A Few Fab Four Fables
The Beatles! So much has been written, read, heard and seen about them that writing about them seems absurd now. So instead of writing about their much-heard-about history and achievements, I will focus on their songs, how they came about and small stories attached to them. All that’s included in this article has been heard from people or been found on the Net and, boy, is it interesting! So here are some of their songs and it’s amazing to know how they came about.
Love Me Do (1962)
John and Paul wrote the song after bunking school when they were 17 and 16 respectively. It was written about Paul’s then girlfriend Iris Caldwell. This song was heard by producer George Martin when the Beatles were auditioning for Parlophone Records. He liked it a lot and started tinkering with it right away, and added the harmonica. Lennon, who fortunately knew how to play the instrument, was able to come up with the part. As a result of this McCartney had to shift to lead vocals. He later joked that the fear in his voice can be heard in the recording.
The harmonica played by Lennon on the song was supposedly stolen from a music shop in Arnhem – a Dutch town close to the German border – while the Beatles were on their way to Hamburg. Recorded on the September 5, 1962, it required 15 takes to complete. This was released as a single, the Beatles’ first. George Martin was somehow never satisfied with the song that they recorded and a week later the Beatles returned to the studios to find that a new drummer by the name of Andy White had been brought in. This left Ringo feeling very insecure as the Beatles had just fired their previous drummer, Pete Best. So the recording of the song released as a single has Ringo on drums, but in the song on the album Please Please Me, Andy White is on the drums with Ringo sidetracked to playing the maracas. Recorded in mono on one-track tape, no stereo version of this song exists. When this was released in England, it was not a big hit. The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, had so much confidence in the group that he gave the single a big marketing push by buying a bunch of copies of it (some say 10,000) for his record store, which helped get it on the charts and ensured more exposure for the band.
All My Loving (1963)
Arguably the most commercially successful Beatles track, this was composed by Paul McCartney and recorded on 30 July, 1963. It was about an old girlfriend of Paul’s known as Jane Asher. This was also the only song for which Paul first wrote the lyrics and then composed the tune. It was never released as a single and was a part of the album With The Beatles.
McCartney’s masterpiece which he recorded on 14 June, 1965, this is probably his most successful song. Yesterday has been recorded more than 2500 times by other artists over the years, making it the most recorded song in music history. The tune for Yesterday came to McCartney during the night. As he awoke, he went straight to the piano and played the complete tune. It was so easy that Paul feared that the tune must be from another song. To get a feel for the lyrics, Paul first titled it Scrambled Eggs followed by the lyrics, “Oh you’ve got such lovely legs.” For the next month or so, Paul played the song for many people, asking them if they had ever heard it, still believing the tune came from another song. No one had heard it before and consequently, Yesterday was born. It has been said that during the shooting of their film Help!, Paul drove the other Beatles crazy by playing the song over and over again.
Michelle is one of McCartney’s best compositions. Paul got the inspiration for this song from seeing French art students at a party, dressed in their berets and sporting beards. He used the name Michelle not because of any particular woman but simply because it sounded good. Jan Vaughn, the wife of Ivan Vaughn, an old friend of Lennon and McCartney’s, provided the French lyrics. When Paul had not come up with the name of Michelle, he used words like “goodnight sweetheart” and “hello my dear” as a substitute. The song was recorded on 3 November, 1965. It won the Grammy for the Song of the Year in 1966 and reached the No. 1 position in French charts.
In My Life (1965)
This song was a favourite of Lennon and McCartney. It was written by Lennon after he was asked why a book written by him, In His Own Write, revealed more about him than his songs. Upon his tragic death in 1980, this song took on the role as his personal epitaph. The Beatles recorded this track leaving a hole for the instrumental break. Producer George Martin filled it in the next morning by playing a piano solo and speeding up the tape to make it sound like a harpsichord. Lennon had asked him to fill it with something “baroque.” It was voted the best song of all time by a panel of songwriters in a 2000 poll conducted by Mojo magazine.
Eleanor Rigby (1966)
Eleanor Rigby, an outstanding song by Paul was recorded on 28 and 29 April and 6 June, 1966. To match the sombre mood of the track, there are no drums; string quartet is the only instrument. There are three stories behind its name. In their youth, Paul and John met at a church function at St. Peter’s, Woolton. In the graveyard there was a stone with the name Eleanor Rigby, who died on 10 October, 1939. It is believed that maybe Paul recalled this name from his subconscious years later. However, it is also said that Paul got the name from two sources. The name of “Rigby” is said to be taken from a shop front in Bristol, and the name “Eleanor” came from his former co-star Eleanor Bron in the film Help!
Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart’s Club Band: the album (1967)
There are lots of stories about the album Sgt. Pepper in general and so let’s deviate from the usual style of writing about particular songs and focus on the album in general. Sgt. Pepper, on the vinyl (old stereo record) version as it was originally released, was famous as a sequence of songs in two continuous sides, without any pauses. The Beatles also intended that this sequence of songs be different than they eventually were released. Originally, Side A on the vinyl was to have Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; With A Little Help From My Friends; Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!; Fixing A Hole; Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds; Getting Better, and She’s Leaving Home. However, this order had to be altered because the vinyl could not accommodate the combined length of these songs. The sequence was therefore then changed to what appears on the album, on both the vinyl and the CD versions. Had CDs been available in 1967, the album could have been delivered as the Beatles intended.
The cover of Sgt. Pepper is unique in itself, containing 86 cardboard cut-outs depicting images of famous people, wax models of Paul, John, George and Ringo, and other objects such as a velvet snake, television, stone figures, a trophy, an Indian doll, a hookah, a tuba, and more. When looking at the cover, you will see two larger spaces above the top row. The first is between the image of Edgar Allen Poe (eighth from left) and the second after The Vargas Girl (eleventh from left). The first gap was intended, the second was not. After the Vargas Girl was supposed to be the image of the American actor Leo Gorcey. However, Gorcey requested a fee for his image to be used, so it was painted out. Also, an image of Adolf Hitler was originally to be included, but was nixed in the end.
The Beatles used a ton of trickery in the studio over the years, with very innovative recordings. On Sgt. Pepper, besides the many sound effects throughout, one will find the forty-second crashing piano chord after the last track, A Day in the Life, followed by what is a 15-kilocycle tone, placed there by John Lennon to “especially annoy your dog.” This was followed by several seconds of nonsense talk by the Beatles that was recorded, then cut into several pieces of tape, then stuck back together to form these sounds. On the vinyl album many people did not hear these sounds, as with the old turntables, the arm would return before these sounds could be heard. This track was so far at the end, the arm would reject before this part was heard. However, these sounds can be clearly heard on the CD version. Another first for this album was the use of a 40-piece orchestra that was recorded on a four-track system and dubbed to sound as though a 160-piece orchestra was used.
The Fool on the Hill (1967)
Another personal favourite from the Beatles, this song also originated from a very peculiar incident that occurred when Paul was out walking his dog Martha (about whom the song Martha My Dear was written, by the way) on Primrose Hill in London. Martha disappeared for an instant and Paul was looking everywhere for her when suddenly there mysteriously appeared this well-dressed gentleman who returned his dog to him. After pleasantries were exchanged, when Paul looked away for an instant, the man disappeared. The nearest tree was too far for him to reach in that instant and so was the crest of the hill. Back home while brooding on the incident, Paul composed this amazing number.
I Am the Walrus (1967)
A great song by Lennon, and those of us who admire him greatly rate this as one of his best. This disjointed song was written from an amalgamation of at least three other songs Lennon was working on at the time, but which he thought were not good enough on their own. Many of the images were taken from actual events, such as the policemen, which came about when he heard their car sirens one day, and he tried to copy the rhythm of the sirens. The second song was a pastoral melody created at his Weybridge home garden, and the third was a nonsense song about sitting on a cornflake (Lennon liked Kellogg’s Cornflakes).
However, much of this song is made up of nonsensical images and words invented by Lennon, such as semolina pilchards, elementary penguins, texpert, crabalocker, etc. The line “Yellow matter custard, dripping from a dead dog’s eye” was, however adapted from a schoolyard rhyme that Lennon remembered. One of his inspirations for these ludicrous images was Bob Dylan. Lennon believed that Dylan got away with murder in some of his lyrics, so as Lennon commented in later years, talking about the song, “I can write this crap, too.”The only lyric in the song where Lennon was serious is the first line, where he describes his belief in unity of all things. Lennon invented the line ‘elementary penguin singing Hare Krishna’ as a jibe at Allen Ginsberg who chanted Hare Krishna at public rallies, and the walrus came from the Lewis Carroll poem, The Walrus and The Carpenter. When this song was released on the B-side of Paul’s Hello Goodbye, John was enraged at their manager, who selected the arrangements. To confuse people trying to interpret the song Lennon also added parts from BBC’s broadcast King Lear and the voices of a choir singing, “Oompah, oompah, stick it in your jumper” and “Everybody’s got one, everybody’s got one.” To confuse them even further, later in the 1968 song Glass Onion, he sung, “The Walrus was Paul.”
These are but some of the timeless classics that were written by the Beatles. A lot of people have grown up with these melodies and lyrics, timeless in the truest sense. I’m sure it would be fascinating to any Beatles fan to actually know little anecdotes that go with some of their songs. My list was by no means exhaustive – there are so many more trivial incidents, each more interesting than the other, that led to more great music being created by the Four. All of you who consider The Beatles as an integral part of their life must go on further researching on the topic. And if you come across anything particularly interesting (which you probably will), please do let me know.
Subhayu Mukherji is a 3rd Year student of Engineering at Future Institute of Engineering and Management, Calcutta. He also plays a mean bass for the young band Glass Onion, and takes a generous interest in alcohol acquired with other people’s money.
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