Side Two, Track Last
“Run for Your Life,” The “Excellent” Potboiler Closer
by Jude Southerland Kessler and Jim Berkenstadt
For the last 18 months, the Fest for Beatles Fans blog has explored the intricacies of The Beatles’ remarkable 1965 LP, Rubber Soul. This month the Rock and Roll Detective, Jim Berkenstadt, author of Black Market Beatles, Nevermind Nirvana, The Beatle Who Vanished, and his recent best-seller, Mysteries in the Music: Case Closed, joins Jude Southerland Kessler, author of The John Lennon Series, for a fresh, new look at the raucous early-Beatles-sounding final track of this creative LP. Jim – who served as the official historian for the Harrison family in the making of George’s biopic film, “Living in the Material World” – has been the Featured Author at Beatles at the Ridge and is a long-time Guest Speaker the Fest for Beatles Fans. We’re honored to have him with us.
Date Recorded: 12 October 1965 (the first day of recording for Rubber Soul)
Time Recorded: 2:30 – 7:00 p.m. (In his Complete Beatles Chronicle, Mark Lewisohn says this was the time frame spent on “Run for Your Life.” The session continued until 11:30 p.m., but the rest of the time was spent on John’s “This Bird Has Flown.”)
Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith
Second Engineer: Ken Scott and Phil McDonald
Stats: Recorded in 5 takes
Instrumentation and Musicians:
John Lennon, the composer, sings double-tracked lead vocals and plays his 1964 Gibson J-160E acoustic guitar. At the outset of the EMI tapes for the day, you can hear John talking to Paul about his “Jumbo Gibson.”
Paul McCartney, sings accompanying double-tracked vocal harmony, plays bass on his 1963 Hofner 500//1 Violin Bass, and according to Hammack, tambourine. (Hammack refers to the tambourine work as “a dominant part of the backing track,” p. 61)
George Harrison sings double-tracked backing vocal harmony and plays either his 1963 Gretsch G6119 Chet Atkins Tennessean electric with Gretsch Bigsby vibrato (more preferred) or his 1961 Fender Stratocaster electric with synchronized tremolo.
Ringo Starr plays one of his Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl Super Classic drum sets and according to some experts, tambourine.**
**This information is from Jerry Hammack’s The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, p. 61.
Sources: The Beatles, The Anthology, 193-199, Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 202, Lewisohn, The Recording Sessions, 63, Kruth, This Bird Has Flown: The Enduring Beauty of Rubber Soul, Fifty Years On, 64-68, Womack, The Beatles Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, 796-797, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 308-309, Winn, Way Beyond Compare, 362-363, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, 61-62, Miles, The Beatles Diary, Vol. 1, 216-218, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 98, MacDonald, Revolution in the Head, 129, Riley, Tell Me Why, 170-171, Womack, Long and Winding Roads, 125, and Harry, The Ultimate Beatles Encyclopedia, 570.
- Unpolished Performance – In his book, Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Recordings and the Sixties, Ian MacDonald says of “Run for Your Life”: “The performance is slapdash, Lennon muffing the words and “ popping” the microphone several times by getting too near to it. The guitar-work, some of which is badly out of tune, is similarly rough…” Likewise, in Way Beyond Compare, John C. Winn notes that “…a thumping sound [is present] during the guitar solo.” (p. 362)
Whilst one might assume that The Beatles were getting “sloppy” in their artistry, we must remember that these are characteristics of the Please Please Me LP, which was designed to sound like a raw, unpolished Cavern Club performance. On the “Please Please Me” single, for example, we recall that Paul and John sang completely different lyrics on the “Last night I said these words to my girl” follow-up, and the bobble was kept intact, despite the fact that many “helpful” fans wrote the boys to alert them of their “error.” (Smile.) The glitch, according to Martin, added charm.
It is true that in the autumn of 1965, the boys were under tremendous pressure to get Rubber Soul recorded and polished quickly. Barry Miles in The Beatles Diary, Vol. 1 comments: “The Beatles were trapped on a deadline-powered treadmill.” (p. 216) They hadn’t paused once all year from the making of their United Artists film “Help!” and its accompanying LP to their European Tour to the July movie premieres and a live Blackpool show for the ever-demanding BBC to the 1965 North American Tour and the impending 1965 UK Tour. So, time was a commodity of which The Beatles had precious little.
But that did not stop Rubber Soul from being one of their most artistic, incredible LPs. In fact, John Lennon commented, “We were…getting better, technically and musically…we finally took over the studio. On Rubber Soul, we were sort of more precise about making the album…” (p. 21) Thus, the glitches in “Run for Your Life” seem to have been left in the song intentionally. They gave the track an early Beatles flavor. On an album replete with new outlooks, new instruments, and new sounds, here at last, fans could find “the lads from Liverpool.” For many, it was a refreshing, “ahhhhhh!” moment.
- John Lennon (instead of Paul McCartney) “does Elvis” – One wonderful feature of The Beatles’ Cavern Club shows was Paul’s talented homage to Elvis in songs such as “That’s All Right, Mama.” Able to closely imitate the American star to a “T,” McCartney always brought down the house with his Presley renditions. Here, it was John Lennon’s turn to pay tribute to the icon. Indeed, John wrote this entire song based on two lines from one of Elvis’s classic rockabilly tracks (“Baby, Let’s Play House,” composed by Arthur Gunter): “I’d rather see you dead, little girl/ than to be with another man.”
Then, employing a jagged, halting vocal style, John performs “Run For Your Life” a la E! In fact, in All the Songs, Margotin and Guesdon tell us that “In the first take, John’s voice was wrapped in a slap-back echo, which [gave] a rockabilly feel to the piece.” (p. 308-309) And to make the sound even more authentic, the song was laced with George Harrison’s “chord slides,” to enhance that 1950s Elvis sound. Having met and talked with Presley in his Los Angeles mansion only a few weeks earlier, John offers this Rubber Soul nod to his hero, of whom he had often quipped, “Before Elvis, there was nothing.”
- A Glimpse Back at The Early Beatles – As we’ve observed in songs such as “Drive My Car,” “Norwegian Wood,” “Girl,” “What Goes On,” “You Won’t See Me,” and even “Michelle” (who doesn’t even know the adoring male exists), the women of Rubber Soul are not the up-on-a-pedestal, helpless women in “Ask Me Why,” or “Do You Want to Know a Secret” or “I Need You.” Rubber Soul’s women are strong, independent, and many times, unemotional. And their romantic relationships are quite complicated. In “Run for Your Life,” for example, the female is suspected of infidelity.
John’s reaction to her unfaithfulness, however, isn’t as open-minded or “as 1965” as the other songs on Rubber Soul seem to be. Lennon reacts like John of old: John of the Casbah, John of the Cavern boards, John of gritty Hamburg. He reveals himself as the jealous “Northern man” that he’s always been. His attitude is inappropriately edgy, as are his threats, founded in wounded machismo. And in later years, John regretted and apologized for these lyrics.
But the “antiquated attitude” John expressed was not intended as an anti-feminist statement. As Tim Riley points out in Tell Me Why, this is merely Lennon “let[ting] off steam.” (p. 170) According to John, “‘Run for Your Life’…was just a song I knocked off” (Kruth, p. 66), “just a sort of throwaway song of mine that I never thought much of.” (Riley, 170). It’s merely a hard-charging, angst-filled rock anthem that gets the blood pumping. On an LP featuring sitars, melodies that hint at a droning tabla sound, exotic French lyrics, baroque orchestration, and elevated themes embracing the agape love of mankind, “Run for Your Life” sweeps the listener back to an earlier era. (Arthur Gunter wrote “Baby, Let’s Play House” in 1954, and Presley released it in 1955.) Here, in this final track of an extremely metamorphic LP, we encounter our band of old: The Beatles. As Jerry Hammack so aptly observed in his Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, “ ‘Run for Your Life’ might have been a warning shot across the bow of expectation that these were still the same lovable mop tops that had burst upon the scene just three years earlier.” The past was still a part of them all – and of John, in particular.
A Fresh New Look:
Recently, John Lennon expert Jude Southerland Kessler sat down with the Rock and Roll Detective, best-selling author Jim Berkenstadt, to talk about this LP-closing rocker. Accustomed to routing out rock’n’roll’s greatest mysteries in books such as Black Market Beatles, consulting to the late George Harrison and The Beatles Apple Corps Ltd, and his latest release, Mysteries in the Music: Case Closed, Jim agreed to give us his unique perspective on “Run for Your Life.”
Jude Southerland Kessler: Jim, thank you for taking time out from the making of the new movie based on your book The Beatle Who Vanished to talk with our Fest Family about “Run for Your Life.” You know, in John Kruth’s book This Bird Has Flown, The Enduring Beauty of Rubber Soul, Fifty Years On, he tells us that if one listens to the EMI tapes for 12 October 1965, one can hear John – preparing the band to record “Run for Your Life” – directing the others to “make it heavy!” (p. 63) Kruth says this was “years before anyone had heard the term heavy metal, or used the term heavy instead of profound.” (p. 63) So, what is John Lennon after here, Jim? And how do The Beatles accomplish that “heavy” goal?
Jim Berkenstadt: Thanks, Jude.
Even though many have described this track over the years as a toss away or album filler, I loved this song the first time I heard it, which was Christmas Day, 1965. I will never forget get it.
The musical and vocal elements are what make the song “heavy”. I don’t think Lennon meant heavy in the sense of the future genre “heavy metal.” I think he meant that suggestion as a way to get the entire band to play it as a hard rocker. Clearly, his recent visit with Elvis in LA, and John’s love of early Elvis recordings was on his mind when he began to write the song. It is interesting that The Beatles recorded the song exactly 10 years after Elvis released his song, “Baby Let’s Play House.”
I believe John wanted a tougher rock sound to match the macho, edgy vocals and jealous lyrics he was writing. Even the acoustic strumming at the start sets the driving pace, as the loud opening lead guitar riff kicks in, pulling the listener in to pay attention to Lennon’s opening and threatening lyrics. At the same time, we hear a very hard 2 and 4 backbeat from Ringo on drums and Paul overdubbing the driving tambourine. I think the double-tracked backing vocals and harmonies in the chorus are very strident, crisp and aggressive too. At the same time, they are beautiful and precise in their execution. The guitar slides that accompany the tough lead guitar solo by George are amazing. All of these elements combine to push the listener to pay attention. The song achieves its “heavy” goal with its driving passion and sound. Musically it is very hooky and catchy. You cannot get the song out of your head after only one listen.
Kessler: Kruth also says that “Run for Your Life” was “tacked on at the end of the record, stashed behind a second Harrison number (on the U.K. version).” (p. 66) But traditionally, George Martin had always given special attention and consideration to the closing “pot-boiler” on each of The Beatles’ LPs. Tell us about some of the other exceptional closing songs, please, Jim. And do you think “Run for Your Life” measures up?
The Sgt. Pepper LP featured “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band (Reprise),” which has a similar hard-charging feel that provides us with another closing “Pot Boiler” like “Run for your Life.” And my favorite LP-ending song by The Beatles will always be “The End,” from Abbey Road, with the group trading solos in a rousing farewell to their fans. But, it is important to recall that The Beatles matured and changed with each album they created. I think Rubber Soul was a transitionary album that drew a bit from the old days and also shared a more mature future musical direction as well. For that reason, comparing closing numbers is a bit of “apples and oranges.” However, I think “Run For Your Life” really holds up as a great album closer 27 years on.
Kessler: Okay, the elephant in the room! Our friend Ken Womack, in Vol. 2 of his Beatles Encyclopedia informs us that in 1992, Ottawa’s radio station CFRA banned “Run for Your Life” for its misogynistic lyrics. When Beatles fans wrote in to inform the station that the offensive line was a direct quote from Elvis’s “Baby Let’s Play House,” that song was then banned as well. But CFRA did not ban Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” or Nancy Sinatra’s version of “Run for Your Life” in which she sings “I’d rather see you dead little boy than to be with another woman.” They did not ban Johnny Cash’s “Cocaine Blues” or the Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb” or Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman.” For that matter, they didn’t ban female rockers performing songs such as the Crystals’ “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)” or Joanie Summers performing “Johnny Get Angry.” So, what’s really at play here, Jim? Does John Lennon’s penchant for being constantly censured figure into the mix?
Censorship of music has always been a slippery slope. In my new book, Mysteries in the Music: Case Closed, I reviewed 100s of pages of de-classified FBI investigation documents into whether the song “Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen was in fact obscene. In that case, the FBI and the Governor of Indiana (who basically banned the record from radio in violation of the First Amendment) were pre-disposed to find something wrong with the song. I detailed their sloppy investigations which were an embarrassment. The 3-year FBI witch-hunt cost taxpayers around $62 million dollars in today’s money, and never found any evidence of obscenity. The details I revealed in the book demonstrated what they failed to find and what they should have discovered. Readers will enjoy this fresh new deep-dive on the topic of music censorship.
The censorship of John Lennon’s song doesn’t necessarily indicate that they were picking on Lennon per se. Censorship really is a totally subjective process. Perhaps the station chose Lennon for a public relations reason? Admittedly, Lennon and The Beatles were bigger than all of the other artists they could have picked on. By selecting him, perhaps they thought they might gain more listeners from the controversial publicity? Or maybe someone didn’t like The Beatles at that station? We may never know the motive behind this action. I think the only way to truly answer this question would be to locate all of the decision makers at the station in 1992, and ask them about their motives in the censorship of Lennon’s song and try to determine why they chose the Lennon/ Beatles song and not the others.
Ironically, the biggest pop song of last year was not investigated by the FBI for obscenity. It was a Cardi B hit called, “WAP.” I will let your readers look up what that stands for. LOL.
Kessler: Jim, so many Beatles experts link this 1965 song to earlier Lennon “insecurity” tracks such as “No Reply” and “You Can’t Do That.” Others see “Run for Your Life” as a precursor to “Jealous Guy,” “I’m Losing You,” and “Crippled Inside.” There is an obvious common denominator in John’s life story…the story he tells us over and over and over throughout his career. Talk a little about that, please, Jim, and what other songs do you see as part of this “Lennon Litany of Loss”?
Sadly, as many Beatles fans know, John lost his mother two times. The first time was after his parents broke up and John went to live with his Aunt Mimi. This alone would have been traumatic enough for a young boy to see his mom get together with another man and start a new family without him in the home. But then, as he was starting to spend more time in his teens with his mom, and she was teaching him guitar chords and giving him his first guitar, she was sadly killed by an off-duty drunken officer who hit her with his car. The loss of family at a young age can create a lifelong trauma, not easily remedied. I think John’s trauma did lead to many songs of loss, sadly. Perhaps the most poignant song he ever wrote was “Mother.” Who can forget the grief-filled and chilling lines of John’s Plastic Ono Band song:
Mother, you had me but I never had you,
I wanted you,
You didn’t want me
So I, I just got to tell you
Father, you left me but I never left you,
I needed you,
You didn’t need me
So I, I just got to tell you
This is such a broken-hearted song. It is my belief that John did benefit from putting his grief and feelings of loss into his music. In a way, it was a healthy form of therapy. And it probably served to help others who had similar childhood traumas to relate to Lennon’s honest and brave “Litany of Loss” songs.
Kessler: Jim, thank you so much for your insights into this controversial but (as Margotin and Guesdon observed) “excellent song.” (p. 309) I’m enjoying your intriguing Mysteries in the Music: Case Closed book so much! And I can’t wait to see you in Chicago in just a few weeks for the Fest!
For more information on the Rock and Roll Detective Jim Berkendstadt, go to:
Mysteries in the Music: Case Closed (free excerpt download and signed copies)
The Beatle Who Vanished (free excerpt download and signed copies)
You can meet Jim in person at the Chicago Fest for Beatles Fans, Aug. 12-14 at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare where he’ll be discussing and signing his most recent book, Mysteries in the Music, Case Closed.
To purchase Jim’s books, go to: Amazon.com: Jim Berkenstadt: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle and www.thefest.com
Side Two, Track Six
“If I Needed Someone”
Through 2021 and 2022, the Fest for Beatles Fans blog has explored The Beatles’ remarkable 1965 LP, Rubber Soul. This month, Lanea Stagg, author of The Recipe Records Series including the original Recipe Records, Recipe Records: Sixties Edition, Recipe Records: A
Culinary Tribute to The Beatles, and The Rolling Scones: Let’s Spend the Bite Together joins Jude Southerland Kessler, author of The John Lennon Series, for a fresh, new look at the exciting next-to-last track on this unique, creative LP.
Date Recorded: 16 October (superimpositions added 18 October)
Time Recorded: Late in the evening of 16 October, probably around 11.30 p.m. Most of the session (from 2:30 p.m.-midnight) had been spent on “Day Tripper.” In Way Beyond Compare, John C. Winn says, “Before going home for the night, The Beatles also started work on a George Harrison composition, “If I Needed Someone.” (P. 364) And Mark Lewisohn in The Complete Beatles Chronicle gives us a time stamp by saying that the boys turned to George’s creation “with the clock ticking towards midnight…” .
Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith
Second Engineer: Ken Scott
Stats: Backing track (of bass, drums, rhythm guitar, and twelve-string electric guitar) recorded in one take on 16 October 1965. (p. 364)
Then, on 18 October, George double-tracked the lead vocal, accompanied by John and Paul’s harmonies to create the famous Beatles 3-part harmony. Then, Ringo on tambourine and George were on lead guitar recorded together on another track.
Instrumentation and Musicians:
George Harrison, the composer, sings lead vocal, plays on his 1965 Rickenbacker 360/12 (12-string electric guitar).
John Lennon sings harmony vocals and plays rhythm on his 1961 Fender Stratocaster with synchronized tremolo.
Paul McCartney sings harmony vocals and plays bass on his 1964 Rickenbacker 4001S bass.
Ringo Starr plays one of his Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl Super Classic drum sets and plays tambourine in superimposition.[i]
Sources: Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 202, Lewisohn, The Recording Sessions, 64, Gunderson, Some Fun Tonight! The Backstage Story of How The Beatles Rocked America: The Historic Tours of 1964-1966, 90-91, Everett, The Beatles as Musicians: The Quarry Men through Rubber Soul, 318-319, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 306-307, Winn, Way Beyond Compare, 364, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 71-72, Miles, The Beatles Diary, Vol. 1, 218, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 98, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 203, Babiuk, Beatles Gear, 167-168, Womack, Long and Winding Roads: The Evolving Artistry of The Beatles, 125, and Mellers, Twilight of the Gods: The Music of The Beatles, 61.
- Influence of the Byrds and the Folk Rock Sound – During the 1965 North American Tour, when Capitol’s Alan Livingston threw a party for The Beatles and invited stars such as Edward G. Robinson, Groucho Marx, Eddie Fisher, Jack Benny, and Rock Hudson, George opted to “go his own way” for a meeting with the chart-topping folk-rock group, the Byrds. The California group’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” (written by Bob Dylan) had hit Number 1 on 26 June 1965, and the Byrds had said in several interviews that they liked The Beatles’ music, were inspired by them, and in fact, played the exact same instruments that The Beatles played.
Indeed, Harrison’s 12-string Rickenbacker lead became an important part of the Byrds’ signature sound. Honored by this homage, George wanted to get to know the group and made the effort to visit them. As a result of this meeting, plus a second visit to the Byrds in studio (on 27 August, this time accompanied by Paul), George began to compose a new song in West Coast folk-rock genre. In fact, Harrison specifically stated that the guitar riff of the Byrds’ “The Bells of Rhymney” and the melody of their song “She Don’t Care About Time” inspired “If I Needed Someone.” (Turner, 98) More about this coming up in Lanea Stagg’s “Fresh, New Look.”
However, “If I Needed Someone” isn’t at all derivative of these two Byrds compositions. Instead, George’s second original song on the Rubber Soul LP is actually a study written around the D chord. George marveled that “a million other songs” had also been written around the D chord. He said, “If you move your fingers about, you get various other melodies…it amazes me that people still find new permutations of the same notes.” (Margotin and Guesdon, 306 and Turner, 98) And yet, the influence of the Byrds’ jingle-jangle sound – enhanced by Ringo’s work on tambourine – gives “If I Needed Someone” a unique timbre.
- George’s New Guitar – On the 1965 North American Tour, at the end of the Minneapolis press conference, a special presentation took place. The co-owners of a local music store named B-Sharp gifted George with a Rickenbacker Fireglo (red sunburst) 360/12 (12-string electric guitar). Both Andy Babiuk in Beatles Gear (pp. 168-169) and Chuck Gunderson in Some Fun Tonight! The Backstage Story of How The Beatles Rocked America: The Historic North American Tours, 1964-1966 (p. 91) give us the backstory for this presentation. They say that when Liverpool’s Remo Four had visited the shop some weeks before The Beatles landed in Minneapolis, the group spotted the instrument and commented, “George [Harrison] would love this!” Right then and there, owners Randy Resnick and Ron Butwin decided to give the Rickenbacker to George when The Beatles arrived in Minneapolis on 21 August. George was thrilled! And as a result, both Butwin and Resnick were given VIP seats in the Twins dugout for the concert in Metropolitan Stadium. It is this new guitar that George uses on “If I Needed Someone.”
- Toughness in Romantic Relationships – As we’ve discussed previously, all of the songs about women on Rubber Soul are 180-out from the early Beatles’ head-over-heels attitudes in “She Loves You,” “From Me to You, “Ask Me Why,” “Do You Want to Know a Secret,” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” On Rubber Soul, love has become complicated. “Drive My Car” featured a hard-charging female determined to get to the top and only interested in a man who can “drive her car.” “Girl” shone a light on a callous woman who “put you down when friends are there/you feel a fool.” The girlfriend in “You Won’t See Me” doesn’t “treat me right,” and even the enchanting “Michelle” doesn’t realize that her suitor exists! In “If I Needed Someone,” however, the problem isn’t rejection of the male. It’s his (rather reluctant) rejection of her with the wistful caveat that “Had come some other day/Then it might not have been like this/But you see now I’m too much in love.” Rubber Soul’s relationships are clearly not simple or sweetly romantic. As Wilfred Mellers points out, “In all these songs, there’s a toughness, beneath lyricism or comedy that is not evident in other songs.” (p. 61)
A Fresh New Look
Note from Jude Kessler: It has been my distinct pleasure to work hand-in-hand with author Lanea Stagg almost daily for the last ten years. Together we produce the monthly podcast “She Said She Said” on Apple Podcasts, Podbean, and Spotify. In our five years with that show, we’ve been blessed to interview Julia Baird, May Pang, Ken Mansfield, Roag Best, Helen Andersen, Chas Newby, Leslie Cavendish, and so many others in The Beatles family as well as a host of Beatles experts and authors. From 2012-2019, Lanea and I co-chaired the Authors and Artists Symposium for Walnut Ridge, Arkansas’s “Beatles at the Ridge.” And in 2016, we worked together to chair the GRAMMY Museum of Mississippi’s Beatles Symposium. Lanea is not only the author of the Recipe Records Series, but is also the author of two successful children’s books, Little Dog in the Sun and Little Dog About Town. She has been a Guest Speaker at the Chicago Fest for Beatles Fans, Abbey Road on the River, and the Monmouth University White Album Conference. Her articles have appeared on the All Music website and in 2021, she worked with Angie and Ruth McCartney to feature her recipes @GourmetNFTOfficial. I was so thrilled to be able to sit down and chat with Lanea about George Harrison’s second song on Rubber Soul.
Jude Southerland Kessler: In the “What’s New” segment of this blog, we discussed the strong influence of the Byrds on this George Harrison number. What elements of the “jingle-jangle folk rock” movement has Harrison employed in “If I Needed Someone”?
Lanea Stagg: It is a very curious musical event when one band gives another “the nod” by borrowing another band’s riff, or other sound. When we hear that curiosity today, we don’t really think of this as “a nod,” but more as stealing!
George’s song, “If I Needed Someone,” actually contained “the nod” to California band the Byrds, who were comprised of Roger McGuinn (known as “Jim” at that time), David Crosby, Gene Clark, Michael Clarke, and Chris Hillman. But…the Byrds (as Jude noted in the “What’s New” segment) had created their sound based upon influence from The Beatles’ music, specifically from the film A Hard Day’s Night. McGuinn was very taken with the sound of Harrison’s 12-string Rickenbacker, so he acquired one as well. Chris Hillman stated in 2008 for Central Coast Magazine, “McGuinn saw George playing a Rickenbacker 12-string in A Hard Day’s Night. McGuinn had been playing a Gibson acoustic 12-string when he saw Harrison,” and the rest became history.
When George met up with the Byrds in California, they discussed their sounds. The Byrds had released “The Bells of Rhymney” in June 1965, and George was very fond of the jangly 12-string Rickenbacker riff. George incorporated the riff as “a nod” back to the band.
I recommend listening to “The Bells of Rhymney,” and it won’t take long to recognize the riff. The song is a very old story, and quite sad, about a coal mining disaster in Wales. Harrison loved the sound McGuinn used with the Rickenbacker, and he “borrowed” the riff for “If I Needed Someone.”
In a 2004 interview for Christian Music Today, Roger McGuinn said, “George Harrison wrote that song [“If I Needed Someone”] after hearing the Byrds’ recording of ‘Bells of Rhymney.’ He gave a copy of his new recording to Derek Taylor, The Beatles’ former press officer, who flew to Los Angeles and brought it to my house. He said George wanted me to know that he had written the song based on the rising and falling notes of my electric Rickenbacker 12-string guitar introduction. It was a great honor to have in some small way influenced our heroes, The Beatles.”
Curiously, “If I Needed Someone” was not on the U.S. release of Rubber Soul. It wasn’t released in the U.S. until June of 1966 when it appeared on the LP Yesterday and Today. So, it was a BIG DEAL for George to send a copy of his recording to Roger McGuinn!
So, here we have George writing a song where he was inspired by the Byrds, and in “turn, turn, turn,” the Byrds were first inspired by The Beatles.
Kessler: Lanea, many music experts have tagged “If I Needed Someone” as the precursor to “Within You Without You” and “Love You To.” Some have even noted that it might have served as a springboard for John Lennon’s “Tomorrow Never Knows.” What musical connections do you see between this 1965 composition and George’s later Indian-inspired melodies?
Stagg: Musicology is not for the faint of heart! With so many elements to digest in a song – especially a Beatles’ piece – the casual ear might miss a tasty morsel.
I find this to be the case in George’s “If I Needed Someone.” First, we hear the satiny smooth jingle-jangle of the Ric as well as a steady bass, which is greeted with George’s declaration: “If I needed someone to love/You’re the one that I’d be thinking of.” The frosting on this delicacy is the harmony by John and Paul as well as Ringo’s tambourine. That all happens in 20 seconds!
What develops further in this song is quite full. As mentioned earlier in the “What’s Changed” segment, the song is built around the D chord. This produces a rather dronish sound…which conjures up the possibility of adding a sitar (which George was learning to play). However, here he chose not to.
Musician/songwriter Rande Kessler stated that George “was enjoying a playfulness around only a few chords, climbing and descending a small scale to produce a lilting, droning, chanting effect. It is almost a repetitive “humming” sound that is sung along with his Ric 12-string, more or less emulating a sitar. The melody doesn’t stray far from the original chord, and the bridge simply floats a variation that brings the melody back to the beginning. To me, ‘Within You Without You’ essentially takes that same lilting chord-orbit that George started with and uses the sitar to play along with the chanting melody…as an evolution from “If I Needed Someone” and its sitar-sounding capoed Ric 12-string.”
In Hunter Davies’s The Beatles Lyrics, George states: “[Rubber Soul] is my favorite. We certainly knew we were making a good album. We were suddenly hearing sounds that we weren’t able to hear before, everything was blossoming at the same time, including us, because we were still growing.”
Kessler: Many music experts have referred to this song as “a tribute to Pattie Boyd” (who became Pattie Harrison in January 1966). And yet, George’s response to the flirtatious “other” in this song is rather coy and complicated. I see a bit of a parallel between “if I Needed Someone” and another 1965 hit written by The Lovin’ Spoonful entitled “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?”. Do you? And do you think that this song serves as a tribute to Pattie Boyd?
Stagg: Many sources state this song is a tribute to Pattie Boyd. However, if I were Pattie Boyd, I would hope not! George Harrison is clearly leaving the door open for one, or perhaps more, potential love interests…in case things do not work out with Pattie.
George does proclaim, “I’m too much in love,” and therefore, announces to the ladies that his heart has been stolen away by the gorgeous Miss Boyd. Remember, George was only 22-years-old when he penned “If I Needed Someone.” He had been swarmed by women for years, and I’m sure had played a lot of games. Perhaps he was unsure if Pattie would continue to be in love with him, especially knowing the challenges attached to being a “Beatle wife.” He had seen how difficult that was for John. So, perhaps George is keeping one foot in the door…just in case!
“If I Needed Someone” is the beginning of George’s effort to pen meaningful lyrics. The song was released on the UK Rubber Soul LP almost one year after the release of The Beatles’ album Beatles for Sale, where George gave a cover performance of Carl Perkins’s “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby.” We envision George singing, “Everybody’s trying to be my baby,” over and over…and perhaps he really was experiencing the deluge of women trying to be his baby! Was that part of the inspiration for his 1965 lyrics: “Carve your number on my wall…”? Could George have written a follow-up to his experiences during that year where there was ALWAYS someone trying to be his baby? George was enveloped in Beatlemania and the avalanche of women trying to get to him.
While Lennon and McCartney were able to create intricate lyrics as easily as taking a breath, George had to work harder at it. His early songs were rather unpolished and at times, even bland. On Rubber Soul, he penned lyrics for not only “If I Needed Someone,” but also “Think for Yourself.” “Think for Yourself” is a rather somber statement to fans as opposed to the syrupy songs they were used to from Lennon/McCartney. The tune is peppy, but the lyrics, not so much.
The boys were faced with many choices, and it feels as if George is choosing to “make up his mind” to pick up on Pattie and leave the other birds behind.
Kessler: Lanea, “If I Needed Someone” is ranked #54 in Spignesi and Lewis’s 100 Best Beatles Songs – a rather impressive rating! The song is so appealing that it has been covered by the Kingsmen, Cryin’ Shames, Hugh Mackels, Michael Hedges…and the Hollies. However, George Harrison despised the Hollies’ version of his song. He said, “I think it’s rubbish the way they’ve done it. They’ve spoilt it.” (Womack, Long and Winding Roads, The Evolving Artistry of The Beatles, 125) What do you hear in the Hollies’ version of “If I Needed Someone” that supports or refutes George’s appraisal?
Stagg: I concur with George Harrison. Hearing the version released by the Hollies is a let-down, and if I were George, absolutely would not consider it a compliment!
While the Hollies perform the song in their unique and typical sound, they come off sounding tinny, and George’s beautiful riff was now played on what sounded like a plastic guitar! The Beatles’ brilliant performance of harmonies on George’s song really cannot be matched or recreated. The Hollies lack the crisp, clean, and more pure harmonies that The Beatles flawlessly added to George’s song. I think George was right, and I would send the Hollies back to the “Bus Stop!”
Follow Lanea on Facebook here and on Instagram @LaneaStagg
[i] Instrumentation information from Jerry Hammack’s The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, 71.
Since January 2021, we’ve been examining The Beatles’ 1965 work of genius, Rubber Soul, taking deep dives into each track. Having concluded Side One, this month we took a short intermission to stand, stretch, and have a bit of fun.
We invited Fest for Beatles Fans poet Terri Whitney — who has written two books of poetry on The Beatles and other rock’n’roll greats — to serve as one of the judges in a POETRY CONTEST in her honor: The Rockin’ Rhymer Poetry Contest.
Thanks to all who submitted poems. They were all wonderful.
Here are the three winning poems…
Sai Matekar, Winner
In My Life/ Two of Us (or 6th july, 1957, the birth of the Beatles)
6th July, 1957
Woolton church fete, on a beautiful sunny day
Life became a song,
When, John found Paul
Soulmate found soulmate
Music found magic,
Loss found love,
When Paths lead to home,
Wrong Words and banjo chords,
Found lost rhymes and a tuned guitar
Motherless sons, two
Till nothing was left inside,
On a neverending night
Lines, in fully formed songs
Songs, in half written lines
Hands four played one melody,
Strings across searching eyes
Knee to knee,
Growing and healing
On a long road,
John hugged Paul
When the world changed
Changed the world
When Paul hugged John,
On a road, long
and longer memories
Of healing and growing,
Knee to knee
Eyes searching, across strings
One melody played four hands,
Lines written, half in songs
Songs formed fully in lines
On a Night, neverending
Inside, nothing was left
Till they cried,
A tuned guitar and lost rhymes,
Found banjo chords and wrong words
Home lead to paths,
When Love found loss,
Magic found music,
Soulmate found soulmate ,
Paul found John, when
A song came to life
On a beautiful sunny day, Woolton church fete
Phillip Kirkland, First Runner-Up
THE LIFE OF JOHNNY (ABRIDGED)
Born of Mother (partly timey)
Virtual Orphan, Mimi cares
Wayward Johnny, daily howly
Auntie living deep despairs
Cocky muso young McCartney
Teaches roughneck, tuney strings
Jam together, fledgling combo
Rock ‘n’ Roll ‘n’ Blues ‘n’ things
Off to Hamburg, popping Prellies
Playing socks off, kiddies’ cheers
Man, we’re groovy little group now
Playing Cavern, Epstein hears
Richly contract, muchy money
Funny haircut, shiny suit
Liddypool is distant memory
Muchy fame and girls to boot
Arty Yoko, avant gardly
Wide-eyed Johnny, falls in lust
Beatles crumbly, end of era
Golden Apple turns to dust
Uncle Sammy, John and Yoko
Little Sean and baking bread
Starting Over, not for muchly
Mad assassin – Johnny’s dead!
Presley Moffett, Second Runner-Up
Like Mother, Like Daughter
Like mother, like daughter
Music is our common bond
And every moment in our lives is connected to a song
Mom gave me her copy of Sgt. Pepper
She bought the record
Sometime in the ’80s
The vinyl was missing, but the cover was still intact
She gave it to me and said, “I have listened to this album since I was your age in fact.”
Like mother, like daughter
Music is our common bond
And every moment in our lives is connected to a song
On the way to elementary school
Mom and I would listen to the 1 CD
It became a daily ritual
Driving down the street
Me singing my heart out in the backseat
We didn’t have real microphones
So we just used our hands, you know
Like mother, like daughter
Music is our common bond
And every moment in our lives is connected to a song
Even years later
I’m in college about graduate
And we still listen to The Beatles in the car
As soon as the first note starts
We get lost in the lyrics and forget everything else
It’s truly an escape from the chaos this world creates
Like mother, like daughter
Music is our common bond
And every moment in our lives is connected to a song
Sometimes we fight because we care
Because we never want to hurt each other
Or be unfair but
With all the challenges we face
The Beatles have ultimately brought us closer together
Like mother, like daughter
Music is our common bond
And every moment in our lives is connected to a song
2 PM: Scott Erickson
3 PM: Joe DeJesu
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!
::: By Jude Southerland Kessler :::
As we, here at the Fest, continue our look at The Beatles in their months together, we wish you all peace…not only globally, but locally. The traumatic stresses of disease, isolation, financial loss, injustice, and violence have shaken us all over the last sixty days. We face a world filled with need, fear, anger, and resentment. As we walk through June 2020, what can we learn from The Beatles in four of their Junes together? What advice might they silently offer us? Let’s find out…
June 1964 – After 13 long days absent due to illness, Ringo was finally prepared to rejoin The Beatles’ first World Tour. Collapsing amidst a photo shoot on 3 June, he’d endured a nasty bout of tonsillitis and 11 days in University College Hospital, London. Now, however, Starr was suited-up to fly Pan Am from London to Australia to reconnoiter with his Liverpool mates. During Ringo’s absence, Jimmie Nicol (an excellent drummer in his own right, who very fortunately knew all of The Beatles songs and wore Ringo’s exact suit size…see The Beatle Who Vanished by Jim Berkenstadt for more info) had been standing in (er, sitting in) for Starr in Holland, Hong Kong, and Australia. And so, for one brief day on 14 June…there were myriad publicity photos of The Beatles with two drummers! But right away, Richard Starkey was back on the podium, banging away and flashing his winning Scouse grin. His throat was still a bit ragged but his humour was intact. When a reporter asked him, “Do you think your tonsillitis might change the group’s sound?”, Ringo chortled and said, “Only for a few days when I can’t sing…if you can call it singin’!” And the Fab Four were reunited.
June 1966 – June was always Brian Epstein’s “month of choice” for World Tours. And 1966 was no exception to that rule. On 23 June, The Beatles left London Airport in Heathrow bound for Germany…the country where they’d cut their teeth as teenagers, performing in Hamburg. Their first night in Hamburg — August 1960 — the four Beatles (with Pete Best as their drummer) played to 6 very disappointed male customers who’d strolled down to the dark end of the Reeperbahn to see strippers — only to find 4 singing British boys instead! Somehow, The Beatles won over even those reluctant patrons, and in just a few weeks, the lads were so popular that they were promoted to a much larger venue: the Kaiserkeller. Now, two years later, John, Paul, George, and Ringo were billed as headliners in the stately halls of Munich and Essen, and tickets sold as quickly as they were printed. One reporter, disdaining the price of admission, callously asked John Lennon, “If you had to buy a ticket for your own performance how much would you pay for it?” John, in typical Lennonesque fashion, swiftly returned, “Oh, we know the manager, so we get in free.” The charm that had courted reluctant punters way back in 1960 was still very much alive.
June 1967 – Done with touring forever, June of 1967 held not a World Tour this time, but a worldwide event! The Beatles had been chosen to represent Britain in the prestigious 25 June One World television special, slated to be broadcast live via satellite to 400 million viewers on 5 continents. And the song they’d selected to sing was truly, as Brian Epstein observed, “spine-chilling…the best thing they’d ever done.” It was, of course, John Lennon’s “All You Need is Love,” written specifically for the momentous affair. On 21 June, the boys began working on this landmark song in studio. Heads together as one, they prepared the anthem of peace, eager to send it out to a world heavily laden with the Vietnam conflict, Civil Rights unrest, military coups, wars, and entrenched divides. With a deep longing for concord, the boys tried to convey a simple message that would speak to all nations. As John later said, “It was a fabulous time…peace and love, people putting flowers in guns.” But as The Beatles, that night, focused globally and not locally, none of them realised that evening, that 21 June marked the very last time that Brian would ever be with them as they created in EMI. A pivotal moment went unnoticed.
June 1968 – After weeks and weeks of severe depression following John’s separation from Cynthia and from his son, Julian…weeks in which John Lennon actually contemplated suicide, the end of June 1968 found him finally rebounding with a new zest for life, as he prepared his You Are Here art exhibit slated to open on 1 July. The theme of the show was new beginnings and rebirth. As John and Yoko planned to dress entirely in white, to release 365 balloons to the world containing hopeful messages, and to zero in on John’s newly focused avant garde artiste side rather than his rocker image, “original” was the order of the day. John was, in effect, “starting over,” initiating a new life with a new lady at his side and a new message of peace. After months of agony, John had found a way to move forward.
You know, just when we think we’re alone in our struggles, we find it: the very mirror image of our griefs in the lives of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. The burdens we face, they faced. Every one.
Illness. Ringo’s ongoing struggles with health began early in life as he spent a myriad of formative years in sanitarium healing from the after-effects of a ruptured appendix and peritonitis. Then later, at age 13, he was back in hospital and long-term care again with complications from pleurisy and “effusion on the lung.” Even as a young adult, Ringo was frequently niggled with severe tonsillitis until he finally underwent surgery in December 1964. Yet rarely, if ever, do we hear Ringo complaining about the lost years in school with friends of his own age. Rarely does he moan over the lost days and weeks he might’ve spent with his family or the isolation of sanitarium life. Instead, he talks about the nurse who supplied him with a drum and the positive outlook those years gave him. To quote Hunter Davies in The Beatles, “[Ringo] never remembered himself unhappy. He thinks he had a good childhood.” (p. 148) Hmm!
Criticism. No one faced more venom from the press and public than The Beatles did. At first, journalists were gleefully “on board,” promoting and praising the British phenoms. But by late 1964, the press was hungrily seeking a chink in the Fab Armor. They were whispering about “Beatle dissention” and possible break-ups, about the Lennons divorcing, about unfair ticket prices and unkind treatment of the fans. The Beatles lived in a fishbowl, always under scrutiny. And for the most part, (yes, there were days when the boys, too, were resentful) they faced it all with humour and wit. Under adversity, The Beatles endured.
Global darkness. 1967’s grim world must have seemed unbearably oppressive to our boys. By June of ‘67, 448,800 young souls had been lost in Vietnam. June race riots in Detroit left 43 slain. Marches on Washington and rampant U.S. draft card burning events filled the headlines. In June, the Six Day War erupted in the Middle East, and the Nigerian Civil War boiled over in July. Turning their eyes globally, the boys might have missed the joys at their very elbows: the singular gift of a night in studio with their devoted manager, Brian Epstein. They might have been so intent on speaking out to a hurting world that they failed to treasure the simple and fleeting joys given to them, so close at hand. In this, too, there is wisdom for us to gather.
In each of these instances, The Beatles remind us to move forward…to keep reinventing ourselves, to keep pushing ahead. If one life phase subsides, then we can emerge into “Something New.” If the world threatens to overwhelm us, we can turn to those we love at hand. If we are heavy-laden, we can seek humor, music, faith, and friendship. We can work it out.
The Beatles never ever had a day without enormous obstacles to overcome: family losses, health challenges, public criticism, unrelenting work schedules. Yet, by simply putting one foot in front of the other, they kept going. It is a phrase we Beatles fans repeat without really thinking about it…but this month, we must make it our mantra: Shine On. You can do this, one step at a time. Shine on!
::: By Jude Southerland Kessler :::
If you haven’t watched “Outlander,” you should.
This science fiction/romance TV series is addictive — perhaps because, unlike many programs, it is both uplifting and inspiring. This isn’t to say that there aren’t complications, hitches, and plot lines that make each episode’s ending nail-biting…but overall, the story is one of a life’s devotion.
The series theme song, “The Skye Boat Song,” is a lovely and haunting adaptation of an old Scottish ballad about “bonnie Prince Charlie,” but the words have been altered to tell the tale of the show’s female protagonist, Claire Randall. And as I was listening to it a few nights ago, I was touched by one line that described this beautiful and bold healer as “merry of soul.” What an incredible tribute to be thought of as “merry of soul”! I know a few people who fit that bill.
One (perhaps) fictional figure who certainly matches that description is the quite seasonal Santa Claus. With his hearty “ho, ho, ho’s” and his year-in-year-out dedication to giving gifts to one and all, he is described as having “dimples [so] merry.” And ah, that magnificent smile of his! It makes me grin, just imagining it.
The Beatles, too — well, The Beatles of 1958-1964 — were also “merry of soul.” With their mickey-taking and inside jokes, silly walks and dances, sly innuendos and double entendres, and their enjoyment in making music, they drew us, unashamedly, to them. They were utterly joyous.
I think of them insisting, over Brian’s reluctance, that they make a 1964 holiday record for their fans. I think of them singing that nonsensical “Good King Wenceslas” and then, stepping up to the microphone to read their personal Christmas greetings. Merry! So many scenes from those early years were exactly that! You can’t watch The Beatles on the Feb. 1964 Washington, D.C. stage-in-the-round without absorbing their sheer delight! You can’t hear them on Live at the BBC, Vol. 1 without feeling their pleasure in being exactly who they are.
Right now, I’m working away on Vol. 5 in The John Lennon Series, where 1965 begins to take its toll. The book will be entitled Shades of Life because by this point in their career, John, Paul, George, and Ringo had begun to feel the tug and pull of Beatlemania — the grind of making a yearly film, doing two annual LPs, going out on a second World Tour, enduring yet another North American Tour, and grinding out one more U.K. tour while also giving interviews, doing television specials, starring on radio shows, and living complicated private lives. The unrelenting schedule was stripping these young men of vibrance and colour. The boys were becoming grey automatons — working incessantly, without a bit of bright.
I can empathize. I bet you can as well. Life is taxing. Having moved 32 times in the last 42 years, and facing yet another move this year, I am tired. Spending most of my time doing things I have to do rather than things that I want to do (such as write) and dealing with an auto-immune disease that complicates what I eat, drink and do, I’m frustrated.
Struggling to “right myself” after several rather significant lifestyle gut-punches, I’m cynical. It’s been a long time since I’ve been “merry of soul.” “Weary of soul” is more apt. Maybe you feel that way, too.
But tonight, as I walked in the just-before-Thanksgiving night air and watched twinkling Christmas lights going up in our neighborhood, saw huge campers being readied for “to Grandmother’s house we go” road trips, and heard the laughter of visiting children romping through front yards, I reminded myself that “Outlander”’s Claire had every reason to be “weary of soul”…and yet, she wasn’t. Like a person unjustly incarcerated for years, she missed out on so much that she could never recapture and enjoy, but instead of focusing on what she’d lost, she focused on what she still had to enjoy.
The Beatles were like that. Certainly, in the post-1966 era, they experienced argumentative and unhappy moments. But Beatles Guru, Mark Lewisohn, reminded us last year at the Monmouth University White Album Conference that the White Album wasn’t entirely written under an umber cloud, that the boys were still friends in Rishikesh, at George’s home in Esher, and in the studio days ahead. Even the fractious moments we see on “Let It Be” were only part of a larger puzzle — with intricate pieces of camaraderie, dissention, happiness, and agitation snapping together congruously to form a whole. There were still plenty of times, Lewisohn reminded us, where merriment had its home in the hands of The Beatles.
After all, when one stands back and summarizes the Fab Four’s career, what does one find? Love. Love, love, love! Innocent love in “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You,” “Do You Want to Know A Secret,” and “Love Me Do.” Romantic love in “Something,” “Here There and Everywhere,” “Please Please Me,” “Eight Days A Week,” and “This Boy.” Love denied in “For No One,” “Girl,” “Not a Second Time,” “Yes, It Is,” and “I’ll Follow the Sun.” Sexual love in “When I Get Home,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” and “I Want You.” The love of friends in “In My Life,” “With A Little Help From My Friends,” and “Yellow Submarine.” The heartbreak of love in “If I Fell” and “Yesterday.” There’s even a tongue-in-cheek fondness for the Queen in “Her Majesty.” You can think of a hundred other examples. Because for The Beatles, it all boils down to love…in the end.
Perhaps “Outlander”’s popularity can be explained by the fact that in this angry and argumentative world of blame and shame, we yearn for a place where love truly is “all you need.” And perhaps The Beatles surpassed all other bands in history, in part, because no matter what, they lived out their greatest mantra: “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
In moments of wonder and moments of despair, one thing remained: they were merry of soul.
Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series: www.johnlennonseries.com
::: Message from Fest Founder Mark Lapidos on two Beatles anniversaries and Thanksgiving :::
Dear Fellow Beatles Fans,
I have very clear memories of both of these releases. I was a junior at Adelphi University and had a car. I went around to the guys in the dorm to see who wanted me to pick up a copy of Magical Mystery Tour on the day of its release and their choice of Mono or Stereo!!! There were a bunch! I was calling the nearby Record World store at Roosevelt Field every day. When it arrived (11/27/67), I immediately went to pick up both mono and stereo copies. The problem was their first shipment was stereo copies only. I was fuming. What was I going to do? In 1967, we were (falsely) led to believe that you couldn’t play stereo records on a mono record player! So I just HAD to purchase a stereo record player on the spot, so I could listen to it. It was definitely worth it.
Three years to the day, (11/27/1970), came George’s first proper solo album, and what an album it was! One of the greatest of all time, by anyone!! I was working at the Sam Goody Record Store in Paramus, NJ and the shipment was delivered the day before we were allowed to sell them. At the end of the evening of the 26th, I went to my manager and told him I wanted to buy it before I went home. He said no (He was in his 40s and just didn’t understand!). I repeated myself (another sales person, Ralph, was by my side with the same need). I said to the mgr, either you sell me the copy now or I am going to just take it home anyway. He finally realized how important this was to both of us. I stayed up half the night listening to it and trying to take in so much music in one sitting.
Only four years and one day later, November 28, 1974, John surprised the sold out Madison Square Garden by joining Elton John to perform John’s #1 hit, Whatever Gets You Through The Night, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds (that Elton took to #1) and “a song by an old estranged fiance of mine, called Paul”. They ripped into an amazing version of I Saw Her Standing There. Because of a ticket mixup, I was not at this performance. I was extremely upset when I found out John actually did show up!!
It is hard to imagine these three events were 45, 49 & 52 years ago! Where does the time go? I don’t know, but right now, it is time to wish every one of you a very safe and HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!
Peace and Love,
Mark (+Carol, Michelle Joni, and Tilly)
By Jude Southerland Kessler
The Beatles, not being American (of course), didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, per se. But somehow, as we near the close of the year, all of us tend to reflect on things for which we are grateful. And although John is so often caricatured as “John Lemon,” a tart and sardonic figure, he was, in reality, very appreciative of special people, moments, and belongings. After all, isn’t that what his song, “In My Life” is all about? Here are just a few precious elements of John’s journey here on earth things that he loved. Perhaps this will inspire you to make a similar list of your own.
And I think we can all begin by listing The Fest for Beatles Fans which draws us together twice a year as family…and for Mark, Carol, Tilly, and Michelle Joni, who very lovingly gave us this “Home Away From Home” in our lives.
- His Uncle Ge’rge – John was, for all intents and purposes, reared by his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George. And although Mimi taught him valuable lessons about determination and duty and instilled in him a love of reading, it was Uncle Ge’rge (as John called him) who taught the little boy about love. Each night, when John was kindergarten age, Uncle George taught the boy to read from that evening’s Liverpool Echo. Despite Mimi’s fury, he took the child to the Disney picturedromes (films) that came to Liverpool. And George wired speakers up in the child’s bedroom so that John could listen to radio programs such as “Dick Barton, Special Agent” and later, “The Goon Show.” George Smith was an artist, like John, and he understood the child’s heart. John simply adored him.
- His sisters, Julia and Jacqui – John’s mother, Julia Stanley Lennon, (after relinquishing John to Mimi and George) went on to have her own family with John “Bobby” Dykins at 1 Blomfield Road, Allerton…about a mile from the place where John lived with his aunt and uncle. Julia and Bobby had two precious little girls named Julia and Jacqui. And when, as an older child, John found this out, he didn’t resent the fact that his sisters got to live with his mother while he did not. He loved his sisters, and they adored him. After Uncle George’s death in 1955, John started spending a good bit of time with his mother and his sisters, and they threw impromptu parties with ginger beer and cakes, and of course, rock’n’roll. The girls enjoyed the earliest band rehearsals of the Quarry Men in the Blomfield bathroom. John’s sisters were always there and always supportive of him. In fact, when The Beatles were fêted by Liverpool during the Northern Premiere of “A Hard Day’s Night,” John specifically asked for his sisters from the stage. They meant the world to him.
- His friends – John was never a loner. He always wanted to captain a group. And one of the earliest members of “his gang” was Pete Shotton. Pete lived near John in Woolton, and the two went to Quarrybank Grammar (high school) together. They were so close that people laughingly called them “Shennon and Lotton”…and they were a deadly duo full of mischief. Later, at Liverpool College of Art, John met his soul mate — a friend closer than any brother — Stuart Sutcliffe. Stu told John over and over that John would “never be just a rock’n’roller”…that John’s music would always be his form of art. So, Stu encouraged John to dress differently, write unique songs, and use his album covers as a form of artistic expression. The dramatic impact of Stuart Sutcliffe on The Beatles is absolutely immeasurable.
Of course, all of The Beatles were John’s mates. During John’s tenure at Liverpool College of Art, George was John’s “younger brother,” shadowing John everywhere he went! And once Ringo and Maureen had married and moved out to Weybridge, Surrey (where John and Cynthia lived in Kenwood), Ringo and John became close companions as well. Each of The Beatles mattered throughout John’s life, long after The Beatles had dissolved.
- Cynthia Powell Lennon – Cynthia was John’s girlfriend at Liverpool College of Art, his first wife, and the mother of his son, Julian Charles Lennon. In the early days — long before The Beatles were popular — Cynthia would hold John’s microphone, taped to a broomstick, as he practiced away in the dank Jacaranda Club basement. Cynthia was also one of the earliest Beatlettes in the Cavern Club. And even though John invited her to his gigs after they were married, Cyn (as John fondly called her) wanted her husband to shine alone in the limelight. She declined. Encouraging her love to chase his dreams of “the toppermost of the poppermost,” Cynthia waited at home, keeping John’s life on an even keel. Indeed, The Beatles’ friend, Tony Barrow, called Cynthia “John’s centre, his peace.”
- Books – Throughout his life, John was a voracious reader. He read two to three newspapers a day, as did his Aunt Mimi before him. In addition, John read at least one book a week. Beatles’ tours in 1964-1966 gave him plenty of “down time” to read — backstage, on airplanes, and in hotel rooms. And when he wasn’t writing song lyrics or doing interviews, John had his nose in “a bloomin’ booke.” As a child, he loved Richmal Crompton’s Just William stories and Lewis Carroll’s magical books, full of wordplay. As an adult, one of John’s favorite works was Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. But when asked, in interviews, what his favorite literary work was, John would often flash a devilish grin and say either In His Own Write or A Spaniard in the Works…his own award-winning literary creations.
- His many cats – In Eddie Deezen’s article, “John Lennon Was a Crazy Cat Lady,” Deezen lists and describes each of the 16 cats that John owned during his lifetime. His earliest (in Mendips with Mimi and George) were Tich and Sam. Later, Cynthia and John had a cat sarcastically dubbed Mimi. In the 1970s, the lovely May Pang and John had two cats called Major and Minor. And those were but a few of Mr. L’s furry friends! Although John clearly adored felines, however, he also cherished his childhood mutt, Sally, who always nuzzled “his boy” when John was sad or lonely.
- Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Bird’s Custard – John had simple breakfast tastes. He loved toast and tea. He loved Corn Flakes. And for dessert, the unbelievably delicious Bird’s Custard was always a hit. On tour, John ate so many backstage servings of steak and chips (fries) that he actually started to hate them after a time. But no matter how much of it he had, John always craved more Earl Grey Tea.
- American rock’n’roll of the 1950s – John turned 13 in 1953, so the music of the Fifties was his music! He loved all of the songs that eventually ended up on his 1970’s “Rock’n’Roll” album, including “You Can’t Catch Me” by Chuck Berry, Larry Williams’s “Bony Maronie,” and Little Richard’s hit, “Ready Teddy.” John’s cover of Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” is considered one of his most poignant songs, and John (like all of The Beatles) loved the hits of American girl groups, such as the Shirelles. John’s mother, Julia, taught him to love the classic, “Angel Baby” and Elvis’s “Jailhouse Rock.” No doubt about it, John Lennon was, musically, a true child of the Fifties.
- Television – Television didn’t become a household item until John’s teen years, but once he found it, he was hooked! He had the television on “as background noise” almost all of the time while living in New York. But he watched many programs as well, especially newscasts. John was quite savvy about current events, trends, and rock groups; he kept up with the latest crazes on “the telly.” In the 1970s, John mentioned the television in several of his solo songs, (“I’m Steppin’ Out” and “Dear Yoko”), and he often wrote his lyrics in bed while the telly droned on, in the background…lyrics, perhaps, like these:
“There are places I’ll remember,
All my life, though some have changed,
Some forever…not for better…
Some have gone, and some remain.
All these places had their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall.
Some are dead, and some are living…
In my life, I’ve loved them all.”
Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series: www.johnlennonseries.com