Saturday, 4 September 2021

Which Beatle came from the poorest background?

All four Beatles had what Mark Lewisohn calls ‘unvarnished working class roots’ in an industrial city that had seen better days. Two (Paul and George) lived in social housing, but neither believed themselves to be poor. Paul was astonished by what he perceived to the the poshness of John's home - marvelling that John called Mimi rather than the 'Auntie' he was used to.

John famously underwent emotional disturbance in early childhood - an unseemly battle for his custody involving Mimi, his biological mother Julia and his much maligned biological father, Freddie. Paul often points out that this contrasted with his own experience: 'the kind of happy home I thought everyone had'. Nonetheless this happiness was also marked by personal tragedy - the death of his mother in his early teens.

George also came from a close family but did not experience early bereavement. From Aunt Mimi's perspective he was very much from the wrong side of the tracks and she spoke disapprovingly of his strong accent ('he's very 'dose', John). By more objective measures he came from a modest but impoverished working class home.

The one future Beatles who experienced a Dickensian childhood combining poverty, ill health and paternal abandonment was not around to visit Mendips in the late 50s. Had he done so Mimi would doubtless have hidden the spoons.


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.

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Saturday, 14 August 2021

Why did John & Yoko get married in Gibraltar?

a) because the rock represented their love etc? 
b) because they forgot their passports?
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Tuesday, 10 August 2021

How were The Beatles introduced to marijuana?

The Beatles first met Dylan during their second visit to the US in August 1964. He came to visit them  in their suite at the Delmonoco Hotel in New York, accompanied by his friend Al Aronowitz. 

Eager to please their super-hip guests, The Beatles offered Dylan and champagne and amphetamines. Dylan said that he only drank cheap wine and suggested that they ‘smoke some grass’

Brian and the Beatles looked at each other apprehensively. “We’ve never smoked marijuana before,” Brian finally admitted. Dylan looked disbelievingly from face to face. “But what about your song?” he asked. The one about getting high?”
The Beatles were stupefied. “Which song?” John managed to ask.
Dylan said, “You know…” and then he sang, “and when I touch you I get high, I get high…”
John flushed with embarrassment. “Those aren’t the words,” he admitted. “The words are, ‘I can’t hide, I can’t hide, I can’t hide…'”   From The Love You Make Peter Brown

Let's not Twist again

In fact,  according to George Harrison,The Beatles had tried it before, soon after their first trip to  Hamburg. 
We first got marijuana from an older drummer with another group in Liverpool...I remember we smoked it in the band room in a gig in Southport and we all learnt to do the Twist that night.
 The experience proved underwhelming:
Everybody was saying, ‘This stuff isn’t doing anything.’ 
This was in line with their expectations of a drug they associated with beatniks and what Lennon dismissed as ‘trad jazz in Marks and Spencer cardigans’.


Dylan rebranded the drug for them. Now it became a symbol of the counter-culture and they became enthusiastic weed ambassadors. The filming of Help the following year was completed in a 'haze of marijuana'. Arguably this is apparent in the film itself, an incoherent if entertaining shambles.

Moving to marijuana from a reliance on alcohol undoubtedly helped take the edge off John's aggression. Perhaps surprisingly, however, Paul who proved the most passionate of advocate of dope smoking. 

In an uncharacteristically zany move McCartney even wrote a homage: GOT TO GET YOU INTO MY LIFE. Wisely, he kept quiet about the song's lyrical inspiration for a couple of decades.

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Friday, 6 August 2021

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.


The Beatles Story (teaching resources)
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Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Best Beatles Cover? Got to Get You Into My Life

Tamla Motown was a key influence on the early Beatles sound.  They covered Tamla tracks like PLEASE MR POSTMAN and wrote songs in a similar style. THIS BOY (1963) for example is what George Harrison called 'John doing Smokey'.

GOT TO GET YOU INTO MY LIFE (1966) is a later homage, first released on Revolver. It is one of Paul McCartney's most joyful and exuberant compositions, and perhaps The Beatles most danceable recordings. Even the hard-to-please Mr Lennon hailed it 'as on of Paul's best songs. 

Early studio versions, however, lacked energy and punch. It was the introduction of Memphis Stax-style horns that gave the song a new drive. 

Earth, Wind and Fire pick up on this dynamism in their 1978 cover. They give it the song treatment, amplifying the horns and harmonies in an exhilarating arrangement.

Memphis or Haight Ashbury

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."

That might explain the original's mellow horn sound, which Robert Rodriguez describes as "more Haight-Ashbury than Memphis"

The Beatles Digital Teaching Pack
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Saturday, 24 July 2021

Best Beatle Cover Versions? With a Little Help From My Friends by Joe Cocker

By Source, Fair use,

The best known interpretation of a Beatles song, performed in sensational fashion at Woodstock in 1969. On Sergeant Pepper With a Little Help From My Friends is a charming sing-along, ideally suited to Ringo's vocal range. Joe Cocker takes it to a different place.

 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."

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Friday, 23 July 2021

Best Beatles cover versions? Golden Slumbers by George Benson

There have several thousand covers of Beatles songs but a short list of those which work well. Twist my arm and I’d go for George Benson’s interpretation of Golden Slumbers from his extraordinary The Other Side of Abbey Road (1971)

Benson was a young jazz guitar prodigy at a time when the form appeared to have hit the buffers. To purists, his attempt to take on The Beatles was the first in long series of contemptible sellouts. His musical peers saw it differently, with Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, and Sonny Fortune all contributing to what was essentially a new take on the a tradition pioneered by the Ella Fitzgerald Songbooks.

Golden Slumbers is a highlight that draws on the unusual genesis of the original. This was famously inspired by  Paul McCartney coming across his step-sister's sheet music for a piece called Cradle Music left on the piano at his father's house in Liverpool. Intrigued, but unable to read the 'black dots on the page' Paul invented a melody and then a lyric to match the theme.

George Benson takes up this improvisatory approach. His magnificent vocal floats over a haunting, ethereal arrangement. Many have crashed and burned on that launchpad but Benson is never predictable. He effortlessly sidesteps syrupy 'Beatles with Strings' clich├ęs. 

It’s weird and wonderful. The LP cover is great, too.

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Thursday, 8 July 2021

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/White Album and  Octopus's Garden - and had some input into several others.

Don't Pass Me By (The Beatles?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.  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. These were usually 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) (tradi: 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) (Lennon-McCartney-Harrison-Starr)
  • Christmastime (Is Here Again) (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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Tuesday, 6 July 2021

How did John meet Paul?

On Saturday the 6th July, 1957 St Peter's Church held it a annual summer fete in the Liverpool suburb of Woolton.

After the usual stalls and games for children in the afternoon, a new skiffle group played in the church hall in the evening. They were named The Quarrymen, after the school the band-leader attended. His name was John Lennon.

John with the Quarrymen a few hours before meeting Paul

Paul McCartney was only just fifteen, eighteen months younger than Lennon. He lived a bus ride away and went to a different school. But he and Lennon shared a mutual friend, Ivan Vaughan.

Vaughan invited McCartney to the fete, promising that there would be girls there. “You can meet my mate John, too,” he added. “He plays guitar like you…”

Read full piece free on on Medium  3 min read with video

The Beatles Teaching Pack  free download during pandemic
BBC Witness (audio): The Band That Made The Beatles
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Tuesday, 22 June 2021

What was George Harrison's first guitar?

When he was thirteen, George was admitted to hospital with what turned out to be a minor kidney problem. As with Ringo, a spell on the children’s ward proved to be the catalyst for obtaining his first musical instrument. 

To cheer up his sick son, his father agreed to buy an old classmate’s Dutch Egmond flat-top acoustic guitar.

Dutch Egmond Acoustic — George Harrison’s first guitar

What George would later describe as a ‘cheapo, a horrible little guitar’ had a selling price of £3 ($4). This was a large sum for a poorly paid bus driver, though it would prove an inspired long-term investment. In 2003 it was sold for $800,000 at auction.


This Egmond proved very difficult to master. His mother, Louise, observed his painful struggle with it.

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.’

Early progress was also hampered by an ill advised experiment. Curious to see how the guitar was engineered, George unscrewed the head — and was unable to fix it back on. Abandoned in a cupboard in two pieces, the Ergmond was eventually rescued and repaired by George's  brother. He managed to put it back together but there was nothing he could do about the warp that has remained ever since.

How did George learn guitar? (5 min Medium article)

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