Friday, 26 February 2021

Which Beatle had two birthdays?

George Harrison spent most of his life believing his birthday was February 25, 1943.
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Largest crowd to greet The Beatles?

 Outside the Southern Cross Hotel in Melbourne, June 1964.

An estimated 300,000 greeted The Beatles in Melbourne in June 1964. The Queen had only attracted half that number the preceding year. Aussie Beatlemania was particularly intense for the Melbourne stop because it marked the return of Ringo. 

The drummer had been hospitalised a few days before  the start of the tour. This had caused consternation amongst Beatle fans, but now he was climbing off his sickbed in London to join his buddies down under.

Despite the impending adulation down under, Ringo did not enjoy his long flight. 

The flight was horrendous... It’s... a hell of a long way. I remember the plane felt like a disaster area to me.

His fans, however, clearly thought the effort worthwhile.

One person perhaps less thrilled by Ringo's return was replacement drummer, Jimmy Nichol. He was already on his way back to London and obscurity, after a few weeks in the celebrity sun - read more

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Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Who was the tallest Beatle?

'Evidence' of an alleged height disparity 
The official record has Lennon, McCartney and Harrison as the same height: 5'11" with Ringo Starr 5'8". Some have speculated that these figures are a little generous:
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Tuesday, 16 February 2021

What is Maxwell's Silver Hammer about?

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash 

This ghastly miscalculation ... represents by far {McCartney's} worst lapse of taste under the auspices of The Beatles.   Ian MacDonald The Revolution in the Head
Maxwell’s Silver Hammer belongs to a very niche musical tradition: the cheerful murder sing-along. There is also speculation that the lyric was influenced by the murder of Joe Orton, who spent an evening with McCartney some months before his death. 

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Sunday, 14 February 2021

Which was the 'worst ever' Beatles recording session?

Photo by Daniel Cheung on Unsplash

‘I hate it!’ John Lennon.

‘The worst session ever’ Ringo Starr

“If any single recording shows why The Beatles broke up, it’s ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’.” Ian MacDonald The Revolution in the Head 

“They got annoyed because Maxwell’s Silver Hammer took three days to record. Big deal.” Paul McCartney.

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Thursday, 28 January 2021

Which song broke-up The Beatles?

The B842, Kintyre, Scotland
I was a bit flipped out and tripped out at that time. It’s a sad song because it’s all about the unattainable; the door you never quite reach. This is the road that you never get to the end of.
from Paul McCartney, Many Years From Now,Barry Miles

The recording of The Beatles took a physical and psychological toll on all concerned. By late 1968 the group was close to collapse. There were several fault-lines but the most significant was  between Paul — desperate to save the musical marriage — and John and George, who wanted out. The rupture was irreconcilable but nobody was yet ready to break up the group .

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.

 At itis a melancholic reflection on the breaking down of key relationships in his life.  Most obviously this applies to his relationship with with his fellow Beatles. It may also be a meditation on the break-up with his ex-fiancee, Jane Asher. 

It had been Asher, who had encouraged him to buy the farmhouse in 1966. And the 'road' of the title is a real one, with very personal associations for the former couple. It passes close to High Park Farm and stretches away into the Highlands. 

The record

McCartney's musical instinct proved as sharp as ever.'  would become one of the most covered Beatles songs: a  particular favourite with crooners and torch singers. The recording of the original record, however, proved problematic. And the post-production, carried out by Phil Spector at the request of John Lennon, would bring many underlying resentments into the open.

The alleged mistreatment of  'The Long and Winding Road' would eventually be discussed in the High Court. There it was cited by Paul McCartney in evidence to  support his case for breaking up The Beatles.
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First use of sitar on a Beatles track?

Indian restaurant scene from Help! (1965

The first time George Harrison saw a sitar was on the set of Help in April 1965. A group of Indian musicians had been recruited to add an authentic Indian ambience to the restaurant scene. They played a a Beatles medley ('Another Hard Day’s Night') using  sitar, flute, tabla, ghunghroo and tanpura. 

Listening to session musicians cranking out Beatles covers was a not particularly novel experience for the group. India was, however, one of the few countries that bypassed Beatlemania. It had its own musical traditions and Harrison was fascinated by the instrumentation he heard

Rubber Soul

Over the next few months Harrison began researching traditional Indian music. He  discussed his new interest with David Crosby, who toured the UK with The Byrds in August 1965.  Crosby told him about Ravi Shankar, then virtually unknown outside India. He also lent Harrison a Shankar LP that he 'carried in his suitcase'. 

It was love at first listen for Harrison. He immediately ordered his own sitar and began experimenting with it.

Learning a completely unfamiliar instrument in an alien musical tradition provided a daunting challenge. To his credit, Harrison approached the task with the same determination that characterised his mastering the guitar. 


George introduced the sitar to the other Beatles. By October 1965 he felt confident enough to use his new instrument during the recording sessions for  'Norwegian Wood'. This caused serious technical problems as the sitar's sound levels were not adjusted to the other instruments. 

Resolving this issue meant trial and error and several takes. Harrison later said this process had been "quite spontaneous from what I remember", adding, "We miked it up and put it on and it just seemed to hit the spot". This is not quite how the Abbey Road studio technicians recalled the process but the final result did indeed 'hit the spot'. 

First 'Indian pop song'?

'Norwegian Wood' is not the first pop song to display an Indian influence. The George Martin produced comedy hit 'Goodness Gracious Me' (1960) may claim that distinction, at least in intention. 'Ticket to Ride' also included a raga-like drone, as did The Kinks 'See My Friends'  

Where 'Norwegian Wood' did break new ground was in the use of a genuine Indian instrument on western pop song.  

In today's more censorious climate, The Beatles might be accused of cultural appropriation. Indian instrumentation was, however, thematically consistent with the concept of Rubber Soul. The album title openly signals a sound that draws on other traditions.


At the time, Harrison's passion for all things Indian was assumed to be a passing one. In fact, it would stay with him for the rest of his life. Musically he began to work towards creating music that could genuinely claim to be in the Indian classical tradition. 

He would first achieve this aim with Love You Too on the following Beatles album, Revolver 

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Friday, 15 January 2021

Who wrote Those Were the Days?

Even at the height of his fame, Paul McCartney enjoyed writing songs for other artists, especially female singers. Often, he did this unbidden, offering Cilla Black Step Inside Love for her first TV show, for example. He was also the most musically adventurous of The Beatles - and eclectic in his taste. 

He first heard Those Were the Days in The Blue Angel club in London. The singer was Gene Raskin, a New York-based folk singer with Russian roots. McCartney liked the song and offered to produce a recording by Mary Hopkins, a young Welsh folk singer recently signed by the new Apple label. 


McCartney assumed that Those Were the Days had been written by Raskin. In fact, the copyright situation was complex and would become the subject of a legal battle. 

The tune is that of the Russian romance song "Dorogoi dlinnoyu" [ru]("Дорогой длинною" Tr: "By the long road").  This may be considered tradtional, though it is sometimes credited to Boris Fomin (1900–1948). The Russian words were by the poet Konstantin Podrevskyn.

Raskin supplied a new lyric. This was not a translation but a new setting inspired by the music.

Paul's production

McCartney kept Raskin’s lyric and an existing arrangement by Richard Hewson. His production tried to capture a klezmer feel and uses unusual instrumentation for a pop song. A balalaika, clarinet, hammered dulcimer or cimbalom, tenor banjo are all included. There is also a children's chorus.


Today such mixing of musical traditions is commonplace - but this was not the case in the 1960s.  Records like Norwegian Wood, Love You Too and Those Were the Days were ground-breaking in that they accustomed audiences to unfamiliar instruments and arrangements. 

With Those Were the Days McCartney's production played a key role in creating a commercial, radio-friendly hit single. It highlights clear melodic line and ‘hook’ - key ingredients in early Beatles singles. These would take the song to number one in the UK charts.

Interestingly, Those Were the Days was the second song recorded on Apple. Like the first - Hey Jude -  it is unusually long for a single at this time: the recording comes in at just over five minutes. The Beatles had rewritten the rules about radio-play.

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Monday, 12 October 2020

Which song had the working title 'Badfinger Boogie'?

Photo by Fleur on Unsplash

In March 1967 John and Paul were under pressure to produce the final tracks for Sergeant Pepper. They decided to have what would now be called a brainstorming session at John's house. According to Hunter Davies, this was a bewilderingly casual event in which they spent much of the time flicking through magazines. From time to time they would sing out phrases or pick out bits of tunes at the piano.

Ian Macdonald speculates that there was some method at work in that 'both writers 'found inspiration in moments where their conscious minds had fallen into abeyance.' Whatever the strategy, it worked. 

By the end of the day McCartney had a new song, 'The Fool on the Hill'. Lennon, meanwhile, plugged away at the chords to a tune with the working title Badfinger Boogie.  This reflection on on a minor injury would eventually became better known as 'With a Little Help From My Friends'

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When did The Beatles last play at the Cavern?

The Beatles played 292 times at the Cavern Club in Liverpool in just two years. Their last performance was on Saturday, August 3rd, 1963. 
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