Rubber Soul Deep Dive Part 2: Norwegian Wood

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!

 

What’s Standard:

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

 

Tech Team:

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.

 

What’s Changed:

  1. Musical Maturity – Despite one’s personal feelings about Albert Goldman, he most aptly observed, “When John Lennon finished recording ‘Norwegian Wood,’ he was no longer Beatle John, the Man in the Bubble Gum Mask. He was now the brilliant, young innovator who was doing more than anybody in the music business to transform the rock’n’roll of the Fifties into the rock of the Sixties.” (The Lives of John Lennon, 185) Similarly, Mark Lewisohn calls even the first iteration of “Norwegian Wood” (from 12 October) a “brilliant recording,” and he quickly adds that the final version (from 21 October) is “quite different but equally as dazzling.” Indeed, Lewisohn sees the whole of Rubber Soul as “excellent musicianship with a new lyrical direction.” (The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 203)

 

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.”

 

  1. Employment of Double Entendre – John Lennon loved wordplay. This propensity was evidenced in his first book (proclaimed by Foyles Bookstores to be 1964’s finest work in British literature), In His Own Write. During the spring of 1965, when he was composing “Norwegian Wood,” John was completing his second volume of prose and poetry, A Spaniard in the Works. So, phrases lavishly imbued with double meaning such as “Norwegian Wood” and “I lit a fire” (although after John’s death, Paul asserted that he had coined this famous phrase) came naturally to the Author Beatle.

 

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.

 

  1. Inculcation of International or “World Music” – In The Anthology, Ringo is quoted as saying that on “Rubber Soul, [we] began stretching the writing and playing…This was the departure record. A lot of other influences were coming down and going on the record…We were really opening up to a lot of different sounds.” (p. 194)

 

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

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Year’s End, Year’s 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!

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The Beatles in November: Game Changer!

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 1961Mr. 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 1963The 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 1966John 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!

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The Beatles in October: Harvest Home

“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.

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The Beatles in September

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.

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The Beatles in August

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!

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The Beatles in July: Producing Joy

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…

 

July 1964

 

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.

 

July 1966

 

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.

 

July 1967

 

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.

 

July 1968

 

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!

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The Beatles in June: Shine On

::: 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!

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The Worst of Times, The Best of Times: The Beatles in Their Aprils

::: By Jude Southerland Kessler :::

 

Our 2020 Fest Blog continues to look at The Beatles’ days together, one month at a time. This month, there is an important lesson for us all on how John, Paul, George, and Ringo dealt with April…

 

 

April 1962: April 1962 was, without a doubt, the worst that John Lennon would ever experience: a dark and tragic month well-deserving of T. S. Elliot’s “April is the cruelest month” label. After being separated from his “brother,” his soul mate, Stu Sutcliffe, for three months’ time (whilst The Beatles rocked England and Stu studied art with Eduardo Paolozzi in Germany), John and Stu were to be reunited. Full of happy anticipation, The Beatles landed in Hamburg, Germany on 11 April for the happy “coming together” of these two fast friends. But instead of being greeted by Stu at the airport, John was greeted by Stu’s fiancée, Astrid Kirchherr — whose face was grim. She was meeting The Beatles to inform them that Stu had died of a brain hemorrhage, less than 24 hours before their arrival. John had just missed saying goodbye to his closest friend, just as John had lost his beloved Uncle George in 1955, without a chance to say goodbye…and his mother, Julia, without a final word in 1958. Now, Stu was gone as well.

 

For John, it was utterly overwhelming. He collapsed into tears and hysterical laughter. And he spent the ensuing month, inebriated and completely out of control. One evening found him on stage, wearing a toilet seat around his neck. And one early morning found him in the Hamburg streets, wearing only his underwear and cap — perusing the morning newspaper.

 

April 1962 seemed a place from which there was no recovery. And truly, in the years ahead, the other Beatles knew better than to mention Stu’s name in conversation. It summoned a darkness that didn’t lift for days. John never totally recovered from the loss of his best friend. But somehow, life did go on. And despite the crushing grief of 1962, John’s future did grow brighter. He found a way to put one foot in front of the other. And he did survive.

 

April 1964: Only 700 days later, John was not only on his feet again, but he was being fêted at London’s elegant Dorchester Hotel as the most acclaimed author in Great Britain. His first book, In His Own Write, was not only selling millions of copies but also surprisingly being heralded by critics as remarkable. Lennon’s mixture of bizarre poetry and prose was favorably compared to Lewis Carroll, James Joyce, and Edward Lear. Thus, John — as Foyles Bookstores’ Literary Award Winner — was asked, on Shakespeare’s 400th birthday, to deliver the annual address to the learned world.

 

But “The Smart Beatle” — though comfortable singing on stage with his mates— was extremely ill-at-ease when delivering a public speech. So, he turned the obligation over to his manager, Brian Epstein.

 

However, we all know that if things can go wrong, they will, and through a series of simple misunderstandings, John was very publicly called upon to deliver that postprandial speech himself on that celebrated day. Mortified, John stood and fumbled his way through the brief words that a Liverpool beggar mutters when he’s given a handout — something that he doesn’t feel that he deserves. “Thank you very much! You’ve got a lucky face!” John eked out. Then, he quickly sat down to a wave of “boos” and hisses. Quite fortunately, Epstein was permitted to stand and deliver the speech for John. And in the end, as the birthday boy once said, “All’s well that ends well.” The mishap was righted.

 

Most of April 1964 was filled with eventful and happy moments…with awards, #1 hit records, the making of “A Hard Day’s Night,” and far too many honors for The Beatles to mention here. Beatlemania was at its intense apex. And the dark days of 1962 were, for the most part, only a memory. Good had returned, in force, to The Beatles.

 

April 1965 – One year later, The Beatles were the undisputed Kings of the World. They spent the early part of April in Austria, filming scenes for their second United Artists’ movie, “Eight Arms to Hold You,” later known as “Help!” The boys had already recorded a good bit of the film’s soundtrack, but they were working on other songs. John was publishing his second book of poetry and prose, A Spaniard in the Works. And at the end of the month, The Beatles were in London’s Twickenham studios, finishing up their film. In between time on the movie set, John, Paul, George, and Ringo were doing interviews for the BBC and looking ahead to yet another World Tour. The Beatles were busy, productive, and engaged. The shadow of April 1962 only fell, now and again, on John. The rest carried on.

 

April 1969 – John had at last found a new soul mate, a partner he loved as deeply as he’d loved Stu. He had fallen for Japanese artist, Yoko Ono, and on 1 April, the couple returned to London after their much-publicized Amsterdam honeymoon “Bed-in for Peace.” Whilst privately wondering if John had “gone mad,” the press welcomed the newlyweds back with unexpected gusto. This, of course, inspired John to write “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” which Paul would (in May) help John record in studio. It would be one of their last happy collaborations, as The Beatles stood on the brink of solo careers. In just a few weeks, Ringo would begin filming “The Magic Christian” and George would fly off with Pattie Boyd to Spain, but in April, the boys were still The Beatles…one last time.

 

The great loss of Stu Sutcliffe in April 1962 colored John’s life, to be sure. And Stu was never forgotten as John penned “In My Life” and faithfully lived out Stu’s suggestion that The Beatles be “a work of art and not just a band.” But though Stu’s death was a tremendous tragedy, it was not an end. Happiness waited patiently ahead.

 

As all of us are struggling through this horrific month of illness and economic crisis, once again The Beatles show us that there is a future after disastrous times. Their story reminds us that there will surely be moments in the days ahead when we will once again achieve, create, spend time with friends, and live normal lives. Not even the shadow of death can defeat us.

 

We can all shine on. And we must…


Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series: www.johnlennonseries.com

Jude is represented by 910 Public Relations — @910PubRel on Twitter and 910 Public Relations on Facebook.

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Genius Having Fun: The Beatles in March

::: By Jude Southerland Kessler :::   Spring brings out childlike wonder and joy in all of us. We walk into the sunlight and marvel at exotic Japanese magnolia blossoms brashly defying winter’s last ice storms. We gasp in delight over surprising fields of yellow daffodils. We search for four-leaf clovers but find our truest fortune in the re-energized work we do, now that dark days have become light and fresh again.   The Beatles felt this. In five March calendars together, they were especially creative. They starred in films, wrote books, appeared on radio and television programs, and of course, created magical music that still plays in our homes and falls from the lips of our children and grandchildren. Invigorated each spring, The Beatles tended to greet March with an enthusiasm that found its way into archetypal creativity. For example…   March 1963…Fresh off the Helen Shapiro Tour (which had run from 2 February – 3 March), the boys gathered in EMI’s Studio Two on Tuesday, 5 March, to record the jaunty, “From Me to You,” a song that had been inspired by a newspaper column which John and Paul had spotted on the Shapiro tour bus. In studio, the ever-brilliant George Martin gave the number a very singular sound when he recommended that the boys sing rather than play the song’s “da-da-dum-da-da-dum-dum-da” intro. But “From Me to You,” wasn’t the only product of that creative date. The lads also recorded “Thank You, Girl” and “The One After 909.” “From Me to You,” however, was clearly the stand-out. An instant hit, it was throughout 1963, an important part of the lads’ catalogue. In fact, it was the opening song the night that The Beatles “rattled jewelry” at the Royal Command Performance, six months later.   March 1964…The Beatles began making their first film for United Artists, “A Hard Day’s Night” on Monday, 2 March 1964. Now, one would think that making a full-length feature movie and creating the soundtrack LP would be task-enough for John, Paul, George, and Ringo, but throughout the month, they were busy here, there, and everywhere. On the 19th, for example, they spent their lunch hour at London’s Royal Dorchester Hotel receiving the Variety Club Silver Heart award for “Top Show Business Personalities of 1963,” an honor presented to them by Prime Minister Harold Wilson. And that night, instead of going home when the other actors called it quits, they hurried to tape an appearance on Britain’s #1 pop TV show, Top of the Pops. The very next evening (in their spare time, after filming), the boys performed on the hit television programme, Ready, Steady, Go! (Deep Breath!!!) And of course, in addition to all of this, John Lennon also released his first book, a volume of prose and poetry entitled In His Own Write. What can I say? The Beatles’ well-lauded creativity was, in March 1964, both on and off-the-charts!   March 1965…Again, it was film-making season for the Fabs, but this time, in ’65, the United Artists’ film was “Eight Arms to Hold You,” eventually dubbed “Help!”. First, filming in Nassau for a fortnight, the boys flew home on the 10th, only to regenerate quickly and head out once again. Three days later, accompanied by newlywed, Maureen Starkey, and John’s wife, Cynthia, the boys were en route to Austria. During their time in the breathtaking Alps, John completed an extremely biographical song he’d begun at Kenwood, a number entitled “It’s Only Love.” Depicting his increasingly rocky relationship with Cynthia, this offering revealed so much of John’s vulnerability and tenderness that ever-after, he despised it. Paul told the press that John rarely let people see his soft side: “I’ve only seen him through the cracks in his shell because the shell is so hard.” But “It’s Only Love” so laid bare John’s love for his wife and their mutual struggles, that in the years to come, John would never have a good word to say about the revelatory song. In emotional and imperfect lyrics, it had too closely captured Lennon’s wounded heart.   March 1967…Wearing ponchos, flowered “kecks,” and National Health glasses, the boys were truly in creative heaven, working away in EMI Studios, on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. On 1 and 2 March, they worked for hours on John’s “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” Then, on the 9th and 10th, they gave their attention to Paul’s “Getting Better All the Time.” And on the 15th, they began work on George’s “Within You, Without You.” But in every period of intense, unfettered creativity, there is always an inherent edge and potential danger. And 21 March 1967 was one of those experimental evenings that could have ended tragically. John, having taken LSD for inspiration, was feeling unwell and excused himself from Studio Two. Hoping to help John recover (and oblivious to the reason for John’s discomfort), George Martin followed him out and suggested climbing to the EMI rooftop for fresh air. When, moments later, Paul and George saw Martin return without Lennon and discovered where their friend was recuperating, they tore out after him…realising that the roof had no rails or barriers against a sheer, 30-foot drop to the ground. Fortunately, when they scrambled — breathless — onto the top deck, John was simply standing and staring at the night sky. But the boys were so thoroughly rattled that they concluded their recordings for that evening then and there. Creative inspiration had engendered a close call.   March 1968…Out of devotion to his mates, Ringo (and his wife, Maureen) agreed to go along with the others to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in Rishikesh, India, for a soul revival. But after only 10 days abroad — hating the “Butlin’s holiday camp” life of the Ashram — the Starkeys gave the others their regrets and flew home. Twenty-five days later, on 26 March, after having worked prodigiously with John on a plethora of songs that would populate the White Album, Paul and Jane Asher flew back to London, accompanied by Neil Aspinall…and leaving only John and Cyn, George and Patti, and Alex Mardas behind. Although this excursion failed to end particularly well (if one knows the backstory of “Sexy Sadie”), March 1968 was undeniably a time of immense creative genius for The Beatles. Having the rare opportunity to rest, talk, write music, and have furtive fun together (when the Maharishi wasn’t looking), the boys created magical songs for the finest LP they’d offered the public in quite some time. Indeed, John alone wrote enough tracks for the White Album to have his own solo LP. The “Leader Beatle,” who had sadly relinquished his role in Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour was back. They all were…in a flood of bright, spring sunlight that blended dramatically into pure White.   Albert Einstein once said, “Creativity is genius having fun.” And certainly, no group of people bear this out better than The Beatles. During the March months of their lives, they starred in award-winning films (creatively ad-libbing many of the famous lines), wrote and illustrated books of poetry and prose, composed and recorded music, starred on television and radio programmes, and sought new horizons of faith. But for the lads, ushering music, art, and literature into the world was never a job or a chore! It was always the product of the happiest moments of their lives. And may it be so, this month, with us as well. Shine on!
Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of the John Lennon Series: www.johnlennonseries.com Jude is represented by 910 Public Relations — @910PubRel on Twitter and 910 Public Relations on Facebook.
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