The Beatles Pt 2

Posted by Amoebite, August 19, 2009 10:54am | Post a Comment
We are kicking off the celebration in honor of the digitally remastered Beatles reissues set to hit Amoeba September 9! Each Wednesday until September 2, we will present a segment of The Beatles' biography. Then, the week of September 2-9 will be marked here on the blog with a number of Beatles related posts with a huge variety of topics! You can begin with last week's Part One of the fabled band's history if you missed it by clicking right here. Otherwise, we are on to Part Two:


beatles hamburg

The rechristened group took a major step towards professionalism in 1960 with the acquisition of Liverpool promoter and club owner Allan Williams as their manager. Williams had co-promoted shows with Larry Parnes, the powerful, insidious London-based manager of such unlikely-named teen idols as Billy Fury and Tommy Steele. He arranged an audition for The Silver Beetles (which now included drummer Tommy Moore) before Parnes, who hired the group for a tour of Scotland backing one of Parnes’ lesser charges, the third-tier singer Johnny Gentle. They returned from the chaotic spring trek broke and bedraggled, but schooled in the verities of lifebeatles hamburg on the rock ‘n’ roll motorway.

In the summer of 1960, a chance meeting between Williams and a German club owner opened an opportunity for his group – now permanently known as The Beatles – to play a run of shows at a venue in Hamburg. Then minus a drummer and desperate for the employment, the band quickly drafted the handsome, diffident son of Casbah owner Mona Best, Pete Best, whose band The Blackjacks was in the process of dissolving. In August 1960, the quintet set forth on a fateful ferry voyage to the continent.

The Beatles would make five trips to Hamburg between 1960-62. They came of age entertaining audiences of drunks, hooligans, and hookers in the clubs of the Reeperbahn, the dock city’s notorious center of vice, with sets largely comprising American rock ‘n’ roll and R&B hits. Their first tour of duty encompassed more than 100 gigs at the Indra, a dilapidated former strip joint, and the larger Kaiserkeller. Instructed to “mach schau” (“make a show”) by their German employer, The Beatles stormed through their performances with a vigor fueled by doses of Preludin, the cheap amphetamine readily available on the Hamburg streets. Clad in leather a la Gene Vincent, they clowned and rocked for as long as six hours a night, mocking and inciting their sodden audiences cheerfully with the sardonic Lennon leading the charge.

They made several important connections on their first Hamburg stand. They encountered and sometimes backed Tony Sheridan, a native of Norwich, England, who had established himself as the Reeperbahn’s answer to Elvis Presley after his arrival in Hamburg in 1959. Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison recorded a session (which has not survived) with two beatles hamburg astridmembers of another visiting Liverpool band, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. One was 20-year-old drummer Richard Starkey. He was born on July 7, 1940; after a sickly childhood that curtailed his formal education, he had graduated from Liverpool’s skiffle bands to the beat music scene, taking the nom de theatre Ringo Starr. In Best’s absence, he sometimes sat in with The Beatles on the Reeperbahn.

The unlikeliest of The Beatles’ local fans was Astrid Kirchherr, a 22-year-old photographer and bohemian. Soon romantically involved with Stu Sutcliffe, she shot an iconic series of photographs of the band against rough-hewn Hamburg backdrops. On their return to Germany in 1961, she introduced the band, through Sutcliffe, to the long, loose, fringed haircut – the pilzenkopf (mushroom head), later known as the “Beatle cut” – that replaced their Teddy boy quiffs. (Best was the lone tonsorial hold-out, sticking with his upswept pompadour.)

The Beatles’ stay in Hamburg ended with the deportation of three band members: 17-year-old Harrison beatles hamburg astridwas kicked out of the country for performing while under age, and McCartney and Best were expelled after being arrested on a trumped-up arson charge. But the invigorated quintet returned to the Liverpool clubs and put the lessons they learned on the German stages to work. They gained a reputation as top dog among Liverpool’s beat music acts. On February 9, 1961, they played the Cavern Club, a former jazz venue on Victoria Street, for the first time; in 1961-62 they appeared regularly at this cramped, unventilated subterranean hole, performing both lunchtime shows and evening performances. The Cavern became the staging area for Beatlemania.

In April 1961, The Beatles returned to Hamburg for a two-month engagement at the Top Ten. It was a significant trip for a couple of reasons. First, Stu Sutcliffe chose to devote himself to his art studies and his relationship with Kirchherr, and drifted out of the group; his duties were taken over by McCartney, whose facility as a guitarist was brought into play on the bass. (Sutcliffe’s promising painting career was cut short when he died of a brain hemorrhage in Hamburg in April 1962.)

The quartet also made their first professional recordings. Drafted as a backup band for a session by Tony Sheridan, they supported the singer on “My Bonnie,” a corny traditional number popular among drunken sailors in the Hamburg clubs in its rocked-up version. The Beatles also cut two numbers of their own, “Ain’t She Sweet” (a 1927 chestnut previously essayed by Gene Vincent) and Harrison’s instrumental “Cry For a Shadow.” On the strength of these recordings, the group was signed to German Polydor by composer-producer Bert Kaempfert. The single “My Bonnie,” credited to Sheridan and The Beat Brothers (to avoid the similarity between “Beatles” and “peedles,” German slang for “penis”), reportedly sold 100,000 copies regionally. (These historic tracks were later included on Anthology I.)


The Beatles returned to Liverpool in July 1961, where they swiftly commenced to mow down the local competitbrian epsteinion. Each member of the band – acerbic John, charming Paul, quiet George, and dreamboat Pete – had his own vocal claque of fans. At noontime and at night, the Cavern filled to overflowing. However, it was uncertain if the group would be able develop beyond their devoted local base: A dispute with Allan Williams over his commission on German club dates had ended the band’s association with him. But a new player now entered the picture to provide momentum for their career.

Brian Epstein was an improbable candidate for managerial success in the rock ‘n’ roll business. Aged 27 in 1961, he was the well-educated son of a prosperous Jewish retailer who had abruptly thrown over theatrical studies at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts to return to a position in Liverpool overseeing the record-sales outlet of the family’s instrument and phonograph business, North End Music Stores (NEMS).

It remains unclear how Epstein first heard about The Beatles. Legend has it that one October day, an 18-year-old customer walked into NEMS’ downtown store and asked for a copy of “My Bonnie,” alerting Epstein to the band’s existence. However, it is unlikely that Epstein would have been ignorant of the group by that late date: He stocked Mersey Beat, the local beat music fanzine, which followed The Beatles’ progress slavishly, and without doubt he knew Bob Wooler, the Cavern’s DJ and emcee, who also wrote a column for the paper.

No great matter. On Nov. 9, 1961, Brian Epstein attended a noontime show at the Cavern Club, and hebeatles cavern 1961 walked away impressed. The first week in December, against the advice of his family’s attorney, he met with The Beatles and proposed a contract with the band. For 25% of their gross earnings, he would handle their bookings, improve their per-gig take, extricate them from their German Polydor contract, and secure them a domestic recording contract. They ultimately signed with Epstein in January 1962, and not a moment too soon: At their first show in the South of England, at the Palais Ballroom in Aldershot, Hampshire, on Dec. 9, the provincial quartet drew 18 paying customers.

Epstein’s well-mannered persistence and his clout as Northern England’s top record retailer swiftly yielded results. On New Year’s Day 1962, The Beatles traveled to London to audition for Decca Records, one of England’s major labels. Infamously, Dick Rowe, Decca’s head of singles A&R, passed on the group. By the time Rowe made his decision, the group had also tried out for the BBC; for the occasion, Epstein outfitted them in crisp matchingeorge martin the beatlesg continental-cut suits. Their scruffy leathers vanished for good, and for the next four years The Beatles would always appear together togged in well-scrubbed uniformity.

Other labels declined The Beatles’ services as well, but a connection at EMI Records’ HMV retail stores called George Martin, head of EMI’s Parlophone imprint, and secured a meeting for Epstein. Parlophone was the company’s poor-sister imprint – it was best known as the label home of radio comics Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan’s Goon Show – and the classically-trained Martin’s principal experience was in comedy and orchestral production. EMI’s other imprints had already rejected The Beatles, by mail. But Martin heard something in the Decca audition tapes, and agreed to audition the band. Somewhat deviously, Epstein cabled The Beatles, then playing the Star-Club in Hamburg, and told them they were to record their debut Parlophone single in June.

Having pried themselves from Polydor’s grasp with a session in Hamburg, The Beatles auditioned for Parlophone at EMI’s Abbey Road studios in London on June 6, 1962. They cut four songs. One of them, the punchy Lennon-McCartney original “Love Me Do,” was strong enough for supervising engineer Norman Smith to summon George Martin into the control room. On meeting Martin, Lennon and McCartney, whose zany sense of humor had been shaped by the Goons, were awed by Martin’s experience with the comics, while the A&R executive was tickled by the band members’ irreverent, self-deflating style. A contract was inked, and a creative partnership born.

Before The Beatles could enter the studio in earnest, a final, definitive lineup change was in order. Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison agreed with Martin that Best, not a distinguished drummer at the absolute top of his game, would have to be replaced. They opted to supplant him with their old Hamburg beatles recording for emi 1962mate Ringo Starr, still with Rory Storm. In August, the diminutive, good-humored drummer threw in his lot with The Beatles; the band callously gave Epstein the task of dismissing Best, almost two years to the day after he joined them. Starr’s arrival created an outcry among some of Best’s hometown supporters, but the ring-bedecked musician’s modest, ebullient personality and his obvious skill made the controversy short-lived.

In September 1962, in the midst of frenetic touring in the North of England, The Beatles cut their debut Parlophone single, “Love Me Do.” But it was not without a snag: Feeling that newcomer Starr’s playing on the track lacked snap, Martin re-recorded the song with session player Andy White in the drum chair. Backed with “P.S. I Love You,” another original, the single was issued in October; it rose to No. 17 on the national charts. (Some maintained that Epstein had “juiced the chart” through phantom sales at NEMS.) The same month, they appeared on Radio Luxembourg, the BBC, and Granada TV, and headlined Liverpool’s top theater, the Empire. Their career was rolling.

In late November – shortly before they left for their last appearance at Hamburg’s Star-Club – The Beatles cut “Please Please Me.” The direct appeal of this energetic number, issued as a single in January 1963, put the band over the top. In February, while touring with pop songbird Helen Shapiro, The Beatles were informed by Epstein that they had, as Martin had predicted it would be, their first No. 1 single.

The lightning-like success of “Please Please Me” inspired Martin to record a full-length album, a please please methen-unthinkable move for a new, virtually unknown band. Cut in one marathon February session, Please Please Me (1963) sought to capture the immediacy of The Beatles’ club sets. The title track and Lennon-McCartney originals like the dynamic “I Saw Her Standing There” were complemented by songs from their live repertoire -- covers of numbers by the American R&B singer Arthur Alexander, a gaggle of US girl groups, and the storming R&B act The Isley Brothers (whose “Twist and Shout,” sung by a raw-voiced Lennon, was the highlight of the album).

Within six weeks, Please Please Me reached No. 1 on the British charts, a position it held for five straight months. Something new was afoot in the land: A group of smart, funny, melody-spinning young Brits who wrote their own songs and played them with energy and grace. That spring and summer, The Beatles attained something like media ubiquity, with a string of tour appearances (including a stint with one of their American heroes, Roy Orbison) and near-constant radio and TV exposure.

The shrill keening and hysterical public behavior of female “Beatlemaniacs” became a source of press consternation; in the face of this escalating madness, the witty sang froid, humorous ease with the ritualsbeatles 1963 of stardom, and broad Northern accents of the so-called “Fab Four” began to charm even the most skeptical journalists, who used their coverage of the wildly popular musicians as a salve for a population still smarting from the disgrace of the Profumo sex-and-spying scandal, which had overturned the Tory government.

Three more No. 1 singles – “From Me to You,” “She Loves You” (their biggest English 45, which spawned the indelible chant “Yeah, yeah, yeah”) and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” – dominated the English charts in 1963. The Beatles climaxed a year of increasingly high-profile shows – all of them overrun by uncontrollable hordes of wailing fans -- on Nov. 4 with a Royal Command Performance before the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret in London; Lennon amused the crowd by asking those in the cheap seats to clap, and those in the more expensive orchestra to “rattle your jewelry.”

with the beatles
The group’s second album With the Beatles (1963), issued in November, immediately displaced Please Please Me at No. 1, and held that position for yet another five months. Somewhat slighter than its predecessor, it included the potent Lennon-McCartney tune “All My Loving” and Lennon’s raving cover of “Money,” Barrett Strong’s craven 1959 Motown hit.

Coming up next Wednesday, Beatlemania hits the USA and The Beatles reach the pinnacle of their success! In the meantime, you can preorder any of The Beatles reissues (p.s., when you do, you'll get a free copy of Paul McCartney's Amoeba's Secret!) and read about staff favorites right here, and you can find out what will be going on in each store on Beatles Day right here! We're gonna have a good time!

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Beatles (103), Beatles 2009 (15), John Lennon (38), Paul Mccartney (59), George Harrison (17), Ringo Starr (14), 1960s (49), Pete Best (1)