10 Cool Facts About The Beatles

10 Cool Facts About The Band The Beatles

Cover photo credit:360b / Shutterstock.com

They are one of the most unlikely pop success stories of all time. Four men of self-proclaimed mediocre talent from Liverpool, who found themselves in the right place, with the right people, at the right time ended up becoming the first ever big ticket international pop band.  The focus of worldwide ‘Beatlemania’ and beloved by music aficionados of all ages globally, The Beatles will be forever synonymous with the era they lived in.

Starting out as a skiffle band called The Quarrymen playing the bars in the port cites of Liverpool, England and Hamburg, Germany the band went through several changes before they settled on the iconic lineup of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.  They only broke into the mainstream in Britain in 1962 with their hit single ‘Love Me Do’ before crossing the Atlantic to take over the US music scene in 1964.  By the time the band broke up for the last time in 1970 the ‘fab four’ were household names and the Beatles had become the best-selling band in history with more singles than any other band in the UK and more number one slots on the Hot 100 Chart in the US.

Their songs have entered international music culture; almost everyone, in every country, can hum at least one Beatles tune (and probably 5 or 6).  There are still, however, some cool facts about the Beatles that are not yet common knowledge.  Here are 10 cool facts you really should know!

10. Strawberry Fields Is A Real Place

Strawberry Fields is real? No way!
Strawberry Fields is real? No way!

Strawberry Fields Forever is one of the best known Beatles songs.  While many people listening to the hazy music and dreamy lyrics might think that the song refers to a garden full of strawberry plants they are very mistaken.  Strawberry Field, far from being a green oasis refers to a children’s home run by the Salvation Army not far from where John Lennon grew up in Liverpool and where he used to sneak in to play in defiance of his Aunt’s instructions not to play there – telling her that he could not be hanged for going in, leading to the famous line ‘nothing to get hung about’

It was originally released as a double single together with Penny Lane, another well-loved song based on a real location near the Beatle’s homes in Liverpool.  While the song offers an insight into the (somewhat psychedelic) mind of John Lennon who claimed that, as a child he knew he was special and would become either a genius or a madman, it was not one of the bands more popular singles reaching only the second spot in the UK and eighth position in the US.

9. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds Is Not A Reference To LSD

LSD. Groovy organic compound man.
LSD. Groovy organic compound man.

Written for the Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Album in 1967 Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds is Beatles’ psychedelic rock at its height – Elton John called it the best song ever written.  Almost from the date of release the song has attracted rumors that it celebrates an acid trip on LSD.  These claims are substantiated by the main initials of the song spelling out the name of the drug Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds and the confused trippy nature of the lyrics.

Both John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the songs writers, denied the rumors as soon as they surfaced saying the song was not about drugs at all and there were no hidden references.  Lennon claimed that the inspiration for the song content came from Lewis Carrol’s Through the Looking Glass which gave rise to the imagery of floating on the water.  The title was inspired by a painting done by Lennon’s small son Julian during a session at nursery school.  Julian had been painting pictures with his friend Lucy which he showed to his father when he picked him up from school. When asked what the painting was about Julian immediately replied ‘Lucy, in the sky, with diamonds’.  Lennon loved the phrase and decided to incorporate it into one of his songs.

8. Ringo Starr Is Not The Artist’s Real Name

Ringo Starr aka Mr. Starkey
Ringo Starr aka Mr. Starkey

Tinseltown / Shutterstock.com

Ringo Starr may be the least well known of all the Beatles but he is still a star in his own right. Unusually for a drummer he sang the lead role in I Wanna Be Your Man, With a Little Help From My Friends, Yellow Submarine and 8 others.  He wrote Don’t Pass Me By and Octopus Garden and went on to have a successful musical career after the band broke up.

Starr may not have been part of the original Beatles’ line up; he replaced Pete Best in 1962 but from then on, the band never looked back!  Starr’s ability on the drums means that many Beatle’s songs are identifiable from the drum part alone.  He is, according to Rolling Stone Magazine, the fifth best drummer of all time.  This is not a bad achievement for an illiterate young boy who started out playing the drums in a hospital band while convalescing from tuberculosis and who had been abandoned by his father to be brought up by an impoverished mother in one of the poorest parts of Liverpool.

But this amazing and inspiring transformation changed more than Starr’s fate, it also led to a change of name.  Ringo Starr was not born with such a poetic name, rather he started out life as plain Richard Starkey.  A fan of western films he decided to change his name to something more ‘stage’ appropriate, shortening the Starkey to Starr and adopting Ringo in reference to the many rings he liked to wear on his hands.

7. The Band Were Not ‘More Popular Than Jesus’

Jesus.  Still bigger than the Beatles. Side note, he's a fan.
Jesus. Still bigger than the Beatles. Side note, he’s a fan.

The Beatles were incredibly popular during their heyday and traveled around the world to play music to legions of adoring fans.  It must have seemed, to the fab four at least, that they were riding a wave of popularity that would never end.  But it did!  During an interview with a British Newspaper in 1966 John Lennon said the fateful words: ‘Christianity will go, it will vanish and shrink.  I needn’t argue about that.  I’m right and I’ll be proved right.  We’re more popular than Jesus now… Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary.  It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.’

This comment made its way over to the US and broke just as the band were about to start a tour of the US.  They suddenly faced a large backlash from the conservative, religious factions of the Bible Belt.  Radio stations refused to play Beatles’ music and teens were encouraged to burn their singles in public.  Even the Ku Klux Klan got in on the action and picketed tour venues and the Beatles received a number of death threats.

The Beatles failed to complete their American tour and in the process had lost the taste for the open road; from then on they became a studio band.  The remark had other ramifications. Beatles music was banned from stations in South Africa and other places.  The Vatican, however, took a very sanguine view of the remark, dismissing it as a mere boast.  In recent years the Vatican newspaper praised The Beatles’ music, which they said was so beautiful as to make their lifestyle seem unimportant.

The remark may even have led to Lennon’s death.  His assassin, Mark Chapman, was a born-again Christian who was deeply offended by the statement and by the lyrics in his later songs including ‘Imagine there’s no heaven’.

6. George Harrison Was Almost Blinded By A Jelly Baby

Jelly Babies maim.
Jelly Babies maim.

Back in the 1960s fans wanted to prove to their idols exactly how much they loved them.  This often manifested in items being thrown onto the stage during performances.  While Tom Jones was bombarded with women’s panties, the Beatles had to contend with a much more sanitary, if hazardous barrage.

During an interview George Harrison made the mistake of telling fans that he was a fan of Jelly Baby sweets.  Young fans seized on this statement and, in an effort to curry favor with their idols, started to pelt them with candy. This was not too hazardous in the UK where Jelly Babies are soft sweets but dangerous when the Band travelled the US and were pelted with hard candy.  At one particular event a flying candy hit George Harrison in the eye causing him some pain and the band to have to anticipate the trajectory of the items in order to dodge them and prompting Ringo Starr to refuse to perform at the front of the stage.

George Harrison likened the experience to being hit with little bullets and said that his guitar strings were often hit by the beans causing him to play the odd a bad note.   The fad got so extreme that one concert had to be stopped twice, and a number of fans were evicted from another.

5. The Beatles Could Not Read Music

The Beatles couldn't read sheet music.
The Beatles couldn’t read sheet music.

Somewhat surprisingly for the biggest band of all time, not one of the Beatles could read music as it is traditionally written.  While the four men were able to play guitars and drums, compose music and lyrics they were unable to put what they had written on to paper.

When Paul McCartney was a young boy he took some basic piano lessons but gave up after a little while because he did not like the smell in his teacher’s house.  Despite these shortcomings the men knew where to find key notes such as ‘middle c’ on the piano and how to form a chord on a guitar they would have to tell each other which chord to use rather than writing it down in musical notation.

John Lennon even admitted that none of the Beatles were particularly technically talented, playing as pure as opposed to mechanical musicians.   This inability to read music and a lack of familiarity with traditional musical form was, in many ways, an advantage.  It meant that the men did not know what was and was not regarded as possible and therefore pushed the boundaries of music far more than they would have done if they had been trained to think of musical form and instruments in a particularly formal way.

4. Paul McCartney Was Deported From Germany For Setting Condoms On Fire

Paul McCartney was a porno pyro
Paul McCartney was a porno pyro

Paul McCartney is, these days, a stanch bastion of the music industry, a respectable man with a knighthood, international fame and a fashion designer daughter.  Before fame came his way, however, he was engaged in some very shady activities.  In the early days of the Beatles the band split their time between Liverpool, England and Hamburg, Germany, playing in a variety of clubs.  The accommodation provided to the men who would go on to become some of the most famous in the world was lackluster at best.

While in Germany McCartney and the original Beatles’ drummer Pete Best developed an unusual use for condoms.  Finding themselves in the (perhaps unfortunate) position of having some unused ones spare during one of their trips to Hamburg the pair decided to pin the condoms (different versions of the story refer to rags or tapestries but it seems more fun to think of burning condoms) to the walls of a club and set them on fire in order to generate some extra light.  Some accounts have the dastardly duo throwing the flaming condoms at the walls to see what would happen.  This novel alternative to candles was not a success as they did little more than sputter a little before burning themselves out.

There may also have been more to the story, than meets the eye.  The premises in question belonged to the owner of a club that had just terminated the Beatle’s contract and they were in the process of moving to alternative accommodation.  The owner clearly thought that McCartney and Best were trying to get back at him for the termination of the contract by burning the building.  Their actions were reported to the police who, deeply unimpressed, charged them with attempted arson and deported them back to the UK.

3. George Harrison Was Almost Assassinated In His Own Home

George Harrison was also attacked by a crazed fan.
George Harrison was also attacked by a crazed fan.

Beatles’ fans were devastated when John Lennon was killed by a deranged lunatic outside his New York apartment in 1980.  By a strange coincidence George Harrison both faced and survived a similar attack.

In 1999, Michael Abram, who suffered from mental illness, broke into the English home where Harrison lived with his wife.  Whilst the police originally thought the break in was a burglary gone awry, it soon emerged that Abram heard voices in his head.  Like the Beatles, he originated in Liverpool and began to believe that the Beatles were witches and that he was possessed by George Harrison.  Abram broke into the Harrison’s home in the early hours of the morning.  He challenged George before attacking Olivia Harrison then turned on George again once she was incapacitated.  Abram went on to stab Harrison more than 40 times.  The Harrisons fought back bravely with Olivia hitting him over the head with a heavy lamp.  They managed to hold him at bay until the police arrived.

George Harrison was taken straight to hospital where doctors said that it was pure luck that no major organs or vessels were injured.  Although in a great deal of pain from the wounds, Harrison recovered reasonably swiftly.  Sadly, George did not manage to enjoy his miraculous escape for long; he was diagnosed with lung and brain cancer in 2001 and he died in November of that year.  Abram escaped prison by reason of insanity and was released after only 19 months of detention.  Lennon’s killer, by contrast, is still incarcerated.

2. The Beatles Are The Only Band Ever To Hold All Top Positions In the American Billboard Pop 100

The Beatles dominated the charts.
The Beatles dominated the charts.

The Billboard Hot 100 is THE music chart that every international band wants to top.  It ranks the music rankings for singles in the US and is published on a weekly basis.  In 1964, on April 4, the Beatles made music history.  In a feat never yet to have been surpassed when Can’Buy Me Love, Twist and Shout, She Loves You, I Want To Hold Your Hand and Please Please Me held positions 1-5 in that order.

As if this feat were not enough they had another 7 songs ranking within the Hot 100 that week making an unbelievable 12 songs in the top 100 singles in one single week.  The other songs were I Saw Her Standing There at number 31, From Me To You at 41, Do You Want To Know A Secret at 46, All My Loving at 58, You Can’t Do That at 65, Roll Over Beethoven at 68 and Thank You Girl at 79.  Two of the other songs on that week’s chart were inspired by the Beatles (We Love You Beatles and A Letter To The Beatles).

The next week the Beatles managed to top their record breaking achievement by adding a further two songs (There’s A Place at 74 and Love Do at 81) to the top 100.  Not satisfied with breaking the singles record they also held the two top spots on the album chart for that week.

How did the Beatles manage this extraordinary feat?  Partly it was because their music was genuinely good and people simply enjoyed listening to it.  Partly it was down to the fact that by the time the Beatles reached America they already had a substantial back catalogue from their years of playing in the UK, this was all released in one go in the US.

1. Decca Records Turned Down The Chance To Sign The Beatles

Imagine if you missed out on signing the Beatles.  Doh!
Imagine if you missed out on signing the Beatles. Doh!

Decca Records is one of the truly big names in the music records business.  In January 1962 the band had not yet had their major breakthrough.  While they had a loyal following in the Liverpool area they were still looking for the opportunity to expand their audience.  At the same time Decca were looking to sign new talent.  It should have been a match made in heaven instead it led to Decca making one of the biggest mistakes in music history.

Ringo Starr had not yet joined the group and Pete Best, an indifferent drummer who lacked Starr’s distinctive style was the fourth member.  Whether Best’s performance let the band down or whether they were yet to find their feet the hiring people at Decca were unimpressed with Dick Rowe making the famously mistaken statement that ‘guitar groups were on their way out’ and signed the Tremeoloes instead.  Surprisingly, the Beatles’ themselves did not all disagree with this decision with Paul McCartney saying later that he would not have hired them based on their audition tapes.

The audition did, however, stand the Beatles in good stead.  They were able to keep the recordings that they made and sent them to other labels in London.  They were signed by George Martin of Parlophone who identified the latent greatness in the group.  He also identified that Pete Best was not the right drummer for the band and was therefore responsible for Starr coming on board, a decision which created the Beatles as we know them and launched the most amazing group in popular music history.

 

From humble beginnings to household names and worldwide superstars the Beatles are one of the iconic rags to riches stories of the 20th Century.  Although the band were only active in their final form for 8 years (1962-70) their impact on popular culture has continued to be felt since their break up and there is no sign of their influence waning any time soon.  They invented the modern music video and changed the industry’s attitudes to albums (which had previously been nothing more than a few singles and some second rate filler content).

They may not ever have been ‘more popular than Jesus’ but they are probably the most influential band the world has ever seen to date.