Friday, 3 July 2020

The Fifth Beatle: Jimmy Nichol?

In June 1964, The Beatles were preparing for their first world tour. During the pre-tour photoshoot, Ringo Starr was suddenly taken ill and began vomiting violently. 

The stricken drummer rushed to University College Hospital where there was good and bad news. The diagnosis was severe tonsillitis - unpleasant but not serious. The bad news was that  recovery would take an estimated ten days. This meant that Ringo would miss the first stage of the tour.

Brian Epstein reacted with characteristic resourcefulness. 'We've got a temporary replacement,' he announced. 'Jimmy Nichol'.

Jimmy who? 

'The ex-Shubdubs drummer. Now with the Blue Flames.'

The name still wasn't ringing any bells. But within a day Jimmy Nichol was getting his Beatle haircut and being measured for his Beatle suit.

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Sunday, 14 June 2020

How did George Harrison learn to play the guitar?


George Harrison bought what he later called a 'terrible..cheapoo guitar when he was thirteen. His mother, Louise Harrison has confirmed that learning to play it didn't come easily
George tried to teach himself [the guitar]. But he wasn’t making much headway. ‘I’ll never learn this,’ he used to say. I said, ‘You will, son, you will. Just keep at it.’

Progression

With characteristic determination, George stuck to the task, literally making his fingers bleed.  Once he had the core chords memorised he move onto a Spanish guitar manual  'Modern Guitar Chord Progressions'. 


Around this time he noticed an older boy carrying a trumped on his bus journey from school. The budding musicians fell into conversation



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Saturday, 2 May 2020

Why did Paul McCartney write part of Michelle in French?

Nam Ngô
"Michelle" was a tune that I'd written in Chet Atkins' finger-picking style. There is a song he did called "Trambone" with a repetitive top line, and he played a bass line while playing a melody. This was an innovation for us; even though classical guitarists had played it, no rock 'n' roll guitarists had played it. The first person we knew to use finger-picking style was Chet Atkins ... I never learned it. But based on Atkins' "Trambone", I wanted to write something with a melody and a bass line in it, so I did. I just had it as an instrumental in C.[5]
Creating beautiful melodies came naturally to Paul McCartney. With words he had to work harder, often finding inspiration from unlikely sources.

While writing Michelle, Paul instinctively vocalized his dummy lyric in cod French. At first glance, the seems eccentric - finger-picking Chet Atkins had no obvious Gallic connection. For McCartney, however, the jazzy chord sequence awoke memories of  'Juliette Greco, the French bohemian thing',  This was something that McCartney had experienced at one remove during his mid teens.

Les mots qui vont très bien ensemble

During the first years of the Quarrymen, John Lennon was nominally a student. at Liverpool School of Art.  Paul, who had slid out of education, entered his new friend's world by proxy, attending the parties if not the classes. Perhaps to impress his new social set, Paul sometimes would pretend to be French. His props included a stripy t-shirt and a string of onions. 

What he didn't  have was the French language, which he had never studied. Undaunted, he set about transforming his dummy French words into real ones, starting by consulting his friend Ivan Vaughan.

'I need a French girl's name and a rhyme."

Ivan managed to supply the title, Michelle  and a plausible rhyme ma belle.

Moving up the language proficiency levels, Paul now needed a translation of 'these are words that go together well'. This was provided by Ivan's wife, Jan, a teacher of French at a local school. She suggested sont les mots qui vont très bien ensemble which worked brilliantly in musical terms, even if it did sound odd to native French ears.

Lennon provided the 'I love you' bridge, drawing on Nina Simone's version of I Put a Spell on You. 

Recorded versions 

 'Rubber Soul' was released in December 1965 and Michelle was the track with the heaviest radio play on US stations. It was then released as a single in several countries including Hong Kong and Italy, but no single from the album was released in the two major markets: the US and the UK. This was probably a commercial decision - part of a long term move to nudge record buyers towards albums. But it is known that Lennon considered Michelle  to be too 'soft' to represent brand Beatles in the singles charts.

Michelle proved a popular song for other artists, with 32 officially released covers, including this French version by The Atoms:

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Friday, 13 March 2020

Which song broke-up The Beatles?

The B842, Kintyre, Scotland
The recording of The Beatles took a physical and psychological toll on all concerned. By late 1968 the rupture between Paul — desperate to save the musical marriage — and John and George, who wanted out - was irreconcilable .

Personal relations inevitably deteriorated. Most of the animus was directed against McCartney, who, despite his cheery public persona, was deeply affected. He retreated to his remote farm in Scotland to lick his wounds  and - Paul being Paul - write some new material.



The conscious intention was  to write a commercial ballad for a mainstream singer - Paul specifically had Ray Charles in mind. Yet what comes though to the listener is  intensely, if obliquely personal.

'The Long and Winding Road' takes as its central metaphor a road that passes close to High Park Farm and stretches away into the Highlands. At its heart is a melancholic reflection on  breaking down of key relationships his life  - most obviously with his fellow Beatles but also with his ex-fiancee, Jane Asher. It had been Asher, who had encouraged him to buy the farmhouse in 1966.

McCartney's musical instinct proved as sharp as ever - the song became a favourite with crooners and torch singers. What he could not have anticipated was the controversy it would create. It's treatment - or rather mistreatment in McCartney's eyes - would eventually be discussed in the High Court, where it was cited as a key reason as to why he wanted to break up the Beatles.

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Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Which Beatle had the most difficult childhood?

John Lennon's childhood traumas are extensively documented in his songs: Julia, Mother, Working Class Hero. In fact the whole of his first album is an extended therapy session aimed at healing his troubled psyche.

Yet in the early days of their friendship what struck Paul was not John's emotional  pain. It was his posh house.
Aunt Mimi’s house — Copyright Pernille Eriksen — reprinted here with permission — prints available

For Paul, Mendips was a different social world - one in which an auntie was an aunt and the shelves were filled with books and artwork. Until this point all he had known were council houses. In his one their had been a fairly recent tragedy - his adored mother had died from a cancer that consumed her with brutal rapidity. In an age before grief counselling Paul and his brother were encouraged not to dwell on this misfortune
The McCartney home — Copyright Pernille Eriksen — reprinted here with permission — prints available

George came from a similar social background to Paul - the 'getting by' working class. He was spared the trauma of losing a parent in childhood, but lacked his bandmate's  social polish and aspirational drive. When he joined The Quarrymen  at fourteen he was already drifting out of school. Mimi strongly disapproved of this and of his strong Scouse accent.
The Harrison family home. Copyright Pernille Eriksen — reprinted here with permission — prints available


As for Ringo, he never made it to Mendips at this time. He grew up in 'the Dingle' one of the roughest area of the city. 'You learned to keep your eyes down but still watch what was going on' he would later say.
The house where Ringo lived Copyright Pernille Eriksen — reprinted here with permission — prints available

 Ringo has always presened to the world as a naturally sunny sort, not someone to dwell on the bumps in his life's journey. This has masked a childhood of 'Dickensian misfortune' that made the others count their blessings.


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Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Which Beatle came from the poorest background?

Richard (Richie) Starkey was born on July 7, 1940 in the Dingle, a very poor area of Liverpool. In material terms, he had a seriously deprived childhood, but he has always stressed the love and support he received from him mother (Elsie) and step-father (Harry Graves).

While his biological father (Richard Starkey) effectively disappeared from his life in infancy, Elsie worked tirelessly as a bar maid and cleaner to support her son. Ringo has said of his step-father, 'I learned gentleness from Harry'

A sickly child

Ringo's childhood was marked by very serious ill health At six complications from appendicitis left him in a coma. In his early teens he again nearly died, this time from tuberculosis. After missing years of school, the young Richard Starkey had serious gaps in his education. He struggled to read and write. He sat in classes with much younger children. Little was expected of this sickly child. But young Richard demonstrated a remarkable resilience and spirit. And a present of a toy drum gave him a dream to work towards.

Music

Recovering in the sanatorium he received his first musical education :
once a week, they'd have lessons: occasionally, it was music. And they'd bring in tambourines, triangles and little drums.
On leaving school Ringo took many jobs to pay for his drum kit. He began playing with local bands. Eventually he ended up playing for what was then the top Liverpool group: Rory Storm and the Hurricanes

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Did Ringo get paid the same as the other Beatles?

The Beatles were paid the same as performers (and in repeat rights etc).
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Who auditioned for The Beatles on the top of a bus?


In 1954 twelve-year old Paul McCartney notices a younger boy with a guitar on his bus journey to school.

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Sunday, 2 February 2020

Why was The Beatles last public performance on a rooftop?


For what was intended to be their final studio album, The Beatles decided to break with George Martin and the EMI/Abbey Road to approach to making records. They were open to new ideas - and with the characteristic abandon of the era went with one of the maddest  proposed to them- a making-of-the-album documentary culminating in a live concert from Roman ruins in Tunisia.
  “The Beatles were to start playing as the sun came up,” explained director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, “and you’d see crowds flocking towards them through the day.”
Within weeks, however, this Spinal Tap style project had to be abandoned. Not only were they not flying out to Tunisia, they were even refusing to go to Twickenham to rehearse. 

This left the film without big finish or indeed any finish at all. And the one thing everyone agreed upon was that filming needed to end quickly. 

Then someone suggested "Why don't we do the concert right here?"

So on the 30th of January 1969 the group - plus guest member Billy Preston - climbed onto a very windy rooftop of studios of the Apple Corps building. 



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Sunday, 19 January 2020

How many records have The Beatles sold?



Singles

  • The Beatles released a total of 63 singles worldwide
  • By 2014, the official figure for US single sales was an astonishing 1.6 billion
  • Estimated world sales were well over 2 billion

Albums


  • The Beatles officially released 13 albums, plus three anthologies
  • They had a total of 21 Number 1 albums in the US. 
  • Total US album sales are estimated at around 177 million
  • Album sales outside of the US are in excess of 600 million.  

These figures are lowere than  those for later acts like Fleetwood Mac, Elton John and Michael Jackson. This is because Beatlemania occurred before the boom in album sales in the 1970s.

Post break-up

Sales of Beatles albums have remained strong since the band broke up in 1970 . Compilations, such as the 'red' and the 'blue' anthologies have  sold particularly well to new generations of fans. 


In fact the biggest selling album after Sergeant Pepper, Number 1s,  a compilation of singles. This was only released in 2000, thirty years after the band last recorded together. 

New formats

Sales were also helped by the mass switch from vinyl to CD in the 1980s. Ironically, the CD format has seen a rapid decline in this century, while vinyl has undergone a mini revival. 

A new trend has been for special reissues and previously unreleased tracks. The Anthology series was a mass market example of this. 

More recently sales have become increasingly difficult to assess, as downloads of individual tracks are added to traditional singles & albums.



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