The Beatles FAQ

Fun stuff about the Fab Four. Linked to The Beatles Teaching Pack

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Which Beatles songs did Ringo write or co-write?

Ringo never aspired to be a principal songwriter and only had two sole writing credits: Don't Pass Me By on The Beatles and  "Octopus's Garden" - and had some input into several others.

Sole credit 

"Don't Pass Me By" (The Beatles, aka the White Album) (Starr)

Ringo's first song credit mixes Cajun, country and comedy record influences. It has is its admirers but for me clanks along for two minutes too long.

 Octopus's Garden (Abbey Road) (Starr)
The Beatles started working on Octopus's Garden during the Let it Be sessions. This early version shows that Ringo's had a sort of pub sing-along in mind.

The later arrangement - and particularly George Harrison's guitar - transform what Harrison had spotted was 'a lovely song'.

Joint credit

 Ringo also had a joint writing credit several other song, typically songs he sang on. 

"What Goes On" (Rubber Soul) (Lennon-McCartney-Starr)
"Flying" (Magical Mystery Tour) (Lennon-McCartney-Harrison-Starr)
"Dig It" (Let It Be) (Lennon-McCartney-Harrison-Starr)
"Maggie May" (Let It Be) (traditional adaptation by Lennon-McCartney-Harrison-Starr)

Post-Beatles Releases

In the 1990s, the Anthology series saw the release of studio out-takes and a controversial attempt to reunite the four Beatles for a single (Free as a Bird
"Free As a Bird" (Anthology 1) (Beatles' version by Lennon-McCartney-Harrison-Starr)
"Christmastime (Is Here Again)" ("Free As a Bird" single) (Lennon-McCartney-Harrison-Starr)
"12-Bar Original" (Anthology 2) (Lennon-McCartney-Harrison-Starr)
“Los Paranoias” (Anthology 3) (Lennon-McCartney-Harrison-Starr)
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Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Was John Lennon born during an air-raid?

Contrary to Aunt Mimi’s later recollection, John Lennon was not born during an air-raid. On October 9, 1940, Liverpool was experiencing a brief respite from the intense bombing that had begun in August and would continue until January. The city would suffer 4,000 deaths, the highest number of casualties outside London .

Though John Winston Lennon was delivered without incident at Liverpool Maternity Hospital, the shadow of the war was present at the birth. It was even there in that middle name, Winston, his mother’s patriotic tribute to Winston Churchill, Britain’s new Prime Minister.

John’s parents were married but did not live together. His father, Alfred (Freddie) Lennon, went back to sea before John was born. He never really came back. Alfred (known as Alf to his family and Freddie to the rest of the world) and Julia Lennon were legally separated in 1942.

Taken from  Why was John Lennon brought up by his Aunt Mimi? (5 minute read)
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Saturday, 5 October 2019

Which Beatles song was inspired by a Sardinian sea captain?

Photo by Serena Repice Lentini on Unsplash
I'd like to be under the sea
In an octopus's garden in the shade

Abbey Road was not a happy working environment during the recording sessions for The White Album. Ringo, the least involved in the squabbling and backbiting, suffered the most from the emotional fall out:
I couldn't take it any more. There was no magic and the relationships were terrible. I'd come to a bad spot in life. It could have been paranoia, but I just didn't feel good – I felt like an outsider. Ringo, Anthology
Things came to a head during  a recording session for Back in the USSR on the 22nd of August, 1968. The precise trigger point is unknown but at some point Ringo snapped. After telling John and Paul he was leaving the group, he walked out of the studio.

At first, Ringo's departure seemed to confirm the underlying reason for it. The others assumed that their drummer's 'resignation' was not seriously intended. They continued the recording session.


The next day Ringo took his family on holiday to Sardinia, where his friend Peter Sellers had a yacht. The aim was to get away from everything connected with his life as a Beatle. But as he explains in this interview, a chance conversation with the captain proved an unlikely songwriting inspiration.

.....we talked about octopuses. He told me that they hang out in their caves and they go around the seabed finding shiny stones and tin cans bottles to put in front of their cave like a garden. I thought this was fabulous, because at the time I just wanted to be under the sea too.

'Come on home, we love you'

Back in London, it was dawning on the other Beatles that they had a serious crisis to deal with. It proved the jolt they needed to bring them together.

Within days Ringo received a telegram from his band-mates:  'You're the best rock'n'roll drummer in the world. Come on home, we love you.'

Two weeks later Ringo returned to the studio to find his drum kit garlanded with flowers. The effect salutary on all concerned.  'I felt good about myself again, we'd got through that little crisis and it was great.'

It didn't remain 'great' - the final twenty months of The Beatles would prove increasingly acrimonious.  But Ringo largely managed to stay out of the internecine struggle, maintaining good personal relations with the other three. And he had the material for his second, final and finest songwriting credit.

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Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Which bus terminus inspired a Beatles number single?

"Behind the shelter in the middle of a roundabout'
Early Lennon & McCartney songs contained few direct references to their home city. The aim was to produce music that would appeal to a global rather than local appeal. The culmination of this approach was I Want to Hold Your Hand - written  with the express intention of appealing to the US market. 

The formula worked - I Want to Hold Your Hand became the biggest selling single of all time. It was however, limiting artistically. By 1965, The Beatles success - and that of the openly introspective Bob Dylan - encouraged Lennon & McCartney to draw on more autobiographical material. 

In My Life Lennon refers  generally to the 'places I remember'. Strawberry Fields Forever, names one of these, a local Salvation Army Children's home, and weaves it into a hallucinatory dreamscape. On the surface McCartney takes a more functional approach: 

Penny Lane" was kind of nostalgic, but it was really [about] a place that John and I knew ... I'd get a bus to his house and I'd have to change at Penny Lane, or the same with him to me, so we often hung out at that terminus, like a roundabout. It was a place that we both knew, and so we both knew the things that turned up in the story.[9]
Lennon always spoke dismissively of what he called 'Paul's story songs'. Yet he would later concede that Penny Lane was one his partner's finest, a strangely moving tribute to their shared memory of an ugly bus stop.

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Which four Beatles songs mention Queen Elizabeth II?

The Beatles with Princess Margaret.
Paul McCartney has often expressed his admiration for the Queen, who came to power five years before he joined The Quarrymen.
“We all kind of liked the Queen. It’s an age thing. We were kids when she was crowned, so to us she was like a glamorous film star. We identified with her. She’s ours. She’s the Queen.” Interview with the Radio Times, September 2019
There are  four Beatles tracks which directly refer to Queen Elizabeth II: Penny Lane, For You Blue, Mean Mr Mustard and Her Majesty. In Mean Mr Mustard John drags the monarch into a dysfunctional family dynamic:
His sister Pam works in a shop
She never stops, she’s a go-getter
Takes him out to look at the Queen
Only place that he’s ever been
Always shouts out something obscene
While only a long puff on the peace pipe can explain the intro to George Harrison’s For You Blue on Let it Be:
The Queen says no to pot-smoking FBI members.
In contrast, the two McCartney lyrics Penny Lane and Her Majesty are  affectionate and playful. In the former, a homage to his childhood, there is famously a ‘fireman with an hour glass’ carrying ‘a portrait of the Queen’ in his pocket.
Her Majesty opens less reverentially:
Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl,
But she doesn’t have a lot to say
But adoration soon wins through:
I want to tell her that I love her a lot.

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Tuesday, 1 October 2019

The shortest Beatles song?

There is no published photo of the Queen with The Beatles, only with her mother and sister (seen here)

The shortest Beatles song  is only 23 seconds long and was unlisted on its original vinyl release. 

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What were the 'clues' on the Abbey Road cover?

So here’s another clue for you all/The Walrus was Paul
The Beatles Glass Onion (The White Album)

There were conspiracy theories long before the internet. The Beatles, with their unprecedented fame and influence on popular culture, were particularly prone to them. Perhaps the most notorious began on  the night of January 7, 1967, when  ‘a rumour swept London that Paul McCartney had been killed in a car crash on the M1’. - read the full story here.

On 12 October, 1969 a bizarre on-air phone call to Detroit radio station gave new life (!) to the controversy. A caller, identified only as ‘Tom’, had some startling new information. He revealed that The Beatles had been sending secret messages through their recorded songs.
‘Play ‘Revolution 9’ backwards,’ he said mysteriously. ‘And you’ll hear what I mean!’

The DJ duly spun the disk (backwards). After somehow deciphering discordant wailing, he pronounced judgement. ‘Wow! John is saying “dead man!” He’s trying to tell us that Paul McCartney is dead!’

In 1969, the story got a new lease of life. A Michigan University student published an article: “McCartney Dead; New Evidence Brought to Light”. The article built a pretty spooky — if not quite legally watertight — case for suspicious minds.

Most famously it drew attention to ‘Paul’ crossing Abbey Road on the album cover barefoot. And walking barefoot — as every conspiracy theorist agreed — was a scientifically proven symbol of death. McCartney later would protest that he was shoeless because of the August heat. The photographer - who took the photo standing on a stepladder while they held up the traffic -  confirmed Paul's explanation. But by this point nobody was listening.

Other 'clues' are also problematic:
  • The licence plat number on the white VW Beetle in the background ended 28IF. Another message! Paul would have been twenty-seven had he lived to record Abbey Road. That stood for Paul's age IF he had not died, right? But a glance at Paul’s birth certificate confirms that he was twenty-seven on the day he walked across Abbey Road. Or didn’t walk across….
  • The black prison van symbolizes the police role in the cover-up. So they were in on it too...
  • In the background a small group of people dressed in white are on one side of the road. They represent the surviving Beatles. A single figure in black stands alone on the other.  Dead Paul, of course. 
  • Why does Paul have a cigarette in his RIGHT hand? Everyone knows Paul McCartney is LEFT handed! How do you explain that, eh?

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Top three cover versions of Beatles songs?

There have several thousand covers of Beatles songs but a relatively short list of those which work well. Here are my top three (in no order)

Golden Slumbers - George Benson

The Other Side of Abbey Road is an extraordinary achievement for the (then) young guitar prodigy and Golden Slumbers is a highlight.  A magnificent vocal over a strange, ethereal arrangement, it manages to avoid the syrupy 'Beatles with Strings' clich├ęsThe LP cover is great, too.

With a Little Help From My Friends - Joe Cocker

The best known interpretation of a Beatles song, performed in sensational fashion at Woodstock in 1969. Paying tribute to the late Sheffield singer Paul McCartney said:  

I remember him and [producer] Denny Cordell coming round to the studio and Saville Row and playing me what they recorded. It was just mind-blowing. He totally turned the song into a soul anthem, and I was forever grateful to him for doing that."

Got to Get You Into My Life - Earth, Wind and Fire

One of Paul McCartney's most exuberant compositions, an homage to Memphis soul and Motown. Earth, Wind and Fire give it the treatment, amplifying the horns and harmonies in an exhilarating arrangement.

Wisely, they do not draw attention to the writer's revelation that the 'she' in the lyric is marijuana. "It's actually an ode to pot," McCartney explained, "like someone else might write an ode to chocolate or a good claret."

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Wednesday, 18 September 2019

How did The Beatles influence David Bowie?

Always a Beatles fan, David Bowie tried to sign for Apple in 1968. In the 1970s he became a friend and musical collaborator with John Lennon.
Bowie's first album (1967)
In 1964 a young Beatles fan makes his first TV appearance. With astounding chutzpah, the 17-year-old is taking part in a publicity stunt, promoting the (fictitious) Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-haired Men

Taken from The Beatles Teaching Pack (£3.99) 

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Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Why did The Beatles turn down David Bowie?

David Bowie was heavily influenced by The Beatles 
In 1968 David Bowie left Decca Records where his recording career had got off to an undistinguished start. He was keen to sign with Apple, a new record label set up by The Beatles to encourage new talent.
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