The Beatles FAQ

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

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.


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. 

Read full story on Medium

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Sunday, 19 January 2020

How many records have The Beatles sold?


  • 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


  • 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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What was the biggest concert The Beatles ever played?

Officially, the opening concert of The Beatles 1965 US tour at Shea Stadium, New York was the largest they ever did. It was the first time a major sports area was used as a music venue and the 55,000 tickets sold out in seventeen minutes.

The Philippines 

This was not, however, the biggest crowd The Beatles performed in front of. In July 1966 they were booked to play two gigs at the Rizal Stadium, Manila.
Poster for The Beatles in Manila, the Philippines, 4 July 1966

They were told that 30,000 tickets had been sold for the afternoon show and 50,000 for the second.
Ticket for The Beatles at Rizal Memorial Football Stadium, Manila, Philippines, 4 July 1966
To their horror, however, they discovered that these figures did not remotely reflect the numbers packed in to the stadium. As George puts it in Anthology:
...when we got there it was like the Monterrey Pop Festival. There were about 200,000 people on the site.
The Beatles rushed through both sets. In total they spent  less than eighty minutes on stage.

They then retreated to their hotel room - only to find that they had unwittingly caused great offence to a dangerous dictator - read more here.

Biggest Crowd

The biggest crowd to ever turn out to see The Beatles provided a happier memory of Beatlemania. An incredible 300,000 fans lined the streets from Adelaide Airport to the city centre in 1964. For comparison, better known arrival at JFK, New York in the same year attracted an estimated 5,000.

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Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Which Beatles almost came to blows over a biscuit?

Until 1968 it was an unwritten rule of The Beatles that wives and girlfriends did not attend recording sessions. This was unilaterally abandoned by John who insisted on Yoko being with him at all times. The others clearly resented this, especially when Yoko offered unsolicited advice on the music they were producing.

Mostly this resentment was unspoken. But according to Geoff Emerick, it exploded into the open during one particularly fraught recording session for Abbey Road. On this occasion a bed had been introduced into the studio to allow a flu-stricken, Yoko to participate.
"...I noticed that something down in the studio had caught George Harrison’s attention. After a moment or two he began staring bug-eyed out the control room window… Yoko had gotten out of bed and was slowly padding across the studio floor, finally coming to a stop at Harrison’s Leslie cabinet, which had a packet of McVitie’s Digestive Biscuits on top. Idly, she began opening the packet and delicately removed a single biscuit. Just as the morsel reached her mouth, Harrison could contain himself no longer. ‘THAT B**H!’ Everyone looked aghast, but we all knew exactly who he was talking about. ‘She’s just taken one of my biscuits!’  
Lennon came to the defence of his wife and the two men go. Ironically, Lennon was equally proprietorial about food he took to the studio. When it came to his personal possessions, he certainly did not agree with his more extreme left-wing friends that all property was theft.

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Thursday, 28 November 2019

How did David Bowie and John Lennon become friends?

We were first introduced in about 1974 by Elizabeth Taylor. We were in LA, and one night she had a party to which both John and I had been invited.  David Bowie, 1999
In 1974 David Bowie went to New York to record his 'white soul' album Young AmericansIn the interview, he implies that his first meeting with Lennon was a chance encounter, but other accounts suggest that this was after several attempts to establish contact. Bowie had always been an admirer of The Beatles and had even tried to change label, from Decca to Apple, in 1968.

According to May Pang, who was living with Lennon during his estrangement from Yoko, the two immediately men got on well. Other witnesses have reported that they drew caricatures of each other and drank cognac (hopefully in that order).

Encouraged by this meeting, and keen to get a Beatle on his new album - Bowie phoned Lennon to tell him that he was recording a version of Across the UniverseLennon agreed to come to the studio play acoustic guitar. 

The session was a success and Lennon later said he liked Bowie's version better than his original recording with The Beatles on Let It Be.  


The two Englishmen returned to the studio for a jamming session. As they improvised, guitarist Carlos Alomar played a riff he had intended for Bowie cover of the R & B song Footstompin. Impressed, Bowie and Lennon then developed this into a new song in which Lennon sang 'aim' over the Alomar guitar. 

Bowie then rewrote the lyric, changing 'aim' to 'fame'. The resulting single was Bowie's most successful in the US, reaching the Top Ten for the first time.  

Musical influence

Pete Doggett has unearthed some interesting connections. 

I was struck ... by the influence the Beatles had on Bowie's work in the 70s. Some of that influence is obvious - the McCartney-inspired piano styling of 'Oh! You Pretty Things', for example. As early as 1965, in an obscure song entitled 'That's Where My Heart Is', Bowie sounded as if he was learning how to write songs by listening to With The Beatles

Other musical links between Bowie and the Beatles were more surprising {like the} influence on 'Blackout' from the 'Heroes' LP. In more recent times Bowie  covered George Harrison's 'Try Some, Buy Some', claiming that he hadn't realised that George had written the song.

More here

Taken from The Beatles Teaching Pack (£3.99) 

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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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