At the time of their arrival in Hamburg, the Beatles were a five piece ensemble, with a line up consisting of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best. When the Beatles left, two years later, Stuart Sutcliffe stayed behind to be with the girl he had met there, Astrid Kircherr. (It was Astrid who helped to popularise the distinctive Beatles mop-top.)
The Beatles’ time in Hamburg saw them gigging extensively in clubs around the city, indulging in copious amounts of Preludin (a prescription amphetemine) and learning a lot about sex (almost all the women they met in Hamburg were strippers or prostitutes). It also lead, eventually, to their first recording. This single, “My Bonnie”, was what eventually attracted the attention of Brian Epstein to the boys, leading to him becoming the manager of the band for many years.
The Beatles would leave Hamburg in 1962, returning briefly in 1966, after they had become superstars.
Originally recorded for “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, it was instead decided to release “Strawberry Fields Forever” as a double-A side with “Penny Lane”. It is widely regarded as one of the best songs the Beatles ever made, and one of the greatest exemplars of psychedelic rock.
The song was a top ten hit in the UK and the USA, and reached #1 in Norway and Austria, and was finally included on the “Magical Mystery Tour” album release. It remains one of the most popular Beatles songs, frequently covered by other artists. After John Lennon’s murder, a memorial was created for him in Central Park, New York City, and named after the song.
The County Borough of Blackburn was, in 1967, the governing body of the Blackburn area. Blackburn is an industrial town in Lancashire, but one that was declining as a result of the cotton industry’s slow fading away. Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise, therefore, that in that year, the roads in the borough had 4000 potholes in them – one for every 26 people living in the affected area.
The newspaper story about this incident, extrapolating from these figures, calculated that there must be two million such potholes in Britain’s roads, with 15% of them (300,000) in London. The fact that there are 4000 holes there is probably the single most widely-known fact about Blackburn, although presumably at least some of them have been repaired in the nearly 5 decades since John Lennon drew them to our attention.
While the word was out – the Beatles had been shown on television several times and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” had reached number one on the charts two weeks earlier – it was the arrival of the Beatles in America for their first tour that really set the British Invasion in motion.
Over the next few years other British acts, including, Peter and Gordon, The Animals, Manfred Mann, Petula Clark, Freddie and the Dreamers, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, Herman’s Hermits, The Rolling Stones, The Dave Clark Five, The Troggs and Donovan, would have one or more number one singles in the USA. The British Invasion kept going for most of the Sixties, until the Californian sound of the late Sixties and early Seventies displaced it.
One of the most controversial relationships in modern cultural history, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s love began inauspiciously, as an affair (Lennon was already married at the time) characterised by the usual deception and unthinking cruelty of such things, and notable for Ono’s miscarriage in 1968 (a few weeks after Lennon’s divorce). With Ono, Lennon became more activist, protesting the Vietnam War in particular.
The two were married in Gibraltar, and their honeymoon was spent in the Hilton Hotel of Amsterdam, conducting their now-legendary Bed In for Peace. How much influence Ono had over Lennon in the ongoing dissolution of the Beatles in this era remains a matter of dispute. There seems little doubt that she may have exacerbated existing strains, but it is unlikely that she was solely responsible (as some have claimed). Lennon and Ono would remain married until Lennon’s death in 1980.
Prudence Farrow (younger sister of Mia Farrow), came to study under the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at his ashram Rishikesh for the same reason everyone else did in the late Sixties: seeking enlightenment via Transcendental Meditation. The members of the Beatles arrived there a few weeks later, and became fast friends with her – especially John.
Farrow was notoriously serious about her meditation practice, and routinely stayed in her room meditating long beyond the assigned times for classes and sessions – up to 23 hours a day, in fact. Lennon in particular made efforts to drag her out into the world, to remind her that the point of meditation was ecstatic union with the world, not separation from it. She would need to be reminded to attend meals at times.
Selling over a million in the UK before it was even released, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” is the best-selling single worldwide in the Beatles’ entire career. More than any other, it’s the song that broke them in the United States – the opening shot of the entire British Invasion.
It was number one on the United States at the time that the band made their legendary appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” – although it was not one of the three songs that they played that night. The song immensely impressed Bob Dylan with its innovative character, and he became a staunch supporter of the band, and later a friend to them.
It was John Lennon’s debut in an all-acting role – it’s just a pity it wasn’t a better film. “How I Won The War” was a British film focusing on the exploits of a fictional military unit during WOrld War Two. It was intended to be a satirical retelling of the war, a humourous look at how a group of well-meaning incompetents lucked into saving the war.
It was critically panned, and a commercial failure despite the attention that Lennon’s casting brought it. About all that anyone remembers of it today it that it was for this film that Lennon adopted his now trademark circle-rimmed glasses, and that, of course, he mentioned it in a song on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
A song from the album “Revolver” (or, in America, “Yesterday and Today”), “Doctor Robert” is a somewhat autobiographical song about the way that the Beatles’ touring schedule was somewhat fuelled by drugs.
It’s not true to say that Sir Walter Raleigh – privateer, nobleman, favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, soldier, sailor, explorer and unsuccessful quester for the fabled city of El Dorado – killed more men than cancer.
However, as the man generally credited with the introduction of tobacco products to England – where they became popular at court, thus guaranteeing their spread throughout the rest of the nation and rival European courts (fashion is a harsh mistress) – he should at least be thought of as one of cancer’s most able accessories before the fact.
It would be nice to say that he died of lung cancer, but actually, he was beheaded in what many believe to have been a political maneuver aimed at placating the Spanish (whom Raleigh had fought during the Armada incident and the related war), and something of a miscarriage of justice (since King James, Elizabeth’s successor, did not have much love for her former favourites).
After getting married on March 20, 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono proceeded to have possibly the strangest honeymoon ever.
From their room in the Amsterdam Hilton (room 902, the Presidential Suite), they held a series of press conferences each day from March 25 to March 31. Between 9am and 9pm each day, they invited the press into their room, where the couple discussed peace (especially in regards to Vietnam) while sitting in their bed. The wall above them was decorated with signs reading “Hair Peace” and “Bed Peace”.
It’s unclear exactly what effect, if any, this all had on the outcome of the Vietnam War. If nothing else, Lennon’s astute use of his celebrity to get his message out certainly helped to raise the issue’s profile, although it’s arguable he was preaching almost entirely to the converted – by 1969, pretty much everyone already had an opinion about Vietnam…