The following items are taken from the pages of Rock’n’Roll Unravelled and build up to tell the story of the Beatles. There are only a few of the Beatles items here, to give a flavour of their story; the book has a far more comprehensive coverage.
(An * with a date indicates an associated story in Rock’n’Roll Unravelled, that story might not appear here.)
How the Beatles came together: 6 July 1957 to 4 September 1962
- 6 July 1957: The Quarry Men – John met Paul
- 17 November 1959: Johnny and the Moondogs – Stuart Sutcliffe joined
- 10 May 1960: The Silver Beetles – failed their audition to back Billy Fury
- 17 August 1960: The Beatles – opening night on the first Hamburg trip
- 5 January 1961: Paul moved to bass guitar
- 9 November 1961: Brian Epstein’s first glimpse of the Beatles
- 1 January 1962: failed their Decca audition
- 4 September 1962: 2nd visit to Abbey Road – Goodbye Pete…Hello Ringo
- 25 February 1963: Released Please Please Me c/w Ask Me Why (US)
- 21 February 1975: John Lennon released his album Rock’n’Roll (UK)
The Beatles Conquered America… (to be continued…)
Individual Beatles: John Lennon
6 July 1957: The Quarry Men – John met Paul
The Beatles’ story really started on 6 July 1957, the day that Paul McCartney went to see John Lennon’s skiffle group the Quarry Men perform at St Peter’s Church fete in Woolton, a leafy suburb of Liverpool.
Paul had been taken to see John and the boys by his friend Ivan Vaughan. After the Quarry Men’s set Paul auditioned for them. He played the guitar left handed and impressed them by knowing all of the words to Eddie Cochran’s Twenty Flight Rock. A couple of weeks later Paul was a Quarry Man.
George Harrison joined the Quarry Men in early 1958, after the Rebels.
The Rebels lineup included:
George Harrison: guitar
Peter Harrison – George’s brother
17 November 1959: Johnny and the Moondogs – Stuart Sutcliffe joined
The prestigious John Moores Exhibition opened in Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery. Included in the exhibits was Stuart Sutcliffe’s abstract expressionist piece, The Summer Painting.
At the end of the exhibition in mid-January, John Moores purchased the painting for £65. Sutcliffe bought a Hofner President bass guitar and joined his art college friend John Lennon in Johnny and the Moondogs, soon to rename to “The Silver Beetles”.
10 May 1960: The Silver Beetles – failed their audition to back Billy Fury
At this stage our heroes were called “The Silver Beetles”, with John, Paul and George on guitar and Stu Sutcliffe on bass. London rock impresario Larry Parnes was looking for a backing band for British rock’n’roll star Billy Fury’s upcoming British tour. Manager Allan Williams arranged an audition at his Wyvern Social Club in Liverpool. Things started badly. Their current drummer, Tommy Moore, was late and they performed most of their set with Johnny Hutchinson of Cass and the Cassanovas, another popular Liverpool combo. The performance failed to secure the gig with Billy Fury but Parnes used them to back another one of his acts, Johnny Gentle, who was about to embark on a Scottish tour.
Drummer Tommy Moore quit the group at the end of that tour.
Pete Best joined… and they finally became “The Beatles”
Drummer Tommy Moore left, replaced briefly by Norman Chapman.
Pete Best, from the Blackjacks, replaced Norman Chapman.
They became “The Beatles” and headed off to Hamburg.
“The Beatles” name is variously accredited to:
Buddy Holly’s Crickets and/or the Beetles gang in Brando’s movie The Wild One… although, The Wild One was banned in the UK until 1968.
“Beetles” to “Beatles” is attributed to beat poet Royston Ellis.
They were now “The Beatles” – but not yet the “Fab Four”
17 August 1960: The Beatles – opening night on the first Hamburg trip
Arranged by their first manager, Allan Williams, the Beatles made their German debut when they opened at the Indra Club in Hamburg’s red light district. The band’s lineup was a five piece, with John, George and Paul on guitar, bassist Stu Sutcliffe and newly recruited drummer Pete Best. The Silver had just been dropped from the name “Silver Beatles” and the Hamburg audience was treated to the first performance by “The Beatles”.
This first visit to Hamburg ended in disarray in late November when three of the group were deported. George left first for working underage, followed shortly afterwards by Paul and Pete for alleged arson.
The origins of the band’s name are steeped in Beatles mythology, with the inspiration accredited to Lennon and Sutcliffe. The name is often given a couple of derivations. Homage to Buddy Holly and his backing group the Crickets and the leather-clad motorcycle gang, the Beetles, in Marlon Brando’s 1953 movie The Wild One. Although, the movie was banned in the UK until 1968 – so maybe not. John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe provided musical backing for beat poet Royston Ellis at a gig in June 1960 and were inspired to change the spelling of “The Silver Beetles” to “The Silver Beatles”.
Pete Best joined the Beatles from his own band, the Blackjacks. (Not the same band as John Lennon and Pete Shotton’s Black Jacks.) Best’s band also featured future-Beatles stand-in bassist Chas Newby.
5 January 1961: Paul moved to bass guitar
Stuart Sutcliffe had been the bass player since John introduced him into the group a year earlier. When the rest of the Beatles returned from their first Hamburg trip in December, Sutcliffe stayed behind with his fiancée, professional photographer Astrid Kirchherr. Chas Newby took the bass spot for four gigs but when he returned to college the Beatles were once again a bass player light. Lennon initially asked Harrison to move to bass but after his refusal McCartney stepped up and swapped six strings for four. McCartney’s debut as the group’s new bass player took place at Litherland Town Hall.
Although Sutcliffe had not yet officially left the group, this effectively marked their move to a quartet. When they returned to Hamburg in April for their second residency, he occasionally joined them on stage but Sutcliffe’s days as a Beatle were all but over.
9 November 1961: Brian Epstein’s first glimpse of the Beatles
After being asked for a copy of the Beatles’ My Bonnie on 28 October*, Brian Epstein visited the Cavern’s lunchtime session to hear the Beatles for himself. He became their manager shortly afterwards and attended their audition with Decca on 1 January* 1962.
1 January 1962: failed their Decca audition
On New Year’s Day the Beatles famously failed their audition at Decca Records.
It had been organised by Decca’s A&R man Mike Smith, who had travelled up to Liverpool a couple of weeks earlier to see them perform at the Cavern Club. At the audition they cut fifteen songs, including three original compositions later covered by others: Hello Little Girl (The Fourmost, 1963), Love of the Loved (Cilla Black, 1963) and Like Dreamers Do (The Applejacks, 1964). The remainder were covers and included: Barrett Strong’s Money, Chuck Berry’s Memphis Tennessee and the Teddy Bears’ To Know Him Is to Love Him. The final decision as to whether or not to add the Beatles to Decca’s artist roster was down to Dick Rowe. Sadly for the Liverpool lads, he opted for the other group auditioning that day, London’s Brian Poole and the Tremeloes.
This decision gave Dick Rowe eternal fame as the man who turned down the Beatles.
4 September 1962: 2nd visit to Abbey Road – Goodbye Pete…Hello Ringo
By the time that the Beatles returned to Abbey Road for their second recording session, Ringo Starr had replaced Pete Best as the Fab Four’s drummer.
Just two songs were recorded that day, Love Me Do and How Do You Do It. Producer George Martin was very keen for the Beatles to release the Mitch Murray penned How Do You Do It as their first single but the Liverpudlians were adamant that they only wanted to release their own material as their debut single. All was not lost for Murray, another very popular Liverpool group Gerry and the Pacemakers released the song as their debut single and scored a British #1.
It took the Beatles until May 1963 to hit the top spot, with their third single, From Me to You.
The Beatles were now the “Fab Four” …and a legend was born.
25 February 1963: Released Please Please Me c/w Ask Me Why (US)
Following the Beatles’ success in the UK, producer George Martin tried to interest EMI’s American sister company, Capitol Records, to take up their option on the Beatles. Capitol was not convinced that the Liverpudlians would sell in America so passed up on the opportunity to release their material.
Seizing the moment, the small independent label Vee-Jay jumped at the chance to market the Beatles and this single became the Fab Four’s first-ever release in America. It failed to chart, as did their second single, From Me to You. Vee-Jay’s first taste of chart success came with their third release on 30 January* 1964, which coupled the first two A-sides, Please Please Me and From Me to You.
The Beatles Story – to be continued…
21 February 1975: John Lennon released his album Rock’n’Roll (UK)
Made during John Lennon’s “lost weekend”, this was an eventful time resulting in disputes with both producer Phil Spector and Chuck Berry’s publisher Morris Levy.
Having worked with Spector on a number of occasions, Lennon enlisted his help once again to produce an album of some of his favourite rock’n’roll songs. The sessions proved to be highly volatile and eventually fell apart. Spector had paid for the studio time and, believing that he was entitled to the results, absconded with the tapes. Lennon eventually retrieved the recordings but only used four of the tracks produced by Spector. This was the last time that Lennon and Spector ever worked together.
Chuck Berry’s publisher, Morris Levy, had previously brought a lawsuit against Lennon because he had used some of Berry’s lyrics from You Can’t Catch Me in his Beatles song Come Together. To placate the situation Lennon agreed to include Berry compositions on his forthcoming album. When Lennon gave Levy the tapes from some of the early Spector sessions, Levy released these songs as the album Roots: John Lennon Sings the Great Rock & Roll Hits, claiming that it was an official album sanctioned by Lennon. Suit and countersuit followed. These resulted in the withdrawal of the Roots album and the early release of the official Rock’n’Roll album. Rock’n’Roll included two Chuck Berry songs, You Can’t Catch Me and Sweet Little Sixteen.
The John Lennon Story – to be continued…