“I have never seen anything like it. Nor heard any noise to approximate the ceaseless, frantic, hysterical scream which met the Beatles when they took the stage after what seemed a hundred years of earlier acts. All very good, all marking time, because no one had come for anything other than the Beatles...
Then the theatre went wild. First aid men and police – men in the stalls, women mainly in the balcony – taut and anxious, patrolled the aisles, one to every three rows.
Many girls fainted. Thirty were gently carried out, protesting in their hysteria, forlorn and wretched in an unrequited love for four lads who might have lived next door.
The stalls were like a nightmare March Fair. No one could remain seated. Clutching each other, hurling jelly babies at the stage, beating their brows, the youth of Britain’s second city surrendered themselves totally.” Derek Taylor (From his book “Fifty Years Adrift”)
“The story began in Harold Macmillan’s “never had it so good” ’50s Britain. It should be fiction: four teenagers with no more than eight O’Levels between them, running and biking and busing and busking all over Liverpool in search of new chords and old guitars and half-decent drum kit and any gig at all. They were determined to amount to something – in George’s words “we just had this amazing inner feeling of: ‘We’re going to do it’. I don’t know why... we were just cocky” – and make a record (in Ringo’s words you’d kill for that bit of plastic and make some money and have a laugh and shout. That would do to be going on with. Six years later, they were the four most famous and musical men on earth, the best dressed and on a good day the most captivating people anyone can remember. The narrative that began where Paul met John and clicked at a garden fete in leafy Liverpool, and ended in high dudgeon in high-end London, is so far fetched that it needs the power of a song punctuating every page to remind you with a joyous jolt that it was all true. We didn’t dream it... though it came out of John’s dream of the “man on a flaming pie” who said “You are Beatles with an ‘A’”. It did all happen. The whole wonderful thing did happen, a long time ago, on the Mersey, on the Elbe, by the Thames and the Hudson River. Amazing and marvellous and, nearly forty years on, forever young.
“They’ve got something! From Liverpool, I hear, of all places.” “From Liverpool uber alles!”
They leave their Cavern Club and within months they take the ascendancy in the British pop world, and start to live the life of Riley in London. They play the Palladium, the Royal Albert Hall, The Royal Variety Show, sing Moonlight Bay with Morecombe and Wise, give a spare hit to the Rolling Stones, play hundreds of concerts in Britain, nip over to Sweden, invent Beatlemania, record I Want to Hold Your Hand (their 4th British number one in a year) and, as if in a dream – while their conquering Paris – the record goes to Number One in America three weeks before the Ed Sullivan Show in New York.
If there had been no Beatles, no one would have had the imagination to invent such a story.
’The Beatles sweep through the great US cities, drawing tens of thousands to airports for the merest glimpse.
They play for no more than half an hour per concert. A Hard Days Night has guaranteed them star status in the cinema and they laughed their way through Help! in Technicolour. Paul dreams that he has written Yesterday – and has. They are the first band to play a baseball stadium, Shea in New York, breaking records for crowd fever, numbers and good cheer. Oh, and they go to Buckingham Palace to receive medals from the Queen and, by now, more or less accept it as their due. They are, however, as happy and polite as can be.
’Wherever they went, they brought Beatlemania with them. They couldn’t help it; it was a form of real love. George would say many years later that the world used them as an excuse to go mad and then blamed it on the Beatles, but there is a parallel theory that it was time for the world to go that sort of mad – get down a bit, loosen up, and like Uncle John in Long Tall Sally, have some fun tonight. The crowd scenes are awesome and, in retrospect awful. How did no-one get killed?...
These were the years of dash and daring. Sweeping out of the final (and wonderfully old-fashioned) 1964 family Christmas Shows into the wider world of 1965, The Beatles would soon find themselves figureheads of a movement far beyond “pop” where a counter-culture / alternative society was made flesh. National boundaries were presumed to be doomed. Millions of minds were to become expanded and many trousers would soon be spandex.
...though the music would continue to pour out of them breaking in great waves over uncharted, challenging Reason and warming the heart, the Beatles would tire of those great sweating stadiums where they now played to screaming crowds who could no longer hear them.
In the studio years (1966 onwards), supported by the steady hand of the great George Martin, they would produce songs which would be forever fresh and which still set the standards against the newcomers have to test themselves.
Greatly turned on by the Spirit of the Age and by the “tea-parties” of those times, the Beatles provided a sound-track for the plottings of the baby boomers – millions of them – whose enlightenment (however compromised it may have been by the material world in the harsh times since) still provides a hedge against humankind’s grosser instincts.
They... go into the studio which brings an amazed world the mighty whirligig of Sgt Pepper, Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields here on the screen in surreal and glorious colour. They sing Baby You’re A Rich Man and they all are, but they don’t buy an island in Greece.
It was the great glory of The Beatles that they could absorb and transmute so much, first in those tiny houses in Liverpool, listening to eclectic 1940s wireless, then to r’n’r and r&b and to Dylan and the poets and soon to music and messages from India.
Unafraid of growth, dogged individuals with a powerful devotion to the group ethic, the Beatles accepted each other’s offerings and really “cooked” to make each record a feast that left us breathless with admiration. They never stood still.
The Beatles started their own company, Apple Corps with five creative divisions – records, films etc – and then went public with an offer that anyone with an artistic need could come to them and get help. Is there, even now, a machine to count such numbers?
The promise was that all sincere supplicants would be given encouragement, succour, a contract and maybe an envelope full of money. At the same time, the Beatles flew to foothills of the Himalayas to learn meditation. There, between sessions with the Maharishi, they wrote songs for what would become The ‘White’ Album. When recording started, the songs had come in such profusion that, famously, The White Album had thirty of them – enough for two high-class musicals. They sped from one track to another, content that the unity of the album would transcend the disparity in the style and content of the tracks. It was always their strength that they wrote bewitching singles. New songs were written to suit themselves; sometimes written alone. This new work could virtually be recorded solo, spontaneously, simply.
Following the White Album(and the magnificent Hey Jude) they made Let It Be and with the final regal glory of Abbey Road they left their grieving fans a legacy that will never be matched. In the inevitable breaking down of old liaisons, there was room for growth. John met and married Yoko; Paul met and married Linda. George matured far beyond his years, settled into his spiritual space and expressed himself writing classic songs; Ringo was now writing his own numbers and was widely acknowledged as a supreme drummer and a very good actor. To everything there is a season. That the rift between The Beatles, evolved with much public angst was a pity but this is not a perfect world is it? Relationships anyway, were repaired long ago. And in the end, the equation between the love they took and the love they made was intact into infinity. They still represent the twentieth century’s greatest romance.