In honour of John, Paul, George and Ringo, here’s 100 little-known facts and bits of trivia about the ’60s icons, from the Pope’s reaction to their “bigger than Jesus” boast to raucous tales of condoms lit on fire. Ready? Here we go…
The last time McCartney and Lennon ever jammed together was at a bit of a boozy studio session, playing with Stevie Wonder and Harry Nilsson. A bootleg, ‘A Toot And A Snore’, appeared in 1974.
The iconic drop-T Beatles logo was sketched by a music shop owner, Ivor Arbiter, when Ringo bought a new drumkit from his London shop in 1963.
The band bought Greek island Leslo, surrounded by four smaller islands (one for each Beatle), for £95,000 in summer 1967. They sold it a few months later, bored with the idea.
The semaphore message on the cover of ‘Help!’ actually spells NUJV, not FUCK or indeed SHIT as apocryphal tales would have it.
Lennon and McCartney wrote The Rolling Stones’ first hit, ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’, after the Stones whined they needed a hit single. Lennon said afterwards: “We weren’t going to give them anything great, right?”
Worried that no-one would understand their Liverpudlian accents in 1964 film ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, US music execs considered dubbing them over with American actors. McCartney harrumphed: “We can understand a fucking cowboy talking Texan!”
Lennon and McCartney once started work on a play called ‘Pilchard’, about a bloke who thought he was God, but never finished it.
When Bob Dylan first heard ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, he decided The Beatles must be groovy drug-inspired folk and mistook the line ‘I can’t hide’ for ‘I get high’.
John Lennon didn’t like his own voice and wanted to sound like Elvis. He begged producer George Martin: “Do something with my voice! You know, put something on it. Smother it with tomato ketchup or something. Make it different!”.
Paul McCartney, drummer Pete Best and George Harrison were all deported from Germany during their first Hamburg club residency in late 1960: a 17-year-old Harrison for being underage; McCartney and Best for setting a condom on fire in their room.
Lennon once wrote a Dylan parody called ‘Stuck Inside Of Lexicon With The Roget’s Thesaurus Blues’.
In an early interview George Harrison let slip that he liked jelly babies. Consequently, he was pelted with them at gigs for years afterwards. This could be painful, especially in America, where jelly babies weren’t available – so fans threw harder jelly beans instead.
According to gossiping tabloids, Brian Wilson was so knocked out when McCartney played him ‘A Day In The Life’, the Beach Boy decided to “retire and live in a sauna bath”.
Last year The Pope forgave Lennon for his infamous 1966 statement “we’re bigger than Jesus”. The Vatican decided it was merely a “boast by a young working-class Englishman faced with unexpected success”.
For a while ‘Abbey Road”s working title was ‘Everest’ (after engineer Geoff Emerick’s fave brand of fags), but when it was suggested the disgruntled band go to the Himalayas to shoot the cover they decided they couldn’t be arsed and named it after the street the studio was on.
The term ‘Beatlemania’ was invented by Canadian hack Sandy Gardiner, first appearing in the Ottawa Journal, November 1963, to describe “a new disease” sweeping the globe.
John claimed he had named the band after a vision in a dream, saying a man appeared “on a flaming pie,” saying, “You will be Beatles with an ‘a’.”
Paul, a Catholic, was inspired to write ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ by the Vatican ritual where a cardinal bangs the late pope on the forehead five times with a silver hammer to make sure that he is dead.
One of the worst Yoko-related arguments ensued after Ono stole Harrison’s chocolate digestive while the band were recording in the Abbey Road studios. George yelled that she was a “bitch”.
The line “I am the eggman” was allegedly inspired by The Animals’ Eric Burdon’s predilection for cracking eggs on his lovers’ naked bods.
Ringo Starr orginally wanted to be a hairdresser.
‘Paperback’ has become Cockney rhyming slang for ‘raita’ (rhymes with ‘writer’), the cooling savoury yoghurt often served in Indian restaurants.
Pre-pop stardom Paul had a go at being an electrician: “I was hopeless. They gave me a job winding coils and called me Mantovani because of my long hair.”
The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band appear in the stripper sequence in Magical Mystery Tour and play a song entitled ‘Death Cab For Cutie’. Guess who nicked it for a band name?
The song ‘Sexy Sadie’ was originally entitled ‘Maharishi’ – it was written by Lennon while staying at the guru’s Indian ashram, and is about their growing disillusionment with him.
Strawberry Fields was a real place – it was a children’s home run by the Salvation Army in Liverpool. It’s since been demolished.
After decades of maintaining that ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ was not inspired by LSD, a few years ago Paul did ‘fess up about the song’s druggy origins, saying it’s “pretty obvious” the song is about an acid trip.
In early 1963 the band claimed to have already written over 100 songs. Paul said: “We have such a fairly easy job thinking up tunes these days. If we think up a tune very quickly we know we’ve got a hit.”
The Beatles share the record for the most consecutive Christmas Number Ones with the Spice Girls: three.
John, Paul and George were all, spookily enough, 5ft 11in tall; Ringo was the shortarse of the group, at 5ft 8in.
Little Richard became a big fan when he heard The Beatles in early
1963, but was amazed to find out they were white boys. He said:
“Honestly, if I hadn¹t seen them with my own eyes I’d have thought they
were a coloured group from back home.”
The Beatles auditioned for Decca in January 1962, but A&R executive Dick Rowe declined to sign them, declaring, “Guitar groups are on the way out”. D’oh!
The Beatles briefly considered calling themselves Johnny And The Moondogs, Long John And The Beetles and The Silver Beatles.
The Beatles first entered the NME Charts (as they were then known) on October 26, 1962 with ‘Love Me Do’. It entered at Number 27, wedged between Billy Fury at 26 and Buddy Holly at 28.
The street signs for the actual Penny Lane in Liverpool disappeared with such regularity (as they did on the real Abbey Road), that the town reverted to simply painting ‘Penny Lane’ on the buildings rather than have street signs.
The so-called “magic circle” were the only folk allowed in the recording studio: the Fab Four, George Martin and road managers Neill Aspinall and Mal Evans. Then John met Yoko Ono and dragged a bed in.
The statue of Eleanor Rigby sitting on a bench in Liverpool’s Stanley Street was made by ’60s singer Tommy Steele.
John wrote ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ while on the set of ‘How I Won The War’, in which he had a cameo role.
A 16-year-old Harrison failed to convince his family to emigrate to Canada, Australia or Malta.
Early on, John and Paul agreed to a joint Lennon/McCartney credit on all Beatles compositions written by either of them or together. Yoko got the hump after the band split when Paul attempted to change the order to McCartney/Lennon on songs he’d written.
John Lennon returned his 1965 MBE to the Queen in 1969 “as a protest against Britain’s involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam and against ‘Cold Turkey’ slipping down the charts”. He signed it “love, John”.
John’s song ‘Julia’, dedicated to his late mother, Julia, and wife Yoko, was the only Beatles song he recorded without the others’ help.
After George got drunk and threw up on the floor in Hamburg, no one would clean it up. As it grew more crusty and disgusting it became known as a “fiendish thingy”. Thus George’s famous ‘fiendish thingy’ saying.
Conspiracy theorists cited the ‘Abbey Road’ cover as proof that McCartney died and replaced by a lookalike. It apparently shows a preacher (Lennon), undertaker (Starr), corpse (bare-footed Paul), gravedigger (Harrison); and the car reg indicates the age Paul would have been if alive (28IF).
Lennon and McCartney met on 6 July, 1957 at a Saturday evening fete in St Peter’s Church, Woolton, Liverpool, where 16-year-old Lennon¹s group, The Quarrymen, were playing.
Legend has it that the Beatles’ ill-advised, abortive album sleeve for ‘Yesterday And Today’ – which depicted the band in butcher’s overalls, holding raw meat and slain dolls – was a dig at Capitol’s ‘butchering’ of their records.
The Beatles started taking drugs in their Hamburg days – back then their drug of choice was speed pills, which they took to give them energy to play several shows a day.
The last time all four Beatles recorded together in the same studio was for ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ for the ‘Abbey Road’ album on 20 August, 1969.
Paul’s first acid trip was on the evening of 21 March, 1967. He apparently did it to keep John company, after Lennon had ‘accidentally’ ingested a tab of acid.
After his first acid trip, John raved: “It was truly a religious experience. I had never realised what people were talking about when they said God is within you.”
The most played track at The Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’ press launch was Procul Harum’s ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’. Lennon was obsessed by it, and played the song non-stop on his white Rolls Royce’s record player all the way to the party.
In France they changed the title of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ to ‘Quatre Garçons Dans Le Vent’ (‘Four Boys in the Wind’).
John claimed ‘Ticket To Ride’ “was one of the earliest heavy metal records made”.
It has been argued that The Beatles were responsible for MTV – they were the first group to create promotional film clips to sell their music.
John Lennon loved cats. He had 10 while living in Weybridge with first wife Cynthia. His mum once had a cat called Elvis, because she was a big Presley fan.
At one point, Ringo seriously considered emigrating to Texas to become a country musician.
Before writing ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, George Harrison randomly picked a book on a shelf, opened it and read the first word he saw. The word was ‘gently’.
All The Beatles were scared of flying, especially George.
A burst appendix and a bout of pleurisy kept Ringo in hospital for three years as a child.
Reacting to Lennon’s death in 1980, McCartney offered the lame response: “It’s a drag, isn’t it?” (he later said he was in shock).
Among the people on the cover of ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ are Stuart Sutcliffe, Laurel and Hardy, Marilyn Monroe, Karl Marx, boxer Sonny Liston, Bob Dylan, Lenny Bruce and Shirley Temple.
When the Beatles requested Shirley Temple’s permission to use her image on the cover of ‘Pepper’, she was the only celebrity who insisted on hearing the album before granting permission.
Mae West at first refused to let the band use her image on the ‘Pepper’ sleeve, but gave in when the fellas each sent her a personal note explaining how much it would mean to them.
1967’s ‘She’s Leaving Home’ angered the American far right, who decided it was a cryptic advertisement for abortion.
Ringo, George and John left school with no qualifications (although John wangled his way into art school), while a relatively swotty Paul scooped five O levels and one A level.
Stuart Sutcliffe rechristened what was left of The Quarrymen (Lennon,
McCartney, Harrison), ‘The Beatles’ when he joined the band as bassist
in 1960. They officially became The Beatles in August that year.
‘Please Please Me’ had the distinction of having credited John and Paul’s compositions as McCartney-Lennon instead of LennonMcCartney.
Although there is an Eleanor Rigby buried in Woolton Cemetery (where McCartney met Lennon playing in The Quarrymen), the Rigby bit was inspired by the name of an ladies undies shop and the Eleanor after Eleanor Bron, the actress in ‘Help!’.
The band played their last ever live performance on a grey lunchtime, 30 January, 1969, in a 42-minute set atop the Apple HQ, Savile Row, central London. Ringo dourly observed: “London’s garment district finally got to see The Beatles’ last concert.”
The Beatles final gig was stopped when police arrived. Envisaging a headlining end to the band, Ringo was happy to see them. “I wanted the cops to drag me off kicking the cymbals and everything.” But actually PC number 503 simply nipped round the back and pulled the plug.
Though she bought him his first guitar, John’s Aunt Mimi discouraged him from a career in music, saying: “The guitar’s all right as a hobby, but it won’t earn you any money.” Years later, John gave her a silver plaque with that quote engraved upon it.
‘She’s Leaving Home’ was actually inspired by a story in the Daily Mail headlined ‘A-Level Girl Dumps Car And Vanishes’. Londoner Melanie Cole, 17, was found living with her boyfriend the next week.
‘Good Morning Good Morning’ was written by Lennon after being annoyed by a Kellogs’ Cornflakes telly ad. It’s believed to be a bilious riposte to McCartney’s ‘Good Day Sunshine’.
Murdered playwright Joe Orton’s fave Beatles song was ‘A Day In The Life’. It was played at his funeral in Golders Green Crematorium, north London, on 18 August, 1967.
At Lennon’s specific request, the animal noises that feature at the end of ‘Good Morning Good Morning’ are in pecking order eg, the order in which the beasties would eat the previous one.
‘A Hard Day’s Night’ was so called after Ringo wittily moaned that was a ‘hard day’s night’ after a knackering day’s filming on 19 March, 1964.
There’s been much speculation who the drug-supplying doc is in ‘Doctor Robert’. Lennon claimed in 1980 it was him, saying: “I was the one who carried all the pills on tour in the early days.”
It was actually Dylan who first ‘turned the Beatles on’; giving them their first marijuana cigarette on 28 August, 1964 in the Delmonico Hotel, NY.
Donovan came up with the last line of ‘Yellow Submarine’; offering ‘Sky of blue, sea of green’ after McCartney popped round to his pad and played him an unfinished demo.
Looking back in 1980, Lennon decided ‘Help!’ was an actual cry for help from the depths of what he referred to as his ‘fat Elvis’ period (dysfunctional marriage, lonely in his suburban mansion).
It was Stuart Sutcliffe’s girlfriend Astrid Kirchherr’s idea for the boys to trade their DA (duck’s arse) quiffs for the longer moptop style.
The Beatles played the now-legendary Liverpool Cavern Club 292 times; it was during a lunchtime session on Saturday 28 October, 1961 that they were first seen by their future manager Brian Epstein.
Brian Epstein quickly swapped the boys’ leather jacketed biker boy look for pink mohair suits, made by his tailor Beno Dorn in Birkenhead. He apparently persuaded them this was a good thing by taking them to see a be-suited Shadows show.
Eric Clapton was the man George was waiting for at a garden one morning when he started writing ‘Here Comes The Sun’.
Paul confessed to Uncut in 2004 that ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ was “about pot – although everyone missed it at the time”, and ‘Day Tripper’ was “about acid”.
The Beatles got the inspiration for their first UK Number One single, ‘From Me To You’, from the NME letters page, which was then called From You To Us. They wrote the song on a coach during a tour supporting Helen Shapiro.
Fearful that audiences in America’s Deep South would be segregated for their 1964 US tour, the band declared in an advance press statement: “We will not appear unless Negroes are allowed to sit anywhere.”
“Semolina pilchard” in ‘I Am The Walrus’ is a reference to Scotland Yard drug squad detective Norman “Nobby” Pilcher, who orchestrated the raid on Lennon’s London flat in October 1968.
Ringo wrote the 1969 song ‘Octopus’s Garden’ after taking a boat trip on holiday in Sardinia. The boat’s captain told him about how octopuses collect shiny objects from the seabed to build gardens. He declined to eat the octopus lunch offered.
Jealous about the cacophony The Who managed to generate on vinyl, The Beatles recorded ‘Helter Skelter’, their attempt to make a really, really big racket.
Legend has it George Martin signed The Beatles for Parlophone apparently without hearing them, because he was so impressed by their humour.
Presumably Lennon was being ironic when he said of manager Brian Epstein’s death on 27 August, 1967, “Isn’t it exciting?”.
John Lennon was inspired to write ‘I Am The Walrus’ after a cursory reading of Lewis Carroll’s poem ‘The Walrus And The Carpenter’. He was dismayed to learn – upon closer inspection – that the walrus was in fact the villain of the poem, not the hero.
‘Fixing A Hole’, from 1967, was written by McCartney after extensive DIY on his Scottish farmhouse. Not about drugs, as some have alleged.
The popular “Paul is dead” rumours first appeared after he had a moped accident on 9 November, 1966. It was luridly reported, with some claiming he’d been decapitated. Actually he’d merely cut his lip (he then grew a moustache to cover the scar).
Both Lennon and McCartney claimed it was a coincidence that ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ spelt L-S-D. They claimed it was actually inspired by a picture young Julian Lennon had drawn at school of a little girl.
The cartoon version of McCartney on 1968’s ‘Yellow Submarine’ is voiced by actor Geoffrey Hughes Eddie Yeats from ‘Corrie’/Twiggy off ‘The Royle Family’.
McCartney announced the end of the Beatles on 10 April, 1970. This infuriated Lennon, who tried to take the credit for ending it, sniping, “I started the band. I disbanded it.”
Dougal Butler, Keith Moon’s driver, was the last person to take a snap of Lennon and McCartney together photographing them poolside at Lennon’s rented LA beach house on 1 April, 1974.