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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Friday, 9 October 2020

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 interviews, he gave the impression that his first meeting with Lennon was a chance encounter. Other accounts suggest that he in fact made several attempts to establish contact. What is clear that Bowie had always been an admirer of The Beatles. He 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.

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Taken from The Beatles Teaching Pack (£3.99) 

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Tuesday, 6 October 2020

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 .

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

Taken from  Why was John Lennon brought up by his Aunt Mimi? (5 minute read)
Download: The Beatles Teaching Pack  Only £3.99
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Monday, 5 October 2020

Which instrument did John Lennon learn first?


"I played a lot of harmonica & mouth organ when I was a child. We used to take in students and one of them had a mouth organ and said he’d buy me one if I could learn a tune by the next morning. So I learnt two." John Lennon John Lennon Remembers

In 1947 Aunt Mimi began an arrangement with Liverpool University to take in students as lodger. One of these young men was Harold Phillips, who was resuming his studies after serving in the Royal Navy.

The seven-year-old John was fascinated by a harmonica that Phillips possessed. Phillips was amused and offered the boy the chance to keep the 'mouth iron' - as it was known locally. 

Harold Phillips kept his word - but Aunt Mimi made John wait until Christmas before taking possession of his first musical instrument.

‘I felt the stocking and there was a mouth organ in it. A harmonica.’ That was one of the great moments of my life, when I got my first harmonica’.

Interestingly, the harmonica had been played by his father and all his paternal uncles. It was also an instrument particularly suited to his musical strengths - a sense of time and rhythm. An added bonus was that it allowed him to be improvisatory without a formal understanding of musical theory.

The Beatles

John's harmonica playing was a key feature of several early Beatles tracks - most notably on Love Me Do and Please Please Me. By 1964 however, he was becoming increasingly wary of using it as a lead instrument.

“So we started using [the harmonica] on ‘Love Me Do’,’ just for arrangement, because we used to work out arrangements,” John said in Lennon Remembers. “ … And then we stuck it on ‘Please Please Me’ and then we stuck it on ‘From Me to You,’ like that. … It went on and on, it got into the gimmick, and then we dropped it. It got embarrassing.”

Another reason why it became personally embarrassing for Lennon was that Bob Dylan was so closely associated with the instrument. His musical relationship with Dylan was always uneasy.

The harmonica was never fully put away, however. It plays a striking role in driving 'I Should Have Known Better' and is present on several later tracks, including Rocky Racoon.

The Beatles Teaching Pack

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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.’


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.

Read the full story (7 minutes on Medium)
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