John, Paul, George & Ringo: The Solo Years
- The first Beatle scribes.
John Lennon and George Harrison
Sure, all of the Beatles were handy at writing a lyric or two. But when it came to setting word in typeset and having it published, Mr. John Lennon was the first Beatle to venture into the world of books. With his two renowned short story collections from the mid-sixties, “In His Own Write” and “A Spaniard In The Works,” he was praised as an irreverent and humorous talent. The New York Times said, “He writes like a Beatle possessed…inspired nonsense.” Actually, Lennon’s witty little stories were inspired by the off-kilter humor of Peter Sellers and his Goon Show radio pals from the 1950s and early ‘60s. With their twist of phrase and mangling of vocabulary, the Goons’ influence is clearly evident throughout the musings of Lennon’s hilarious works. As an example, here’s one of his shortest stories from “In His Own Write” entitled “Good Dog Nigel:” “Arf, Arf, he goes, a merry sight, Our little hairy friend, Arf, Arf, upon the lamppost bright, Arfing round the bend, Nice dog! Goo boy, Waggie tail and beg, Clever Nigel, jump for joy, Because we’re putting you to sleep at three of the clock, Nigel.”
Interestingly enough, it was Lennon who openly chastised George Harrison’s efforts in 1980 when the “quiet” Beatle was the first of the bunch to pen an autobiography. In actuality, George’s assistant, Derek Taylor, ghost-wrote the book, which was issued in an extremely high-priced (148 English pounds), limited, leather-bound edition of 2,000 copies from a small firm in England by the name of Genesis Publications (Simon & Schuster later released the book in mass market format). Titled “I Me Mine,” the autobiography was filled with reproductions of his original song lyrics, a few photographs, and some musings on his days with The Beatles. So, why was John Lennon miffed with George? Here’s what he told Playboy in 1980: “(George) put a book out privately on his life that, by glaring omission, says that my influence on his life is absolutely zilch and nil. In his book, which is purportedly this clarity of vision of his influence on each song he wrote, he remembers every two-bit sax player or guitarist he met in subsequent years. I’m not in the book.” Asked why, Lennon elaborated, “Because George’s relationship with me was one of young follower and older guy. He’s three or four years younger than me. It’s a love-hate relationship and I think George still bears resentment toward me for being a daddy who left home. He would not agree with this, but that’s my feeling about it. I was just hurt. I was just left out, as if I didn’t exist.”
Sidebar: The last time George tried to talk with John
On August 13, 1980, George apparently phoned John at the Dakota. John was still quite bitter about not being mentioned in George’s “I Me Mine” book. Lennon simply ignored the message Harrison left. This was the last known time the two ever came to communicating with one another.
- The first Beatle to act in a movie without his fellow moptops.
Even though John Lennon accepted the role of Private Gripweed in “How I Won The War” without ever having read the script, he knew he was in capable hands with director Richard Lester, who had previously helmed The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help” films. On September 5, 1966, Lennon flew to Celle, West Germany to begin principal photography of the antiwar satire, and the next day, he had his hair cut short. John also put on a pair of “granny glasses,” a choice in eyewear he would continue to use until his death in 1980. The film’s grim manner, in which it presented an atypical war story in very dark comedic tones, appealed to Lennon’s sense of humor. He was also drawn to director Lester’s desire to smash the puffed up, haughty sensibilities of Hollywood toward men in battle. Lester said, “One of the gross obscenities about war is the war film itself. War on the screen is treated like a great big adventure with extras being killed in the way of a Western.” “How I Won The War” certainly doesn’t glamorize war.
For John, this solo endeavor was a first stepping stone to distancing himself from his three Liverpool pals. He told a reporter, in reference to his stint as a world-famous Beatle, “If we’re going out the door of the hotel we say, ‘Right, Beatle John! Beatle George, now! Come on, let’s go!’ We don’t put a false front on anything. But we just know that leaving that door, we turn into Beatles because everybody looking at us sees the Beatles. We’re not the Beatles at all. We’re just us. But we created that to an extent, and that’s how it’s going to be. That’s why George is in India studying the sitar and I’m here making this. Because we’re a bit tired of going out the door, and the only way to soften the blow is just to spread out a bit.” All the same, John sat about his rented house when the crew moved the film shoot to Spain, strumming his next brainstorm for a Beatles song, “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Lennon turned in a very fine performance for the film, and even though director Lester tried to encourage him to pursue further acting projects, John only grumbled his observation that the world of stage and film was just filled with “people up there trying to pretend they’re somewhere else.” It was the last feature film he was to act in.
- The first Beatle to release a solo album.
If you assumed Paul was the first to release a solo record, you’d be right, but if you assumed it was his self-titled “McCartney” album, you would be wrong. “McCartney” was recorded sporadically on Paul’s Scottish farm throughout 1969 and early 1970 and contained the hit single “Maybe I’m Amazed.” But by the time it was released in April 1970, the three other Beatles had already launched solo ventures of their own. Just a month before, in March, Ringo had issued an album of golden oldies covers called “Sentimental Journey” on the Apple label. Before him, John and Yoko had released three experimental albums, “Two Virgins” (on November 29, 1968), “Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions” (5/69), and “The Wedding Album” (11/69). George had beaten John to the punch by a few weeks with his sitar and electronic tinkerings performing the soundtrack music for a quirky psychedelia movie called “Wonderwall” released on November 1, 1968.
But, alas, Paul did, indeed, beat them all out of the solo performance gate with his June 1967 release of “The Family Way” soundtrack, a British film starring Hayley Mills, which McCartney wrote the score for in November/December 1966. Produced by George Martin and recorded just before The Beatles worked on the single “Strawberry Fields Forever,” the movie soundtrack features a theme called “Love In The Open Air” which was composed by Paul. The entire album is made up of 13 variations of this central theme.
Sidebar: The Family Way
This gentle, yet straightforward film was rather controversial for its time in the way it handled newlyweds Hayley Mills and Hywel Bennett’s relationship. Impotence and pregnancy were subjects not discussed very much in films circa 1966. Today, it all seems rather harmless, as the young couple tries to get along with living in her parents home to make ends meet. The film still holds up as a nice time capsule of morals and manners from a different era.
- The first ex-Beatle to direct and produce a film.
John Lennon (with Yoko)
In 1967, when all four Beatles felt the wind taken out of their sails by the death of their manager-extraordinaire, Brian Epstein, Paul rallied the troops, inciting them to take to the road, like Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters had done in the United States, and make a film of their weird odyssey. The Beatles-directed “Magical Mystery Tour” was a resounding flop which only aired on British television at the time.
Once John Lennon started to detach himself from the group in his new relationship with Yoko Ono, the couple’s desire to create avant-garde art teetered towards making films together. These were hardly movies you’d want to sit through at the local multiplex, however. They were experimental “art” movies, short on plot, but “deep” on meaning.
The first two films John and Yoko made were in late 1968 and were shot at John’s home in Weybridge. “Smile” was an hour-long film composed of multiple scenes of John’s face, smiling. “Two Virgins” consisted of John’s face superimposed over Yoko’s. Their third film, “Rape,” was a bit more ambitious. It featured a woman ‘raped’ by the constant scrutiny of a film camera, as she is pursued relentlessly by journalists, whereupon she finally attacks the camera. John and Yoko flew to Vienna, Austria on March 31, 1969 to premiere the film on the country’s television network, and they held a press conference on top of a table covered by a white sheet at their hotel. Many in the attending media snickered at their presentation, calling them “Joko.” John later commemorated the event in his Beatles song “The Ballad of John and Yoko.”
Afterwards, the twosome finished editing their hour-long film “Honeymoon,” which was a document of their week-long stay in bed after their wedding at the Amsterdam Hilton. They also made a film called “Self Portrait,” which featured John’s penis in various stages of erection. In 1970, the lovebirds shot two more films, “Apotheosis” and “Erection.” This time, “Erection” referred to the documentation of a hotel being constructed in London over a nine-month period. “Apotheosis” featured a solitary balloon floating up to the clouds.
Sidebar: “The Ballad of John & Yoko”
This Beatles song featured lyrics that described John and Yoko’s exhibition of “Rape” in Austria. “Made a lightning trip to Vienna/Eating chocolate cake in a bag/The newspapers said/’She’s gone to his head’/They look just like two gurus in drag.”
- The former Beatle most likely be ticketed for speeding in a sports car.
As far back as June 28, 1967 when 24 year-old Harrison was pulled for racing his car on a public street and ticketed 6 pounds, George has seemingly felt the need for speed. On February 23, 1971, his zippy maneuvering resulted in a speeding ticket, as well as his driving license being suspended for a year. His true love affair with all things fast occurred by the end of the 1970s, when he started attending racing events around the globe.
In July 1977, he was first spotted at the British Grand Prix in Silverstone, talking with some of the drivers. Befriending racing pro Jackie Stewart, Harrison championed the motor speedway world when he released his self-titled “George Harrison” album, which contained the song “Faster.” With the revving sounds of Formula 1 cars whizzing past on the track, the song whisked along at a bracing pace, and George wound up donating the royalties from the tune to the Gunnar Nilsson Cancer Fund, named after the racing superstar who had passed away from the illness. In 1979, he took part in a charity race for the Fund at Brand Hatch, commandeering the wheel of a 1960 Lotus against seasoned drivers like Stewart, James Hunt, and Phil Hill. He subsequently participated in several other racecar charity events.
Harrison told People magazine in 1987, “there’s a ridiculous amount of money involved – Honda spends 50 million pounds a year – just so these lunatics can race around in circles and win points for the world championship. There’s something fascinating about that.” Keeping with his spiritual approach to life in this world, though, Harrison admiringly concludes, “Those drivers have to be so together in the consciousness.” George continued to attend Grand Prix events in places like Spain, Australia and California throughout the next decade.
Sidebar: The chorus from “Faster”
Faster than a bullet from a gun,
He is faster than everyone,
Quicker than the blinking of an eye,
Like a flash you could miss him going by,
No one knows quite how he does it but it’s true they say,
He’s the master of going faster.
- The ex-Beatle who has the greatest tendency to mask his involvement in side projects.
While all of the Beatles have been involved in numerous recordings, both as stand-in session players, and as producers, McCartney seems to have gotten the most thrill out of masking his presence on musical endeavors. George Harrison would probably merit the runner-up position in this category, with his alias as Nelson Wilbury on his two Traveling Wilbury albums, as well as his performing as Harri Georgeson in 1974 on two albums by the band Splinter. But, McCartney takes the top dibs on disguise.
In late 1968, Paul started producing a single called “I’m The Urban Spaceman” by The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, a novelty British act that played old music hall-style songs, led by future Beatles’ parody-meister Neil Innes of The Rutles. The tongue-in-cheek lyrics like “I’m the Urban Spaceman, baby/I’ve got speed, I’ve got everything I need,” appealed to Paul’s sense of humor. But other Beatles obligations required McCartney’s attentions, so producer Gus Dudgeon (of Elton John fame) wrapped up the track. Under Paul’s insistence, the song production was credited to Apollo C. Vermouth.
The next year, popular rocker Steve Miller, recording for The Beatles’ American label Capitol, released a single called “My Dark Hour” which featured Paul playing bass guitar, drums, and lending his backing vocals. McCartney was credited on the record sleeve as being Paul Ramone.
In between the recording of Wings’ “Red Rose Speedway” and “Band On The Run” LPs, in early 1973, Paul & Linda McCartney, along with Denny Laine, went to Kingston, Jamaica to tap into the distinctive island beat making its sound known to the world at that time. They met up with famed reggae producer Lee “Scratch” Perry. Spending several days tooling with different melodies, the sessions ended with only one significant song that could be considered releasable. It was called “Seaside Woman” and featured Linda on lead vocals. It was released as a single through Epic Records in May 1977 and the trio named themselves Suzy and The Red Stripes.
In 1974, Paul and his new Wings line-up headed to the United States and recorded songs for their upcoming “Venus and Mars” album in New Orleans and Nashville. While in the latter city, Paul wanted to pay tribute to his father, Jim, who had been a fledgling songwriter in his own right. Paul laid down a track to an old song by his dad called “Walking in the Park With Eloise,” and along with Wings, he corralled the talents of Chet Atkins on guitar and Floyd Cramer on piano. EMI issued the single with Paul’s own composition, “Bridge Over the River Suite” as the B-side, in October 1974 under the pseudonymous group name The Country Hams.
The one alias endeavor Paul undertook which clearly was the most obscure and least known of all the former Beatles’ projects had its beginnings in 1971. In early May of that year, Paul had put the finishing touches on his latest album, “Ram.” The LP was primarily renowned for its number 1 single “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.” During the second week of that month, Paul contacted Richard Hewson, an orchestral arranger McCartney had used when he produced Mary Hopkin’s single “Those Were The Days” in 1968. Hewson had also scored the orchestral backings for producer Phil Spector on The Beatles’ “The Long and Winding Road.” According to author Matt Hurwitz, Paul asked Hewson, “How’d you fancy orchestrating the “Ram” album for an orchestra, you know, without any vocals?” Hewson, nor the general public, had not yet heard the “Ram” LP at that point, since it wasn’t due for release until the 28th of May.
Nevertheless, Hewson accepted the offer, McCartney sent over an advance album to the composer, and within a month’s time, the Abbey Road Studios were filled with musicians ready to perform Hewson’s adaptation. For three days, June 15th through 17th, Hewson successfully guided his orchestra as they professionally worked through the arrangements. McCartney sat in on all the sessions, strictly as a producer, and never sang or played a note. Overall, Hewson and McCartney were ecstatic with the results and felt the record could be successful. It had been a worthy experimental endeavor. However, Paul’s attention was pulled in a new direction shortly thereafter, as he formed his first line-up of Wings, and began recording the “Wild Life” album. His orchestral “Ram” LP was indefinitely shelved. Around this time, Paul had formed his new publishing company, MPL (McCartney Productions, Ltd.), and the first artist the press were told had been signed to the roster was an Irish bandleader named Percy Thrillington.
Hewson received word from McCartney’s camp, five years later in October 1976, that Paul was considering releasing the “Ram” instrumental album. By February 1977, Paul and Linda placed ads in London’s Evening Standard and The Times newspapers regarding one Percy Thrillington and advance word on his upcoming album. Finally, on April 29th, the instrumental “Ram” album, now called “Thrillington,” was released to a baffled British audience. There was no mention of Paul McCartney, and the LP was credited to Percy “Thrills” Thrillington. The album cover featured an artist’s rendering of a tuxedoed violinist with a ram’s head. Sales for the record were next to nothing. It quietly disappeared and was never re-released. Needless to say, this album is quite a collector’s item amongst McCartney and Beatles fans. It has subsequently been released on CD.
McCartney’s penchant for disguising his persona petered out as the 1980s approached, but he reprised his dodging ways in February 1994, when, together with Youth, the former bass player with Killing Joke, the duo released an album under the group name The Fireman. Neither man’s name were credited on the CD. The Fireman’s debut album was titled “Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest,” and it was released on the Juggler Music label (McCartney’s MPL company logo is a juggler). With its trance, ambient samples and sounds, and variations on a basic theme, one would be hard pressed to peg this as a Paul McCartney project. The duo followed it up in October 1998 with another Fireman release “Rushes.” Perhaps McCartney’s insistent claims all these years of having an equal share in avant-garde interests as John Lennon once did are finally pushing him to prove it.
Sidebar: McCartney’s Latest Project
In August 2000 it was announced that Paul was contributing a song, in collaboration with the group Super Furry Animals, to an album called “Liverpool Sound Collage,” a project undertaken by Peter Blake, the man who designed the Sergeant Peppers album cover. With production touches from his “Fireman” partner Youth, the track “Free Now” is an ambient dance tune that features all four members of the Beatles chatting. Their voices are lifted from Paul’s personal outtakes of their sessions in the ‘60s. During one moment, John Lennon can be heard saying, “OK Paul, you ready boy? This is it.” And Paul responds, “I feel it, I feel free now, free now.” McCartney also recorded sounds around Liverpool for the song, such as voices of shoppers, students, and women at a local fish and chips emporium.
- The solo Beatle who was prone to recording silence.
As John and Yoko became more experimental in their recordings of the late 1960s, the more Lennon’s fans became turned off by his work. This aversion did nothing to deter him from forging ahead with his avant-garde leanings. After the release of the couple’s first solo album, “Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins,” a compendium of screams and bizarre sound effects recorded on their first night together at John’s home, Ono and Lennon followed it up with “Unfinished Music No. 2: Life With The Lions,” released on May 9, 1969. The album featured the sounds of Yoko in the hospital, as she and John came to realize that she had miscarried their baby. One of the tracks on the album was “Two Minutes Silence,” which turned out to be just that.
On April Fools Day in 1973, at a press conference in New York, John and Yoko announced they were forming a new country that had no boundaries or laws and were planning to call it Nutopia. When Lennon’s album “Mind Games” was released on November 16th of that year, the record included a song called the “Nutopian International Anthem.” It turned out to be a silent track.
Sidebar: Not quite silence
For the unorthodox couple’s third album release, “The Wedding Album,” issued on November 7, 1969, an advance pressing, consisting of two records, was sent to music critics around Britain. Richard Williams, the reviewer for the music magazine Melody Maker, wound up critiquing all four sides of the records. The problem was that the “B” sides, sides 2 and 4, only consisted of a monotonous tone made by the record engineer’s test signal. Williams seriously analyzed this sound, saying that it altered ever so slightly by a microtone and a semitone, producing a minute, but discernable, uneven beat. John and Yoko incredulously and delightedly sent Williams a telegram saying, “We both feel that this is the first time a critic topped the artist.”
- The two Beatles who wound up owning the same home.
John Lennon and Ringo Starr
After Lennon married Yoko Ono on March 20, 1969, the two of them wanted to find a place where they could start anew. John’s Weybridge home, which he had shared with his first wife, Cynthia, held too many memories associated with a life he wanted to discard. So in the summer of 1969, John and Yoko bought a thirty-room, 300 year-old Georgian manor near Sunningdale, England named Tittenhurst Park for 150,000 pounds. Situated on 72 acres of land, the property housed gardens, a farm, cottages, a recording studio, a lake with an island, and seven large bedrooms.
Ringo and his wife Maureen bought the home from the Lennons in September 1973 after John and Yoko had permanently settled in New York. The huge estate only served to foster detached feelings already present in their marriage. The couple separated and divorced a year and a half later.
- The first moptop to score a #1 solo album and unleash a public feud at the same time.
Just as important as it was that Paul’s album showed the world that a solo Beatle could be as successful as the group from which he sprang, it was also quite effective in nailing down, as a sad fact, that the best rock and roll group of the 1960s was finished. Having tinkered with songs for his first solo record, “McCartney,” for almost half a year, the album was released on April 17, 1970, a month before the May 18th issuance of the Beatles final record, “Let It Be.” Although it contained the notable gem “Maybe I’m Amazed,” the “McCartney” album did not have songs tailor-made for radio airplay. But the buying public was still either in the dark or just trying to fathom the seemingly shocking news that their beloved group was no more, and avidly snatched up this record the way they had with all of The Beatles’ output. “McCartney” sailed to number 1 on the U.S. chart for three weeks before getting knocked from its top perch by the release of “Let It Be.”
Advance pressings of the album contained an interview with McCartney, a mock document in which he both asked and answered questions of himself. “Are you planning a new album or single with the Beatles?” “No” was the written answer. “Do you foresee a time when Lennon-McCartney becomes an active songwriting partnership again?” “No.” And as a bit of a sting to his former best friend, “Will Paul and Linda become a John and Yoko?” “No, they will become Paul and Linda.” John Lennon was furious that Paul had been the first to announce his split from The Beatles and that “McCartney” was released so closely to the date “Let It Be” was to hit the streets. The Beatles couldn’t simply walk away from their band. Money had to be divvied up, and as separate entities, tax shares needed to be accounted for in relation to all new monies earned by the group. Paul was the holdout, not wanting to be liable for any of it.
John and Paul traded lashing interviews at each other in the press. McCartney told Melody Maker magazine that he just wanted to sign a paper and split up the money. John angrily responded, “For the millionth time…I repeat, what about the TAX? It’s all very well playing ‘simple honest ole human Paul’ in the “Melody Maker,” but you know damn well we can’t just sign a bit of paper.”
Paul followed up his “McCartney” album with “Ram,” which contained lyrical arrows apparently slung in Lennon’s direction (ex. “too many people preaching practices”). The album’s back cover featured two beetles copulating, a slight allusion to how he felt about the treatment he was receiving from Lennon. The front cover featured McCartney grabbing a ram by its horns. For Lennon’s next album, “Imagine,” John inserted a photo inside the record sleeve which depicted him grabbing a pig by its ears. John’s song “How Do You Sleep?” (with its lyrics “the only thing you done was yesterday/and since you’ve gone you’re just another day,” along with, “The sound you make is Muzak in my ears/you must have learned something in all those years”) seemed like a launched missile aimed squarely at the McCartney camp. These initial creative scrabbles left a bitter taste in all four Beatles’ psyches for years to come.
- The first moptop to score a #1 hit single without his ex-bandmates.
Harrison had written the song “My Sweet Lord” in December 1969 and given it to R&B/Gospel artist Billy Preston for his Apple album “Encouraging Words.” But as George was recording his landmark three-album set “All Things Must Pass,” he included the spiritually-praising song as a track on the first disc. In November 1970, he released the song as a single in the United States, where it hit number one the day after Christmas and held the spot for four weeks. In his autobiography, George related, “I was inspired to write ‘My Sweet Lord’ by the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ version of ‘Oh Happy Day.’”
Bright Tunes, the music publisher of the Ronnie Mack song “He’s So Fine,” which was a hit for the Chiffons, seemed to think George had gotten his inspiration from their tune. The publisher filed a lawsuit that effectively halted all copyright proceeds garnered by “My Sweet Lord” to Harrison until the matter of plagiarism had been resolved. On September 7, 1976, George was found guilty of plagiarizing “He’s So Fine,” even though the district court judge felt Harrison had not consciously done so. Former Beatle manager, Allen Klein, ever the garrulous ambulance chaser, swooped in, purchased the rights to “He’s So Fine” and sued Harrison for damages over many years thereafter. George tried to just give the song away by that point. He wrote, “I’ve never had any money from it – it’s always been in escrow – and as far as I’m concerned the effect the song has had far exceeds any bitching that’s been going on between copyright people; it’s just greed and jealousy and all that.” As a response to all the headaches, Harrison wrote the jaunty, cynical tune “This Song” in 1977, with its lyrics, “This song ain’t black or white, and as far as I know, don’t infringe on anyone’s copyright,” which good-naturedly poked fun at the whole hoopla surrounding his earlier woes.
Sidebar: “He’s So Fine”
The four female friends from Manhattan and the Bronx who made up The Chiffons were just graduating from high school when they recorded Ronnie Mack’s famous single. The record hit number one on the Billboard chart on March 30, 1963 and stayed at the top position for 4 weeks. Soon after Mack received a gold record for his hit song, he died of Hodgkin’s Disease. His estate collected the monies won from George Harrison’s plagiarism case concerning “My Sweet Lord.”
- The former Beatle who had every right to believe he was being spied on.
On August 13, 1971, John Lennon flew out of Heathrow Airport near London, headed for New York. He was to never step foot in Great Britain again. As soon as he touched down and set up a life for himself and Yoko in Greenwich Village, trouble started. The ex-Beatle was now not only promoting peace, he had also taken up several other “leftist” causes. He began associating with “politically controversial” figures like Bobby Seale of The Black Panthers and yippie activist Jerry Rubin. He also was under surveillance by the FBI.
As early as April 1970, the FBI was shadowing Lennon. When he and his Beatles bandmates flew to Los Angeles during that month to discuss business matters with Capitol Records concerning the dissolution of the group, the FBI was aware that Lennon was traveling under the alias Chambers. George Harrison was arriving under the name Masters. Both had been ineligible to enter the U.S. because of their narcotics record in England, so with a wink and a nudge, they were allowed to slip onto American soil, but not without the alert detection of the D.C. G-Men.
When John decided to perform at a University of Michigan rally to free John Sinclair, a political activist sentenced to 10 years in prison for selling two marijuana joints to an undercover officer, the FBI’s informers were everywhere, filing reports on the matter. Lennon had composed a song for the occasion called “John Sinclair,” whose lyrics were certainly not veiled in their empathy to the controversial prisoner. (“If he’d been a soldier man, shooting gooks in Vietnam/If he was a flying man, dropping dope in old Siam/He’d be free, they’d let him be, breathing air, like you and me.”) Several inter-department memos flew about, and the conclusion was that Lennon needed to be monitored.
Meanwhile, John and his new friends tried to put together a national tour that would showcase activist songs and anti-war political rhetoric. South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond caught wind of their plans and notified Attorney General John Mitchell, citing that Lennon’s popularity would cause people, who would otherwise not be inclined to step forward for the cause, to do just that. Thurmond suggested Lennon’s visa to stay in the United States be revoked. In March 1972, the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) started deportation hearings against Lennon, based on his 1968 narcotic conviction in Britain.
- Edgar Hoover, himself, activated his New York agents to tail Lennon wherever he went. Lennon’s immigration attorney, Leon Wildes, related that, “John was annoyed that they (the FBI) were following him and making a point that he know they were following him. They would be across the street fixing a bike and they would take out cameras and fool around with them. They came to fix his phone when there was nothing wrong with his phone.”
In April 1972, Hoover notified Nixon’s chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, that the deportation efforts were going ahead full force against the ex-Beatle. Lennon made it to Nixon’s very own “enemies list.” After Lennon was not associated with the arrests surrounding the Democratic and Republican conventions in the summer of 1972, the FBI closed its snooping activities in New York on Lennon on December 8th (a very significant date as well, eight years later). John fought against the INS’ deportation case for another three years, until, finally, the U.S. Court of Appeals barred the deportation order in October 1975. By that time, Hoover had died, Nixon was gone, and Lennon had himself a bouncing new baby.
- The former Beatle who had two of his singles banned in one year.
On Sunday, January 30, 1972, Irish civil rights marchers walked through the streets of Derry to protest British occupation. As they approached various intersections, gas bombs and rubber bullets were fired at them by British soldiers. Then, real ammunition erupted from British snipers on rooftops and paratrooper soldiers along the roadside. Crowds of civilians ducked for cover in all directions, and by the end of Bloody Sunday, 14 of the marchers had lost their lives. The British claimed they had come under attack from patriot gunmen and bombers, but not one British soldier was treated for injuries that day, nor were any weapons found amongst the civilians.
Paul McCartney later told journalist Timothy White, “We used to joke that Liverpool was the capital of Ireland. Suddenly we were killing our buddies and I thought, wait a minute, this is not clever and I wish to protest on behalf of the people.” So, he quickly put together a single called “Give Ireland Back To The Irish” under his new Wings moniker and released it on February 25, 1972. Many people saw it as Paul’s flaccid attempt to project a radical slant on an inflammatory topic much the way John Lennon so effortlessly was able to accomplish. Denny Laine, who was a part of Wings at the time, said to author Geoffrey Giuliano, “Paul was quite innocently trying to solve a problem which obviously can’t be solved with a song. A lot of Irish people took umbrage at it which was a bit frightening.” And the British government was irked as well. The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) officially banned the song from radio airplay because of its political bent. Controversy can sometimes cause sales of the article in question to skyrocket, but because of the amateurish nature of Paul’s single, consumers let the song quietly fade away on the record racks. Lennon didn’t fare much better, sales-wise, in addressing this cause, when he trotted off the song “Sunday Bloody Sunday” on his “Sometime in New York City” double album, which was released in June of that year.
Later in 1972, after Paul was busted for pot in Gothenberg, Sweden, he recorded the rocking single “Hi, Hi, Hi.” It was almost as if he was sticking his tongue out at the Establishment. The song debuted on the “Tony Blackburn Breakfast Show” on BBC radio, but by November 30, 1972, the British-owned station banned it from the airwaves. “Hi, Hi, Hi,” nevertheless, reached number 10 on America’s Billboard chart.
- The first ex-Beatle to direct a feature-length film.
In March 1972, Ringo got together several cameramen to film a musician whom Starr greatly admired, Marc Bolan of T-Rex. While T-Rex played two back-to-back concerts at London’s Wembley Stadium on March 18th, Ringo directed his cameramen to cover the action. He subsequently filmed some comedy segments with Marc and then followed T-Rex into the Abbey Road Studio where he shot the recording of a song called “Children of the Revolution.” Ringo sat in on drums, while Elton John played the piano. Ringo looked back on the experience for Rolling Stone magazine in 1981, saying, “It was one of the nicest times of my life. I love directing, because you just shout, ‘Get me this, get me that, move that over there!’ It’s total control.” The film was distributed through the Beatles’ Apple Corps., under the name “Born To Boogie,” and Ringo showed up for the big premiere in London on December 14, 1972.
- The Ex-Beatle who’s spent the most time behind bars.
Who’d have thought that sweet Mr. McCartney would be considered the hardened delinquent of the bunch? It all began back when he was a young Beatle playing the clubs in Hamburg, Germany. Cramped living conditions and horrid plumbing caused McCartney and former Beatle drummer Pete Best to light a condom on fire in their backroom sleeping quarters at the Indra cinema/nightclub. Paul told Rolling Stone magazine, “As we were walking down the street, same evening, the German police pulled up. And they slung us in the jail, and we were in there for about three or four hours with one of those little peepholes, and we couldn’t see anything, and we didn’t know what we were in for. Eventually it transpired that this guy had said we tried to burn down his cinema.” The two were thrown out of the country the next day.
By the time McCartney went solo, it wasn’t flaming contraceptives that got him in trouble with the law. On August 10, 1972, in the midst of a Wings tour through Europe, Gothenburg police in Sweden were alerted to a package which had shown up at the McCartney’s hotel from England addressed to band member Denny Seiwell. The contents within turned out to be seven ounces of cannabis. Paul and his band Wings were playing a gig at the town’s Scandinavian Hall. The police pulled the plug on their performance and as press photographer Joe Stevens related to author Chris Salewicz, as he snapped shots of the McCartneys, “Paul is grimacing a lot, but he’s also mugging for the camera – he’s definitely working the whole thing for the maximum publicity.” While Steven’s photos wound up on the cover of the Daily Express, the McCartneys spent five hours locked together in the same cell, where they finally confessed to the contraband. The police official at the station later related, “At first they said they knew nothing about it. But after we questioned them for about three hours, they told the truth. McCartney, his wife, and Seiwell told us they smoked hash everyday. They said they were almost addicted to it. They said they had made arrangements to have the drugs posted to them each day they played in different countries so they wouldn’t have to take anything through customs themselves.” The pair were released after being fined 1,000 pounds.
Paul boldly announced to reporters the next day, “We smoke grass, and we like it, and that’s why someone sent it to us in an envelope.” Fellow Wings band member Denny Laine concurred that the McCartneys had a very specific fondness for marijuana. He apparently witnessed the pair smuggling bags of weed in their daughter Stella’s coat and, later, in their son James’ diapers, while on the road. Their bust in Sweden made worldwide headlines, and back home in Campbelltown, Scotland, constable Norman McPhee went out to the McCartney farm and found some marijuana plants growing in the garden. Paul and Linda pleaded guilty to cultivating charges, and this time, the fine was only 100 pounds.
In 1975, when the McCartneys, with their three young daughters in tow, were pulled for a traffic violation in Los Angeles, the officer found 17 grams of marijuana in their car. This time, Linda took the rap, being placed under arrest, while Paul tried to find bail money. After the judge suggested Linda seek drug rehabilitation, the charges were later dropped.
Paul’s biggest stint behind bars, by far, as a result of his affection for dope, occurred when, after years of being denied visas to play concerts in Japan due to his bust record, Paul and his band were finally allowed to perform in the island nation. On January 16, 1980, the McCartney’s TWA plane touched down at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport from New York, and they were immediately surrounded by the press corps as they made their way through customs. With cameras flashing, and the McCartneys smiling appreciatively, a customs official opened a carry-on piece of luggage and extracted a plastic bag filled with unlawful weed. Paul later observed, “When the fellow pulled it out of the suitcase, he looked more embarrassed than me. I think he just wanted to put it back in and forget the whole thing, you know, but there it was.” Paul was led away in handcuffs, and the event hit every television news broadcast that evening.
The ex-Beatle was interrogated and thrown into a 4’ x 8’ cell. The Wings tour was effectively cancelled. Paul was told he could be facing eight years’ hard labor. He was kept in the jail cell, with only an occasional visit with interrogators, and on the sixth day, Linda finally was allowed to visit him. Back in the United States, a deranged fan wanting to ‘free’ Paul, waved a toy pistol at a Miami Airport reservation counter, demanding flight to Japan, and was immediately shot dead by airport police. Meanwhile, McCartney was finally allowed to bathe with other inmates after having spent a week splashing himself ‘clean’ with latrine water. On the ninth day of incarceration, the Japanese officials, who felt he’d deliberately tried to make them look bad by so flagrantly disregarding their laws, felt he’d been punished enough. As he passed the media one last time at the airport, McCartney strummed a tune on his acoustic guitar, presenting his showman façade to the situation, before boarding the plane.
Denny Laine, a friend and bandmate with Paul for 10 years, was irate and later said, “Wings needed those Japanese shows to continue. I had the sense to know that without new markets, the band wouldn’t survive…(Paul) felt very sorry for himself when he came out of prison, but he didn’t seem to understand he’d upset a lot of people…Of course, Paul bought himself out of jail the way he buys himself out of everything.” The bust was the last straw for Laine, who parted ways with Wings thereafter. “I left because Paul got busted in Japan, and we’d been waiting five years to get there.” On his next studio album release, Paul included the not-so-politically-correct-titled instrumental song “Frozen Jap.”
Finally, when the McCartneys returned to London from a January 1984 holiday in Barbados (where they had been arrested and fined $70 for possession of marijuana), Linda was subsequently issued a ticket to appear in court by British customs officials, who found a small bag of marijuana in one of her luggage bags. She received a small fine at Uxbridge Magistrates Court. It seems the pot-smoking excess of the McCartneys continually granted them fashionable accommodations in the world’s finest jails.
Sidebar: McCartney’s latter day comments about his drug intake
Paul told Rolling Stone in 1989, “I smoked a bit of pot, but I don’t really want to talk about it. I know what I know about it, and there are millions of people who know what I know about it. I’m not alone on this one. But you know, there is such a thing as law, and America is more enlightened than most places. It’s kind of decriminalized there. I think you’ve got a very healthy attitude towards it. However, there are some people who say, ‘Hey, that’s what led to crack.’ Who knows? Basically, I have my own idea of what I think is harmful. And heroin is up on the top of the list very definitely. And I don’t like coke. I don’t know about crack, and I don’t know about ecstasy. Those are after my time. The basic thing that I see is I’ve drunk whiskey and I’ve smoked pot, and I know which is worse for you. But there is always going to be someone who will say, ‘My son took that wicked weed and then went into cocaine and then he was a heroin addict, and he died last week.’ I can sympathize with that. So I don’t want to get involved.”
- The former Beatle who astounded actor Dustin Hoffman.
Before Paul and Linda flew off to Lagos, Nigeria to record the bulk of their landmark Wings album, “Band On The Run,” they took a holiday in Jamaica, staying at a rented home near Montego Bay in the early summer of 1973. A movie called “Papillon” was being shot on the island and starred Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. Linda phoned Hoffman, asking if he’d like to have some dinner, and the McCartneys spent an evening with the illustrious thespian and his wife, Annie. Hoffman quizzed McCartney on his songwriting talents, wondering how he could magically put together great tunes. As Paul told Rolling Stone magazine, “I was saying, ‘It’s the same as you and acting; when the man says, “Action!” you just pull it out of the bag, don’t you? You don’t know where it comes from, you just do it! How do you get all of your characterizations? It’s just in you.”
When the two couples met again a few days later, Dustin brought along a recent issue of Time magazine. He told Paul about the famous painter Pablo Picasso, who had died a few weeks before. According to a small obituary in the magazine, Picasso’s life was one of ritual, in which he would commence work in his studio around 3:30 in the afternoon and work straight through to midnight. As Hoffman related on the 25th Anniversary Edition of “Band On The Run,” “…And at midnight, he (Picasso) would have this one big meal of the day, and I think it was outdoors at that time. And he would have friends about him, maybe, whatever it was, 10, 15 people at this long table. And they would eat and drink wine, and afterwards, he would go back into his studio again and work until 3:30 in the morning.” It was reported that the night of his death, Picasso raised his glass and said prophetically, “Friends, drink to me, drink to my health, because you know I can’t drink anymore.” The famed painter then went to his studio and passed away sometime in the early morning hours.
Paul listened intently to Dustin’s story. Dustin recalled McCartney then “just started strumming, and I swear by all that’s holy, that he began singing this song of the story that I had just told him about Picasso. It just came out of him.” The lyrics, indeed, tumbled forth: “Drink to me, drink to my health, you know I can’t drink anymore…3:00 in the morning, I’m gettin’ ready for bed; It came without a warning, but I’ll be waitin’ for you, baby, I’ll be waiting for you there.” Hoffman said, “It’s right under childbirth, in terms of great events in my life…I mean, I was at the birth of something. I hope by my talking about it, I can, in some way, convey to the public what that feels like. I mean the fact of this is that, he didn’t come back the next day. He didn’t even start fiddling around. It literally was immediate. I finished the story, and he strummed his guitar and played it back.”
The song “Picasso’s Last Words (Drink To Me)” was eventually recorded while Paul and Linda, along with Denny Laine, were in Africa, and wound up as the ninth track on the famous “Band On The Run” album.
- The former Beatle who had a close encounter of the first kind.
Little green men? Well, not exactly. But there was the ship. In the summer of 1974, Lennon was estranged from wife Yoko and was living with his personal assistant, May Pang, in a one bedroom apartment at 434 East 52nd Street in Manhattan. On the night of August 23rd, Lennon reportedly made his sighting from the apartment and phoned the police. He told author Ray Coleman, “I was standing, naked, by this window leading on to that roof when an oval-shaped object started flying from left to right. It had a red light on the top. After about twenty minutes it disappeared over the East River and behind the United Nations Building. I wonder if it might have been carrying out some research there. They all think I’m potty, but it’s true. I shouted after it, ‘Wait for me, wait for me!’ But I’m not kidding, May and I saw it. I didn’t believe it either.” The police had told him that other people had phoned that night, reporting the same saucer. Asked if he had been smoking or drinking that night, Lennon told Coleman, “No, God’s honest truth. I only do that at weekends or when I see Harry Nilsson.”
- The first Beatle to tour the United States solo.
After the breakup of his marriage to Patti Harrison, who left her husband for his pal Eric Clapton, George Harrison turned to his fondness for spirits, both religiously and in the bottle. The resulting creative output from these two influences was shaped in his 1974 album “Dark Horse.” George felt the pull to get out and tour once again, and in the fall of 1974, he hit the road in North America for a 30-date concert schedule which began in Canada at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, BC on November 2nd.
The entire affair was less-than-enthusiastically received. Beatles fans who had been too young in the ‘60s to attend their supergroup’s concerts now had their first opportunity to glimpse at least one of their heroes live in performance. Sort of a Beatles-by-proxy. But Harrison layered on his Hindu spiritualism to the point of alienating even the hardest-core fan. Touring with Ravi Shankar and his group of 24 musicians, the Indian maestro opened Harrison’s concerts with over an hour of sitar-laced, Krishna-inspired music. When George finally took to the stage, he altered the lyrics of many of his beloved songs to reflect his Hindu leanings, and encouraged the audience to chant with him as if they were all a part of some meditative gathering. The Wings over America tour which Paul McCartney undertook in 1976 was a far more significant and financially-successful return to “Beatle-style” concert performances for those fans who craved to experience the glorious sounds of their icons.
Sidebar: George’s 1974 concert dates
November 2nd – Vancouver, Canada
November 4th – Seattle, Washington
November 6th & 7th – San Francisco, California
November 8th – Oakland, California (2 shows)
November 10th – Long Beach, California
November 11th & 12th – Los Angeles, California (3 shows)
November 14th – Tucson, Arizona (2 shows)
November 16th – Salt Lake City, Utah
November 18th – Denver, Colorado (2 shows)
November 20th – St. Louis, Missouri
November 21st – Tulsa, Oklahoma
November 22nd – Fort Worth, Texas
November 24th – Houston, Texas
November 26th – Baton Rouge, Louisiana
November 27th – Memphis, Tennessee
November 28th – Atlanta, Georgia (2 shows)
November 30th – Chicago, Illinois (2 shows)
December 4th – Detroit, Michigan (2 shows)
December 6th – Toronto, Canada (2 shows)
December 8th – Montreal, Canada (2 shows)
December 10th – Boston, Massachusetts (2 shows)
December 11th – Providence, Rhode Island
December 13th – Washington D.C. (2 shows)
December 15th – Long Island, New York (2 shows)
December 16th & 17th – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (3 shows)
December 19th & 20th – New York, New York (3 shows at Madison Square Garden)
- The ex-Beatle who was the first to release a solo single but the last to have a single go to number one.
All John was saying was give peace a chance. That was his notion for staging his silly “bagism” ploys and “bed-ins.” To get people to consider that peace could possibly be achieved if given an opportunity. When he and Yoko staged their week-long “bed-in” at the Hotel La Reine Elizabeth in Montreal, Canada, the media turned out in full measure. To cap off the week, John ordered a portable 8-track tape recorder brought up to the room, and with the vocal chanting of those admirers assembled, Tommy Smothers and Timothy Leary included, Lennon strummed his guitar and repeatedly sang “Give Peace A Chance.” The recording was released in July 1969, credited to the Plastic Ono Band, and was the first single any of the Beatles had issued as a solo member. The record reached number 14 on the U.S. chart at the same time the Beatles’ “Ballad of John and Yoko” was still climbing the rankings.
While the other three Beatles went on to score number one records throughout the early 1970s, Lennon’s singles, while just as popular, like “Imagine” and “Instant Karma,” nevertheless stalled before hitting the top spot. During most of 1974, while Lennon was in his “dark period” out in Los Angeles, separated from Yoko, he wrote the bulk of the material for his album “Walls and Bridges.” Elton John stopped by to provide harmonies on the song “Surprise, Surprise” and contributed significantly to the tune “Whatever Gets You Through The Night.” Elton felt the song would go to number one, and John lightheartedly dismissed his predictions. Elton made Lennon promise that if the single hit the top of the charts, the former Beatle would appear in concert with him. Lennon had not been in front of a live audience in over two years. The bet was taken, and on November 16, 1974, “Whatever Gets You Through The Night” hit Billboard Number One, and Lennon finally had his first chart-topping single. He also had a commitment to fulfill.
On Thanksgiving Day, November 28th, Elton was playing a concert at Madison Square Garden in New York. The crowd of 20,000 fans were amazed and cheered when Lennon strode out to accompany Elton on three songs: “Whatever Gets You Through The Night,” “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” and “I Saw Her Standing There.” (Elton would release the live recording of the latter song as a B-side to his “Philadelphia Freedom” single). Unbeknownst to Lennon, and in a secret arrangement with Elton, Yoko was in the audience. John and Yoko had not seen each other for a year. The reunion was palpable. They would be back together in less than two months. Sean, their son, would be born 10 months after that. And for Lennon, this concert marked the last time he appeared on stage.
Sidebar: Lennon’s “dark period” and the Tampax incident
Much has been written about John’s separation from Yoko in 1974, his move to Los Angeles, his romantic trysts with his assistant May Pang, and his wild partying with singer Harry Nilsson, drummer Keith Moon, and old chum, Ringo Starr. The biggest press accounts of his boozing binges culminated in a carousing night at Los Angeles’ Troubadour nightclub on March 12, 1974. The Smothers Brothers were performing onstage. It was reported that Lennon ran around with a Tampax on his head. John told Playboy magazine in 1980, “…I happened to go take a pee and there was a brand-new fresh Kotex, not Tampex, on the toilet. You know the old trick where you put a penny on your forehead and it sticks? I was a little high and I just picked it up and slapped it on and it stayed, you see. I walked out of the bathroom and I had a Kotex on my head. Big deal. Everybody went ‘Ha-ha-ha’ and it fell off, but the press blew it up.” Lennon also reportedly shouted insults at the two performing brothers and slugged their manager, as well as taking a swing at a nearby cocktail waitress. This resulted in him and his drinking buddy Harry Nilsson being summarily ejected from the club.
- The one Beatle who touched the hearts of football fans.
The Los Angeles Rams were facing off against the Washington Redskins on that cool December night. Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford and Don Meredith were delivering their trademark banter in the booth of ABC-TV’s “Monday Night Football” in LA. Ushered into their domain came John Lennon. He sat at the microphone for just a moment while Howard quizzed him on his thoughts about American football and any possibilities of a Beatles reunion. Lennon was congenial and warm-hearted. No trace of his wicked sarcasm. When he left the booth, he received a primer on the rules of the game from none other than Governor Ronald Reagan, who was in attendance that evening. The date was December 9, 1974.
Almost exactly six years later, “Monday Night Football” would be pivotal in the legacy surrounding John Lennon. On December 8, 1980, Lennon came face to face with gunman Mark Chapman outside his Dakota apartment building, and the fanatic suddenly opened fire on the famed musician. As John was being rushed to the hospital, Cosell received word over his earpiece of the shooting. He broke into a game between the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots to let Beatles fans everywhere know of the incident. Moments later, he received an update. With a grave tone in his voice Cosell said, “ABC News has confirmed that John Lennon, a member of the famed Beatles, maybe the best known member, has been shot twice in the back outside of his apartment building on the west side of New York tonight. Rushed to Roosevelt Hospital. Dead on arrival.” He concluded with, “Our game is in overtime, but it hardly seems to matter anymore.” For many Beatles fans, that evening of December 8th is forever embedded in their consciousness with the words of the man they first heard the tragic news from, Howard Cosell.
Sidebar: Cosell’s interview with John in 1974
Cosell: Now, I’ve got a most familiar figure and face. For all of you across the country here with me now…of the original Beatles, Mr. John Lennon. John…
Lennon: Hello Howard.
Cosell: Nice to see you, John.
Lennon: Nice to be here.
Cosell: Wanna move that up just a little closer…
Lennon: (into microphone) How are ya!
Cosell: What’s been your view of this American professional football thing?
Lennon: It’s an amazing event and sights. It makes rock concerts look like tea parties. But, I must say, the first thing I heard when I got in was them playing a Beatles tune “Yesterday” which cheered me up no end. I’ve been trying to follow the game, but I couldn’t understand why half the team was off and half the team was on.
Cosell: Well, we can’t explain that to you now. But, what’s your general impression of the game as compared with a) rugby, and b) soccer/football?
Lennon: It’s nothing like soccer. But I can see a very close relationship to rugby football which has the same shaped ball, and they move 15 yards down the line at a time. But I can see the game here has changed completely from that. But, it’s very similar in its aspects; the goals are the same, they have points the same, they have to get a touchdown the same, but they don’t have the scrum here, where both teams really punch each other.
Cosell: Well, we have our own kind of scrum as we’ve been showing with defensive end Freddie Dryer, number 89 of the Rams, all night. Will the Beatles ever reunite?
Lennon: Ya never know. Ya never know. I mean it’s always in the wind. If it looked like this, it might be worth doing, right?
Cosell: You did just spend the weekend with Ringo.
Lennon: Yeah, and I promised him I’d mention his album out now (“Goodnight Vienna”), and I said I wouldn’t mention my own (“Walls and Bridges”) which is out now too, forget it!
Cosell: Thank you very much, John.
Lennon: It’s been a pleasure. Thanks for having me, Howard.
Cosell: Well, maybe we’ll get to talk to you later in the show. Right now, we’ve got to rejoin the Gifford. Frank Gifford.
Lennon: Okay, Gifford. Over to Gifford. Bye-bye.
- Ex-Beatle most likely to be invited to an afternoon tea with Monty Python.
The satirical comedy troupe Monty Python had been a fixture in London’s entertainment scene since their inception in 1969. Their television program was hailed as a subversive, groundbreaking phenomenon by followers who were keen on sticking it to “The Establishment.” Harrison was a great admirer of the group, and friend of Pythons Eric Idle and Michael Palin. He appeared in a cameo in Idle’s offshoot comedy program “Rutland Weekend Television” in December 1975. On April 20, 1976, George joined the Pythons on stage at their famed City Center performance in New York for a rousing edition of “The Lumberjack Song.” Afterwards, he asked Eric Idle to contribute a Cobblepot rambling (Eric talking in a elderly woman’s voice) on the bridge of his tune “This Song.” Harrison returned the favor to Idle by appearing in his 1978 parody/tribute to the Fab Four, “All You Need Is Cash,” a veiled TV mockumentary of The Beatles centering around a group called The Rutles.
Cementing his friendship with the Pythons, Harrison leapt to their aid in 1979 when EMI Films backed out of a deal to fund their movie “Life Of Brian,” a tongue-in-cheek examination of self-proclaimed proselytizers during the period Jesus Christ walked amongst us. Harrison coughed up 11 million dollars to complete the filming, and with American businessman Denis O’Brien, he formed a production company named Handmade Films. The movie was released to blockbuster box office receipts. The entity of Handmade Films went on to make several critically-acclaimed movies throughout the 1980s, in particular films like “The Long Good Friday,” “Mona Lisa,” and “Withnail and I.” The company also helped bring to fruition other Python members’ film projects like “The Missionary,” “A Private Function,” and “Time Bandits.”
Sidebar: George played the Pythons “Lumberjack Song” over venue loudspeakers before each of his concerts during his 1974 Dark Horse tour.
- The former Beatle who just might have a remote interest in every one of your birthday celebrations.
As early as the mid-70s, the media began to take notice of the fact that Paul was buying up several music catalogs for his own publishing interests. With his purchase of Edwin H. Morris Music in July 1976, and its entire roster of Buddy Holly songs, the cat was out of the bag that McCartney was pushing his multi-millionaire status to the stratosphere. His MPL Corporation subsequently became one of the largest independent music publishers in the world. McCartney held the copyrights to, amongst other songs, “Stormy Weather,” “Sentimental Journey,” “Chopsticks,” and “Ramblin’ Wreck From Georgia Tech.” He bought up the music rights to the musicals “Mame,” “Annie,” “A Chorus Line,” “Grease,” “Hello Dolly,” and “Guys and Dolls.” And whenever someone in a movie, on television, in a play, or on the radio sang the words to “Happy Birthday,” a ditty Paul now owned, some form of payment was required to the McCartney establishment.
- The former Beatles who have performed in projects specifically for children.
Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney
As early as 1976, Paul McCartney, a man who by far had fathered the most children in his family compared with the other Beatles, was contemplating working up a project aimed at entertaining kids. What he was concocting was a score for a potential cartoon movie starring a beloved British bear named Rupert. Although known in the United States primarily through his appearance on the cable channel Nickelodeon, Rupert has been a fixture in England since November 8, 1920 when he first appeared in the London newspaper The Daily Express. Created by Mary Tourtel, the wife of the newspaper’s editor, the little bear’s adventures take him away from home with his friends Bill Badger, Podgy Pig, and Edward Trunk, amongst others, only to return safely into his dear mom’s embrace and a cup of tea by story’s end.
McCartney’s fondness for the comic strip series prompted him to finally record a song in 1980 called “We All Stand Together.” The song was kept under wraps for four years. In 1984, Paul released his own film, “Give My Regards To Broad Street,” and a full-length Rupert cartoon featuring Paul’s song (credited to Paul McCartney and The Frog Chorus) was produced by his production company and shown before “Broad Street” in theatres. The song and a video of the Rupert cartoon were top sellers in Britain for years, but remained unreleased in the United States. The re-mastered CD of Paul’s 1984 album “Pipes of Peace” now includes the track “We All Stand Together.”
Ringo Starr, however, truly spent a lot of his time involved in several projects for children. In December 1977, he starred in the title role of the children’s tale “Scouse The Mouse” for television. His 1978 NBC-TV special, “Ringo,” was a musical adaptation of the story “The Prince and The Pauper” and had a heartfelt slant to kids (George Harrison narrated the story). In 1985, he appeared as the Mock Turtle in a US television production of “Alice In Wonderland.” But most kids will remember him as a short guy in a train conductor’s outfit.
The story of Thomas the Tank Engine was created by a Reverend Wilbert Awdry in the early 1940s as a way to keep his young son, Christopher, who was battling scarlet fever, entertained. The Reverend’s stories of Thomas made it to book form in 1946. Subsequently, the following book series were a hit in England, and in 1984, Britt Allcroft recreated them for the ITV television show “Thomas The Tank Engine and Friends” and Starr narrated the stories. In 1989, US-owned PBS aired their program “Shining Time Station,” a revamp of the English counterpart, and Ringo played the 18-inch railway conductor/storyteller. After the first season, Starr’s character left to go to the North Pole and his conductor position was filled by his cousin, played by comedian George Carlin.
- The two Beatles who absolutely adored Mae West.
Ringo Starr and John Lennon
The screen legend who had the sassy mouth and swiveling hips in the 1930s had always been a favorite of Ringo’s. So when he had a chance to do a short vignette in her otherwise dismal 1977 film “Sextette,” Starr jumped at the chance. Playing a film director who becomes one of her conquests, Ringo acts with his usual deadpan aplomb in conjunction with the then, heavily-cosmeticized 85-year old legend. One of the best parties he threw during his ‘70s heyday included a rare appearance by Miss West. Ringo told Rolling Stone magazine, “She walked pretty slowly, but she came. And all these mad rock people just began kneeling around her, going, ‘Wow! It’s Mae West!’ Everybody got off on her. I mean, if you don’t get off on Mae, who can you get off on?”
John Lennon’s fixation on West was such that she was the only person in his life from whom he ever sought an autograph. His friend and spokesperson Elliot Mintz was able to secure her feeble signature for Lennon in the mid-‘70s. She reportedly said, “Now, what’s this fella’s last name?,” as she took pen in hand.
- The former Beatle who gave comedic actor Dan Ackroyd some gold.
In 1977, Paul and his Wings bandmate Denny Laine sat in the Scottish hills of Kintyre with a bottle of whiskey and dreamt up their multimillion-selling single “Mull of Kintyre.” While the record did phenomenal business in the U.K., and brought a swell of pride to Scotsmen everywhere, it was not a top seller in the United States. Nevertheless, as a promotional stunt for the single, the millionth copy of the 45 contained a note for that special someone who happened to purchase it. That someone, strangely enough, turned out to be Dan Ackroyd, who bought the record on December 17, 1977. The slip of paper notified him that, since he was the millionth customer, he would be presented a Christmas basket full of goodies from Laine, and he would also be presented a gold disc of the “Mull of Kintyre” single from EMI records. McCartney later contributed the song “Spies Like Us” to the 1985 spoof film of the same name starring Ackroyd and Chevy Chase.
- The ex-Beatle who possesses a chunk of rhodium.
Atomic number 45, atomic weight 102.905, specific gravity 12.41. A hard, durable silvery-white metallic element that is used to form high-temperature alloys with platinum. It’s rhodium, and it was the substance The Guinness Book of World Records chose to use in the composition of their valuable disc they awarded Paul on October 24, 1979. Rhodium is a metal more precious than gold or platinum. The reason for the disc, which took place at Les Ambassadeurs Club in London, was to honor McCartney for being the most successful songwriter of all time. From 1962 to 1978, Paul had written or co-written 43 songs that had sold over 1 million copies each. To that date, he had sold over 100 million singles and 100 million albums. McCartney’s subsequent records may not have garnered him the same sales volume as when he was with The Beatles or Wings, but he has since edged his tally to more than 1 billion discs and tapes sold. Hands down, Paul has racked up more gold and platinum discs than any other performer in history.
- The Beatles who have faced adversity on their home turf.
John, Paul, George and Ringo
All four Beatles have had the tranquility of their home life shattered by outside forces, both natural, but mostly unnatural, over the years. Obviously, the well-documented attack that occurred in the alcove to John Lennon’s Dakota apartment complex in New York City on December 8, 1980 is the most terrifying and tragic of the lot. As everyone knows, the actions of deranged fan Mark David Chapman, a drifter from Hawaii, who shadowed Lennon for several days, and finally ended his obsession in a blaze of gunfire, effectively robbed the world of the ever-evolving musical genius of the most incisive of the Beatles’ members. For the other bandmates, life around the house has, at one time or another, been almost as harrowing.
Ringo experienced the least life-threatening event to his person, in comparison with the other Beatles, on November 28, 1979. Starr owned homes in London, Amsterdam, Monaco, and LA, and he took to the jet-set life more than any of his fellow Beatles (he was practically a fixture amongst the gaming tables at the Loews Monte Carlo Casino around this time). So when a fire broke out at his Hollywood Hills home on this wintry night, Ringo was fortunately not on the premises. Unfortunately, much of his beloved Beatle memorabilia was, and subsequently, tons of memories were lost to the voracious flames. Starr and his new wife, Barbara, continued to rent a home in LA throughout the ‘80s, but pulled up roots by decade’s end.
Paul McCartney was mindful of the ways in which his fans might turn on him and want to cause him undue harm. During the Wings Over America tour in 1976, he employed Orrin Bartlett, a former FBI agent, to venture ahead of the band to each next scheduled location, to assess the venues, and interview local authorities about any potential bomb threats or menacing activity. McCartney was especially fearful of snipers.
After the tour, the band went to the Caribbean to record their album “London Town,” and then, they finally settled back at the McCartney’s humble farm in Scotland. Guitarist Jimmy McCulloch had had some clashes with Paul on the road, mostly over the incessant drinking problem Jimmy wrestled with, and after a night of drunken revelry at the farm, McCulloch was again chastised by McCartney. According to author Geoffrey Giuliano, McCulloch cleaned a .22-caliber handgun, stumbled in an inebriated state to the McCartney’s cottage late at night, and pointed the loaded gun through the open bedroom window at Paul and Linda, who were sleeping soundly under the covers. He apparently started to pull the trigger, aiming at McCartney’s head, but at the last moment, became nervous and placed the gun’s hammer gently back into its safe position. He panicked and ran to a nearby ditch, thrusting the gun into his mouth, intent on suicide, but he was discovered by his wife and band member Denny Laine, and was saved from his own destructive hand. He quit the band the next day, September 8, 1977, but sadly, two years later, on September 27, 1979, he finished what he had started that previous November night as he was found dead of a suspected drug overdose in his London apartment.
Later, in November 1984, local police near McCartney’s Sussex home uncovered a plot that could have resulted in a very tense outcome. A former British soldier, Allan Gallop, along with the assistance of two other comrades, was planning to kidnap Linda from the McCartney residence and hold her for 12.5 million dollars’ ransom. With sophisticated surveillance, the potential abductor watched the celebrity couple’s home for a week and secured a remote farmhouse in which to hold Linda once the operation got underway. The trio was eventually thwarted, and the incident was summarily hushed up.
To add final tragic insult to injury, on December 13, 1995, while Paul lovingly stayed by his wife, Linda’s, side during an operation to remove a cancerous growth from her breast, their London residence was burglarized.
Of the three remaining Beatles, George Harrison has always been security conscious and the least enthused about mingling with the general public. As he revealed in his autobiography, he got an inkling of the fickleness of his fellow man as early as The Beatles’ first tour of America, when jealous boyfriends fired on the Beatles’ plane as it was flying overhead. The wrenching death of John Lennon had only served to foster greater isolation tendencies within Harrison. But the crazed public, as represented by two individuals, finally caught up to him in late 1999, threatening two homes he held dear to his nervous heart.
Ominous threats of impending darkness started surfacing as early as 1997. While every celebrity receives threats, to George Harrison, the receipt of such missives proved to be excessively-troubling. London police wound up arresting a man that year who was suspected of sending death threats to George with lines like “Time you went,” “Goodbye George,” and “Get ready to visit John.” He had been sending them to Harrison’s estate for a full year, but George’s staff, not wishing to upset their employer, simply had been burning the letters without notifying him of their arrival.
During October 1999, a 27-year old woman named Cristin Keleher began hanging around outside Harrison’s estate in Maui, Hawaii, asking the caretaker, Don Carroll, of George’s whereabouts. On December 23, 1999, Harrison’s sister-in-law, Linda Tuckfield, entered the Hawaiian home and came face to face with Keleher, who was already inside, eating a pizza she had cooked in the kitchen. Keleher had also laundered her clothes and phoned her mother back in New Jersey. Tuckfield immediately phoned the police, who arrived shortly thereafter, arresting Keleher on charges of first-degree burglary and fourth-degree theft. She served four months in prison and was released in August 2000 on one year’s probation. Harrison had not been in the Pacific at the time the break-in occurred.
George, instead, was sitting back in England, at his ancient manor, a former 1896 nunnery, known as Friar Park, in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, approximately 25 miles west of London. The massive estate rests on an expansive 34 acres of land, surrounded by 10-foot high walls, powerful klieg lights, strategically-positioned video cameras, and electronically-controlled gates. A Liverpool man, 33-year old Michael Abram, had been trying to kick a wicked heroin habit, and, according to his mother, he suffered from severe mental afflictions. Lynda Abrams, Michael’s mom, told the Liverpool Echo newspaper, that Michael would run “into pubs shouting about the Beatles. He hates them and even believes they are witches and takes their lyrics seriously. He started to wear a Walkman to play music to stop the voices in his head. He talked about Paul McCartney more than George Harrison.” But apparently, Michael turned out to be more fixated on George.
At around 3:30 in the morning on December 30, 1999, Harrison and his wife Olivia were awakened by the shattering of glass, from a downstairs kitchen window. Dressed in his pajama bottoms, George shuffled out to see what had occurred, while Olivia phoned the police. George came upon Abram, and immediately the two got into a terrifying struggling match over the knife that Abram was wielding. George was stabbed several times. Olivia flew downstairs, swept up a brass lamp in her hand and clobbered the crazed attacker after he tried to cut her. He was knocked to the floor, semi-conscious. George and Olivia made it up to their bedroom where they locked the door and waited for the police to arrive.
Harrison was whisked to nearby Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading by the responding authorities. Abram and Olivia were also treated at the hospital, but both were released — the madman into police custody and Olivia to her husband’s bedside. George’s right lung had been punctured, and doctors mentioned the deepest knife wound missed a major vein, the vena cava, by scant centimeters. After three days, the former Beatle was in stable enough condition to go home.
Drummer Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stone later apparently said, “What George really went through was not in the papers. I spoke to Ringo about a month after it happened and he told me exactly what went on, and it was horrific. George was stabbed about 40 times. It happened outside his bedroom on the landing. He would have been dead if he’d been lying in bed, he wouldn’t have been able to fight. The papers did say that one wound punctured his lung, but a lot of the others were just as horrific. The man was slashing him everywhere. George’s wife hit him again and again on the head with this brass lamp, but he just wouldn’t stop. There was blood everywhere. I think George is still going through trauma.” As for Abram, he pleaded not guilty on June 5, 2000 to charges of attempted murder, grievous bodily harm, malicious wounding and aggravated burglary. His trial date is set to begin in November 2000.
Sidebar: One more nut
On January 5, 1990, while Paul was touring for his “Flowers In The Dirt” album, one particular headcase made it to the backstage area of the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, England claiming to be Father MacKenzie (from Paul’s song “Eleanor Rigby”). Paul was heard to quip, “Where’s Mr. Kite and Billy Shears? Are they here too?”
- 1984 marked the first get-together on television between which two “Beatles” namesakes?
Lennon and McCartney
Julian Lennon, that is. 21-year old Julian had just released his first solo album “Valotte,” and as a promotional gig, he appeared on NBC’s “Friday Night Videos.” Appearing with Julian was his Dad’s former songwriting partner, Paul McCartney. During the separation period leading up to the swift divorce in 1968 between Julian’s mom, Cynthia, and his dad, John, Paul had been sympathetic to the boy’s feelings about the whole situation. On his way driving to their Weybridge home one afternoon, Paul had thought up a ditty that started out like this: “Hey Jules, it’s not so bad, take a sad song, and make it better.” This, of course, evolved into “Hey Jude.” Paul went with the name change because, as he told Rolling Stone, Jude was “a bit more country & western for me.” In November 1984, Paul and Julian reminisced and chatted amiably before the television cameras for over two hours of taping. It was the first time in 10 years they’d seen each other — the last moment having been in 1974 when Paul was visiting John Lennon, while Julian and his Papa playfully wrestled on the floor.
- The ex-Beatle who’s not averse to grinding out a little heavy metal.
Harrison had become fed up with his poor record sales, and the state of music in general, by the early ’80s. He spent a lot of his time at his home in Australia, getting away from it all with his second wife, Olivia. On December 14, 1984, while they were performing in Sydney, the heavy metal gods Deep Purple had the surprise and unannounced presence of a former Beatle suddenly joining them onstage. Although his experience with the metal masters did not encourage him to change his musical outlook, George, nevertheless, delighted the audience with his heavy guitar stylings.
- The ex-Beatle who was outbid by a monkey-loving, crotch-grabbing, facially-challenged superstar with an unusually-keen enthusiasm in surrounding himself with strangers’ children as play-friends.
Paul first met Michael Jackson when the singer was with his sibling group, the Jackson 5, aboard The Queen Mary in Long Beach, California on March 24, 1975. Paul’s Wings were celebrating the completion of recording their “Venus and Mars” album and had a virtual who’s who of rockers on board the famed vessel that night. ‘Mac and Jac’ would not connect significantly until the early ‘80s when Jackson struck out on his own with producer Quincy Jones for the “Off The Wall” album. Michael covered Paul’s song “Girlfriend” for his latest endeavor. The two traded duets with each other in late 1982 and early 1983: Paul sang for Michael’s “The Girl Is Mine” track on “Thriller,” and Michael returned the favor by singing on “Say Say Say” for Paul’s “Pipes of Peace” LP.
Their friendship soon hit a sour note. After Paul advised Michael that he should dabble in the world of music publishing, before you could say “Billie Jean,” the younger musician made a bid for the entire Beatles song catalog. Brian Epstein, The Beatles’ former manager, had sold the rights to the majority of Lennon-McCartney songs to the Northern Songs publishing company in the Sixties. That company was, in turn, sold to ATV Corporation, who held the rights to The Beatles’ output until 1985. Paul knew the rights were coming up for renewal, but his heeding to the wisdom of his former partner’s widow — Yoko’s admonition to bid low, feeling they could get the catalog for a steal — turned out to be foolhardy. Jackson’s bid in the neighborhood of $50 million on August 10, 1985 effectively gave him acquisition rights to a large share of the Beatles’ songs.
Paul later learned that, according to American copyright laws, Yoko, as a widow of the man whose credit was on those songs, would eventually, legally, obtain John Lennon’s share of rights to the songs, without ever having to bid on anything in the first place. To say the least, Paul felt shafted from both ends. Paul stopped talking with Michael. He told Rolling Stone magazine in 1987, “I think he (Jackson) thinks it’s just business. I think it’s slightly dodgy to do things like that – to be someone’s friend and then to buy the rug they’re standing on.” As for Ono’s soon-to-retain Beatle rights loophole, he resignedly said, “So, pretty soon, I think Yoko will own more of “Yesterday” than I will…Like what can I say? All I can say is ‘You’ll have more of our songs than I do pretty soon.’ The reason I mentioned “Yesterday” is because I wrote that song, but it was our deal that we’d (Lennon/McCartney) split everything down the middle. So that is one particular case in point, and it just happens to be the most covered song in history.”
He reiterated his stance to USA Today in May 1993. “I’ve written to him (Jackson) three times…You know what’s upsetting? I’m the only living writer in the company (that Jackson bought)! I reckon it’s time to negotiate what reflects (my) success. I’m still on the little kid’s deal. Now Michael Jackson picks up more for that song (“Yesterday”)…than I do.”
- The only Beatle to contribute a song to a “Porky’s” movie.
In 1985, in the midst of complete lethargy, George felt compelled to raise the talent bar of his career one more notch when he contributed a cover of Bob Dylan’s song “I Don’t Want To Do It” to that cinematic sequel masterpiece “Porky’s Revenge.” Rumors of his being considered to record tracks for “Howard The Duck” and “Ishtar,” are completely unfounded.
- The former Beatle who is least impressed by Madonna.
By the mid-‘80s, George Harrison’s movie production company, Handmade Films, was churning out several cinematic nuggets a year. He told Rolling Stone magazine, “It’s quite a good little company inasmuch as we’ve made films that nobody else would do, that people have either turned down or been afraid to make.” One of those films, which he would later refer to as “the joker in the pack” in Handmade’s output, was “Shanghai Surprise.”
Harrison had approached Madonna and her then-husband, actor Sean Penn, to star in a tale about a scrubby adventurer and a missionary who hook up to claim a fortune in opium in early 20th century China. Handmade Films gave the couple final dibs on everything, choice of director, cast, crew, script, etc. But the raucous pair soon disillusioned everyone on location, including the Hong Kong press. Harrison flew to China to try to mend fences. Once shooting moved to London, Madonna and Penn harangued the paparazzi and spat at photographers. George finally had to hold a press conference with Madonna on March 6, 1986 in order to somehow get positive press for his film before it wrapped shooting.
When “Shanghai Surprise” finally hit theaters, it was a bust. A critical flop. Nevetheless, Harrison had tried to get the troubling twosome to cough up some advance publicity like most actors do. It was the least, he figured, they could do, after all the problems they’d instigated. But Madonna actually dissed her own film, saying “the director turned out not to know what he was doing, we were on a ship without a captain, and we were so miserable while we were working that I’m sure it shows.” Harrison confessed that “the press was right about her.” A Handmade Film friend related that Harrison was “deeply hurt by Sean and Madonna. He had defended them to the hilt before a very hostile press, but now they were turning their back on him. It was a major betrayal. George Harrison is a real gentleman, but he walked away from that experience hating Madonna.”
Sidebar: The end of Handmade Films
Over its 15 years of operation, Handmade Films produced 25 movies. In 1994, the company was sold to Paragon Entertainment Corporation in Canada for $8.5 million. Harrison was incensed with his former business partner, Denis O’Brien, and filed a $25 million suit against him in Los Angeles Superior Court on January 20, 1995. The crux of the lawsuit alleged O’Brien was fraudulent and negligent in his financial management of Handmade. Harrison was ultimately awarded $10.9 million a year later on January 10, 1996.
- The one-time Beatle who sued to block the release of his own album.
One would think that Ringo would have been delighted to see his material released, by anybody (!), during the 1980s. His 1978 album “Bad Boy” had peaked at number 128 on the US chart and the following album, 1981’s “Stop and Smell The Roses,” only rose to a disappointing number 98. When he co-produced 1984’s “Old Wave” with ex-Eagle Joe Walsh, the album was passed over by every U.S. record label and only released in Germany and Canada. Starr wasn’t exactly a hot ticket anymore. So, when Memphis producer Chips Moman helped him to record an album in 1987, one would think Ringo would be grateful for the opportunity.
The problem was Starr’s alcohol addiction. Ringo had been a heavy social drinker throughout his years with the Beatles and had partied away much of his health in the 1970s with other big-time boozers like Harry Nilsson and Keith Moon. When he married Barbara Bach in 1981, the two had taken to the bottle together. As he began his sessions for Moman, the producer was more than happy to provide alcoholic beverages for Ringo while he worked. Bob Dylan stopped by to help out on several tracks. Nevertheless, the songs sounded awful, at least to Starr’s ears. That’s because he and Barbara checked into a Tucson, Arizona rehab clinic for five weeks in October 1988 and cleaned up. Upon release, he heard the Moman tapes with new ears and felt the recordings had been done in a “degenerative atmosphere.”
Therefore, on July 26, 1989, Starr temporarily blocked the pending release of the album. Later that year, in November, Ringo testified before a Fulton County, Georgia judge to permanently block the album’s release. The Superior Court judge, Clarence Cooper, ruled two months later that Moman was to hand over to Ringo’s representatives all the recordings from the sessions in return for $74,000 to cover his expenses as a producer. Starr was satisfied, and as a fateful reward for having cleaned up his alcohol problem, he had hit the road during the summer of 1989 in a successful “All-Starr” nostalgia show comeback with a little help from friends like Joe Walsh, Billy Preston, and Dr. John. The All-Starr concerts have become a regular touring extravaganza for the diminutive drummer.
- The ex-Beatle who is absolutely, positively NOT a Nazi.
Slow days for most journalists means that they need to dig up the story of a dog being rescued from the local pound. Or a heart-tugging profile of the town’s quadriplegic, asthmatic, semi-blind Scoutmaster who saved his earnings as a piano tuner to help a lovable, conjoined set of slalom twins pay for a skiing trip to Jackson Hole. But when it comes to tabloid journalists on a slow day, well, they tend to dig from a different well altogether. One such rag known as The Globe felt the need to plaster a headline across their paper in late 1991 proclaiming, “Beatle George Is A Big Nazi Fan.” The accompanying article went on to describe how George was a Nazi sympathizer. Hilariously, they claimed he was prone to parading around the little town of Henley-on-Thames in a full-blown storm trooper’s uniform. Harrison certainly wasn’t laughing. He filed a $200 million lawsuit against The Globe and sat for a deposition in Los Angeles to back up his ire. The case was dealt with quickly and out of the scrutiny of the public eye.
- The ex-Fab Four member who made Eddie Murphy give up something for a week.
In 1992, when Eddie Murphy was assembling the talents of Michael Jackson, Garth Brooks and rapper Shabba Ranks to perform on his latest musical project, the album “Love’s Allright,” he inquired as to whether Paul would be open to contributing his time to the effort. Paul, along with his wife Linda, had become an avid promoter of vegetarianism over the years, and the couple merrily had spread the message of going meatless to the public through their various concert settings, as well as through Linda’s line of vegan frozen foods. McCartney basically said he’d help out, ultimately performing on “The Yeah Yeah Song,” provided that Murphy would promise to go vegan for a week. The challenge was met. Murphy also threw in a cover of The Beatles “Good Day Sunshine” for good measure on the album.
- The ex-Beatle who may be called upon to joust.
All four Beatles were awarded MBEs (Member of the British Empire) awards in 1965, and several previous recipients of the distinguished award, war veterans in particular, turned their honorary medals back into the royals in disgust. John Lennon rescinded his award in 1969 with a note that read, “Your Majesty, I am returning this MBE in protest against Britain’s involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam, and against “Cold Turkey” (his single at the time) slipping down the charts.”
But, when Paul McCartney’s name came up in the New Year’s Honour List on December 31, 1996, signifying that he was to be knighted, no one had any qualms about his deservedness. The British press lauded his achievements, and Liverpudlians swelled with citywide pride. On March 11, 1997 at 10:00 am, 54 year-old McCartney received his knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. He told the media, “It’s a fantastic honor and I am very gratefully receiving it on behalf of all the people of Liverpool and the other Beatles, without whom it wouldn’t have been possible. I hope I can be worthy of it.” He later said to CBC Television, in a response to a question about what the other two Beatles felt about his honor, “They make fun of me…they call me your Holiness.” Ringo’s son, Jason, commented, “Dad will be chuffed (pleased, satisfied). I expect he’ll want one now.”
Sidebar: Paul’s Other Highbrow Leanings
As he ambled into the 1990s, Paul brushed about with high society on a more regular basis than his former bandmates. He enlisted the talents of conductor Carl Davis and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in translating his first major foray into classical music, “The Liverpool Oratorio.” The classical work was performed at Liverpool Cathedral, as well as in New York’s Carnegie Hall. In May 1992, Sweden’s King Carl Gustaf presented the first Polar Music Prize for “creativity and imagination as a composer of music” by the Royal Swedish Academy of Music to McCartney. In November 1995, Paulie was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Music by Prince Charles. Finally, McCartney rounded out the ‘90s with another classical oratorio, “Standing Stone,” recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra and released in the fall of 1997.
- The one ex-Beatle who could conceivably become a great-grandfather over the next five years.
We’re not suggesting his granddaughter Tatia Jayne Starkey, who is currently 15, is anywhere near having a child of her own. But her dad, Zak, who was born to Ringo and his then-wife Maureen on September 13, 1965, had Tatia when he was 20, so it could be conceivable. Ringo was the first of the Beatles to become a grandfather when Tatia was born. Along with his other two kids, son Jason and daughter Lee, Starr may find himself with a considerable brood soon. Ringo’s 60 years old now, and should, through the miracles of modern medicine, he live into his 80s, there might be a Beatle living among us who is a great-great grandfather!
- Almost the Beatles again…but not quite.
Up until the time of John Lennon’s tragic death, the media made a perennial point to stoke rumors that The Beatles might just get back together. Several promoters made pitches over the years to award the group with millions of dollars to play at just one event. But the fab four turned them all down. Paul told Rolling Stone magazine the year before Lennon’s death, “The whole Beatles reunion thing was always a nonstarter, because we had all just broken up. It is like getting divorced: After you’ve made the big decision you don’t want someone coming up and saying, ‘Hey, listen, I think it would be a great idea if you all got married again.’ Things like money and TV exposure are not relevant. If we’d wanted to get together, instead of the opposite, then I’m sure no one would have minded. They would have wanted all that TV exposure.” But the foursome came awfully close, in varied endeavors over the years, to banding together in the same room for a momentary jam.
When George was assembling his landmark Concert for Bangladesh concert in 1971, Ringo had no qualms in playing with his old bandmate and lent his services to the historic event. Paul refused George’s request to perform, feeling that their fans may see it as a veiled attempt to reunite the moptops, and since their break-up had been so recent, Paul was still smarting from the negative press he had received as being the so-called ‘instigator’ of the band’s dissolution. John agreed to perform on the same stage as George and Ringo and flew with Yoko in tow to New York, staying at the Park Lane Hotel.
On the morning of the concert, according to authors Peter Brown and Steven Gaines, “John and Yoko had a fierce fight. When John got in touch with George, he was infuriated to learn that George didn’t want Yoko on stage with them. He thought it would be insulting to ask the greats of the rock and roll business to share the stage with John’s wife. John was so angry that he checked out of the hotel within fifteen minutes and took the next flight back to London, leaving Yoko behind to catch up with him forty-eight hours later.”
Ringo had a special knack throughout the 1970s in getting his former bandmates to participate on his solo albums. His 1973 album, “Ringo,” was actually the only album on which all four living Beatles participated together (but not all on the same recording sessions) after their breakup. The album’s first song, “I’m The Greatest,” was written by John, and he provided piano and vocal harmony duties, while George played guitar and Ringo drummed. When asked whether he enjoyed playing with George and Ringo again, Lennon told Playboy, “Yeah, except when George and Billy Preston (who also performed on the song) started saying, ‘Let’s form a group. Let’s form a group.’ I was embarrassed when George kept asking me. He was just enjoying the session and the spirit was very good, but I was with Yoko, you know. We took time out from what we were doing. The very fact that they would imagine I would form a male group without Yoko!”
George also co-wrote and played on the album’s “Photograph” with Ringo, as well as on the tunes “Sunshine Life For Me (Sail Away Raymond)” and “You and Me (Babe).” Paul McCartney was featured on two cuts, “You’re Sixteen” and “Six O’Clock” with his fellow drumming friend. Ringo’s follow-up albums “Goodnight Vienna” and “Ringo’s Rotogravure” also featured contributions from his old fab pals. For the next two decades, Ringo was the one ex-Beatle whom his two remaining bandmates would call upon to lend assistance to their projects, as well as the mutual friend they would help out with his records.
In mid-1976, a West Coast promoter by the name of Bill Sargent coughed up the grandiose offer of 50 million dollars for a Beatles reunion. The four bandmates actually took a moment to phone each other about this offer, since it was monumentally lucrative. They chose, however, not to take the bait. On November 20th of that year, George Harrison was the featured musical guest on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” along with singer/songwriter Paul Simon. Together, the duo played Harrison’s “Here Comes The Sun.”
To parody the monumental offer the Fab Four had been tossed by Sargent, “Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels made a plea for the other Beatles to come down to the studio and join George, all for miniscule union musician wages. Across Manhattan, inside John Lennon’s Dakota apartment, Paul McCartney was coincidentally visiting his former writing partner, and the two of them were watching the show. They very nearly caught a cab and went down to the studio, but as Lennon explained, they were actually too tired to go. It was the last time Paul and John would ever see each other. The two continued to talk to one another on the phone, sporadically, until John’s death, and provided there was no mention of Apple (their former record label), they could talk without getting fussy at one another.
After his wife Patti had been living with Eric Clapton for a year, George Harrison wound up recording a farewell tune to her, a cover of the Everly Brothers “Bye Bye Love,” for his 1974 album “Dark Horse.” Curiously, he had Patti sing backing vocals for his song. Harrison remained friends with both Patti and Eric, and after they married in Tucson, Arizona on March 27, 1979, the newlyweds invited George to their reception on May 19th back at Eric’s home in England. During the rock-infested gathering, George, Paul, and Ringo got up before their assembled peers and unfurled an impromptu jam session in Eric’s garden. Paul later said, “It didn’t feel strange at all. It’ll be great to do one like that again, with just the four of us.” Sadly, the death of John Lennon the next year would horribly snuff out any further rumination on the subject.
The threesome regrouped in 1981 on April 27th to attend the marriage of Ringo Starr to Barbara Bach. The trio also participated on George’s tribute song to their fallen friend, John Lennon, entitled “All Those Years Ago.” The single held at the number two spot on the U.S. chart for three weeks.
In a September 1986 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Paul hinted that he’d be open to a reunion with his two remaining ex-bandmates. “I’m glad to be getting back to some semblance of sanity with George and Ringo now – we can meet and hug and say we love each other, you know?…George and I have talked once or twice about maybe just plonking a couple of acoustics together. So, that whole scene is warming up a bit, which is nice. It’s such a breath of fresh air – and it’s been a long time coming, you know?…I don’t want to rush it. I don’t want to put anyone off. I’ll just play it by ear. Just let it happen.”
But bad feelings did exist to some extent. George, Ringo, and Yoko, representing Lennon’s estate, all brought a lawsuit against Paul in the late ‘80s because he had made a deal with Capitol Records about Beatle royalty rates. In return for cutting a six-album deal with Capitol on his solo work and with Wings in the ‘70s, the record company upped his share of Beatles royalties above and beyond the rate his other three bandmates received. While Yoko, George and Ringo attended the induction ceremony of The Beatles into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on January 18, 1988, Paul issued a press statement citing his reason for not participating due to their legal disputes: “I would feel like a complete hypocrite waving and smiling with them at a fake reunion.” The three other Beatles (with Yoko representing John) subsequently negotiated a royalty rate similar to McCartney’s, begrudgingly letting the dust settle on their lawsuit, but animosities still lingered.
On November 28, 1989, Harrison told a reporter, “As far as I’m concerned, there won’t be a Beatles reunion as long as John Lennon remains dead.” Ultimately, Lennon might’ve made the most vocal opponent of the bunch in his adamant opposition to a Beatles reunion. In his Playboy interview in 1980, just before his death, he said, “The Beatles don’t exist and can never exist again.”
But McCartney was determined. Always the driving force when they were all Beatles, he finally was successful in gathering everyone together (taped interviews standing in for Lennon’s conscience) for a retrospective on their illustrious career as the Fab Four. Originally titled “The Long and Winding Road” for many years in its gestation period, “The Beatles Anthology” finally came to fruition in 1995 with the release of three double CDs chronicling the band’s various recording sessions and sought-after outtakes. An ABC-TV presentation over 4 nights gave viewers a history lesson on everything Fab, and the show featured two new songs. Both tunes were old Lennon titles that he had recorded before his death in 1980. Yoko gave permission to the remaining Beatles to record their own vocal and instrumental contributions to these two songs, “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love.” This ultimately was the only example of a “true” Beatles reunion that has occurred since the group dissolved in 1970.
The broadcast anthology was subsequently released in an expanded version for home video purposes and Paul, George, and Ringo have put the legacy of their former alliance, in their own words, in a book set for release in October 2000.
Sadly, the only occasion in which all three ex-Beatles have been seen out in the general public together in almost thirty years occurred at the memorial service held for Paul’s wife Linda at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church in London on June 8, 1998. Here’s hoping they will find reason to gain wisdom from this shared experience and put all of their animosities towards each other firmly behind them.
Sidebar: Lorne Michaels’ “Saturday Night Live” plea
Hi. I’m Lorne Michaels, the producer of “Saturday Night.” Right now, we’re being seen by approximately twenty-two million viewers, but please allow me, if I may, to address myself to just four very special people – John, Paul, George and Ringo – the Beatles. Lately, there have been a lot of rumors to the effect that the four of you might be getting back together. That would be great. In my book, the Beatles are the best thing that ever happened to music. It goes even deeper than that. You’re not just a musical group. You’re a part of us. We grew up with you. It’s for this reason that I am inviting you to come on our show. Now, we’ve heard and read a lot about personality and legal conflicts that might prevent you guys from reuniting. That’s something which is none of my business. That’s a personal problem. You guys will have to handle that. But it’s also been said that no one has yet to come up with enough money to satisfy you. Well, if it’s money you want, there’s no problem here. The National Broadcasting Company has authorized me to offer you this check to be on our show.
(Holds up check)
A certified check for $3,000. Here it is right here. Dave…can we get a close-up on this? Which camera? Oh, this one.
(Camera moves in to show check)
Here it is. A check made out to you, the Beatles, for $3,000. All you have to do is sing three Beatles songs.
She loves you….
Yeah, yeah, yeah….
That’s $1,000 right there. You know the words. It’ll be easy. Like I said, this is made out to the Beatles — you divide it up any way you want. If you want to give Ringo less, it’s up to you. I’d rather not get involved. I’m sincere about this. If this helps you to reach a decision to reunite, it’s well worth the investment. You have agents. You know where I can be reached. Just think about it, okay?
(Holds up check again)
© 2000 Ned Truslow