1. John Lennon’s pre-Beatles skiffle group, The Quarry Men, made a record in the summer of 1958 that features Paul McCartney and George Harrison and cost 17 and sixpence to make.
2. The 16-year-old Lennon sung lead on the four tracks they recorded, which included Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day” and the McCartney-Harrison composition “In Spite of All the Danger”.
3. It was Stuart Sutcliffe, John’s art school friend who was drafted in as bass player, who came up with the name “The Beatals”.
4. The first proper recording the band made was “Cry for a Shadow”, a Lennon-Harrison instrumental number in the style of The Shadows. It was recorded in Hamburg on 22 June 1961 with Pete Best on drums, in the assembly hall of an infants’ school.
5. So keen were they to distinguish themselves from The Shadows that The Beatles didn’t use Fender guitars until 1965.
6. During their lengthy stints of playing to drunk sailors and prostitutes day and night in Hamburg between 1960 and 1962, The Beatles (unknowingly) once ate horse for their Christmas dinner.
7. When they first arrived in Hamburg in 1960, then still teenagers, The Beatles lived in a cinema. Lennon said: “We would go to bed late and be woken up the next day by the sound of the cinema show. We’d try to get into the ladies’ first, which was the cleanest of the cinema’s lavatories, but fat old German women would push past us.”
8. Harrison was deported from Germany for being underage.
9. During a 56-night residency in 1960 at Hamburg’s Kaiserkeller, the band played four sets every day – 7.30–9pm, 9.30–11pm, 11.30pm–1am, and 1.30–2am – seven days a week.
10. At their first Parlophone recording session at Abbey Road, on 6 June 1962, producer George Martin gave a long list of things wrong with the band’s performance, before asking to band to provide any of their own criticisms. “Well, for a start I don’t like your tie,” was Harrison’s response.
11. Ringo Starr didn’t play drums on “Love Me Do”, the group’s first hit, and instead tapped a tambourine while session player Andy White stood in. Martin thought Starr was rushing into the choruses too quickly. (Starr’s version, recorded a week before, was used on early pressings of the single, however.)
12. When the band had finished recording “Please Please Me”, Martin said via the studio’s intercom: “Congratulations, gentlemen, you’ve just made your first number one.” The song did go to the top of the BBC, NME, and Melody Maker charts (this is before there was a standardised chart).
13. Aside from the first two singles and their B-sides, the album of the same name was entirely recorded in three three-hour sessions on 11 February 1963. It took just one hour longer than expected, and they went straight out on tour the next day.
14. Beatles concerts – and even screenings of their films – often smelled of urine. As Bob Geldof reminisced to Q magazine: “I remember looking down at the cinema floor and seeing these rivulets of piss in the aisles. The girls were literally pissing themselves with excitement. So what I associate most with The Beatles is the smell of girls’ urine.”
15. The Beatles were famously turned down by the Decca record label and instead signed for Parlophone. The band’s publisher sent an anonymous tape from their later sessions to Decca to see if the label would be fooled into making the same mistake again (it wasn’t).
16. The poet Allen Ginsberg got up and danced excitedly when “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was played in a New York nightclub, confusing his intellectual friends.
17. The same song made Bob Dylan assume that The Beatles must have been on drugs in 1963. He read more into the innocent line “I can’t hide” than was intended, hearing it as “I get high”.
18. In the NME in early 1963, the boys listed their ambitions. Lennon: “To write a musical”; McCartney: “To have my picture in the Dandy”; Harrison: “To design a guitar”; and Starr: “To be happy.”
19. There was talk of a Beatles musical throughout their career. In 1963, Lennon told the NME that his idea was to write a musical “about Jesus coming back as an ordinary person”.
20. In the very early days of Beatlemania, screaming fans turned up to Harrison’s house in Liverpool and were greeted by the man himself – but they left when they were told, “No, Paul McCartney doesn’t live here.”
21. Having finally broken America, in April 1964 The Beatles had the top five places in the American singles chart with “Can’t Buy Me Love”, “Twist and Shout”, “She Loves You”, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, and “Please Please Me”.
22. The Beatles re-recorded “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” for the German market as “Sie Liebt Dich” and “Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand” in Paris in January 1964.
23. Lennon once claimed that “Ticket to Ride” was “one of the first heavy metal records”, because of its use of loud amplified guitars and drum sound.
24. Beatles merchandise available at the height of Beatlemania included not just boots, sweaters, hats, and wigs, but also bubblebath, talcum powder, and women’s stockings.
25. Only two songs on Revolver are longer than three minutes: “Love You To” (3.01) and “I’m Only Sleeping” (3.02).
26. McCartney claimed “Yesterday” came to him in a dream as a finished melody, fully formed. He asked friends, “Is this by me or did someone else write it?”, almost as if he’d discovered it. It was originally called “Scrambled Eggs”.
27. McCartney played some of The Beatles’ most technically difficult guitar solos on songs including “Taxman”, “Back in the USSR” and “Good Morning, Good Morning”. Harrison would often be congratulated on them, and would reply, “No, that was Paul.”
28. Martin and his team at Abbey Road had made many comedy records in the 1950s, including ones by Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, and Rolf Harris. This perhaps explains why they were so willing to indulge The Beatles’ love of humour and occasional children’s songs.
29. His engineers found all manner of things in their sound effects department to add some colour to “Yellow Submarine”, including chains, whistles, handbells, hooters, and a tin bath.
30. The Beatles spent longer making “Yellow Submarine” than they took to record their entire debut album.
31. “She Said She Said” is inspired by the time Lennon took LSD with David Crosby and Roger McGuinn of The Byrds in August 1965, which sounds like one hell of a party. Allegedly, Peter Fonda turned up and spoke of having been through a near-death experience during an operation – hence Lennon’s lyric “I know what it’s like to be dead”.
32. Lennon really did say the line about being bigger than Jesus. He told the Evening Standard on 4 March 1966: “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. We’re more popular than Jesus now.”
33. “Strawberry Fields Forever”, which took 55 hours to record, is made up of two entirely different recordings, each with a differing mood and recorded at different speeds. You can hear a slight change at 1:00, where the two are edited together.
34. The piano sound on “Penny Lane” was achieved by layering three piano tracks on top of each other, recorded at different speeds, before each was speeded up or down to match the right key.
35. The trumpeter who played the piccolo trumpet solo at the end of “Penny Lane”., David Mason, claimed it’s not speeded up and that he can still play it perfectly.
36. Lennon and Harrison were first given LSD in coffee by their dentist without them knowing. Harrison said: “We’d just sat down and ordered our drinks when suddenly I felt the most incredible feeling come over me. It was something like a very concentrated version of the best feeling I’d ever had in my whole life.”
37. In 1967 the NME ran a series of interviews about The Beatles’ dreams. McCartney dreamed about being caught in the street in his underwear, while Harrison projected his fear of flying into vivid plane-crash dreams. “It was all funny though: me legs were burnin’ but they weren’t like hurtin’!”
38. When Lennon sang “I read the news today, oh boy” in “A Day in the Life”, he was referring to the death of Tara Browne, a millionaire member of the London counterculture movement and friend to The Beatles, who died in a car crash in 1966. The report of his inquest – including the observation that people “stood and stared” – was in the Daily Mail on 17 January 1967, as was a story about holes in Blackburn, Lancashire.
39. The famous final chord in “A Day in the Life” was played simultaneously by Lennon, McCartney, Starr, Martin, and the band’s road manager, Mal Evans, on three separate pianos.
40. For the opening title track of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, McCartney replaced a guitar solo from Harrison that took seven hours to record with his own guitar part, according to Martin in Summer of Love, his account of the making of the album.
41. Lennon saw the poster that inspired “Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite!” advertising a circus in Rochdale, Lancashire in 1843, in an antiques shop in Sevenoaks, Kent, while filming the video for “Strawberry Fields Forever”.
42. It reads: “Pablo Fanque’s Circus Royal, Town-Meadows, Rochdale. Grandest night of the season! And positively the LAST NIGHT BUT THREE! Being for the benefit of Mr Kite (late of Wells’ Circus) and MR J HENDERSON, the celebrated Somerset thrower! Wire dancer, vaulter, rider, etc.”
43. Lennon asked Martin to make “Mr Kite” sound like a fairground. But then he also once asked him to make a song sound like an orange.
44. “Lovely Rita” is allegedly based on a meeting between McCartney and a friendly parking warden called Meta Davies in St John’s Wood. McCartney says this was a coincidence.
45. Lennon wanted Hitler to be included in the sea of faces on the Sgt. Pepper album cover, but was overruled at the last minute.
46. “She’s Leaving Home” was inspired by a real story in the Daily Mirror on 27 February 1967 about a 17-year-old girl, Melanie Coe, who ran away from home. As Beatles writer Steve Turner put it, the song accurately guesses at some of the details of her life, completely accidentally.
47. While recording “All You Need Is Love”, Harrison played a violin despite having never touched one.
48. The Our World broadcast on 1 June 1967 was the world’s first satellite TV broadcast and was seen by an estimated 350 million people. The Beatles represented the UK, performing “All You Need Is Love” to close the show.
49. Lennon appeared in his first film without The Beatles in 1967’s How I Won the War (referenced in “A Day in the Life”), alongside Michael Crawford, who later found fame in Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, and Roy Kinnear, who played Veruca Salt’s father in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
50. The front cover for the US-only album Yesterday and Today featured the band dressed as butchers, while holding cleavers, with disturbing dolls and pieces of meat surrounding them. There is a (lengthy) explanation but it appears to have been the photographer’s idea, which the band apparently found funny.
51. Among the bizarre things that The Beatles’ company, Apple, did was put out a single by the Black Dyke Mills Band, a well-respected brass band from West Yorkshire. The track was called “Thingummybob” and was written for a TV show of the same name. The B-side was their version of “Yellow Submarine”.
52. Among the abandoned Apple ideas, according to an NME report at the time, was a film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, something that wasn’t fully achieved by anyone until Peter Jackson’s epic series 35 years later.
53. The BBC banned “I Am the Walrus” not for its anti-establishment tone, but because it contains the word “knickers”.
54. The animated Yellow Submarine film isn’t voiced by the band, but by actors. McCartney was played by Geoffrey Hughes, who went on to star in The Royle Family, in which he played the slobbish Twiggy, and Keeping Up Appearances, in which he was Onslow.
55. “Hey Jude” was originally called “Hey Jules” and directed at Lennon’s 5-year-old son, Julian.
56. Lennon considered it to be McCartney’s greatest song, and persuaded him to keep the strange line “the movement you need is on your shoulder”.
57. Rumours that “Paul is dead” started after McCartney was injured in a moped accident in 1966 and grew a moustache to hide the cut on his lip.
58. People thought Lennon was mumbling “I buried Paul” at the end of “Strawberry Fields”, but it was actually “cranberry sauce”, for no apparent reason.
59. The “Paul is dead” meme became deeply enough ingrained in popular culture to be referenced on the front cover of a Batman comic in 1970.
60. McCartney played the drums on “Back in the USSR” and “Dear Prudence” from The Beatles, aka the White Album, after Starr stormed out of the band, only to return a week later.
61. “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window”, from the medley section of Abbey Road, really is based on a true story: A fan used a ladder in Paul’s back garden to climb in the bathroom window, before stealing a picture of his father, some clothes, and some slides of photos taken by Linda Eastman (who would soon become Linda McCartney).
62. Frank Sinatra called Harrison’s “Something”, which he often performed live, “the greatest love song of the last 50 years”. And he sang a few.
63. The band’s internal fights were often ridiculous. During the making of Abbey Road, Harrison was incensed when Yoko Ono took one his chocolate digestive biscuits without asking.
64. Lennon said many, many strange things during interviews. During the final days of the band he told the NME: “I regret that Yoko wasn’t my child. I don’t like the idea of her being born in someone else’s womb. That’s one of my great jealousies. It’s a drag that she was in somebody else’s womb, but I can’t do anything about it.”
65. From the same interview: “I like to play conceptual chess, rather than have the chess on the board.”
66. The Beatles’ split was acrimonious and messy but despite their public feuding, Lennon and McCartney did keep in touch. During Lennon’s 1973–74 separation from Ono, the two musicians jammed together in Los Angeles with Stevie Wonder on keyboards. There’s even a recording of it (it’s a complete druggy mess).
These facts are from various sources, including: Ian MacDonald’s excellent Revolution in the Head; original articles from NME, collated in the NME Originals edition The Beatles: 1962-1970; Summer of Love: The Making of Sgt. Pepper, by George Martin; A Hard Day’s Write: The Stories Behind Every Beatles Song, by Steve Turner; and Tune In, by Mark Lewisohn. Thanks also to Christian for the Batman comic tip.
We originally said that Lennon and Harrison took acid for the first time in tea. Actually, it was in after-dinner coffee.
We referred to the trumpter who played on “Penny Lane”, David Mason, in the present tense, but he died in 2011.
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