1961: The Top Ten, Sutcliffe’s departure and backing Sheridan
The Beatles returned home to Liverpool, but not for very long. In March 1961, they were back in Hamburg (with Harrison now 18 years old) to begin a long residency at the Top Ten Club that ran from March 27 to July 2. Sutcliffe, however, would not last for the entire run, amicably leaving the band early into the residency so he could return to art school (and continue his relationship with Kirchherr).
His departure seemed to make perfect sense for both him and the other Beatles. In the “Anthology” documentary, Harrison remembered Sutcliffe as someone who “couldn’t play at all” when they first met him.
“He learned a few tunes; occasionally it was a bit embarrassing, if [the song] had a lot of changes to it,” he added. “But he knew that, too. That’s why he was never really at ease being in the band.”
Harrison said he and Lennon were not willing to switch over to bass, so McCartney did, and The Beatles continued their Top Ten residency as a quartet. And it was at the Top Ten where The Beatles would back singer Sheridan, who was no longer playing with the Jets.
It didn’t take very long for the Beatles/Sheridan relationship to progress from the stage to the studio. Around late June 1961, the band backed Sheridan during a recording session at Friedrich Ebert Halle in Hamburg that resulted in the first commercial record featuring The Beatles: a version of “My Bonnie.” Released in Germany on Polydor during summer 1961, “My Bonnie” was credited to Tony Sheridan and The Beat Brothers; reportedly The Beatles didn’t know that label executives wanted all groups backing Sheridan to have the Beat Brothers name on his recordings.
But fans in The Beatles’ hometown knew the truth. In late October 1961, according to Pawlowski’s book, an 18-year-old man brought “My Bonnie” to the attention of Liverpool record store manager Brian Epstein, who quickly became intrigued by the buzz surrounding this local band. In early January 1962, “My Bonnie” was released in the United Kingdom and credited to Tony Sheridan and The Beatles — the first time the band’s name appeared on a record label. More big news came later that month, when the band signed a management deal with Epstein.