EDITOR’S NOTE: “100 Things Beatles Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die” is available via Triumph Books ($14.99).
By Gillian G. Gaar
We’re not telling you to go skydiving over the Cavern Club, get a Sgt. Pepper's tattoo or blow your 401(k) to buy a lock of hair that may (or may not) have belonged to John Lennon. But there are some things Beatles’ fans ought to experience for themselves before they die. Gillian G. Gaar offers up 10 suggestions here; all are part of her new book, ‘100 Things Beatles Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die.’
10. See A Beatle in concert.
Unless you lived in Hamburg, Germany, or England (especially Liverpool), you simply didn’t have that many opportunities to see the Beatles. If you lived in America, the band might have only come to your town once. The last official concert by The Beatles was on Aug. 29, 1966, at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
Their last live TV appearance came on June 25, 1967, when they premiered “All You Need Is Love.” They made an impromptu appearance on the roof of their Apple Corps London headquarters on Jan. 30, 1969, playing for just under 45 minutes before they were shut down by the police. After that, nothing. The four Beatles never played in concert together ever again.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t see a Beatle in concert. It’s not that tough to find Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr or Pete Best out and about. Post-Wings, Paul returned to concert in 1989; from 2002 on, he’s been touring fairly regularly. Ringo tours regularly as well, with his All-Starr Band. Pete Best tours the states less frequently, but if you go to Liverpool during Beatle Week, you’ll usually see him, either signing books at the Casbah, performing, or both.
Since you can’t see The Beatles any more, if you get the chance to see a solo Beatle — do it!
9. Visit Liverpool.
Beatles fans should take the opportunity to visit Liverpool if they can. There’s simply no better way to get a real understanding of one of the Beatles’ key influences: the city where they were born.
Liverpool is a few hours by train from London, or you can fly directly into Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport, as Speke Airport was renamed in 2002 (you won’t be using the same terminal the Beatles did, however; the Crowne Plaza Liverpool John Lennon Airport Hotel is now on the site where the original terminal stood). With a good travel guide at hand — “The Beatles Liverpool: The Complete Guide” by Ron Jones is especially recommended, as is his guide to U.S.-related sites in Liverpool, “The American Connection” — you easily can find dozens of Beatle-related sites within walking distance of the city center.
This one’s pretty self-explanatory. If you’re a big Beatles fan, make the effort to go to Liverpool. If you go during Beatle Week (held over August Bank Holiday Weekend), you’ll be able to meet hundreds of Beatles fans from all over the world, see more tribute acts than you ever knew existed, and hear stories from people who actually knew the Beatles. I’ve traveled with International Tours and Events (www.toursandevents.com); another group offering tours is The Beatles Pilgrimage Tour (www.beatletour.com).
But it’s fun being in Liverpool even when it’s not Beatle Week. The company that puts on Beatle Week, Cavern City Tours (www.cavernclub.org), offers tours throughout the year, and there are other tour companies, as well. And it’s definitely worth visiting John Lennon’s home and McCartney’s home (tours are offered through The National Trust, www.nationaltrust.org.U.K./beatles/), as well as The Beatles Story museum (www.beatlesstory.com).
8. Dig into the ‘Revolver’ LP.
“Revolver” was a breathtaking achievement for The Beatles. Though it was “Sgt. Pepper’’ that captured most of the kudos during the ’60s, it’s now more often “Revolver” that is considered to be the band’s best work.
“Revolver” is the album where The Beatles really began to stretch themselves as songwriters, as musicians and as recording artists. It was the first time The Beatles released an album that wasn’t dominated by love songs, as the single that preceded “Revolver” — “Paperback Writer”/“Rain” (released May 30, 1966, in the U.S, June 10 in the U.K.) — was the first where neither side was a love song. Indeed, “Revolver” marked the first time The Beatles addressed purely adult concerns, opening the album with George’s “Taxman.” (What teenager thinks about paying taxes?)
Once I realized the true running order of “Revolver,” as opposed to the bowdlerized American version, I realized this album’s brilliance; it’s my favorite of their records. There’s an edginess, a darkness, in numbers like “Eleanor Rigby,” “I’m Only Sleeping,” “Dr. Robert, and “Tomorrow Never Knows” that the Beatles hadn’t explored before, balanced by the sunniness of “Here, There and Everywhere” and “Got to Get You Into My Life.” To me, it’s always reflected the black and white feel of London, as opposed to the multicolored “Sgt. Pepper.” Though now, because people tend to praise “Revolver” at the expense of “Sgt. Pepper,” I feel a need to stick up for the Lonely Hearts Club Band.
7. Listen to all of The Beatles’ songs in the order they were meant to be played.
With both “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Meet The Beatles” setting sales records, 1964 in particular saw innumerable Beatles records flooding the U.S. market — 20 singles and 15 albums (in contrast to the four singles and three albums that were released in the U.K.). The U.S. records were released on a variety of different labels, including Capitol, Vee-Jay, Swan, United Artists (the “Hard Day’s Night” soundtrack) and MGM and Atco (both of which released records of the Beatles backing guitarist Tony Sheridan, recorded in 1961 and 1962 in Germany).
The core Beatles catalogue also differed between the U.K. and the U.S. In the U.K., there were 12 main Beatles albums on Parlophone. In the U.S., there were 18 main Beatles albums on Capitol.Some time in the ’70s, I found a copy of “All Together Now,” still my favorite Beatle discography (with two sequels, and I wish the authors would do another!) I was quite surprised to learn about the differences between the U.S. and U.K. records, and spent much time carefully taping the records on cassette in the order they’d been released in Britain, which I regarded as the definitive version. Yes, I grew up listening to “The Beatles’ Second Album,” but once I learned the original order in which the songs had been released, the U.S. versions of the albums lost their charm for me. I also feel you also get a better sense of how the band’s music developed by following the British release dates.
6. Consume ‘The Beatles Anthology’ in its entirety.
The 1990s Anthology project was three fold, enabling The Beatles to tell their story in their own words in a range of media: music, print and film.
The Anthology had its roots in a documentary that Beatles aide Neil Aspinall had been working on since 1970, when the film was originally planned for release. Though that didn’t happen, Aspinall didn’t give up on the project, and over the years he continued comb film archives around the world for footage, assembling a documentary provisionally titled “The Long and Winding Road,” after the song of the same name on album “Let It Be.”
The Anthology project was a long time coming. It was fun being caught up in the excitement at the time — the release of new Beatles songs; more previously unreleased material on the three 2-CD sets; three nights of the TV series that we picked over at length (before getting the expanded 10-hour video set); and the eventual arrival of the weighty book. There was so much material to digest, and, remarkably, there hasn’t been so much previously unreleased stuff issued since. The various Anthology releases sparked interest around the globe, and it’s hard to imagine that happening for any other artist. Needless to say, it’s essential for fans to get all of these releases.
5. Enjoy The Beatles on the BBC.
Though The Beatles appeared on just about every British television program that featured rock bands, they were heard many more times on British radio. Between March 1962 and June 1965, they appeared 52 times on BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation, affectionately called ‘the Beeb’ in the U.K.) radio shows, appearing on 16 different programs, and recording a total of 275 songs.
Now, that 275 figure includes each time the Beatles performed a particular song. “Please Please Me,” for example, was performed 12 times on various BBC shows. Once you take that into account, you find that the Beatles performed 88 different songs during the three years they made radio appearances.
In 1983, the news that there was going to be a special radio broadcast of The Beatles’ BBC sessions was wildly exciting. The songs were guaranteed to be presented in better condition than the hit-or-miss bootleg releases, and anyone with a tape deck could record them from the radio for nothing.
Nowadays, people take for granted they can find anything on the Internet — legal or otherwise — do a search one minute and download it the next. But back then, every release was something to be savored, and being told hours of new Beatles material would be freely available on radio was miraculous. And learning about the wide range of material The Beatles covered, but never officially recorded, broadened our understanding of their musical influences.
4. Spend the holidays with The Beatles.
Back in the day, members of the Official Beatles Fan Club were especially excited when Christmas rolled around, because during the holidays, members received an exclusive recording by The Beatles, made just for them.
As membership in the fan club began to climb in the fall of 1963, the Beatles’ staff became overwhelmed with applications. Soon, complaints began coming in from people who had sent in their money but had yet to receive anything. Beatles publicist Tony Barrow suggested that sending everyone a special Christmas record would help make amends, serving as “a damage limitation job,” in his words.
I first read about the Beatles’ Christmas records in “All Together Now,” but I had no idea of what they would sound like. The initial records came out as flexi discs, and they’ve never been officially re-released. My first copy was a vinyl bootleg of the recordings that I purchased during a Beatles festival in Liverpool (it hadn’t quite evolved into Beatle Week yet). The vendor tried to convince me it was an original album, but I knew from the price (five pounds) that it wasn’t. But I bought it anyway, as I simply wanted to hear the records. It’s a shame there isn’t an official release, as fans of The Beatles’ off-the-wall humor would certainly find them entertaining — the ad-libs, in jokes, skits and increasingly lavish production as the years passed.
3. Read original issues of the official Beatles magazine.
In August 1963, the first issue of The Beatles Book Monthly was published in Britain. It was not your typical fan club newsletter; it was a stand-alone publication, printed on glossy paper, with plenty of photos, both black and white and, later, color. Because it was an official publication, the magazine’s writers and photographers got exclusive access to the group, and the magazine chronicled The Beatles’ career for most of the ’60s.
The magazine was conceived by publisher and editor Sean O’Mahony, whose first encounter with The Beatles came in September 1962, when he arranged for a writer to do a story on the group for his magazine, Pop Weekly. He was probably the first publisher to put The Beatles on the cover of a national magazine when he ran a June 1963 cover story on the group in his new publication, Beat Monthly. He next approached Brian Epstein about putting out a magazine that just focused on The Beatles.
It wasn’t until I went to London for the first time that I got to see a copy of The Beatles Book, when I found the now-closed music bookstore the Musique Boutique on Shaftsbury Avenue. The fan magazine was first published from 1963 to 1969; in 1976, O’Mahony began republishing the series, with new material, and it continued after all the reprints of the original issues, finally ceasing publication in January 2003.
The original issues are terrific time capsules of the period, and it’s interesting watching The Beatles’ story evolve without the benefit of hindsight. The reprints also launched the careers of noted Beatles writers Mark Lewisohn and Peter Doggett. Before the final issue, I managed to get a few articles in the magazine myself. You can also enjoy a collection of articles in the book “The Best of The Beatles Book.”
2. Catch The Cirque du Soleil ‘Love’ Show.
You don’t have to be a Beatles fan to enjoy the Cirque du Soleil “Love” show (aka “The Beatles Love”) in Las Vegas, but it sure helps!
Cirque du Soleil is a Canadian-based performance troupe that has gained international recognition for its elaborate shows where the only animals used are human beings. Cirque’s artists perform dazzling acrobatic feats during their shows — they’re generally in the air at least half of the time during a performance — as the color, lights, sound and costumes combine to create a dazzling experience.”
Make no mistake: The “Love” show is a fabulous experience for Beatles fans. I’ve been lucky enough to see the show twice, and I would gladly do so again. The show loosely recaps The Beatles’ own story, with the Cirque troupe flying through the air, whizzing by on roller skates and executing incredible gymnastics. The music, which mashes up Beatles songs with other Beatles songs, is great fun to try to decipher, as the opening chord from “A Hard Day’s Night” is followed by the drum beats from “Get Back,” and so on. The specially designed seats are also fitted with loudspeakers, so earplugs are essential.
The “Love” show, which has now run for more than 3,000 performances, is playing at the Mirage hotel and casino in Las Vegas (www.mirage.com/entertainment/love.aspx).
1. Hear (Comes) The Sons: Enjoy The Beatles’ progeny in concert.
In addition to seeing solo Beatles (Paul, Ringo), former Beatles (Pete Best) and pre-Beatles (The Quarrymen), you also can enjoy a select group of performers who have a very intimate connection to the Beatles: their offspring.
All of The Beatles’ sons have become performers; the Beatles’ daughters have pursued offstage careers.
Julian Lennon (born John Charles Julian Lennon) was John’s son with his first wife, Cynthia. He made his recording debut on John’s 1974 album “Walls and Bridges,” playing drums on a brief cover of Lee Dorsey’s “Ya Ya.” His first solo album was “Valotte” (1984). It was his most commercially successful recording to date (reaching the Top 20 in the U.S. and U.K.), and yielded hits with “Too Late for Goodbyes” and the title track. He has continued to record and release music, the most recent of which was his sixth studio album, 2011’s “Everything Changes.” He hasn’t been touring much, but he often appears at charity efforts and his photography shows.
In recent years, you’ve had the best chance of seeing Dhani Harrison, as he’s been in two bands, thenewno2 (taking the name from a character in the cult British TV series “The Prisoner”) and Fistful of Mercy.
James Louis McCartney, who finally released his first full-length solo album, “Me,” in June, also has been touring the U.S. over the past year.
Sean Lennon has made regular live appearances since releasing his first album, “Into the Sun,” in 1998, as well as performing with his mother, Yoko Ono, for her live shows. He also collaborated with Cibo Matto and formed The Ghost of A Saber Tooth Tiger with Charlotte Kemp Muhl.
Zak Richard Starkey has sat behind the drum kit in numerous bands, the most notable of which include The Who, Oasis and several editions of his father’s All-Starr Band.
Jason Starkey is also a drummer, but mostly plays in U.K.-based bands. So The Beatles’ musical legacy lives on their children. And, maybe one day, in their grandchildren? GM
Watch the unboxing of The Beatles 50th Anniversary editions of the 'White Album' (above).