The A to Z of The Beatles
It's half a century since The Beatles were given a firm 'no' by Decca Records, and made their first moves towards signing with George Martin at EMI. And so, given the next few years will be loaded with Beatle-related anniversaries -- not to mention a new run of Get Back: The Beatles Story beginning on January 20 in Dublin's Tivoli Theatre -- there's never been a better time to brush up on your Fab Four facts.
If you thought Jedward fans were a devoted bunch, then you've obviously never come across Apple Scruffs. Named because of their nesting spot, outside the offices of the band's Apple Corps office in London, the die-hards were later immortalised in song by a grateful George Harrison. "How I love you," he declared. The feeling was mutual.
One of the band's many 'what were they thinking?' moments, the butcher cover formed the original sleeve design for their stateside release Yesterday and Today. It featured the band dressed in white smocks, with disembodied, decapitated baby dolls alongside pieces of red meat. Lady Gaga, eat your heart out. So to speak. . .
CIRQUE DU SOLEIL
The Las Vegas-based troupe created a show around The Beatles' music called Love, which opened in 2006 and has been a consistent hit since. The soundtrack, overseen by longtime producer George Martin, is a joy to behold.
The Beatles' first experience with marijuana was via Bob Dylan, who gave them the drug in the belief that they were singing 'I get high' in 'I Want To Hold Your Hand'. In fact, they were singing 'I can't hide', but they were beyond caring by the time this was cleared up.
Their first experience with LSD was not so pleasant. A socialite dentist spiked their coffee with the then-unknown drug -- and while the substance would go on to have a profound effect on them, they were furious over this breach of trust. All ties with the man were severed instantly.
January 1 this year marked 50 years since The Beatles recorded their audition tape for Decca Records, the result of which was the now-infamous declaration: "The Beatles have no future in showbusiness." It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, though, as the band would instead sign with EMI's Parlophone subsidiary -- under the helpful watch of the aforementioned George Martin.
That same Mr Martin is generally regarded as the 'Fifth Beatle', but there are plenty of other claimants to that title. Top contenders include Brian Epstein, the band's manager who shaped their image and brought them fame until his death in 1967, and Pete Best, their drummer right up until after they were signed.
George Best has also been associated with the title, due to his floppy hair and his lavish lifestyle. But the less said about that, the better.
Guinness The opening verse of 'A Day in the Life', beginning with "I read the news today, oh boy", tells of a man killed in a car crash. That man was Tara Browne, an Anglo-Irish socialite who was heir to the Guinness fortune when he died at just 21. His memorial can be seen in Luggala, Co Wicklow, at the home of his older brother Garech Browne -- a founding member of The Chieftains.
Every band needs to cut their teeth somewhere, and 10-hour sets in Hamburg's red-light district will do just that. They gained some early popularity in that neck of the woods, and would later record German versions of 'She Loves You' ('Sie Liebt Dich') and 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' ('Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand').
Brian Epstein did not accept official political invitations on behalf of the band, and made no exception when the Filipino first lady requested an audience with them. This didn't go down too well with the Iron Butterfly or her followers, however, and the rioting that ensued over the 'snub' meant that The Beatles were lucky to escape the country alive.
'Hey Jude' began life as 'Hey Jules', a song written by McCartney to comfort Lennon's son after his parents separated. Lennon Jnr is now a successful singer-songwriter in his own right, though he's struggled to emerge from his father's shadow. Can you blame him?
The Beatles grew up on Elvis Presley, and so were understandably excited when they got to meet him in 1965. The King, at that point unthreatened by this faddish act, was welcoming to the band -- and invited them to jam.
By 1970, however, the fallen monarch had changed his tune. He told Richard Nixon that the now-defunct band were anti-American, and hinted at their use of drugs. Not that McCartney minded all that much; he later spent a small fortune buying the double bass that Bill Black played on 'Heartbreak Hotel' -- and played it on the two Beatles tracks recorded during the 1990s.
If 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds' was intended to spell out LSD, then Lennon was -- for a moment at least -- unaware of his own cleverness. The title alludes to a picture drawn by Julian in playschool of his pal Lucy O'Donnell -- in the sky with diamonds.
The lyric 'Mother Mary comes to me', from 'Let it Be', does not refer to the mother of Jesus -- but in fact to Paul's own mum, also called Mary, who died of breast cancer when he was just 14. The fact that John had also lost his mother, Julia, would be an important factor in the developing relationship between the two young men.
More than a decade after John's death in 1980, Yoko Ono gave the three surviving members some of his demo tapes to be developed into full Beatles songs. They produced two singles: the emotionally charged 'Free as a Bird', and the excellent follow-up, 'Real Love'.
Even by the nutty standards of conspiracy theories, 'Paul is Dead' is off the wall. From his back-facing portrait on Sgt Pepper to a reversed message on 'I'm So Tired', inventive fans collected clues to propagate the theory that McCartney had been killed in a car crash in 1966.
None are quite so creative, however, as the interpretation of a registration plate on the Volkswagen Beetle seen on Abbey Road's cover. LMW 28IF was interpreted to mean: "Linda McCartney Weeps" and that Paul would be "28 IF" he was still alive. Which would have been fine, only he was 27 at the time -- and he hadn't even met Linda by the time he allegedly kicked it.
According to a local myth in Bray, Co Wicklow, an act called Sgt Pepper's Big Brass Band used to play on the town's seaside bandstand during the 1940s. Given Bray's popularity as a destination for English holidaymakers at the time, it's possible that this name travelled back to one of the members and entered their subconscious. . . until being released, in style, in 1967. Yes, it's probably only a myth. But it's a good one.
An early incarnation of the band, founded and fronted by Lennon, which played skiffle music. It was at one of their performances, at a garden fete, that young John met young Paul.
RORY STORM AND THE HURRICANES
One of the few bands to rival The Beatles in Liverpool was Rory Storm's US-influenced outfit. And their name might have been forgotten only for the fact their drummer, one Ringo Starr, was pinched by their rivals in 1962.
Paul, George and Ringo have all appeared as themselves in the programme, while the fifth-season episode Homer's Barbershop Quartet was an affectionate retelling of the Fab Four's tale -- particularly memorable for Barney Gumble's take on 'Revolution 9', and the rooftop concert on Moe's Tavern.
THOMAS THE TANK ENGINE
A whole generation of children were introduced to The Beatles via the friendly tones of Ringo's narration on Thomas The Tank Engine and Friends. His two seasons on the microphone, meanwhile, are regarded by the programme's aficionados as its golden era.
'The British are coming,' they said. And they were. The band's famous arrival at JFK airport in 1964, and their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, kickstarted the 'British Invasion' -- at one point The Beatles occupied all five top positions in the US chart. That's just plain greedy.
To say The Beatles' studio team was talented would be an understatement. Recording 'Tomorrow Never Knows' on Revolver, John directed George Martin to make him sound like "a hundred chanting Tibetan monks". Engineer Geoff Emerick managed to come good on the demand by recording the vocals backwards through a rotating speaker. Computers: who needs 'em?
Lennon was furious when he heard that his old school in Liverpool -- which he'd despised -- was using his material for English classes. So he set out to deliberately confuse them with the brilliantly nonsensical 'I Am The Walrus', taking the central character from this Lewis Carroll poem. He later regretted his choice of words, however, when he discovered that Carroll's walrus was the representation of capitalism. Perhaps he should have listened in class.
X THE EXI
Had The Beatles ever used a xylophone in one of their recordings, my job would be a lot easier right now. Alas, they did not -- although they did feature a vibraphone, on a demo version of 'I'm Only Sleeping'.
So I'm going to cheat here and cite the 'exi' -- the distinctive moptop haircut that became so synonymous with the band that its original name, derived from Germany's 'existentialist' movement, was all but forgotten.
Some say she broke up The Beatles. Others say she was merely a catalyst; a voice in John's ear confirming what he already knew about his own growing distance from the band. Either way, she's long since redeemed herself among fans by loyally and proudly representing her late husband since his death.
Moustache Another hairy fact to finish things off: inside the sleeve of Sgt Pepper came a set of cardboard cutouts, which enabled the listener to dress just like the sergeant. Included among the regalia was a Zapata moustache, the distinctive retro style that was a central part of the Pepper-era look.