10 THINGS YOU PROBABLY DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT THE BEATLES
John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr are remembered for their instrumental roles in launching the British invasion and bringing the aesthetic of rock and roll to new frontiers with everything from electronic effects to sitars. Their songs are beloved, hated, and exhaustively analyzed by a new generation every few years. Abbey Road was released 44 years ago today; here are a few facts about the Fab Four.
1. John grew up near a place called Strawberry Fields in Liverpool.
From the time he was five years old and all but abandoned by his parents, Lennon lived with his aunt and uncle, Mimi and George Smith, in Woolton. One of his favorite spots to explore with his childhood friends was the garden of the nearby Salvation Army orphanage, Strawberry Fields. McCartney remembered in Barry Miles’ book Many Years From Now that it was “a secret garden. John’s memory of it [was]…There was a wall you could bunk over and it was a rather wild garden, it wasn’t manicured at all, so it was easy to hide in.” Lennon wrote the song in a reminiscent mood in 1966 while on set in Spain for the film How I Won the War.
“Strawberry Fields Forever” is not the only Beatles song named for a real place—the first Lennon family home in Liverpool stood near Penny Lane—but it might be the only one to have a place named after it: Strawberry Fields is now a memorial section of New York’s Central Park.
2. Bob Dylan introduced the Beatles to marijuana
It was Bob Dylan who introduced the Beatles to marijuana at the Delmonico Hotel in New York on August 28, 1964. The boys knew Dylan from a mutual friend and just assumed John, Ringo, Paul and George had smoked before, given their “I get high” lyrics in “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” Dylan was unaware that the lyrics are actually “I can’t hide,” and was later informed that none of the Beatles had ever smoked marijuana. Guess Bob thought it was high time to change all that.
3. Ringo’s real name is Richard Starkey.
Richard Starkey, called “Ritchie” by his doting mother, was born in Liverpool in 1940; he began playing the drums in a hospital band at the age of 13 while recuperating from a bout of tuberculosis, and by 17 he had helped to found the Eddie Clayton Skiffle Band. He joined the Beatles in 1962, replacing their first drummer, Pete Best.
Starr/Starkey was always known in the group’s public performances, films, and album covers as Ringo, but in recordings of studio takes Paul can be heard calling out “Ready, Richard?” before counting the band off. The drummer’s first nickname, Rings, reportedly came from his habit of wearing large amounts of jewelry, particularly on his fingers; later, while at a holiday camp, he changed it to “Ringo” to sound more cowboy-ish. In a scene from A Hard Day’s Night where the lads are playing cards in a train compartment surrounded by giggling girls, the other members laughingly accuse him of winning because of his lucky rings.
4. The first lyrics to “Yesterday” were “scrambled eggs.”
Genius often comes out of nowhere, and the melody for the famous melancholy string setting that is Vladimir Putin’s favorite Beatles song apparently just popped into Paul McCartney’s head when he woke up one morning. Until he could find words for it, the McCartney walked around the house humming “scrambled eggs…baby, I love scrambled eggs” so that he wouldn’t forget the tune.
5. Yes, there was a “Fifth Beatle,” and he was the inspiration for their mop tops
The “Fifth Beatle” has become synonymous with people who were at one time closely associated with the Fab Four. But for fifteen months in the early 1960s The Beatles were, in fact, a quintet. Stuart Sutcliffe, an abstract painter and art school buddy of John Lennon’s, was the original bassist for the band during their heady Hamburg days. Paul McCartney never thought Sutcliffe was talented enough (read: Paul was envious of Sutcliffe and Lennon’s friendship). Although it was Sutcliffe and Lennon who named the band The Beatles (they were both fans of Buddy Holly and the Crickets), Sutcliffe eventually left the band in August 1961 to enroll in the Hamburg College of Art. The “Fifth Beatle” never lived long enough to see his former bandmates become an international success—he died of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 21. Sutcliffe’s tenure with the band, albeit brief, had a lasting effect on their image. He was the first to wear the famous “mop top” hairstyle, which Lennon and The Beatles adopted in Sutcliffe’s honor shortly after his death. (In the photo, Sutcliffe is at the far right. Notice the band’s original drummer, Pete Best. Ringo would not join the band until August of 1962.)
6. Eric Clapton almost replaced George
And then there were three… For five days in January of 1969, the Fab Four were a lonesome trio. George Harrison, the “quiet Beatle,” as the media called him, decided to bow out after months of personal differences with his fellow bandmates. A serious songwriter who penned classics like “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun,” Harrison felt he was being ignored by Lennon and McCartney, who played his tunes with little enthusiasm. On January 10, 1969, Harrison finally had enough and quit the band. His announcement caused John Lennon to quip, “If he doesn’t come back by Tuesday, we get Eric Clapton.” Harrison, of course, came to his senses, and returned to the band on January 15th, allowing The Beatles to move forward with their recording of a little-know album called Abbey Road.
7. A dentist introduced The Beatles to LSD by secretly slipping it into their coffees.
John Riley, the “wicked dentist” as George Harrison described him, introduced Harrison, Harrison’s wife, Patti Boyd, John Lennon, and Lennon’s wife, Cynthia Lennon, to LSD when they were all hanging out. After putting it into their coffees, Cynthia Lennon described the room “as big as the Albert Hall” and George apparently felt as if he was “falling in love” with everyone he met that night. It is unclear whether Harrison and Lennon had been tricked into taking the dose or if they had asked the dentist to dose them when they least expected it. In “The Beatles Anthology,” the incident is recalled by Harrison:
The first time we took LSD was an accident. It happened sometime in 1965, between albums and tours. We were innocent victims of the wicked dentist whom we’d met and had dinner with a few times…
After dinner I said to John, ‘Let’s go — they’re going to be on soon,” and John said ‘OK,’ but the dentist was saying, ‘Don’t go; you should stay here.’ And then he said, ‘Well, at least finish your coffee first.’
So we finished our coffee and after a while I said again, ‘Come on, it’s getting late — we’d better go.’ The dentist said something to John and John turned to me and said, ‘We’ve had LSD.’
I just thought, ‘Well, what’s that? So what? Let’s go!’
8. After bathing in urinals for almost a year, The Beatles got kicked out of Germany for lighting a condom on fire.
In Hamburg, Germany, the band spent most of 1960 living behind the screen of a cinema called Bambi Kino. Paul McCartney described the situation: “We lived backstage in the Bambi Kino, next to the toilets, and you could always smell them.” Apparently the band was forced to use the urinals for bathing and shaving water. Eventually, George Harrison got kicked out of the country for being underage. The Beatles then made plans to leave the Bambi Kino, but before McCartney and then-drummer Pete Best left, they lit a condom on fire in the room which angered the owner and got them arrested. McCartney and Best were deported.
9. “Michelle” was inspired by Paul’s favorite technique for picking up girls at parties.
McCartney once shared in an interview that he and Harrison, self-described “working-class boys,” often felt at odds at the boho-chic parties they went to as teens with Lennon (who was older and attending art college). To hold his own, McCartney developed a habit of dressing in black, sitting in a corner with his guitar, and singing in made-up French to see if he could draw over any of the Juliette Greco-type women. It never worked, but one day Lennon suggested that McCartney make “that French thing” into a song. Il faut souffrir pour être belle, man.
10. “She Said She Said” was inspired by an LSD trip with Peter Fonda.
During a break from their American tour in late August 1965, The Beatles rented a house in Beverly Hills. Although the Spanish-style mansion was hidden from plain view, their address eventually became public knowledge and the LAPD had to be called in to ward off eager fans. Since it was impossible to leave home, the Beatles played host to dozens of musicians and actors, including the then-unknown Peter Fonda. The entire band, excluding Paul McCartney, dropped acid with Fonda. According to Lennon, the drug-induced Fonda kept telling the band, “I know what it’s like to be dead” and “You’re making me feel like I’ve never been born.” Lennon would later use both phrases in the lyrics to “She Said She Said.”