 169) and began learning to play it. Only seven months later, in October, we find both George and John willing to incorporate this unique, “funny sound” (as George Harrison refers to it in Badman, The Beatles: Off the Record, 147-148, and Babiuk, Beatles Gear, 169) into their catalogue. The Beatles’ increasing willingness to embrace international or “world music” decidedly enriched their already matchless melodies. While many of the bands of the 1960s were intent upon producing a “signature sound,” The Beatles were unafraid to push boundaries. They kept expanding horizons rather than limiting themselves to what they’d done before. The result was a thrilling, melodic lushness that never grew stale.
A Fresh New Look:
Recently, I was honored to confer with the Guru of Beatles Music History and the author of the new book, The Beatles Finally Let it Be, Bruce Spizer, about the depth and intricacies inherent in “Norwegian Wood.” Here is our conversation:
Jude Southerland Kessler: Bruce, I know that one of the new books in your successful Beatles Album Series that you are working on right now takes a look at The Beatles’ 1965 Help! LP. How did the recording techniques employed on Help! pave the way for what was to come on the revolutionary LP that was late 1965’s Rubber Soul?
Bruce Spizer: The Beatles’ first two albums were recorded on a two-track recorder, most often with vocals on one track and instruments on the other. The two tracks were then mixed down for a mono mix in which the vocals and instruments were balanced for maximum effect. These performances were live in the studio, with The Beatles playing their instruments and singing at the same time. Sometimes an instrument, such as keyboards by George Martin or harmonica by John, would be overdubbed to enhance the track. Other times, a vocal would be double-tracked. But for the most part, the recordings were vocals backed by two guitars, bass and drums.
By A Hard Day’s Night, the group was recording on a four-track recorder. This gave them the opportunity to break up the vocals and instruments onto separate tracks. For example, they could record the bass and drums on track one, the guitars on track two, the lead vocal on track three and leave four free for overdubs. They could then play back the tape and record a second vocal and another instrument, such as tambourine, on the fourth track of the tape while listening to the already recorded vocals and instruments.
For Beatles For Sale, George Martin and the group took greater advantage of the four tracks, routinely double-tracking vocals and using exotic percussion instruments.
On the “Help!” LP, the process evolved even more, and the group began experimenting with different instruments and effects. George Martin added a string quartet to “Yesterday.” The Beatles were also moving towards more of a folk-rock sound, as could be heard on some of the later tracks recorded for Help!, including “I’ve Just Seen A Face” and “It’s Only Love,” both of which would end up on the Capitol version of Rubber Soul in the U.S.
And it wasn’t just the recording of the Help! album that influenced Rubber Soul and well beyond. On the set of the movie Help!, as Jude mentioned, George became acquainted with the sitar, an Indian string instrument. There was a scene in a restaurant where musicians were playing Beatles songs on Indian instruments. This was the idea of the film’s musical director, Ken Thorne, who was used instead of George Martin, who did not get along particularly well with the film’s director, Richard Lester. Had Martin been the film’s musical director, he may not have chosen the Indian instruments and Harrison may not have been introduced to the sitar on the movie’s set. On the other hand, Martin had used sitar on a Peter Sellers’s recording, so he may very well have used Indian instruments in the film’s soundtrack. We will never know if Harrison would have picked up the sitar had Martin done the score. We do know that it was Thorne’s use of Indian instruments that exposed George to a whole new world of music.
Anyway, by the time The Beatles recorded Rubber Soul, they had mastered the recording techniques on the four-track and were branching out to different instruments, going way beyond the two guitars, bass and drums line-up. They were looking for new sounds and were using different instruments to get those sounds.
Kessler: You mentioned the sitar…let’s talk a bit more about that emerging instrument. From its debut on Rubber Soul, the sitar became a staple with The Beatles, specifically with George Harrison. But learning to control the sound of this exotic, new instrument was a journey. How did the sitar’s presence alter and develop on “Norwegian Wood” from Take 1 to Take 4? What were the technical difficulties inherent in recording the sitar?
Spizer: As Jude has pointed out, The Beatles recorded “Norwegian Wood” at two separate sessions. Take 1 was recorded on 12 October 1965, under the title “This Bird Has Flown,” during the first day of recording for the album. Although it was completed in one take, the song was given several overdubs. The finished master featured John’s lead vocal, his and Paul’s backing harmonies, acoustic guitar and bass, percussion (finger cymbals, tambourine and maracas) and George on sitar. While the sitar adds a new sound for The Beatles, George’s playing is a bit labored. He is gaining familiarity with the instrument, but still has a long way to go.
Although Take 1 was remarkable and could have been issued “as is,” The Beatles decided to completely re-record “Norwegian Wood” on 21 October. John had difficulty with his acoustic guitar part on Takes 2 and 3, but nailed it on Take 4. The basic backing track included John on lead vocal and acoustic guitar, Paul’s backing vocal and bass, and George on 12-string acoustic guitar. George overdubbed a much-improved sitar part. Knowing George Harrison’s dedication to getting his solos exact, I am sure he practiced it many times over before the re-recording of the song. Other embellishments included tambourine, a clapping sound, Ringo’s bass drum, and a crash cymbal at the end of the song.
The sitar must have posed issues for the Abbey Road engineers. The sitar does not have an electric pickup, so its sound signal is not sent directly from the instrument to an amplifier like an electric guitar or bass guitar. It must be recorded through a microphone. The trick is where to place the microphone as it needs to pick up the strings on which the melody line is played as well as the drone strings.
Based on the recording appearing on Rubber Soul, I think George and the engineers did an excellent job, particularly considering their relative unfamiliarity with the sitar.
Kessler: In Revolution in the Head, Ian MacDonald claims that “Norwegian Wood” is “the first Beatles song in which the lyric is more important than the music.” (p. 130) Do you concur? We know John was a master of wordplay, especially double entendre. How did he use that tongue-in-cheek literary technique in this song?
Spizer: I wouldn’t go as far as Ian on that one. I would say that the lyrics and the words are equally important. And while the words to “Norwegian Wood” are a long way from “Love, love me do/You know I love you,” John had already showed his fondness for the double entendre on “Please Please Me,” way back on the group’s second single. Similarly, the lyrics on “There’s A Place” from the group’s first album go way beyond the simple love songs of the day, hinting at John’s reflective nature that would find its way into later songs, such as “I’m A Loser,” which also was recorded before “Norwegian Wood.” The song was not even the first by John to tell a story. That distinction goes to “No Reply.” No doubt the words to “Norwegian Wood” are among John’s best from 1962 – 1965, but I would not consider the song to be the first where the words were more important than the music.
Also, as I’ve already said, the music on “Norwegian Wood” is equally important. It has a catchy melody line and excellent guitar playing by John and George. And it provides a new sound for the group through George’s sitar playing. As Jude pointed out, it represented the first time the sitar was featured in a released rock song. (The Yardbirds tried sitar on their 1965 recording of “Heart Full Of Soul,” but it didn’t sound quite right. Instead, Jeff Beck played his guitar part to emulate the sitar.)
John’s lyrics were in and of themselves a double entendre in the sense that there is more than one thing going on. John was trying to write about an affair, but to disguise it so that his wife Cynthia wouldn’t catch on. John had a great opening line that lent itself to telling a story: “I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me.” Now that’s really tongue-in-cheek! From that line, the song evolved into a story of an evening in a woman’s flat where the principal décor was wood—cheap pine, often referred to then as Norwegian wood. (Thus, the tile of the song refers to the apartment’s furniture.) After being led on by the girl and then forced to sleep in the tub, the singer awakes to find himself alone. Although the ending words, “So I lit a fire, isn’t it good, Norwegian wood,” could be interpreted to mean lighting a fire in the fireplace to keep warm, Paul has said it meant that the singer burned down the house as an act of revenge.
Kessler: Bruce, can you tell us something about “Norwegian Wood” or about Rubber Soul that we haven’t considered or discussed?
Spizer: “Norwegian Wood” is the second song on both the Parlophone U.K. version of Rubber Soul and the Capitol U.S. version of the album. Interestingly, however, it follows two completely different style opening tracks.
On the U.K. album, the song follows “Drive My Car,” which is a hard rocker. It sounds totally different than “Norwegian Wood,” but the two songs work well together because of their lyrics. “Drive My Car” is not a typical pop love song. It has a story line about an interesting girl who want to be famous, but is not quite there yet. She doesn’t even have a car! And, of course, the phrase “drive my car” is one that serves as sexual double entendre. And even though, musically, the first two songs on the album are worlds apart, the “Beep beep beep beep, yeah!” ending of “Drive My Car” flows nicely into John’s lovely acoustic guitar intro to “Norwegian Wood.”
On the Capitol album, “I’ve Just Seen A Face” is the perfect musical lead into “Norwegian Wood.” Both have intricate acoustic guitar parts and have that same folk-rock sound that dominates the Capitol version of Rubber Soul. As for the lyrics, “I’ve Just Seen A Face” is a typical pop love song, whereas “Norwegian Wood” certainly is not.
The bottom line is that “Norwegian Wood” is such a great song that it works well as the next track to two completely different sounding songs!
An oddity: The song was originally titled “This Bird Has Flown.” Then, it was nearly called “This Bird Has Flown (Norwegian Wood)” before the final title became “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown).”
A remarkable achievement about the Rubber Soul album in general: The recording sessions were rushed as The Beatles needed to complete 14 songs for an album plus two more for a single in time for release for the 1965 Christmas season market. Yet these sessions yielded the best crop of songs for any album. Out of the 16 tracks recorded during the session, eight (one-half) appear on the red hits collection! No other album session comes even close!
To learn more about Bruce Spizer and his remarkable Beatles Album Series, including the new book, The Beatles Finally Let it Be, CLICK HERE
And follow Bruce on Facebook HERE
Side One, Track One
“Drive My Car”: And Suddenly, Everything Changed!
by Jude Southerland Kessler and Ken Womack
Throughout 2021, the Fest for Beatles Fans blog will explore the intricacies of The Beatles’ astounding 1965 LP, Rubber Soul. This month, Kenneth Womack, author of Long and Winding Roads: The Evolving Artistry of The Beatles, Maximum Volume: The Life of Beatles Producer, George Martin, and his new best-seller, John Lennon 1980 (among many others) joins Jude Southerland Kessler, author of The John Lennon Series, for a fresh, new look at the exciting opening track of this pivotal LP.
Date Recorded: 13 October 1965
Time Recorded: 7.00 p.m. – 12.15 p.m.
Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith and Ron Pender
Second Engineer: Ken Scott
Stats: Recorded in only four takes. “Best” take was Take 4. However, a plethora of overdubs completed the song in later sessions.
Instrumentation and Musicians:
Paul McCartney, the composer, sings lead vocal, plays bass on his Rickenbacker 4001S, piano, and possibly, lead guitar on his Epiphone Casino (Margotin and Guesdon).
John Lennon sings accompanying lead vocals and some sources say he plays piano on Studio 2’s Steinway Grand. Some sources attribute the tambourine to John.
George Harrison sings backing vocals and plays his Fender Stratocaster Sonic Blue.
Ringo Starr plays one of his Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl Super Classic drum sets, mans the cowbell, and possibly the tambourine.
Sources: The Beatles, The Anthology, 194, Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 202, Lewisohn, The Beatles: Recording Sessions, 63, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 276-277, Winn, Way Beyond Compare, 363, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, 66-67, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 88, Riley, Lennon, 287, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 200, and Babiuk, Beatles Gear, 169-173.
There is much debate among experts about whether George is playing the song’s lead line or whether it is performed by Paul McCartney. In 1977, George said in an interview: “I simply played a guitar line that was, in fact, very close to ‘Respect’ by Otis Redding. I played this part, and Paul followed me on bass.” However, in The Anthology, George said, “I played the bass line on ‘Drive My Car.’ It was like the line from ‘Respect’ by Otis Redding.” (p. 194) Many experts feel that Paul played the bass line and also played the lead solo. (Winn, Way Beyond Compare, p. 363, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, p. 66)
There are two schools of thought on the introduction and coda. In All the Songs, Margotin and Guesdon, assert that the song’s opening intro was played simultaneously by George and Paul. (p. 277) Winn, however, credits the lead solo, intro, and coda to Paul alone.
One thing is certain: no longer were there inviolable “roles” in the creation of Beatles songs. The boys were beginning to branch out and play what was needed when it was needed. From henceforth, nothing would be the same.
Instead, they are the “unkind” female of “What Goes On.” They are the female “who puts you down when friends are there” in “Girl.” In “Think for Yourself,” we see them telling lies. And in “Run for Your Life,” they are suspected of being unfaithful. Even the least offensive female, in “You Won’t See Me” practices avoidance techniques and “refuses to even listen.” Hard-hearted women, all.
The female protagonist of “Drive My Car” is no exception. She is an aggressive, aspiring actress with her own agenda. This woman is determined, and her saga sets the attitude for the rest of the LP. The Beatles’ altering attitude toward relationships demonstrates the boys’ new, wide-eyed maturity. As Tim Riley observes in Lennon, “The Beatles had outgrown the teen market that once defined them and reshaped rock…with adult characters, situations, and inner lives.” (p. 287)
“Drive My Car” may make us smile, but its quirky ending makes that smile a wry one. Since the phrase “drive my car” is blues slang for sex (Margotin and Guesdon, 276), fans here observe the “dominant male” role shifting in Rubber Soul’s opening track. (Of course, The Beatles quickly doubled down with a second woman-dominated encounter in “Norwegian Wood.”) Betty Friedan’s 1963 work, The Feminine Mystique, championing the female’s “fully equal partnership with men” had fashioned a remarkable change in society. Here, The Beatles (who were always, as Lennon observed, in “the crow’s nest”) inculcated this emerging mindset into Rubber Soul.
A Fresh New Look:
Recently, we sat down with noted Beatles expert (author of John Lennon 1980) and biographer of Sir George Martin, Dr. Kenneth Womack, to discover what is going on behind the scenes in “Drive My Car.”
Kessler: Ken, as you know, John Lennon had traditionally been the Beatles’ “official/unofficial” LP opener. On With The Beatles, John opened the album with “It Won’t Be Long,” and on the A Hard Day’s Night soundtrack, it was John’s “A Hard Day’s Night” that led listeners into the grooves. On Beatles for Sale, John once again led the way with “No Reply.” And naturally, with the Help! LP, fans commenced their musical journey with John’s “Help!” Then came Rubber Soul, and fans discovered an LP opened by Paul McCartney singing “Drive My Car.” Is this new role for McCartney perhaps a “clue to the new direction”? Are the band’s leadership roles shifting by late 1965?
Womack: “Drive My Car” marks a number of intriguing shifts in the group’s internal calculus. In the case of the song’s placement on the LP, Rubber Soul was the first Beatles album in which the band members themselves had input into the sequencing of the record’s contents. Prior to Rubber Soul, George Martin held sway over most of the presentation of the Beatles’ work. To my mind, Rubber Soul is the turning-point LP where the Beatles take charge of their music as an artistic body of work. As Paul later remarked, “We gradually became the workmen who took over the factory. In the end, we had the run of the whole building. It would be us, the recording people on our session, and a doorman. There would be nobody else there. It was amazing, just wandering around, having a smoke in the echo chamber. I think we knew the place better than the chairman of the company because we lived there. I even got a house just ’round the corner, I loved it so much. I didn’t want ever to leave.” (The Anthology, p. 93) In short, Rubber Soul marked a new direction for the band in more ways than one.
Kessler: One of the elements of early Beatles music that attracted female fans was The Beatles’ admiration for songs written by females. They covered hits by the Shirelles, Donays, Marvelettes, etc. and in doing so, expressed a unique feminine voice, a singularly feminine point of view. How does Paul successfully achieve this, once again, in “Drive My Car”?
Womack: I’ve long interpreted “Drive My Car” and “Norwegian Wood” as being cut from very similar cloth. As with such compositions as “Ticket to Ride” and “Day Tripper,” “Drive My Car” and “Norwegian Wood” are key examples of Lennon-McCartney’s proto-feminism. In these particular songs, they depict very strong, self-assured female characters. In each instance, these female characters call the shots, refusing to be subservient to their male counterparts. To my thinking, these are revolutionary songs in terms of the Beatles presenting female-positive characters. As songwriters, Lennon and McCartney were ahead of the curve in terms of the ways in which they presented these strong female characters—and pointedly, for a very large female audience across the globe.
The band deserves great credit for their egalitarian approach to the world in an era when they were clearly on the vanguard. This was true both in terms of issues associated with feminism and race. With “Drive My Car,” McCartney was clearly speaking directly to a large segment of the group’s demography. From their earliest days as hitmakers, John and Paul understood the immense power of their bully pulpit as members of the Beatles. As McCartney later noted, “We knew that if we wrote a song called ‘Thank You Girl’ that a lot of the girls who wrote us fan letters would take it as a genuine thank you. So a lot of our songs—’From Me to You’ is another—were directly addressed to the fans. I remember one of my daughters, when she was very little, seeing Donny Osmond sing ‘The Twelfth of Never,’ and she said ‘he loves me’ because he sang it right at her off the telly. We were aware that that happened when you sang to an audience.” (Lewisohn, The Beatles: Recording Sessions, p. 9) With “Drive My Car,” McCartney moved beyond romantic love to depict a female character who is comfortable being herself and not waiting for any man to validate her existence.
Kessler: Paul McCartney said that on Rubber Soul, the group had “written some funny songs — songs with jokes in.” Certainly, “Drive My Car” produces a chuckle. Do you see “Norwegian Wood” in that same vein, or is it, from your perspective, a bit darker?
Womack: McCartney liked to refer to these songs as “comedy numbers,” which I’ve always found rather charming, given that the comedy is largely sexual in nature. “Drive My Car” and “Norwegian Wood” are not humorous songs, per se, but rather, compositions in which the male characters discover, somewhat belatedly, that they’ve been had. In the case of “Drive My Car,” the female character is all business, all the time. The song is loaded with sexual innuendo, with “baby, you can drive my car” being one of Paul’s more obvious come-ons. The same can be said for “Norwegian Wood,” which is somewhat playful at the beginning: “I once had a girl, / Or should I say, / She once had me.” By the end of the song, the female protagonist has, quite literally, laughed out loud at the male narrator, who very obviously pines for a sexual liaison, only to find himself consigned to a night alone in the bath. The latter song may very well be darker, especially with McCartney’s suggestion that the narrator has committed arson, having woken up alone the next morning.
Kessler: Finally, Ken, what don’t we know about “Drive My Car”? Is there anything you’d like to share with us about this late 1965 LP-opener?
Womack: To my ears, “Drive My Car” is the finest example of the Beatles’ performance of “plastic soul,” the phrase from which the Rubber Soul LP draws its title. As Beatles fans well know, at the end of the first take of the raucous “I’m Down,” Paul famously described the band’s sound as “plastic soul, man”—an ironic reference to the sonic textures of American rhythm and blues that the Beatles had become veritable masters at emulating. From their earliest days together, the Beatles—four ethnically homogenous Englishman—thoroughly imbibed American R&B and remade it in their own image. “Drive My Car,” with its funky, blues-oriented sound, epitomizes the ways in which Rubber Soul acts as the group’s valentine to their American rock and roll roots.
To learn more about the work of Dr. Kenneth Womack, including his new book, John Lennon 1980 and his “Everything Fab Four” podcast, go to https://kennethwomack.com/
For the next 12 months, the Fest for Beatles Fans blog will each month move track-by-track through the magical LP that was Rubber Soul. Many people consider Revolver to be The Beatles’ “transitional” LP. Others, including myself, think the pivot point in The Beatles’ career was Rubber Soul. John Lennon, in fact, stated that Rubber Soul was “the album on which The Beatles began dominating the recording process.” (Hertsgaard, 168-169) In almost every way, the late 1965 LP was a bold directional change. Let me explain…
They had more than a month to devote to the new LP — a luxury never before afforded to the lads. Please Please Me — comprised of a few original songs and a plethora of numbers from their old Cavern Club show — had been honed on the Helen Shapiro Tour bus and recorded in a single day. The songs for A Hard Day’s Night had been written in between concerts in a Georges Cinq hotel room in Paris, January 1964. And the country-and-western themed tunes for Beatles for Sale had been hastily churned out prior to the 1964 North American Tour, refined in “catch-as-catch-can” moments on tour, and recorded in a handful of days immediately following the tour. Never had the boys ever been given a full month dedicated solely to the planning, writing, polishing, and recording of a new LP.
But the results of such an extravagance were well worth the wait…and the devotion. Rubber Soul was, according to New York Times and Rolling Stone journalist/author Mark Hertsgaard in A Day in the Life: The Music and Artistry of The Beatles, “…the finest album to date, and some say, [The Beatles’] finest album ever. With Rubber Soul, The Beatles offered, for the first time, an album with virtually no weak spots. It was made up of songs that were immediately captivating and enduring.” (p. 167)
The motifs of the late autumn 1965 LP were significantly more mature than the subject matter found on earlier albums. The popular themes of “she loves you,” “I love you,” and “you love me” were superseded by complex, mature, adult themes: struggling relationships (“Think for Yourself,” “What Goes On,” “Girl,” and “I’m Looking Through You”), casual dalliances (“Drive My Car” and “If I Needed Someone”), adultery and female-scorned liaisons (“Norwegian Wood” and “Drive My Car”), deep-seated jealousy and anger (“Run for Your Life”), and lingering self-doubt (“Nowhere Man”). But the album’s catalog was also graced with emotional songs of friendship and love, such as “In My Life,” “Wait,” and “Michelle.” And there is even a track, “The Word,” which celebrates agape love, that universal bond that could ultimately bring us all together.
Not only are the themes of Rubber Soul more developed and considered, but the music itself is also enriched with variety. The enchanting harmonium work in “The Word,” “We Can Work It Out,” and more subtly, in “If I Needed Someone” is sublime, as is the harpsichord-sounding piano in “In My Life.” Harrison’s sitar work (once pared down a bit from the overpowering first takes) makes “Norwegian Wood” soar. And McCartney’s fuzz bass in “Think for Yourself” enhances the power of Harrison’s lyrics. Wonderfully, the Beatles signature techniques, such as handclaps and three-part harmony, are still present and still viable as the boys retain their unique identity. Indeed, in Rubber Soul, nothing is abandoned but much is added.
Given the opportunity to focus entirely on their work, the late 1965 Beatles raised an already-elevated bar. Their lyrics became edgier, allowing the listener to investigate myriad levels of meaning. Their story songs offered multiple conclusions. And as they embraced global influences (such as The Byrds in “If I Needed Someone,” The Yardbirds in “Norwegian Wood,” and Dylan on many of the new tracks), the boys rose to equal their peers and surpass them.
Noted Beatles music experts have widely varying theories about why Rubber Soul affected (and still continues to affect) listeners so powerfully. Some point to the music; others, to the unique Scouse wit, and still others, to poetic lyrics. And all of this mattered. But one can’t ignore the importance of the record’s inherent vulnerability as a tremendous point of connectivity.
In almost every song on the Parlophone LP, one or more of The Beatles is admitting weakness. And in the words of St. Paul, “…when I am weak, I am strong.” John, Paul, George, and Ringo find a universal connection to their fans in simply confessing that they — just like the members of their audience — often feel isolated, lonely, afraid, frustrated, angry, and unfulfilled. The Fab Four are no longer “fab.” In Rubber Soul, they become human. They emerge “a bit like you and me.”
In his classic work, Tell Me Why, Tim Riley states, “Rubber Soul intensified the bond with the audience…it drew [The Beatles] closer to their listeners, as the frenzy of their tours continued to isolate them.” (p. 153) By freely admitting their own flaws, failures, and fears, The Beatles bridged the gap that the stadium fans were always trying to hurdle. The band dismantled that barrier. In Rubber Soul, the fans and The Beatles find an avenue to “come together.”
I can’t wait to explore this album with you as over the next twelve months we walk, track-by-track though Rubber Soul. Up first, we’ll take a fresh look at “Drive My Car” with noted author, Dr. Kenneth Womack (author of the best-selling new work, John Lennon 1980) about this clever opening track. Join us in just a few days, and our Rubber Soul adventure will begin!
Throughout 2020, we’ve paused each month to examine what The Beatles were doing in their time together…and to discern what (if any) life lessons we could glean from their adventures. Looking back over the last twelve months and our journey with the boys we find that:
In March — Whether making A Hard Day’s Night or enjoying the Austrian slopes for Help! or working in the studio to record “From Me to You,” The Beatles had fun in March! And the refreshment they enjoyed in these happy days inspired them to write songs, poems, and stories…to be creative!
In April — In “the cruelest month,” the boys often faced tragedy and loss, but they encountered illness and death with an unswerving hope that kept them putting one foot in front of the other. No matter what, The Beatles continued to push ahead to a brighter future.
In August — As each summer came to a close, The Beatles dealt with sweeping change in their lives from their first Hamburg residency to the end of touring in 1966 to the death of Brian Epstein. In all of these varied circumstances, the lads learned to lean upon one another for stability…and together, they found the strength to “keep on keepin’ on.”
In each “time of the season,” John, Paul, George, and Ringo unwittingly gave us encouragement and inspiration for the living of our own lives. And as I glance back over our Fest blogs from the last 11 months, I realize how great an impact The Beatles made on their fans, not just as musicians but also, as people!
When we reflect on how those four Liverpool boys handled the never-diminishing pressures of wealth and fame, the loss of people they loved (such as Stu Sutcliffe and Brian Epstein), and the almost overwhelming stress inherent in making films whilst also publishing books and creating/recording film soundtracks amidst a slew interviews, television programmes, and radio shows, we stand back in admiration! And we say, “Well, if they can handle all of that, surely I can find a way to move forward as well!”
It’s been uplifting to walk through The Beatles’ months and seasons with you throughout 2020. Thank you for joining me in this unique experience!
Now…as we begin 2021, I thought it might be fun to spend the upcoming year together exploring that most transitional LP, Rubber Soul. Each month, we’ll study one track. I’ll provide the background information for you. And then, we’ll chat with beloved Beatles experts as well.
I look forward to opening our discovery of Rubber Soul, as together in January, we’ll visit with Dr. Kenneth Womack, author of the new book, John Lennon 1980, about the lively first track on the album: “Drive My Car.” Until then, have a wonderful and safe holiday season…a Happy Chrimble and A Very New Year!
Jude is the author of The John Lennon Series: https://www.johnlennonseries.com
Certain seasons consistently inspire us, sweep us off our feet, or bless us immeasurably. The patterns of our lives are etched as we return, time and again, to that happy collection of weeks or months in which we feel that we’re at our very best. Some people blossom in autumn’s slanting light, chilly afternoons, and radiant foliage. Others shine in summer’s sand and sun. Some find peace in spring’s gentle, sea-green rebirth. But for The Beatles, it was November — winter’s brisk onset — that always spiraled them to new heights! Let’s take a look:
9 November 1961 – Mr. Epstein Comes to the Cavern Club
Accompanied by his assistant, Alistair Taylor, dapper 27-year-old North End Music Store manager, Brian Epstein, arrived at Mathew Street’s raucous, underground Cavern Club for the lunchtime session. Feeling nervous and out of place, Epstein pushed jitters aside, to see the much-discussed band, The Beatles. For months, he’d seen John Lennon’s “Beatcomber” column in Mersey Beat, right next to his own “Record Releases” column, and the boys’ offbeat wit had intrigued him. Brian had even visited Editor, Bill Harry, at the Mersey Beat office on Renshaw Street, Liverpool, to discuss Lennon and his group. But when a young NEMS customer named Raymond Jones (and later that afternoon, two teenage girls) had requested the new record, “My Bonnie,” by The Beatles,* Brian had decided to see the group for himself. The Cavern excursion was not in vain. Planning to stay only for the first set of the afternoon, Epstein became intrigued with the charismatic, lively, and talented lads who not only sang incomparably but also gave their all to mach shau. During a break, Brian approached George Harrison about getting a copy of “My Bonnie,” and speaking to the group as a whole, Epstein proposed a meeting in the days ahead, with an eye to management of the band. As we all know, the rest is history! What a landmark November day it was! And as John would later wryly point out — of course, it occurred on the NINTH!
*Actually, the record was by Tony Sheridan and The Beat Brothers
4 November 1963 – The Beatles at the Royal Command Performance
In October 1963, The Beatles had taken the boards for Sunday Night at the Palladium, and they’d thought it was the greatest honor they could achieve! Now, however, they’d been included in the roster for The Royal Command Performance (a.k.a. The Royal Variety Show)! John, was a bit reticent about performing for “suits,” the “very sort I’ve always sought to avoid.” But the other three Beatles were elated. Appearing as the 7th act on a 19-act bill, the boys were to perform four songs: “From Me to You,” “She Loves You,” “Till There Was You,” and “Twist and Shout.” John — taking the mickey out of the nervous-as-a-cat Brian Epstein — had threatened to announce the final song with this irreverent introduction: “For our last number, I’d like to ask your help. The people in the cheaper seats, clap your hands. And the rest of you, if you’d just rattle your f******* jewelry!” But after watching Brian dissolve into tears over the brazen suggestion, John modified the intro a bit, with (as they say) the offending “expletive deleted.” Even so, Lennon’s cheeky comment made a statement. John had taken the stage with his brothers for camaraderie’s sake, but he’d still found a way to announce his independence from conformity. The show itself was Beatle-brilliant, and the lads were invited back every single year that they were together. But each year, partially in deference to John, The Beatles very politely declined. That November 1963 night, however, with Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother looking on, four lads from “the uncultured North, Liverpool” shone as stars unequalled and made British entertainment history.
9 November 1966 – John meets Yoko Ono at the Indica Gallery
John Lennon had once admitted to his friend, journalist Maureen Cleave, that being in The Beatles wasn’t his “end all, be all.” He said, “You see, there’s something else I’m going to do, something I must do — only I don’t know what it is. That’s why I go around painting and taping and drawing and writing and that, because it may be one of them. All I know is, this isn’t it for me.” (“How Does a Beatle Live? London Evening Standard, 4 March 1966) John was forever searching for significance. But he seemed to find his heart’s home on 9 November 1966, when he attended the private, pre-show for “Unfinished Paintings and Objects,” the work of Japanese avant garde artist, Yoko Ono. Strolling through London’s Indica Art Gallery, John was bowled over by Ono’s “outside the box” style and humour — a style that very much reminded him of his quirky, clever mother, Julia Stanley Lennon. And when John talked with the petite, soft-spoken artist, he found Ono as interesting as her work. It was the beginning of a romance that would transform John’s life. Over the next few years, his ideas would drastically alter. John would become different altogether (now) thanks to this one remarkable November night. (And it was also on the ninth!)
John Lennon fans, please note: In the ancient world, November was the ninth month of the calendar of Romulus, c. 750 BC. When January and February were added to the Roman calendar, November retained its name (from the Latin novem, meaning “nine”). No wonder this month was so life-changing for The Beatles!
We often scurry through November to get to the glittering joys that December holds, but the eleventh month – as The Beatles teach us here – holds remarkable enchantment of its own. Take time to enjoy bonfires, changing leaves, Thanksgiving, walks in the chill, roasted marshmallows and chestnuts – the vivid sights and sounds that accompany first frost. Be aware. Be open to possibility. November undoubtedly “loomed large in The Beatles’ legend.” Perhaps November has a bit of magic to share with you as well!
“Come ye thankful people, come
Raise a song of harvest home,
All is safely gathered in,
Ere the winter storms begin.”
In 1844, songwriter Henry Alford penned these grateful words, as the dog days of summer curled up contentedly, basking in the beauty of autumn. With winter fast approaching, Alford urged us to seize these brilliant, multi-colored days as celebrations of the fruits of our spring and summer labors. And in their Octobers together, The Beatles did just that! They used October as a month to relax a bit, accept great honors, and take stock of all they’d accomplished before the demanding days of winter were upon them. Let’s share their joys:
October 1961 – Enjoying the money that John’s Auntie “Mater” (Elizabeth) had gifted John for his twenty-first birthday, John and Paul (without saying a word to Pete and George) hied away to Paris for a 14-day spontaneous holiday. Stu (still in Hamburg) had hinted broadly that he would meet them there, and that was all the impetus John needed to break away to the Continent. Unfortunately, Stu found himself too ill to travel, and John was deeply, bitterly disappointed. However, their friend, Jürgen Vollmer, met Lennon and McCartney in “The City of Lights,” and the trio partied as heavily as a 21st birthday deserved. Somewhere amidst the carousing, Volmer influenced the two Beatles to imitate his hairstyle, a rather Edwardian “bowl” cut. Then, during the return trip to Liverpool, the duo stopped off at Anello and Davide in Charing Cross, London, to purchase Cuban-heeled, pointed-toe boots. Returning just in time for a gig at The Casbah, the relaxed John and Paul refused to be shamed for their outing and introduced the others to their innovative, new look. Within days, George wore the “Beatle cut” as well…and both Pete and George parted with the last of their cash for those trendy leather boots. Refreshed and refurbished, The Beatles headed into winter.
October 1963 – Sunday Night at the London Palladium was England’s Ed Sullivan Show. The ATV Television program was the British litmus test, indicating that an entertainer had finally “made the grade.” Growing up, Ringo had heard his mother’s best friend, Annie Maguire, repeat over and over, “Play the Palladium…and die!” The drummer had always seen it as his country’s highest achievement award. Now, he and his mates were about to step onto those legendary boards! As he vomited into a backstage bucket, Ringo thought of all the stars he’d seen standing right where he was about to perform: Judy Garland, Nat King Cole, Elizabeth Taylor, Bob Hope, and Cliff Richard and The Shadows. This magical moment was, for the boy from the Dingle, the greatest “welcome to the big-time” party one could have. Though he was slated to play The Royal Command Performance in only three weeks, for Richard Starkey, this was the “toppermost of the poppermost.” Tonight, his labors had finally reaped reward.
October 1965 – Decked in morning-coat finery, John, Paul, George, and Ringo were off to Buckingham Palace — along with 178 other nominees — to receive the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, the MBE. Their car cautiously navigated through the largest crowd ever assembled for any royal occasion (including the Queen’s coronation) towards the formal and highly-choreographed event. John was so overwhelmed by the experience that when the Queen asked about The Beatles’ current endeavors, he couldn’t find an answer and blathered that they’d been off on holiday. Not until the four boys arrived in Saville Theatre, where their press conference was to take place, did the four musicians find their voices. Years later, John would avow that he never desired the MBE and had only accepted it because it was “in our best interests,” but on this bright October morning, The Beatles were tongue-tied at the great honor and gratified for the recognition of their talent and hard work.
October 1967 – With his work completed on Dick Lester’s latest film, “Private Gripweed” (a.k.a. John Lennon), along with his three mates, The Beatles — and their lovely ladies — strode into the star-studded London Premiere of “How I Won the War.” The film was one of John’s first solo sorties from “the collective,” a practice that all four Beatles would increasingly enjoy, over the next two years. John was quite nervous about both critical and public reaction to the work. But by the time that the Fab Four Couples viewed the film and headed to their favorite West End clubs, the group was awash in giggles and grins. Riding in a vintage Hispano-Suiza, they were ready to party as only Liverpudlians can. They fêted a project well-done and looked ahead to the bright lights that would continue to shine on.
The Beatles always lived up to the weathered maxim that “a job worth doing is worth doing well.” Indeed, they worked as did no other group in the industry. But the boys played hard, too. In the 1970s, John famously quipped, “Time you enjoyed wasting was not wasted.” And in their Octobers together, as they harvested laurels from their endeavors, The Beatles saw not a thing amiss with celebrating and pausing, now and again, merely to have fun.
In 1961, Hayley Mills starred in the film, “The Parent Trap,” whose theme song employed a catch-phrase, soon to be echoed by our own Fab Four, in 1963. In the Disney film, twin daughters (both played by Mills) scheme to see that their estranged parents will try to “get together, yeah, yeah, yeah!”. Of course, by the end of that production, the twins (and the clever screenwriters) achieved a happy ending. The parents were remarried; the girls, reunited, and the phrase “yeah, yeah, yeah” was fondly ingrained in our memories. But all “triple-yeahs” aside, there is a more important link between The Beatles and “The Parent Trap” theme song…that being, of course, togetherness.
In The Anthology, John Lennon wrote: “Once upon a time, there were three little boys called John, Paul, and George, by name christened. They decided to get together, because they were the getting together type. When they were all together, they wondered what for, after all, what for? So, all of a sudden, they all got guitars and formed a noise.”
Indeed, being together was the very essence of The Beatles. And each September that they experienced as a group found them reuniting to tour, to record, “to form a noise,” and to have fun doing it. Let’s look back on some of those precious moments.
September 1960 – The Beatles in Hamburg for the first time
After hounding Liverpool’s charismatic impresario and Jacaranda Coffee House owner, Allan Williams, to get them a gig in Hamburg, Germany, The Beatles were finally on their way to the port city’s bright lights. Unbeknownst to Williams, his boys were booked on “the dark end of the Reeperbahn” in a seedy strip club called The Indra. But in only weeks, the hardworking Beatles had transformed the vacant dive into a hot spot, and they were promoted to the burgeoning Kaiserkeller. Sharing the boards in “the ’Keller” with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes (and their suave, gregarious drummer, Ringo Starr), The Beatles quickly adopted a vast catalogue of new music and learned how to mach shau…put on a show! By the time John, Paul, George, and Pete returned Merseyside in the winter of 1960, they were a highly-honed stage band. Together, they had become, as Neil Aspinall would call soon them, The Fabulous Beatles.
September 1962 – The Beatles in EMI recording “Love Me Do”
Having very recently acquired cool Ringo Starr as their new drummer, September 1962 found The Beatles hard at work in London’s EMI Studios, trying to earn “the break of a lifetime.” They had traveled to “The Smoke” (London) to record their first real record. And although accomplished producer, George Martin, wanted the skinny Liverpool boys to perform the Tin Pan Alley song, “How Do You Do It?”, The Beatles were dead set on “Love Me Do.” Assuring Martin that they “could not return to Liverpool” having recorded “How Do You Do It?” without being laughed off the quay, The Beatles stuck to their guns. However, the original number — that featured John Lennon on mouth organ and lyrics — was tricky. “You simply can’t play the harmonica and sing as well, John,” Martin had objected. “It will come out as “Love Me…Wahhh.” So, reluctantly, Paul McCartney assumed the lead vocal role. And “ta-dah!!!” Only four weeks later, “Love Me Do” rocketed to Number 17! Not bad for a first-time session with a new drummer, a new producer, and a new studio. Getting together equaled a brand-new sound!
September 1964 – First North American Tour
Chuck Gunderson in Some Fun Tonight: The Backstage Story of How The Beatles Rocked America: The Historic Tours of 1964-1966 said it best: On the 1964 North American Tour “…The Beatles would play a staggering thirty-two shows in twenty-six venues in twenty-four cities in just thirty-three days.” (p. 14) Talk about togetherness! And ah, the memories they made! They sang goose-bumpy harmony in the shimmering amphitheater of the Hollywood Bowl. They echoed over the rugged landscape around Red Rocks. They brought mayhem to Montreal and the New Orleans City Park. They diverted around Hurricane Dora and discovered new friends down in Key West. And unexpectedly, they gave Kansas City a raucous medley that furnished the “two extra songs” Charlie O. Finley craved. Gunderson writes, “No musical act before or since will ever rival The Beatles on their incredible groundbreaking tour of 1964. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr not only would leave an indelible impression on their fans in the United States and Canada, but would leave the fans hungering for more in 1965.” (p. 14) And they did it all, together.
September 1967 – The Making of Magical Mystery Tour
Magical Mystery Tour was, for John, Paul, George, and Ringo, a crucial restorative process. In the aftermath of Brian Epstein’s tragic death, it gave them “a way forward.” It was a project to bind them —one to another — to employ their talents and creativity, and to keep them close together, both physically and in spirit. According to our Beatles Guru, Mark Lewisohn in The Complete Beatles Chronicle, the Magical Mystery Tour recording sessions commenced on 5 September with the 7.00 p.m. – 1.00 a.m. EMI Studio One recording of “John’s glorious ‘I Am the Walrus’” (p. 261). And the grand filming event began on 11 September and concluded 24 Sept 1967. Throughout this grief-laden month, the necessity of rising each morning and being productive each day, whilst surrounded by dear friends (Freda Kelly, Neil and Mal, Victor Spinetti, etc.) helped to assuage The Beatles’ pain and to focus their energies on what would be rather than what had been.
No clearer example of “We’re Better Together” can be given to us than The Beatles in their shared Septembers. Despite worldwide pandemics, economic crises, and fiery political divisions, we need to reach out to one another and seek bonds not barriers. September is a month for finding our own harmony, our own new horizons, and our own way forward. Together the boys always found a way to shine on…and so can we.
To hear the adorable song “Let’s Get Together, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!” performed by Haley Mills and her double, Haley Mills for “The Parent Trap,” go here.
We’re halfway through our year-long in-depth trek with The Beatles, month-by-month, reliving their most outstanding events and observing life patterns in their days together. We’ve seen how their Aprils taught the lads to balance loss and hope. Their Junes together offered lessons in determination. And Julys, for The Beatles, were times of seeking joy.
Now, we come to August…a season that always, always signified great change in their paths. Sometimes the change was very good, making the rest of their year remarkable! Sometimes, the change was tragic, shading the rest of the year in somber tones. But August never swept through The Beatles’ lives without making a vast difference. Let’s take a look:
1960…The lads’ first trip to Hamburgy-berg — After badgering their first manager, Allan Williams, to get them a gig in Hamburg, Germany, where other Merseyside Bands (such as Derry and the Seniors) were already performing, The Beatles were finally off to the Hook of Holland and a long road ahead towards Hamburg’s famed red-light district. Getting a job on “the dark end of the Reeperbahn” in a seedy strip club, The Indra, the boys ginned out such magnificent rock’n’roll that they were quickly promoted to the better-situated Kaiserkeller. Without a doubt, the three-and-a-half months that John, Paul, George, and Pete spent in Hamburg, (yes, Ringo was there as well, but with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes) shaped them into a one-of-a-kind, blockbuster band. Playing four-to-six hours a night with only scant breaks, they developed musical acumen, stamina, and most of all, the ability to mach schau! August 1960 was a game changer for The Beatles.
1962…Pete leaves the band; Ringo joins Beatles; Cynthia and John wed — John had been the one obstacle in Paul and George’s plan to release drummer Pete Best and to acquire “the coolest drummer in Liverpool” in their opinion, Ringo Starr. In August 1962, with John’s attention focused on his upcoming nuptials to long-time girlfriend, Cynthia Powell, John’s bandmates finally swayed him into seeing their side of the coin. Traveling to Butlin’s Holiday Camp for a brief meeting with Ringo (Rory Storm and the Hurricanes’ talented drummer), Paul and John invited Starr to join The Beatles. And happily, his answer, was, “Yes!” By 18 August, Pete was a part of Beatles history, and Ringo was sitting at the rostrum on the Cavern Club stage. This one move changed Beatle dynamics forever as Ringo became the star of both “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!” and added so much whimsy, gentle humanity, and powerful backbeat to the Fab Four. The changes of August 1962 had far-reaching implications.
1965…The boys play Shea Stadium and meet “The King,” Elvis! — John Lennon had always vowed that “Before Elvis there was nothing.” Indeed, his earliest rock’n’roll memories involved hearing “Jailhouse Rock” on the vacillating late-night airwaves from Radio Luxembourg and on his mother’s record player. Styling his hair like “Mr. Presley” (as Mimi called him), John dreamed of making his living with the guitar as well. In fact, he set his sights on being “bigger ’n Elvis.” So, John was thrilled when The Beatles’ limo rolled up to 1174 Hillcrest Drive, Beverly Hills, for the August 1965 meeting with The King of Rock’n’Roll. Elvis, however, was not as elated. In fact, when The Beatles entered his “den,” Elvis said almost nothing to them. And ill at ease, the lads said nothing in return. Not until Elvis announced that if The Beatles didn’t want to talk, he was going to bed, did the ice break. Over drinks and pizza, they discussed everything except the fact that these “jokers” had stolen “the king’s thorny crown.” For several hours, they were just musicians, sharing their mutual talents. Journalist Ivor Davis, who was present that night, shared his vivid experiences with us at the Virtual Fest for Beatles Fans. If you missed the Fest, you can hear Ivor take you back to August 1965 here:
1966…The Beatles deal with John’s “Jesus” comments and decide to cease touring — In the angry backlash of John Lennon’s completely out-of-context comments about The Beatles being “more popular than Jesus” printed in Datebook magazine, The Beatles arrived in America for their 1966 North American Tour. None of the boys — well, with the possible exception of Paul — were eager to tour anymore. George, especially, hated going on the road. But faced with Beatle burnings, angry protest placards, and the public expectation that John would apologize at every single press conference along the tour gamut, the boys felt anything but happy. It was with great relief for George Harrison, then, that at the close of the boys’ San Francisco concert in Candlestick Park, he could announce, “That’s it! I’m no longer a Beatle!” The days of touring were certainly over. And the “new Beatles” — a studio group — would take a completely different direction from the exuberant, bow-at-the-waist, aim-to-please stage band. August 1966 was clearly the end of an era.
1967…The Beatles meet the Maharishi but lose Brian — Whilst The Beatles were off in Bangor, North Wales, listening to words of wisdom from the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, their beloved manager, Brian Epstein, died from an accidental drug overdose. And as soon as the boys heard the tragic news, they realised that this monumental loss signaled a permanent change in who they were and who they would become. Brian had not only been their manager — he was, in many ways, a “dad” to them. He was their advisor, friend, and biggest fan. Brian had stood in the wings of almost every concert, television show, and interview they’d ever done. While managing a huge stable of NEMS artists, Brian had always, always (according to both Tony Barrow and Ray Coleman) put The Beatles first. From 9 November 1961 on, The Beatles had claimed Brian’s heart. August 1967 touched all of The Beatles’ lives in an irrevocable way. No one would ever begin to replace Brian Epstein. It just wasn’t possible.
Without a doubt, over and over again, events in The Beatles’ Augusts were milestones…they were directional occurrences, moving the four friends down one important path after another. This month, our Fest Family defeated the isolation of CoVid-19 to “come together” at the Virtual Fest for Beatles Fans. And it was so successful that we’re planning to do it again in October for John Lennon’s 80th birthday. Although we will ALWAYS want to gather together physically, we saw the huge success of our virtual fest as a road sign, pointing us to the future…and reminding us that, no matter what happens, we will always be connected. Like John, Paul, George, and Ringo, in many of these pivotal moments, we will always find a way to SHINE ON!
With a reputation for an unequaled “work ethic,” The Beatles were also cognizant of the considerable worth of play. Their six-hour-gig Hamburg days were laced with equal amounts of raucous fun. And their lengthy North American tours included opportunities to fish, drive race cars, ride horses, meet celebrities, party around the pool, and take in films with Hollywood stars. Their most serious of Beatles recording sessions regularly included an oldies jam or two, plenty of “inside quips” and jokes, and their fair share of laughter. The boys never forgot to sleep, read, take in the arts, and refresh themselves with “mini-breaks” (short holidays). For some reason, most of The Beatles’ inspirational moments and occasions to celebrate occurred in their Julys together. Let’s look in…
In 1964, the lads donned their finest and kicked up their heels at the London and Liverpool premieres of “A Hard Day’s Night.” in London, after the film opening, the boys partied with their parents and significant others in the elegant Dorchester Hotel. And in Liverpool, motoring slowly through a 12-mile, 8-row-deep crowd of adoring Scousers (including John’s lifelong mate, Pete Shotton, and Paul’s school master, Dusty Durbin), The Beatles were awarded the keys to the city at Town Hall. In a throng unrivaled in fervor, the Liverpool boys were welcomed home. That evening, at the Northern film screening, John called out from the stage, asking where his family was seated. Once the various Stanleys were located and greeted, he smiled broadly and permitted the ceremonies to commence. These were giddy, happy days for John, Paul, George, and Ringo as the fruits of their labors paid off in critical acclaim and box-office gains. Having worked “liked a dog” all spring on the film, The Beatles’ smiled, waved, and enjoyed the show!
Then, just for fun, the boys performed an aerial ballet at the Palladium’s “Night of a Hundred Stars.” Instead of showcasing and promoting their latest hits, the Fab Four were hoisted in mid-air where they cavorted for a delighted crowd. July 1964 was, indeed, a time of frivolity…and all of it was well-deserved.
During The Beatles’ residency in Japan, the four decided to spend their off-stage moments creating a large collage, with each Beatle creating one part of the whole. Having studied at Liverpool College of Art, John’s segment of the piece, “Four Images of a Woman,” was superb, and the other Beatles were enthralled by the work as well. Photographer Roger Whitaker, watched the boys collaborating on the project and exclaimed, “I never saw them calmer…they were working on something that let their personalities come out! I think it’s the only work they ever did together that had nothing to do with music.” Whitaker observed that the collage — so foreign to what The Beatles did normally — truly rejuvenated them. He reflected that The Beatles didn’t even play music or talk as they painted; they concentrated in silence. “They’d stop,” he remarked, “go do a concert, and then it was, ‘Let’s get back to the picture.’” In the midst of a hectic, pressing tour, the four made time to unwind.
On a mad whim, The Beatles jetted off together, on holiday in Greece. They chartered a yacht and following the coast of the mainland, spent their days island hopping. Accompanied by Mal, Neil, and several others, the boys danced, laughed, and attempted to buy an island together, in hopes of creating a “Beatles paradise.” Although Brian thought the purchase a ridiculous notion, The Beatles located a plot of land and initiated purchase negotiations. Yet before “t’s” could be crossed and “i’s” dotted, paperwork-wise, the four friends were back in England and back at work. Sadly, the island project fell by the wayside. However, the freedom and passion the lads had enjoyed during their “search for the illusive Eldorado” (see the poem by Poe) had rejuvenated them all for the days ahead.
By July of 1968, tensions were challenging John, Paul, George, and Ringo, both as a group and individually. John was under fire from the press for his relationship with artist, Yoko Ono, and Paul had been shockingly seen in public without Jane Asher. Rumours flew. That’s when a moment of sheer fun stepped in to save the day! The cartoon film, “Yellow Submarine”, was completed, and to satisfy the press, a small launch party was hosted at Bowater House, in the Knightsbridge section of London. Paul, George, and Ringo were on hand, finding great relief in the opportunity to chat and smile. Then, mid-month, (17 July) all of the boys enjoyed the “all-stops-out” London premiere of “Yellow Submarine” in Piccadilly Circus. The gala was reminiscent of the “Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!” premieres, in happier times. Indeed, as The Beatles rolled up in their limousine, Beatlemania erupted — full-scale! — once more. The crowds and the boys were mutually elated. For a moment, the magic was back.
As far as I know, none of The Beatles (not even voracious reader, John) were fans of American poet, Walt Whitman. But had they been, I think they would have admired his quote: “Do anything, but let it produce joy.”
Having fun with their talent was always foremost in The Beatles’ minds, and when an endeavor — such as touring — ceased to be fun, they discarded it. Even during the Let it Be sessions, you can watch the four friends having fun…singing the old Cavern songs, dancing, and making each other laugh. They knew how to find joy in the grubbiest places, worst circumstances, and most trying times.
All of us have been enduring extremely grim conditions for months now. We’ve struggled and bravely, we’ve forged on. But with what is left of July, let’s agree to join John, Paul, George, and Ringo in finding a bit of fun. Let’s take a break in the midst of our masterpieces, cautions, and concerns…and for just a moment, “Let it Be.” Smile, walk, paint, party, sing, sail, dream…and perhaps, even buy a frivolous island or two. Do anything! But let it produce joy!