Their History, Their Songs and What They Mean
As all of us remember where we were during the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, we likewise remember being transfixed in front of our small black & white television sets on February 9, 1964, when the Beatles made their first American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show.
In preparation for their appearance, the CBS Television office on West-Fifty-Third Street in New York was overwhelmed by more than 50,000 requests for tickets to a studio that held 700. During their appearance, the Beatles sang five songs in the following order: All My Loving, Till There Was You, She Loves You, I Saw Her Standing There, and I Want To Hold Your Hand. On this night, seventy-three million people watched the Beatles. Their appearance had such an impact that most normal activities in America came to a standstill watching their performance. Criminal activity in most of the major cities and towns in America was put on hold, and getting a taxi or bus in New York was almost impossible, until their performance was over. Mass hysteria resulted wherever the Beatles appeared, and Beatlemania was created. Two days later, on February 11, 1964, the Beatles sang their first concert in the United States, at the Washington Coliseum. Being from Baltimore, I waited with great interest for their arrival. The Beatles only came to Maryland once, when on September 13, 1964, they performed two shows at the Baltimore Civic Center (now the Baltimore Arena).
The world’s number one rock group consisted of John Winston Lennon (b.10/09/40 -d.12/08/80), whose middle name came from his parent’s admiration of Winston Churchill; James Paul McCartney (b.06/18/42); George Harrison (b.02/25/43 -d. 11/29/2001); and Ringo Starr (born Richard Starkey 07/07/40).
During the Beatles recording career from 1962 to 1970, they would release twenty-two singles (45rpm) in the United Kingdom, and thirty-three in the United States. Their first UK single was Love Me Do/P.S. I Love You, released October 5, 1962, on EMI/Parlophone Records. The first USA single would be Please Please Me/Ask Me Why, which they released on February 25, 1963 on Vee Jay Records. Although the Beatles were big in England, they had not yet caught on in the United States. Following their first USA single, came From Me To You/Thank You Girl, which was released May 27, 1963 on Vee Jay, followed by She Loves You/I’ll Get You on Swan Records. Finally on December 26, 1963, Capitol Records decided to release I Want To Hold Your Hand/I Saw Her Standing There, which went to number 1 on the Billboard Charts on January 18, 1964, and stayed there for seven weeks. As luck would have it, the Beatles first US visit planned for February 1964 with their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show had been booked almost six months earlier. Only by accident did the Beatles I Want To Hold Your Hand happen to be at #1 the same time as their first US visit. One could not have asked for better timing. On January 30, 1964, following the success of I Want To Hold Your Hand, Vee Jay Records re released Please Please Me, only this time with From Me To You as the B-Side.
Interestingly, many singles released in the UK had different B-Sides from those released in the USA. During this time in recording history, all recording artists used the A-Side as the hit, and the B-Side was just about any song used merely as a filler, except the Beatles. The Beatles were the first and only group in recording history to release a hit song on both sides of a single 45 rpm record. Also, the Beatles are the only group in recording history to have twenty songs reach number one.
In the United Kingdom, the Beatles released twelve albums (33 rpm/LP’s), however released nineteen in the USA. There were several reasons for this. One is that UK albums had fourteen songs, whereby USA had only twelve. The second, and really the most important reason is that Capitol Records decided that they wanted to create their own albums, different from the UK, using titles taken from UK singles and EP (extended play) singles. Such US albums as Meet The Beatles, The Beatles Second Album, Something New, Beatles ‘65, The Early Beatles, Beatles VI, Help!, and Yesterday and Today, were never issued in the UK in this form. Even Help!, the Beatles’ movie soundtrack was issued with different cuts than the UK version. It was not until the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band that they maintained the integrity of the albums universally.
The song writing duo of Lennon-McCartney is the most successful in the world. The only other song writing duo to come close to the success of Lennon-McCartney is Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Although they almost never wrote any of their songs together, John Lennon and Paul McCartney decided that all songs written by each of them would always be credited to both of them. Generally, what each would do is write a particular song, then present it to each other. In areas where each song needed a word, or some changes, they then would sit together a fine tune the song.
From 1962 to 1970, the Beatles recorded 214 songs. Throughout the years, there have always been speculation and rumors about what many Beatles songs mean. Often, the common belief, based mostly on rumor, is no where near the truth. Although reviewing each song and its meaning is not practical, I have chosen some more common and/or most interesting songs and outlined its real meaning
All the songs written and recorded by the Beatles for their first five albums, Please Please Me, With The Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night, Beatles For Sale and Help! had the same theme, love. Each of these songs dealt with relationships, boy meets girl, boy loses girl, etc. John Lennon had married Cynthia Powell at Mount Pleasant Register Office in London on August 23, 1961, being the only Beatle to be married at this time, and Paul McCartney had dated a girl from Liverpool named Dorothy Rhone, followed by Jane Asher (Jane is the sister of Peter Asher, famous for the recording duo of Peter and Gordon). These relationships provided the inspiration for the songs on the first five albums. It was not until 1965 that John Lennon wrote Nowhere Man, a song that had the distinction of being the first song that was not about love.
In early 1961, Paul McCartney wrote P.S. I Love You, which was dedicated to Dorothy. During this time, Dorothy was sharing an apartment with Cynthia Powell. Although Dorothy was madly in love with McCartney, Paul was too young to settle down. Consequently, Paul broke off their relationship. Cynthia, seeing how devastated Dorothy was at the breakup, described this in a book she later wrote titled, A Twist of Lennon. About the same time Paul broke up with Dorothy, John Lennon realized that he was truly in love with Cynthia. To describe this feeling, Lennon wrote Do You Want To Know A Secret to Cynthia. The Secret being that he was in love with her.
When comparing the writings of John and Paul, Paul was always a more outgoing type, writing about things that he felt and that had happened. John on the other hand was both introverted and extroverted. His extroverted traits were mostly an act, for the sake of the group. His real self was truly introverted, and many of his writings deal with his inner thoughts. In Lennon’s There’s A Place, he speaks of the sadness in his life, and retreats to his inner thoughts to find safety and contentment. Like most of Lennon and McCartney’s love songs, Paul is the confident one that believes things with work out, while John is preoccupied with feelings of apprehension.
The first song that Paul wrote the words to before the music was All My Loving. Paul thought of this song first as a poem while shaving one day. The song deals with being separated from the one that he loves. The Beatles first performed All My Loving in 1963 during a performance at London’s Royal Albert Hall. It would be at this concert on April 18 that Jane Asher was in the audience, and met Paul. Jane, although only seventeen, was an accomplished actress, and was serious about her acting career. Throughout their relationship, she placed her acting first, often, before the relationship with Paul. Paul, on the other hand, believed that Jane should be always available to him, whenever he was not touring. Because they were separated a lot, Paul wrote Things We Said Today. He describes his reflection of their times together, and his memory of the things that they said that day.
The Beatles made five movies; A Hard Day’s Night, which recreates the frenzy of Beatlemania; Help!, which cast Ringo in the starring role as one who inherited a magic ring, whom members of an evil cult constantly pursue in their attempt to get this ring; Magical Mystery Tour, features the Beatles and other actors on a bus ride journey through the English countryside; Yellow Submarine, which is animated. It is a psychedelic fantasy, whose plot is about a happy kingdom called Pepperland. This kingdom is taken over by the Blue Meanies, and the Beatles, riding to the rescue in a yellow submarine, eventually conquers the Blue Meanies through the power of love and music, and their last film, Let It Be, an eighty-minute documentary of the Beatles rehearsing at Twickenham Film Studios, recording sessions at Apple Studios, and playing live on the roof of their Apple offices in London. Had I only known about this rooftop concert at the time.
In December 1969, I had the opportunity to travel to London over the Christmas and New Year’s vacation from school, with my parents and brother. During my week’s stay, I had always held out the slim hope that I might be able to see the Beatles. I figured my best chance to see them accidentally, would be to go to them. On the morning of December 28, I decided that I would go to the Beatles Apple offices at 3 Saville Row. My brother, although reluctant to go with me, finally gave in, mostly because I was going regardless. Leaving our hotel at Green Park, we hailed a taxi, and telling the driver to take us to Apple was all we had to say. He knew exactly where we wanted to go. A short ride later we were dropped off directly in front of the Apple offices. The excitement of just being in front of this building was tremendous. The building was all white, with a brass plate affixed to the wall to the left side of the entrance door. On this plate was simply written "APPLE." Being sixteen at the time, and my brother eighteen, we stood outside for several minutes attempting to devise a plan to get inside. We were dressed in suits that I figured at least lent a limited amount of sophistication, which really meant to me that they would not toss us out immediately. After reaching no logical conclusion, I figured to best way to get inside was merely just to go in. My brother kept telling me that we should not, but I was determined. So I walked up the few steps with my brother following, and opened the entrance door. Upon entering, we found ourselves in the foyer, with another door to pass through to get inside. We continued. Once inside, there was a girl at the far end of the room sitting at a desk, who was the receptionist, and standing near her was Mary Hopkin, the recording artist for Apple Records, famous for her song, Those Were The Days. Directly to the left side of the room was a sofa and on the wall above it was a huge painting of John Lennon. Just to the right of the receptionist’s desk was a hallway, and we could see that there was an office there. A man approached us, who turned out to be the doorman, named Jim. He asked if he could help us, and I struck up a conversation with him, mostly to prolong our visit. I asked if any of the Beatles were there, and he replied that they were not. I did learn that Paul and John’s offices were on the first floor, down this hallway only a few steps away, and that Ringo and George had offices upstairs. However, after a few minutes, and realizing that we had no business there, were told that we could not stay. Although we were not sure, my brother and I did get the feeling that at least one of the Beatles was there, because of the panic-stricken reaction of the employees, and their quest to get us to leave. We’ll never know for sure, but it was exciting at least to have been this close. Little did I know that a short time after we had to leave England to return home, the Beatles held their famous rooftop concert at these same offices. How great it would have been to have seen that.
By October 1965, Paul and Jane’s on again off again relationship, and following an argument between them, caused Paul to write We Can Work It Out. During this time Jane had joined the Bristol Old Vic Company, an acting company, which by joining caused her to move from London to the west side of England. This caused problems for Paul, in that now, Jane would probably not be always available. This song addressed his optimism that things still would work out. Also from 1965 came McCartney’s best-known song, Yesterday, which appears on the Help! album. The tune for Yesterday came to him during the night. As he awoke, he went straight to the piano and played the complete tune. So easy this was, Paul feared that the tune must be from another song or belonged to another. To get a feel for the lyrics, Paul first titled it as "Scrambled Eggs," followed by the lyrics, "Oh you’ve got such lovely legs." For the next month or so, Paul played the song for lots of people, asking them if they had ever heard it, still believing the tune came from another. No one had heard it before. Consequently, Yesterday was born. Paul’s most successful song, Yesterday has been recorded more than 2500 times by other artists over the years.
Because the Beatles recorded so many great songs and wonderful albums, picking favorite songs is difficult. It is my opinion that the album’s Rubber Soul, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Abbey Road are clearly among their best.
In Rubber Soul, Paul continued to write songs that dealt with his relationship with Jane. Now that Jane was traveling and involved in her acting career, contacting her was difficult for Paul. Having suffered the outrage of unanswered telephone calls combined with other rejections Paul wrote You Won’t See Me and I’m Looking Through You, probably Paul’s most bitter song to date. Here Paul basically threatens Jane by saying, "Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight." Lennon’s contributions to Rubber Soul I believe include some of his best work. Songs like Girl, where John is describing the perfect girl, someone who came to him in a dream, and someone he had not yet met; and In My Life, a reflection of all the places and things he held dear as a young boy.
Following Rubber Soul came Revolver, released on August 8, 1966. Following its release, the Beatles performed their last concert on August 29 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. This would prove to be a significant period, in that the Beatles now devoted all their time to the recording studio. In Revolver, the Beatles recorded Here, There and Everywhere, probably Paul’s greatest love song. Paul wrote this song while at Lennon’s house, sitting outside by his pool. Paul had recently heard the Beach Boys album, "Pet Sounds," which contained the song "God Only Knows." Being impressed with this song, and desiring to write a song that reflected the same mood, he came up with Here, There and Everywhere, again about Jane.
By this time, George Harrison was also an accomplished song writer as well. Although he had amassed many songs on his own, he received little play time, existing in the shadow of Lennon and McCartney. One of his more interesting songs is Taxman. Having discovered that most of their earned money was going to taxes, George wrote this song aimed at the British government citing his dissatisfaction. The most popular song written by Harrison was Something. Throughout their career, Lennon and McCartney believed that if Frank Sinatra ever recorded any of their songs, they indeed had made it, although they didn’t need his help. The only song by the Beatles that Sinatra recorded was Something. Unfortunately for George, Sinatra almost always introduced this song as being from Lennon and McCartney.
At the same time as Revolver, the Beatles released as a single only Paperback Writer and Rain. These would later appear on an album titled Hey Jude, in the U.S., and still in later years on the Past Masters CD. Paul wrote Paperback Writer as another of his "letter songs." It is about a novelist who is begging a publisher to publish his thousand page book. In its literal sense, it’s about a paperback writer who has written a novel based on another novel, about a paperback writer. Lennon’s contribution to this song was the phrase "a man named Lear," and the reference to "The Daily Mail." The name Lear came from the Victorian painter Edward Lear, who wrote nonsense poems that Lennon loved, and the Daily Mail was the regular newspaper Lennon received. On the reverse side of Paperback Writer was Rain, which has the distinction of being the first record in recording history to contain backwards tape. George Martin came up with the idea, and it was used merely to produce a new range of sounds, not to conceal messages as was once believed.
By the summer of 1967, the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, on June 2, unquestionably the Beatles greatest album ever. It was the brainchild of Paul, and took more than six months to complete. John, Paul and George contributed its songs, but in a more simple sense, they conceived all the songs from ideas and things in everyday life. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, long thought to be about an LSD trip, was written by Lennon taken from an idea he got from his son Julian. Julian, a young boy, came home one day with a painting he had done at school of one of his classmates named Lucy O’Donnell. In explaining the painting to his father, he described it as Lucy, in the sky with diamonds, and the song was born. The song Getting Better, came from a description of the weather, in that it was getting better all the time; Fixing A Hole, another believed to be about drugs, was really about a house that Paul bought in Scotland called High Park near the town of Campbeltown. This property, containing 400 acres had a house in very poor condition. Paul noticed the condition and a hole in the roof where the rain came in, and thus the song was conceived.
Earlier in the year 1967, Paul came across a newspaper article in the Daily Mail about a seventeen-year-old girl who had been missing for weeks. The article quoted her father saying "I can’t imagine why she should run away, she has everything here." Based on this article, Paul wrote She’s Leaving Home. Somewhere along the way, John came across a poster, printed in 1843 that announced the appearance of a circus coming to town. They called it Pablo Fanque’s Circus Royal, and boasted the "grandest night of the season," at Town Meadows, in the north of England. Directly written on this poster was "for the benefit of Mr. Kite," and featured Mr. J. Henderson, a well-known Somerset. As a result, Lennon wrote Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite! All the characters in the song and the feats they would perform, came directly from this poster.
During the recording of Sgt. Pepper, George Harrison, who had learned the sitar, studying under Ravi Shankar, and all the Beatles were spending time with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. George wrote Within You, Without You, which features these influences and the sitar. The first time the sitar was ever used in a popular song was on Norwegian Wood from the album Rubber Soul. Paul wrote When I’m Sixty-Four as a tribute to his father and the music of the thirties, and actually composed the melody when he was only fifteen. In 1967, England had just stated using meter maids to issue parking violation tickets, fashioned after the United States. Upon seeing them, Paul came up with the song Lovely Rita. Good Morning, Good Morning, by Lennon, came directly from a box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes that John liked to eat for breakfast, and a Day In The Life , another Lennon composition, came from several newspaper articles in the Daily Mail. Paul contributed to this song in the section, "Woke up, got out of bed..." from an unfinished song he had been working on. Rather than complete the song, it’s short verse was added here. To finish the album, the Beatles needed something short, so George Martin suggested writing the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise), and the album was complete. It would be during the recording of Sgt. Pepper that McCartney met Linda Eastman, an American photographer, whom he married in 1969.
Following Sgt. Pepper, the Beatles released their third movie soundtrack, Magical Mystery Tour, which contained such classics as Penny Lane, written after the street by the same name, and an area that surrounds its junction with Smithdown Road in Liverpool. Following its release, the original road signs were stolen, causing officials to place them high on the sides of buildings, out of reach. The people and businesses described in the song were taken from actual events. Today, Penny Lane, is the best-known street in Britain. The idea of placing Penny Lane in a song was John’s, but it was Paul that put it together and made it work. Two other noteworthy songs from this movie are Strawberry Fields Forever, and I Am The Walrus, both from Lennon. Strawberry Fields Forever was conceived from a Salvation Army orphanage in Woolton named Strawberry Field, a short distance from where Lennon grew up, and I Am The Walrus, is a disjointed collection of three songs combined that Lennon was working on. Added to this were ridiculous images and nonsense words made up by Lennon, such as "semolina pilchards, elementary penguins, texpert, crabalocker, etc." When asked about the song, Lennon said that Bob Dylan got away with murder in his lyrics, so he decided that, "I can write this crap, too."
Next came the famous Hey Jude, one of the biggest sellers for the Beatles, and the longest song ever recorded on a single 45 rpm record at the time, at seven minutes and eleven seconds. At the time, Lennon and his wife Cynthia was divorcing, and Paul, being very close to their son, Julian, wrote Hey Jude as a show of support for Julian and Cynthia during this difficult time. Originally titled, "Hey Julian," then "Hey Jules," it was later changed to Hey JUDE, because from a song standpoint, the name was stronger.
From this point, from 1968 to 1970, the Beatles recorded four more albums; The Beatles (White Album), Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road and Let It Be. Some of the more interesting songs from this period contained on these albums are: Glass Onion, written by Lennon, which is the name that he came up originally for another band that signed with Apple Records called the Iveys. They did not like the name Glass Onion, and decided to call themselves, "Badfinger," taken from "Badfinger Boogie," the original name of the Beatles song A Little Help From My Friends. McCartney’s Martha My Dear, was written about the love of a girl, although the name Martha came from the name of Paul’s sheepdog; Julia, written by Lennon, was named for and dedicated to his mother. Also, from the white album is a song by Lennon titled Sexy Sadie. This is another interesting one because Sexy Sadie actually refers to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, with whom Lennon became quite disillusioned. During one of the Beatles many visits with the Maharishi, they learned that he had made advances to a female member friend of the Beatles. Upset by this, the Beatles abruptly left. In retaliation, Lennon wrote this song but knew he could not use the Maharishi’s name, thus came up with Sexy Sadie. George Harrison was seeing a lot of Eric Clapton, and learning of his love of chocolates, wrote Savoy Truffle about Clapton. All the names used in the song, except two, were actual names of candy. Creme Tangerine, Montelimart, Ginger Sling, Coffee Dessert, and Savoy Truffle were actual. George made up the names Cherry Cream and Coconut Fudge to fit the song.
In Yellow Submarine, George Harrison wrote a song titled, Only A Northern Song. This song was intended to have been on Sgt. Pepper, but as in many cases, George’s songs were placed in the background in favor of Lennon and McCartney’s. From the beginning, Northern Songs Ltd., was the publishing company that published the songs of the Beatles. John and Paul each received 15 percent of each song they wrote, while George and Ringo received only 1.6 percent for each of their songs. Consequently, George and Ringo felt like contract writers, not getting the financial credit due them as part of the Beatles. As a dig toward Northern Songs, George came up with Only A Northern Song, in which he is saying, who cares, it’s only a Northern song.
The greatest section to Abbey Road is the famous medley, which consists of ten unfinished songs, all grouped into one basic medley. It begins with Because, written by Lennon. It came about one day when Yoko was playing the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14, in C Sharp Minor (Moonlight Sonata). John asked Yoko if she could play these same chords in reverse order, which she did. This then became the music for Because. Three other songs of note in this medley are She Came In Through The Bathroom Window, written by Paul that described an actual event. Once while he was away from his home, several teenage girls broke into his house, gaining entrance through the bathroom window, thus the song; and Carry That Weight and The End. Carry That Weight was written by Paul to describe his feelings and the burdens of being a superstar, and The End, was written to be the last song they recorded, to describe the end of their studio career.
Because it was released on Abbey Road and not their last album Let It Be, it did not work out as planned. In Let it Be, two songs of note come to mind. One is the title track Let It Be, written by Paul that describes that although the Beatles were going through very troubled times, and could barely stand to be in each others company, Paul’s message was to merely, let it be. Probably the best song from this album was Paul’s The Long And Winding Road. In this Paul is describing, without saying anything specific, the despair he felt during this time, and that the long and winding road leading to the door, was a sign of hope and better things to come. Paul’s inspiration for the title was actually a road, which was long and winding that ran along the water to his home in Scotland.
The last time The Beatles performed together in a studio was on August 20, 1969. On January 4, 1970, the final taping was completed for Let It Be. In April 1970, McCartney announced that he had left the Beatles, citing personal, business and musical differences. On December 31, 1970, they legally dissolved the Beatles.
In the years that followed, each Beatle went on with their respective solo careers, with McCartney being the most successful, closely followed by Lennon. On December 8, 1980, John Lennon was returning to his Dakota apartment in New York following a recording session. Outside the front gate to the apartment building, he was approached by a fan who asked John if he would autograph a record album for him. Lennon, gladly complied, and immediately after signing, this deranged fan shot and killed Lennon. John Winston Lennon, died a short time later, and his remains were cremated. A memorial to John Lennon, titled "Strawberry Fields" is found in New York’s Central Park, directly across from the Dakota apartment.
Three noteworthy songs were written for John Lennon in his honor. The first was written by Neil Sedaka and Phil Cody in 1974 titled, The Immigrant. It is dedicated to Lennon and centers around the attempt by the United States to have Lennon wrongfully deported; the second is a song by Paul McCartney titled, Here Today, a beautiful tribute written in 1982 from McCartney’s Tug of War album, and lastly, Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny), written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. It is an outstanding tribute to the greatness of John Lennon, and equally as good a description of Lennon’s killer. In 1998, tragedy struck again with the passing of Linda McCartney, who lost her battle to breast cancer.
The Beatles recent releases of Anthology 1,2 and 3, feature two new songs Free As A Bird and Real Love. Both of these songs were originally conceived by John Lennon in the 1980s. Lennon’s wife, Yoko gave these two songs to Paul McCartney, and he with Ringo and George, finished the songs. Using John’s voice from his original demo tapes, the Beatles were together again. The release of Free As A Bird and Real Love, and their subsequent success is a testament to their popularity and will remain so forever.
The Beatles changed history and the music world in a dramatic way. Like Glenn Miller from the forties, who changed music by his innovative style of using clarinets in place of trumpets, and Elvis Presley in his unique style of rock ‘n roll from the fifties, the Beatles were the group from the sixties, and remain so today.
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