BEATLES FOR SALE
'And now you know the words,' she added, as she
put her head down on Alice's shoulder, 'just sing it
through to me.'
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There
JAMES TREVOR ISHERWOOD WAS A CHARTERED ACCOUNTANT AT THE West End firm of Bryce, Hanmer and Isherwood, but before taking over his London practice he had lived in Liverpool, where he once did some work for Harry Epstein's furniture store, a job which ultimately yielded him the responsibility of floating Lennon and McCartney's songs on the Stock Exchange. His involvement with the Beatles began shortly after they began to make serious money. His first job for Brian Epstein was on 12 May 1964, when he set up a company, which he named Lenmac Limited, to collect Paul and John's PRS fees: that is, money collected on their behalf by the Performing Rights Society for their copyrighted songs being played on the radio, television or in concert. During his first visit to Isherwood's office in Albemarle Street, Brian explained the details of his arrangements with the Beatles - how his management company NEMS acted as the Beatles' agents and received 25 per cent of the gross receipts that came in, whether from concerts, records or television appearances. Only after Brian had taken his cut were expenses deducted and the remaining money divided equally between the four of them. James Isherwood was surprised since, in his experience, most agents were working for a 10 per cent cut. He recalled the conversation:
'So,' I said, 'isn't 25 per cent rather a lot? Particularly as all the expenses have to be paid out of their shares as well?'
'Perhaps it is,' he agreed, 'but that's the deal I've made. After all, I've financed the whole thing so far, and they haven't contributed anything.'
'Well, if that's the deal and they're happy, there's nothing more to be said,' I replied.
In the case of Lenmac Ltd, John and Paul did actually own the company outright with no outside percentages, but for the most part Brian's arrangements with the Beatles were very unfair, even by prevailing showbiz standards, and the Beatles had only agreed to them because they did not know any better. They had no legal advice on the matter. The expenses deducted from their share of their income were enormous, not least because Brian himself had very refined tastes in hotels, wine and food, all of which the Beatles paid for, not NEMS. By taking 25 per cent of the gross, Brian made at least twice as much as any individual Beatle, and probably a great deal more than that. This arrangement continued until Brian's death and even though he was an avid gambler, it is surprising that he left so little money when he died. It is known that he had Swiss bank accounts so it is possible that Beatles money is still sitting there, gathering interest.
John and Paul's music publishing was set up in the same way that Brian's management contract was handled. They had no legal advice, trusted him, and were screwed. Brian Epstein gave the publishing rights on their first single, 'Love Me Do'/'PS. I Love You', to Ardmore and Beechwood, a subsidiary of EMI. Paul was able to get these rights back, years later, as part of a subsequent deal with EMI, and the copyrights now belong to Paul's company MPL Communications Ltd. 'Please Please Me'/'Ask Me Why' were the next songs to be released and were published by Dick James Music because Northern Songs, the company set up specifically to handle the copyrights of John and Paul's songs, had not yet been incorporated. This publishing agreement was the beginning of a business relationship with Dick James which ultimately lost Lennon and McCartney ownership of their songs.
Dick James was born Richard Leon Vapnick in London, the son of Polish Jewish immigrants. He made his name as a crooner in Henry Hall's dance band. After that he joined Geraldo, who made him change his name to the more commercial-sounding Dick James. He had some success with the Cyril Stapleton Orchestra and in 1955 he had several British hits with the Stargazers: 'Close the Door' and 'Twenty Tiny Fingers'. As a songwriter he was responsible for Max Bygraves's children's hit 'I'm a Pink Toothbrush, I'm a Blue Toothbrush', which the Beatles grew up listening to on BBC's Children's Favourites, and in 1956 he was signed to Parlophone by George Martin, who produced his only big hit, 'Robin Hood', the theme tune to a television series. It was the George Martin connection that made his fortune. Brian Epstein was looking for a music publisher and George Martin remembered Dick James, who had founded Dick James Music in 1961 but had met with little success until then. Martin put the two of them together but was too much of a gentleman to ask for a finder's percentage. After publishing the songs on their second single, Dick James proposed that he and Brian Epstein start a separate company to handle John and Paul's songs.
Early on the morning of 22 February 1963, John and Paul were driven to a small mews house in Liverpool before collecting the others and setting out for Manchester to play the Oasis Club.
PAUL: Brian was at the house with a lawyer-type guy, but nobody said to us, 'This is your lawyer and he's representing your interests in this thing.' We just showed up, got out the car, went into this dark little house, and we just signed this thing, not really knowing what it was at all about, that we were signing our rights away for our songs. And that became the deal and that is virtually the contract I'm still under. It's draconian!
John and I didn't know you could own songs. We thought they just existed in the air. We could not see how it was possible to own them. We could see owning a house, a guitar or a car, they were physical objects. But a song, not being a physical object, we couldn't see how it was possible to have a copyright in it. And therefore, with great glee, publishers saw us coming.
We said to them, 'Can we have our own company?' They said, 'Yeah.' We said, 'Our own?' They said, 'Yeah, you can. You're great. This is what we're going to do now.' So we really thought that meant 100 per cent owned. But of course, it turned out to be 49 per cent to me and John and Brian, and 51 per cent to Dick James and Charles Silver.
That company, set up by Brian and James, was Northern Songs. James received 25 per cent of the shares; his accountant and financial partner Charles Silver another 25 per cent. John and Paul got 20 per cent each and Brian Epstein 10 per cent. (It may have seemed as if he was taking less than usual, but 10 per cent was still 25 per cent of John and Paul's total equity so in fact he retained parity.) The share structure appeared fair, but the reality was that matters were so arranged that James and Silver had one more voting share between them than the Beatles camp.
PAUL: There was always this voting share that could beat us. We could only muster 49; they could muster 51. They could always beat us. John and I were highly surprised to find that even though we'd been promised our own company, it actually was a company within Dick James's company that was to be our own company. And we thought that's not fair at all, but this was just the way they pulled the wool over our eyes. And we were on such a roll creatively, you couldn't just take a year off and sort out the business affairs. We had no time. We never met this Charles Silver guy; a character who was always in the background. Jim Isherwood clued us in a little bit as to who he was. He was the Money, that was basically who he was, like the producer on a film. He and Dick James went in together, so Silver always got what was really our share! There were the two of them taking the lion's share, but it was a little while before we found out.
Without realising the financial shenanigans going on behind their backs, John and Paul's main concern was what they were going to call themselves. On the early records it had not yet been settled. The first single credited Lennon-McCartney, but for the next two singles and the first album it was McCartney-Lennon. Paul: 'They said, "You'll be Lennon and McCartney," and I think my main problem was I said, "Why Lennon and McCartney? Why not McCartney and Lennon?" "It sounds better," they said. "Not to me it doesn't," I said.'
For a couple of young Liverpool lads it was a remarkable thing to have a music-publishing company and they took it very seriously, writing whenever they had a spare hour or two, consciously honing their skills. John Lennon told Beatles Monthly: 'It's simply a question of waiting for ideas to arrive. Sometimes this will happen in the van or on a train when we're halfway between engagements. Once one of us has come up with a few introductory phrases or a good theme for the lyrics we can bang the whole thing into shape within an hour.' But there were the exceptions. Though the majority of their early songs were co-written, 'All My Loving', for instance, was entirely Paul's, written on tour.
PAUL: It was the first song I'd ever written the words first. I never wrote words first, it was always some kind of accompaniment. I've hardly ever done it since either. We were on a tour bus going to a gig and so I started with the words. I had in my mind a little country and western song. We played the Moss Empire circuit a lot, and there were always these nice big empty backstage areas. The places have all become bingo halls now. We arrived at the gig and I remember being in one of these big backstage areas and there was a piano there so I'd got my instrument. I didn't have a guitar, it was probably with our road manager, and I remember working the tune out to it on the piano. It was a good show song, it worked well live.
John described it as 'one of his first biggies'. Another solo effort was John's 'All I've Got to Do', which he described as 'me trying to do a Smokey Robinson', and showed to Paul only in the studio just before recording.
Many of their early songs were composed on the road, including their third single, 'From Me to You', which was written on 28 February 1963 in the tour bus travelling from York to Shrewsbury on the Helen Shapiro tour. Paul regards it as one of the first really good songs they wrote. It had different musical ideas and chords for the middle eight. The lyrics were a play on the words 'From You to Us', the name of the New Musical Express letters page.
PAUL: There was a little trick we developed early on and got bored with later, which was to put I, Me or You in it, so it was very direct and personal: 'Love Me Do'; 'Please Please Me'; 'From Me to You' - we got two of them in there; 'She Loves You'... The thing I liked about 'From Me To' was it had a very complete middle. It went to a surprising place. The opening chord of the middle section of that song heralded a new batch for me. That was a pivotal song. Our songwriting lifted a little with that song. It was very much co-written. We were starting to meet other musicians then and we'd start to see other people writing. After that, on another tour bus with Roy Orbison, we saw Roy sitting in the back of the bus, writing 'Pretty Woman'. It was lovely. We could trade off with each other. This was our real start.
Another song composed on the same tour was 'Thank You Girl', the Â side of 'From Me to You', written very much with their girl fans in mind. Paul: 'These early songs were wonderful to learn by and were good album fillers. This was pretty much co-written but there might have been a slight leaning towards me with the "thank you, girl" thing, it sounds a bit like me, trying to appease the mob. A bit of a hack song really, but all good practice.'
'She Loves You' was written when the Beatles were in Newcastle-upon-Tyne to play the Majestic Ballroom on 26 June 1963. John and Paul sat facing each other on twin beds in their shared room at the Turk's Hotel.
PAUL: We must have had a few hours before the show so we said, 'Oh, great! Let's have a ciggy and write a song!' So that's how we began 'She Loves You'. I remember for some reason thinking of Bobby Rydell; he must have had a hit that we were interested in. [Bobby Rydell's 'Forget Him' was in the UK charts at the time]. I remember thinking of him and sitting on the bed in this hotel somewhere with John in the afternoon daylight. It was again a she, you, me, I, personal preposition song. I suppose the most interesting thing about it was that it was a message song, it was someone bringing a message. It wasn't us any more, it was moving off the 'I love you, girl' or 'Love me do', it was a third person, which was a shift away. 'I saw her, and she said to me, to tell you, that she loves you' so there's a little distance we managed to put in it which was quite interesting.
Years later John told Playboy: 'It was written together. I remember it was Paul's idea: Instead of singing 'I love you' again, we'd have a third party.'
PAUL: 'It was very co-written as I recall, I don't think it was either of our idea, I think we just sat down and said, "Right!" So who had the inspiration, who came up with what line, in these kind of songs, is very difficult to remember because it was all over in a couple of hours.'
The song was probably finished the next day, which they had off. John came round to Forthlin Road and they retired to the dining room.
PAUL: We sat in there one evening, just beavering away while my dad was watching TV and smoking his Players cigarettes, and we wrote 'She Loves You'. We actually just finished it there because we'd started it in the hotel room. We went into the living room - 'Dad, listen to this. What do you think?' So we played it to my dad and he said, 'That's very nice, son, but there's enough of these Americanisms around. Couldn't you sing, "She loves you. Yes! Yes! Yes!"' At which point we collapsed in a heap and said, 'No, Dad, you don't quite get it!' That's my classic story about my dad. For a working-class guy that was rather a middle-class thing to say, really. But he was like that.
Because Aunt Mimi disapproved of John's music, John and Paul rarely wrote together at Menlove Avenue. One exception was 'I'll Get You', the Â side of 'She Loves You'. This has always been one of Paul's favourite Beatles tracks; it is light-hearted, confident and shows how well he and John had already mastered the tricks of their trade. John later used a variation on the opening line in his song 'Imagine'. 'I'll Get You' was a 50-50 collaboration; what Paul calls 'very co-written'.
PAUL: To me and John, though I can't really speak for him, words like 'imagine' and 'picture' were from Lewis Carroll. This idea of asking your listener to imagine, 'Come with me if you will...', 'Enter please into my ...', 'Picture yourself in a boat...' It drew you in. It was a good little trick that. Both of us loved Lewis Carroll and the Alice books and were fascinated by his surreal world so this was a nice song to write.
It's got an interesting chord in it: 'It's not easy to pre-tend ...' That was nicked from a song called 'All My Trials' which is on an album I had by Joan Baez: 'There's only one thing that money can't buy'. It's like D, which goes to an A minor, which is unusual, you'd normally go from a D to an A major. It's a change that had always fascinated me, so I put it in. I liked that slightly faggy way we sang. 'Oh yeah, oh yeah,' which was very distinctive, very Beatley.
It is an extraordinary fact that when Paul and John focused their attention on writing a song, they were able to produce something, usually something memorable, within a matter of two or three hours. For some writers, a song can take months. The everyday mechanics of artistic production are often overlooked by critics, who talk only of genius and inspiration rather than the nine-to-five slog. The speed of artistic creation varies enormously from artist to artist - Bob Dylan in his early amphetamine-crazed period could dash off a song in minutes - but all would agree that the printer's boy waiting in the hall, a one-man show in six months' time or a block booking of a recording studio in three weeks' time exert a powerful influence on the creation of art. Though deadlines can focus the mind, many songwriters have found that the task is made a great deal easier, and the results are more satisfactory, if they work with a partner: Rodgers and Hart, Brecht and Weill, Gilbert and Sullivan, Goffin and King, Leiber and Stoller. Sometimes one partner would write the music and the other the lyrics, but not always; in the case of Lennon and McCartney, each of them could write both words and music.
PAUL: Collaborating with another writer makes it twice as easy. It takes half as long with somebody else. With John, I would think of a line, he would think of a line, I would think of a line, he would think of a line, so I wasn't having to think of all the lines. 'It's getting better all the time'; he was just drawing it on, 'Couldn't get much worse', and that sets the tone for the next verse. So it starts to be about painful memories or something by this 'worse'. The ricochet is a great thing.
With the Beatles
The thing about John is that it wasn't just a collaboration; John was very special. And I think for him, I must have been special, because he'd have got rid of me. That's the point about John. He didn't suffer fools gladly. Given half a chance he would have elbowed me! And feel right about it! But I was his main collaborator.
Their first great flush of songwriting, in 1963, produced dozens of early Beatles classics. They had already perfected the basic tenets of composition, but now, with their second album, With the Beatles, released in November 1963, they began to introduce little tricks of their own which reappear as signatures in Lennon-McCartney songs. One of these is the play on words. 'It Won't Be Long' is a good example.
PAUL: I was doing literature at school, so I was interested in plays on words and onomatopoeia. John didn't do literature but he was quite well read, so he was interested in that kind of thing. Like the double meaning of 'please' in a line like 'Please, lend a little ear to my pleas' that we used in 'Please Please Me'. We'd spot the double meaning. I think everyone did, by the way, it was not just the genius of us! In 'It won't be long till I belong to you' it was that same trip. We both liked to try and get a bit of double meaning in, so that was the high spot of writing that particular song. John mainly sang it so I expect that it was his original idea but we both sat down and wrote it together. When I say 'original idea' I mean someone might have the first verse, which then is pretty much the maquette for the whole thing, but the second verse is always difficult because you've got to repeat the first verse but go somewhere new. And your inspiration's gone by that point, so you've got to dig deep to push a new inspiration out to make the second verse as good as the first verse. You don't want to just be rambling. We would often repeat the first verse. The last verse was no problem - 'Two hours is up! C'mon, just put "Repeat 1".' That's how a lot of our songs end, 'Repeat 1'. We'd number the verses, one, two, so we'd write a couple of verses, middle, the chorus, then pretty much repeat verse one. Which was good if it was hooky, it meant that you've heard those lyrics twice, so we'd rammed 'em home, and it saved us having to think of a third verse.
In addition to writing songs for the other members of Brian Epstein's stable and for their friends, John and Paul tried to provide a song for George and Ringo for each album. On With the Beatles, 'Little Child' was for Ringo. 'They had to be fairly simple,' Paul explained, 'he didn't have a large vocal range but he could handle things with good con brio and spirito if they were nice and simple. It had to be something he could get behind. If he couldn't mentally picture it, you were in trouble. This one was co-written with John.' The original inspiration for the melody was a line in a song by the 1950s English folk balladeer Elton Hayes.
PAUL: I nicked a bit of melody from one of his tunes, 'I'm so sad and lonely', that little bit came from a line:' Whistle, my love, and I will come to thee, I'll always find you ...' It's actually not the same tune, but in my mind it was a quote from Elton Hayes. I think it was from a Robin Hood film, it was all 'thee' and 'thou's. 'Little Child' was a work job. Certain songs were inspirational and you just followed that. Certain other songs were 'Right, come on, two hours, song for Ringo for the album.'
Another song originally written for Ringo, 'I Wanna Be Your Man', became the Rolling Stones' second official single and their first top-ten record, reaching number nine in the British charts.
PAUL: We wrote 'I Wanna Be Your Man' for Ringo because we wanted him to have a song on the album. On the Please Please Me album he did a thing called 'Boys', which was very funny because it was a girl group, the Shirelles, that did it; we didn't write it. We didn't use to think what these things meant, we were in love with the sound, the music. We often used to say to people, the words don't really matter, people don't listen to words, it's the sound they listen to. So 'I Wanna Be Your Man' was to try and give Ringo something like 'Boys'; an uptempo song he could sing from the drums. So again it had to be very simple. 'I wanna be your ma-an' - that little bit is nicked from 'Fortune Teller', a Benny Spellman song [which coincidentally was on the Â side of the single that the Stones had just withdrawn from sale]. We were quite open about our nicks. 'That's from the Marvelettes, that's from the Shirelles ...' We admired these people so much, we stole quite openly, like two notes, and we were proud of it. Our friends could tell where they came from. Ringo did a real nice version of it. It became quite popular for him.
Paul remembered how the Rolling Stones came to release 'I Wanna Be Your Man' as a single:
We were in Charing Cross Road, where we often used to go to window-shop at the guitar shops and daydream. It was a great hobby of ours when we first came down to London. Dick James, our song publisher, was on Charing Cross Road. We'd go to his office and window-shop on the way. Coming out of his office one day, John and I were walking along Charing Cross Road when passing in a taxi were Mick and Keith. We were each other's counterparts in many ways because they became the writers in the group and were the twosome, the couple, as it were. So they shouted from the taxi and we yelled, 'Hey, hey, give us a lift, give us a lift,' and we bummed a lift off them. So there were the four of us sitting in a taxi and I think Mick said, 'Hey, we're recording. Got any songs?' And we said, 'Aaaah, yes, sure, we got one. How about Ringo's song? You could do it as a single.' And they went for it and Bo Diddleyed it up a bit. I remember it as a song we had, and in that case it would be a finished song.
John Lennon told Hit Parader: 'Both of us wrote it but mainly Paul ... I helped him finish it.' In a more sarcastic mood, he told Playboy: '"I Wanna Be Your Man" was a kind of lick Paul had ... it was a throwaway. The only two versions of the song were Ringo and the Rolling Stones. That shows how much importance we put on it. We weren't going to give them anything great, right?'
In the normal course of events John and Paul would be given about two weeks' notice that recording time had been booked at EMI. Often they did not even have two clear weeks to prepare material, but Epstein would usually manage to free the daytime for them. Each day they would get together and write songs or work on each other's songs. Paul: 'We would bury songs in albums which other people would listen to and, noting the phenomenal success we were having as performers and as writers, they would say, "I can make a single out of that!" There are quite a number of those.'
A lot of songs were written on the road, whenever and wherever an hour or two of privacy could be snatched. 'This Boy', from With the Beatles, shows how they would still try out new things even if they were composing on the run.
PAUL: 'This Boy' was another hotel-bedroom song, twin beds, one afternoon somewhere, we had arrived around one o'clock. We had a couple of hours to kill. So we thought, Well, let's write one. Rather like the hotel where we wrote 'She Loves You'. It's funny, I remember the room and the position of the beds: John and I sitting on twin beds, the G-Plan furniture, the British hotel with olive green and orange everywhere, that marvellous combination, the colours of vomit.
It was very co-written. We wanted to do a close-harmony thing, we liked harmonies and we were quite good at them. We used to do a close-harmony version of the Teddy Bears' 'To Know Her Is to Love Her', which was good for the versatility in the band. We weren't all rock 'n' roll, we could change the pace, which was always nice after you'd played for three hours. So this was our attempt to write one of those. We wrote it in two-part harmony and then put the third part in for George to sing. That was quite a departure for us, the close-harmony thing; we'd never actually tried to write something like that. Nice middle, John sang that great, then we'd go back into the close-harmony thing. It was one of those: This boy says that, that boy ...
Because they had no knowledge of music theory, they didn't know when they were breaking the rules, or, for that matter, when they were doing something really clever. John's 'Not a Second Time' was reviewed in the London Times on 27 December 1963 by the music critic William Mann, who described its harmonic interest as 'typical of their quicker songs too, and one gets the impression that they think simultaneously of harmony and melody, so firmly are the major tonic sevenths and ninths built into their tunes, and the flat-submediant key-switches, so natural is the Aeolian cadence at the end of "Not a Second Time" (the chord progression which ends Mahler's "Song of the Earth") ...'
Aeolian cadences became part of the Beatles' legend, much mentioned by the tabloid press. In 1980 John commented, 'To this day I don't have any idea what they are. They sound like exotic birds.'
With confidence born of their sudden success, the Beatles began flexing their muscles. After Please Please Me, which included all four sides of their first two singles, they insisted that their singles not be included on their albums so that fans would not have to buy the same recordings over again. Their next victory came with the sleeve for With the Beatles, released on 22 November 1963. Instead of having another jolly colour picture of the four mop tops having fun, they showed the photographer Robert Freeman the high-contrast grainy monochrome photographs of the group members that Astrid Kirchherr took in Hamburg and told him they wanted the sleeve to have the same feel. Freeman had sent Brian Epstein a set of photographs of jazz musicians, including some of John Coltrane. The Beatles liked his work and he was invited to meet the group the next week - in Weston-super-Mare, where they were playing a week at the Odeon Cinema from 22 to 27 July - to take a cover shot for their next album.
PAUL: Robert was much more one of us than the other photographers we'd had. He took some pictures of us and he blew 'em up nice and grainy, he was into graininess, and he did this clever move: he brought us all prints for ourselves, 'I thought you might like this.' Well, we'd never seen big prints; these were 20 by 16s and beautifully grained and we looked so great and we went, 'Woooow! This guy is truly great!' Apparently a lot of photographers are still trying to work out how he did the famous one on the With the Beatles sleeve with the half-light on the faces.
It was in a hotel and we had an hour in which he could take our picture. He pulled out four chairs and arranged us in a hotel corridor; it was very un-studio-like. The corridor was rather dark and there was a window at the end, and by using this heavy source of natural light coming from the right, he got that photo. He got this very moody picture which people think he must have worked at for ever and ever in great technical detail. But it was an hour. He sat down, took a couple of rolls and he had it. But Robert was very good. I liked his photography a lot. I thought he took some of the best pictures of the Beatles that way.
Robert Freeman, in his book Yesterday, says that the picture was taken at noon in the hotel dining room with the Beatles wearing dark poloneck sweaters sitting in front of dark maroon velvet curtains with large windows letting in bright sunlight. Paul's memory of a single strong source of light seems more likely, so possibly the corridor backed on to the dining room. Freeman also says that though EMI objected to using a black and white photograph for the cover, both George Martin and Brian Epstein felt strongly that the image was right. However, Tony Barrow, who was then the Beatles' publicist, reported in Beatles Monthly that Brian Epstein was very disappointed with the photograph and the Beatles had to put tremendous pressure on him to support them and take the picture to EMI. Certainly EMI were strongly opposed to its use. They described the picture as 'shockingly humourless' and one marketing executive said, 'Where is the fun? Why are they looking so grim? We want to project happy Beatles for happy fans.' It apparently took a full-scale battle between NEMS and EMI before the Beatles won, but they did, and the sleeve went on to become another iconic Beatles image, imitated and parodied to this day.
A Hard Day's Night
In the autumn of 1963 United Artists discovered that EMI had neglected to cover film soundtracks in their contract with the Beatles. Though the Beatles had not yet broken in the USA, their popularity in Britain was phenomenal and the idea of a quick exploitation movie, coupled with a soundtrack album, made considerable economic sense to them. As UA expected the Beatles to be a flash in the pan, they wanted the film out on release by July 1964 and made as cheaply as possible; the production budget was £150,000, later rising to £175,000. The producer Walter Shenson's brief from United Artists was simple: 'We need a film for the express purpose of getting a soundtrack album. Just make sure there are enough new songs for a soundtrack album and don't go over budget.' Bud Ornstein, the European head of production for United Artists, tried to get A Hard Day's Night made in colour but fortunately UA would not risk spending the extra money so it had to be black and white. Paul: 'It was the only colour it could have been, it would have been crap in colour. They gave us colour for Help! and it wasn't anywhere near as good a film.'
Shenson, a Californian producer living in London, had co-produced a hit with The Mouse That Roared in 1959 and had been in the business for some time. He was prepared to give the Beatles 25 per cent of the net income from the film so he was overjoyed when Brian Epstein naively opened their business negotiation by saying, 'I must warn you now, I'm not prepared to settle for less than 7,5 per cent.' Shenson also very cleverly recognised that the Beatles would be around for a long time, so he got UA and the other parties to agree that all rights to the film would revert to him after fifteen years. When Beatlemania became an international phenomenon, Bud Ornstein pre-empted any complaints by voluntarily increasing Brian Epstein's share of the agreement to 20 per cent, demonstrating what a bad deal it was in the first place.
Walter Shenson says it was Paul who suggested Alun Owen as the scriptwriter for the Beatles' first film. It was an inspired idea: Owen, a Liverpudlian Welshman, was a pioneer of the kitchen-sink school of television drama. He had written plays for Joan Littlewood's company and for the Dublin Theatre Festival. His work was realistic, gritty, full of working-class sympathies; and of all the scriptwriters in Britain he was probably the best able to capture the speech patterns and wit of the Beatles.
PAUL: The nice thing about Hard Day's Night was that there were very good people involved in it: Dick Lester, who made The Running Jumping Standing Still Film with Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan, producer Walter Shenson and Alun Owen. They called in Alun Owen, who had written No Trams to Lime Street with Billie Whitelaw, which we'd seen on telly and was like an early Bleasdale or Willy Russell. It was a sort of kitchen-sink Liverpool thing. Billie Whitelaw's always in some sort of weird, rather well-thought-of play, she's built a whole thing like that. So Alun was a good choice and Alun was from Wales, and it's often said that Liverpool is the capital of Wales, there are so many Welsh people there.
Alun came and hung around with us for a few days, which was an idea we'd picked up from Life magazine, who did it. I remember Brian saying, 'You can get eight pages in Life magazine. Think of what that'll do for the American tour!' For some little English group to get eight pages in Life magazine; I mean, Life magazine was almost like the Bible. But they said we had to have the journalist and the photographer hang around with us for a few days, and we said, 'Doesn't matter. We're only going to Bournemouth, and then we're going to Coventry, then we're in the bus. We'll play cards with them or we'll have a drink with them, whatever.' It was easy to have people hang with you if you didn't have any particular social scene, no family with you.
For Life, the photographer Terence Spencer had travelled with the Beatles over six weeks in the run-up to their first American tour, beginning with the famous Royal Command Performance at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London on 4 November 1963, then on and off till their three-week engagement at the Paris Olympia beginning 16 January 1964. When Life heard that the group were booked to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show, they made it the lead story and requested Spencer to get a posed cover shot. The Beatles were supposed to show up two hours early for their Christmas show at the Finsbury Park Astoria for the session, but arrived only fifteen minutes before going on stage. Spencer commented in his book It Was Thirty Years Ago Today: 'When our story ran in Life on 31st January, 1964, the cover picture was of Geraldine Chaplin ... The Beatles must be the only people in showbiz ever to have turned down a Life cover.'
PAUL: The journalist Michael Braun wrote a book, Love Me Do: The Beatles' Progress, after he'd hung with us, so this became the way to do it. When it came time to do Hard Day's Night, we just applied the same idea. They'd hang with you and pick up the feel then they'd go away and write the story and they always wrote something cool because they'd got our sense of humour or they saw we were tongue in cheek. It wasn't just a po-faced group and a handout, it was something more alive, and that was what we were about. Our whole gig was to shake down the temple with our native wit and our blunt remarks. Blunt northern humour!
So, Alun came around with us and picked up all the little things like 'He's very clean, isn't he?' or we would tell him, 'Oh, we met a guy the other day ...' because we did actually meet a guy on a train who said, 'I fought in the war for people like you.' And it eventually found its way into the film. We knew what was going on. This was a writer who'd written something real good for the Beeb. He was a kind of street writer, quite exciting, and so we knew enough to try and pump him full with every good story we could think of. The more we told him, the more of us he'd get in it, which is always a good thing, it would just reflect back. We could play it easier, we could identify with it all easier, and this was our first film.
No rock group had ever successfully made the transition from the stage to the screen so no one was expecting a miracle. Since the Beatles had no acting experience, it was decided early on to have them play themselves in a light-hearted comedy, based fairly closely on their actual life on the road but with surreal touches. Alun Owen was astonished at how little freedom they had on the road. 'At no time could they enjoy their success,' he commented. Confined to hotel rooms and limousines, thrown together with their aides and management, he saw them as prisoners of their own success, trapped by fame, free only when actually performing. He made this the story line, constructing a convincing, though fictional, film portrait. (In fact some of the sequences in it were real: when fans broke a security barrier and the Beatles ran for their lives, Lester filmed the whole thing and used the footage in the actual film.)
The director Richard Lester described the structure of the film:
In the first third or half of the film, all the scenes would be in close confinement and that at a certain point they were going to break out, rip off down the fire escape and escape from their own success. Now whatever we did had to lead to that, whatever scenes took place had to fit that rhythm and that's why there was a careful build-up. The script that Alun Owen wrote produced that movement toward a series of emotional climaxes.
No one, including the Beatles themselves, knew if they would be any good before the cameras so Owen took no chances, relying heavily on action shots and short lines so that they did not have to memorise much dialogue. It is for this reason that the film is often cited as the precursor of MTV and rock videos with its fast cutting and sound bites.
Dick Lester: 'The script was very cleverly written so that there was never a time where any one person had too much to say before someone else said something. They were sound bites. One-line gags or a little speech which could be cut away from.'
PAUL: He put in a few little things that we wouldn't have put in, little Irishisms like 'It's me neb'; Ringo would have never called his nose his 'neb', that was Alun thinking what a Liverpool guy might have said. And 'grotty' was a word none of us used, but that became very big. Grotesque - grotty. I think he made it up for the film. It's a good film. It's very much the period but it's well made, it's well photographed, it's fresh and it was good doing that with good writers and a good team.
Owen himself claimed that 'grotty' was Liverpool slang, but that when he showed the script to the Beatles, none of them had ever heard the term before. The film soon caused it to enter the national vocabulary, regardless.
The music for the soundtrack was recorded before filming began because they would have to lip-synch to it in the film itself. The Beatles flew back to London from Miami Beach on 22 February and two days later were in the studio to begin work. Paul's major contributions were 'And I Love Her', 'Things We Said Today' and 'Can't Buy Me Love'.
Paul: "Can't Buy Me Love' is my attempt to write a bluesy mode. The idea behind it was that all these material possessions are all very well but they won't buy me what I really want. It was a very hooky song. Ella Fitzgerald later did a version of it which I was very honoured by.' It was Paul's song. John Lennon told Playboy: 'That's Paul's completely. Maybe I had something to do with the chorus, but I don't know. I always considered it his song.'
It was written in Paris. The Beatles were playing their season at the Olympia Theatre: two and sometimes three shows a day for eighteen days, from 16 January until 4 February 1964. They were staying at the exclusive George V Hotel on the Avenue George-V, in the expensive residential area between the Champs Elysees and the River Seine. In order to work on songs for their upcoming movie, John and Paul had an upright piano brought to the sitting room of their suite and installed in the corner by a window. Here Paul wrote 'Can't Buy Me Love'. They rehearsed it; George Martin flew over from London; and on 29 January they recorded it at the Pathe Marconi Studios on rue de Sevres.
Paul also wrote 'One and One Is Two' in the same hotel room, which was released by the Strangers two months later. Paul: 'Sometimes all you get is the title and then it doesn't really live up to the title. "One and One Is Two" is okay, it's a memorable title, it's not wonderful. The Strangers were mates of ours from Liverpool.'
Although the guide vocals for 'Can't Buy Me Love' were recorded in Paris, Paul did not put the final vocal track on until 25 February, after the Beatles returned from their first American tour. By this time he found that the sentiments of the song were not necessarily correct. For by then the Beatles had spent nine sybaritic days in Miami Beach, Florida, arriving on 13 February, and apart from rehearsals for The Ed Sullivan Show at the Deauville Hotel and the show itself, they were able to relax in a private villa and get fit, ready to begin filming A Hard Day's Night on their return to England.
PAUL: Miami was incredible. It was the first time we ever saw police motorbike outriders with guns. I've got photographs I took out of the car window. It was amazing. It was a big time for us, obviously, and there were all the lovely, gorgeous tanned girls. We did a photo session down by the beach and immediately asked them out. And MG Motors were trying to sell their convertibles down there, which was a perfect little Florida car, and lent us one each as a publicity thing. I remember meeting this rather nice girl and taking her out for dinner in this MG in the cool Florida night, palm trees swaying. You kidding? A Liverpool boy with this tanned beauty in my MG going out to dinner. It should have been 'Can Buy Me Love', actually.
Of the other songs used in the film, 'If I Fell', 'I'm Happy Just to Dance with You' and 'I'll Be Back' were all co-written with John.
PAUL: People forget that John wrote some pretty nice ballads. People tend to think of him as an acerbic wit and aggressive and abrasive, but he did have a very warm side to him really which he didn't like to show too much in case he got rejected. We wrote 'If I Fell' together but with the emphasis on John because he sang it. It was a nice harmony number, very much a ballad.
We wrote 'I'm Happy Just to Dance with You' for George in the film. It was a bit of a formula song. We knew that in E if you went to an A-flat minor, you could always make a song with those chords; that change pretty much always excited you. This is one of these. Certainly 'Do You Want to Know a Secret' was. This one anyway was a straight co-written song for George. We wouldn't have actually wanted to sing it because it was a bit ... The ones that pandered to the fans in truth were our least favourite songs but they were good. They were good for the time. The nice thing about it was to actually pull a song off on a slim little premise like that. A simple little idea. It was song-writing practice.
'I'll Be Back' was co-written but it was largely John's idea. When we knew we were writing for something like an album he would write a few in his spare moments, like this batch here. He'd bring them in, we'd check 'em. I'd write a couple and we'd throw 'em at each other, and then there would be a couple that were more co-written. But you just had a certain amount of time. You knew when the recording date was and so a week or two before then we'd get into it.
It didn't seem like pressure. It was - I suppose you'd have to think it was but I don't remember it being a pressure. It was fun, it was great. I always liken songwriting to a conjurer pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Now you see it, now you don't. If I now pick up a guitar and start to conjure something out of the air, there's a great magic about it. Where there was nothing, now there is something. Where there was a white sheet of paper, there's a page we can read. Where there was no tune and no lyrics, there's now a song we can sing! That aspect of it made it a lot of fun. We'd be amazed to see what kind of rabbit we'd pulled out that day.
It was a very satisfying thing. We knew they were good. People used to say to us, 'Are you conceited?' It's a very difficult question, that, because I'd have to answer yes, because I think we are good, and that actually amounts to conceit, doesn't it? But I'd be stupid to say we weren't because it's so obvious that this is good stuff, and it's number one everywhere so somebody's buying it.
The remaining songs in the film - 'Tell Me Why', 'I Should Have Known Better', 'Any Time at All', ‘I’ll Cry Instead', 'When I Get Home' and 'You Can't Do That' - were all by John and often sound like John's marriage arguments.
PAUL: 'I think a lot of these songs like 'Tell Me Why' may have been based in real experiences or affairs John was having or arguments with Cynthia or whatever, but it never occurred to us until later to put that slant on it all.'
With the music recorded, the actual shooting of the film began on 2 March 1964 and took a mere six weeks. Thinking that it would inhibit them to see the daily rashes, Dick Lester and Walter Shenson decided to keep quiet about their existence. One day the Beatles followed them and came bursting into the viewing theatre, delighted to find out where they had been sneaking off to each lunchtime. From then on the Beatles watched the dailies with great enthusiasm, showing no signs of inhibition at all. There was only one problem: the movie had no title.
PAUL: The title was Ringo's. We'd almost finished making the film and this fun bit arrived that we'd not known about before which was naming the film. So we were sitting around at Twickenham studios having a little brain-storming session; director Dick Lester, us, Walter Shenson, Bud Ornstein and some other people were sitting around trying to come up with something and we said, 'Well, there was something Ringo said the other day ...' Ringo would do these little malapropisms, he would say things slightly wrong, like people do, but his were always wonderful, very lyrical, very Lewis Carroll, lovely. They were sort of magic even though he was just getting it wrong. And he said after a concert, 'Phew, it's been a hard day's night.' John and I went, 'What? What did you just say?' He said, 'I'm bloody knackered, man, it's been a hard day's night.' 'Hard day's night! Fucking brilliant! How does he think of 'em? Woehayy!' So that came up in this brain-storming session, something Ringo said, 'It was a hard day's night.'
Acording to Andrew Yule in his biography of Richard Lester, Ornstein declared, 'We just got our title,' and Shenson told UA: 'You're never going to improve on it. It's very provocative. It means nothing and has nothing to do with the film. But it sounds like a Beatles title.'
PAUL: There was one objection to it. Somebody said, 'Well, it's a bit like Long Day's Journey into Night.' We said, 'Who knows that? Who's ever heard of that, it's a classical play, innit? None of our fans will have gone.' We knew we were pretty safe on that. So that was it, we adopted that as the title and everyone agreed that it was wacky yet it said it. It wasn't too wacky, it wasn't gobbledygook. Of course it got changed around the world. In Italy it became Tutti per uno (All for One) and in France it became Quatre Garcons dans le vent (Four Boys in the Wind). Very nice that one. We enjoyed seeing how they would retitle it in different countries.
The rest of the music for the film had already been recorded since it was lip-synched in the film itself. Now they had a title, they needed an uptempo title track to ran behind the credits. Paul: 'John said, "I'll write it." And he did, he came back the next day with it. I think he might not have had all the words. I might have been in on that middle eight. Something like that would only have taken twenty minutes. That would have been plenty of time to run through it.'
At 8.30 the next morning, Walter Shenson was summoned to the Beatles' dressing room where John and Paul were waiting, guitars in hand, to play it to him. John produced a matchbox cover which he propped open on the dressing-room table; then, reading from John's scribbled lyrics, they gave their first public performance of 'A Hard Day's Night'. The film was probably named on 13 April, and the song played to Shenson on the 14th. The Beatles took time off from shooting to record it at Abbey Road on the 16th, a good example of the speed at which their lives were going. Shortly afterwards, while editing continued, they resumed touring.
A Hard Day's Night was given its world premiere in London on 6 July 1964, attended by Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon. The area around Picadilly Circus was closed to traffic because so many fans filled the streets. Four days later, the Beatles flew to Liverpool for the north of England premiere at the Odeon. A hundred thousand fans lined the route from the airport to welcome them.
The reviews were almost all enthusiastic. In the USA, the Village Voice critic Andrew Sarris described it as 'the Citizen Kane of jukebox musicals, a brilliant crystallisation of such diverse cultural particles as the pop movie, rock 'n' roll, cinema verite, the nouvelle vague, free cinema, the affectedly hand-held camera, the cult of the sexless subadolescent, the semidocumentary, and studied spontaneity'. UA made a 200 per cent profit over investment on advance record sales before the film itself was even released. A Hard Day's Night took $8,000,000 in its first week, making it one of the most profitable films of all time.
The film went a long way towards establishing the individual identities of the Beatles in the mind of the public and, to a certain extent, is responsible for the stereotype characters attributed to each individual Beatle: John the smart, witty one, Paul the cute charmer, et cetera. The film was, after all, fiction and they were speaking lines written by someone else, but the French nouvelle vague hand-held camera techniques and lack of conventional 'acting' made audiences think they were seeing a documentary. After A Hard Day's Night the public could not only put a name to each Beatle, but was more easily able to typecast them.
Filming was by no means their only occupation that year. Indeed, they continued to work astonishingly hard as a live band - but now on a truly international scale. In February 1964 the Beatles had their first American visit, appearing twice on The Ed Sullivan Show and playing concerts at the Coliseum, Washington, DC, and Carnegie Hall in New York. This was followed by a brief tour of Denmark before spending most of June in Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand. On 19 August they commenced a five-week tour of the USA and Canada, and in October began a lengthy tour of Britain. Touring, combined with massive record sales worldwide, brought in staggering amounts of money and the Beatles now found themselves with a major tax problem. John and Paul, as the songwriters, earned more than the others.
James Isherwood advised Brian Epstein that the only way to minimise the amount of tax that John and Paul would have to pay on their huge income was a stock-market flotation of Northern Songs, the music-publishing company Brian and Dick James had set up to handle John and Paul's songwriting royalties.
JAMES ISHERWOOD: With regard to the houses John and Ringo had bought on St George's Hill, Weybridge, at that time I lived in Ashley Park, Walton-on-Thames, and I'd said to Brian that it would make life easier if they were more accessible while the flotation was in progress. I asked Walter Strach, my taxation assistant, to find houses for them as near as possible to me, which he did. George was around the corner in Esher; only Paul decided to live in London. Their proximity to my own house enabled me to keep in touch with them at frequent intervals, and at short notice. This proved to be of great value.
George and particularly Ringo enjoyed London's nightlife and would have been better suited by living in Chelsea or St John's Wood, where they could have easily afforded a large detached house with a garden and space for a pool close to the restaurants and late-night clubs. But for the sake of the convenience of their financial adviser during the weeks of the stock-market flotation of Northern Songs, three of the Beatles finished up in the sticks.
PAUL: It just happened. You see, we weren't used to wealth. So wealth was dealt with by other people, and we were directed into areas. They did it because Jim Isherwood wanted them living near him. I really don't think they knew that because John was not rebellious enough to say, 'Fuck that!' This is why I was fascinated by the Ashers; because the other guys were being shown Weybridge, and I didn't particularly like the look of it, it was all a bit golf club for me, but Cynthia wanted to settle John down, pipe and slippers. The minute she said that to me I thought, Kiss of death, I know my mate and that is not what he wants. She got a couple of years of that, but he finally had to break loose and because he couldn't tell her he didn't want it, he had to bring Yoko to breakfast.
When Brian Epstein moved his management company to London in March 1964, he took a penthouse in Williams Mews, just around the corner from Harrods in Knightsbridge, and hired a fashionable interior decorator and a black valet. At a party there in August, just before the Beatles' second US tour, Brian introduced John to Ken Partridge, his interior designer, and recommended that John hire him to renovate his new house. Neither John or Cynthia could remember where the house was exactly but told him it was big. By the next morning Partridge had done colour schemes for eighteen rooms and managed to get them to John before he left for America. John glanced through the sketches and swatches of fabrics and gave Partridge carte blanche to redo the house. It took nine months, during which time the Lennons had to live in the staff flat in the attic while the house was literally torn apart. Kenwood had cost £20,000 when John bought it in July 1964, and he was to spend a further £40,000 renovating it, installing a swimming pool and landscaping the grounds.
Kenwood was a twenty-seven-room, mock-Tudor mansion with high gables and ornate tall brick chimneys at the top of St George's Hill, next to the golf course. The St George's Hill estate was thickly wooded, providing seclusion and privacy. Ringo bought a house a little further down the hill called Sunny Heights, and George lived at Kinfauns on a similar private estate in Esher, about four miles away. It was a curious place for John and Ringo to live, considering its history. In 1649, as a protest against the high price of food, Gerrard Winstanley, William Everard and about one hundred of their supporters began to cultivate the common parkland they had appropriated in St George's Hill, Surrey, in order to feed themselves and give the surplus to the poor. The Diggers, as they called themselves, were immediately confronted by the food merchants, who saw their profits threatened, and by local farmers, who eyed the land for themselves. On Oliver Cromwell's orders the Diggers were destroyed and their radical ideas of agrarian reform suppressed for more than three hundred years, until Emmett Grogan and his band of Diggers began to feed and clothe the hippies in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury. It was on the original site of this suppressed idealism that the St George's Hill estates were built, a development of large, pretentious mansions in London's stockbroker belt, outside the town of Weybridge, Surrey, about an hour's commute from the West End. A symbol of the triumph of greed over compassion.
John and Cynthia had been particularly bothered by fans at their flat in Emperor's Gate, off Cromwell Road; Cynthia had received obscene phone calls and there were sometimes so many fans outside that she could not take baby Julian out for a walk without being jostled and spat at. She and John made a conscious decision to move to the country to get away from the fans. John had little interest in London nightlife anyway; he disliked dancing and the pressures of Beatlemania were so intense that he saw no reason to appear in public more than was necessary.
Ken Partridge designed the house for the way he imagined a trendy young rock 'n' roll star must live, with large reception rooms for parties and an elegant dining room. The enormous living room had a black deep-pile carpet with an oriental rug on top surrounded by three large settees. A colour television filled the fireplace and a valuable Coromandel screen completed the decor. There was a Hollywood Modern kitchen so complicated that someone had to be sent from London to show Cynthia how to use it. A series of watercolour illustrations of vegetables, taken from a broken-up eighteenth-century French botanical encyclopedia and displayed in silver-streaked red lead frames, hung in the dining room on walls of mauve velvet, rather like an upmarket Indian restaurant. John so hated them that when someone asked what they were he gave them to him; even so, the walls contrasted oddly with the scrubbed wood dining table John and Cynthia brought with them.
There was a black study with a bar shaped like a world globe and two rooms in the attic were devoted entirely to John's model racing-car track. A Scalextric electric model racing-car set accompanied the Beatles on their 1964 British tour and was always set up backstage. John was so taken with the little model cars that he is reported to have bought twenty sets. This would have been typical for John, whose first reaction to wealth was not to purchase a Rolls-Royce, but to buy a huge quantity of Jaffa Cakes which he ate untill he was sick.
John retreated to the glassed-in morning room that backed on to the kitchen, which reminded him of the similar room at his Aunt Mimi's. One entire wall was glass, looking out over the swimming pool and the garden, which dropped away from the back of the house in a series of terraces. Another wall was lined with books arranged on built-in library shelving. He lay on a wicker chaise longue surrounded by Pop Art knick-knacks, tour souvenirs, his mother's old upright piano, a colour television and his many cats. In winter a fire burned in the grate. He spent hours there every day, drinking endless cups of tea, watching television and reading all the daily newspapers from cover to cover. His friend the journalist Maureen Cleave called him 'the laziest person in England', but for John television and newspapers were a principal source of inspiration and it was in them that such songs as 'A Day in the Life' and 'Good Morning' had their genesis.
Though John had attempted to personalise the house - a couple of Stu Sutcliffe paintings, a suit of armour wearing a gorilla head with an inverted pipe clenched between its teeth, a 48-play jukebox loaded with mostly fifties rock 'n' roll, a pinball table, books and games, a colour television in every room, usually turned on with the sound off, the flickering image animating the dead spaces - Kenwood remained a stage set; the formal rooms were never used except as corridors to other parts of the house.
John's main hide-away aside from his den was the music room, a small self-contained apartment high in the attic where he could close the door and shut himself off from his family and staff, particularly while the initial building work on the house was going on. Here he kept his tape recorders and instruments. Halfway up to the music room was a Mellotron, beached on the half-landing, possibly because it was too big to get all the way up the stairs. It was in the music room that Paul and John composed dozens of their songs, seated, as usual, facing one another.
PAUL: To learn a guitar part we would both play exactly the same thing, so it was really like double-tracking a guitar. If we played it to anyone there'd be two guitars pumping out this same thing, two voices often singing the same melody line, so you just got double-strength everything, double-strength Daz. It was a loud demo rather than just one guy wondering enigmatically whether the song was okay or not. The two of us knew it was okay and played it very forcefully, we convinced each other.
Songwriting tended to come in bursts. The songs written individually could appear at any time, but the songwriting meetings for a new single or album were planned in advance. As John told Beatles Monthly in March 1966, 'It's too easy to put it off if we just meet without any plan and say, "Shall we write something today?" If you do that you feel as though you're losing a free day. What we're going to do is make dates beforehand and sort of say, "Right, Wednesday and Friday of this week are for songwriting. And Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week." Then we'll know it's something we've to keep to.'
PAUL: Mostly it was me getting out of London, to John's rather nice, comfortable Weybridge house near the golf course. I would sometimes be driven but normally I'd drive myself out there and would think a bit on the way out. I'd often wake him up so I'd be coming in a little fresher than he was, but after a coffee or a cup of tea he woke up and we nearly always went up to his little music room that he'd had built at the top of the house, Daddy's room, where we would get away from it all. I like to get away from people to songwrite, I don't like to do it in front of people. It's like sex for me, I was never an orgy man. So John and I would sit down and by then it might be one or two o'clock, and by four or five o'clock we'd be done. Three hours is about right, you start to fray at the edges after that. But that's good too because you think, 'We've got to get this done!'
We would normally be rung a couple of weeks before the recording session and they'd say. 'We're recording in a month's time and you've got a week off before the recordings to write some stuff.' You'd say, 'Oh, great, fabulous.' So I'd go out to John's every day for the week, and the rest of the time was just time off. We always wrote a song a day, whatever happened we always wrote a song a day. And after that I'd pack up and drive back home and go out for the evening and that was it.
When I was working on the Liverpool Oratorio with Carl Davis there were certain similarities, though obviously Carl's quite a different kettle of fish from John, but he said, 'We never had a dry day, it was marvellous, we never dried,' which surprised Carl greatly. I said, 'Why should we? We just thought up something and you wrote it down. That's how we do it, isn't it?'
At the height of touring and Beatlemania, many of John and Paul's songs were written backstage, on the road in tour buses or in hotel rooms. However, in the case of their next single: 'I Feel Fine'/'She's a Woman', released in November 1964, both sides were partly written in the recording studio itself.
John and Paul were always willing to allow random events to affect their songs: the chance juxtaposition of words, newspaper stories, fragments of popular songs or classical music were all welcomed into their creative flux. It was with a conscious awareness of the Surrealist tradition that they incorporated found objects into their work, and this was what happened with 'I Feel Fine'. It was a co-written song, from an idea of John's, and it opens with a wail of feedback - rare for 1964.
PAUL: John had a semi-acoustic Gibson guitar. It had a pick-up on it so it could be amplified. John and George both had them; we used to call them Everly Brothers because they were very similar to the ones the Everly Brothers had used and we liked the Everlys a lot. It was mainly an acoustic guitar. They only used a tiny bit of electric, just for colour. If you turned it up too much you don't get any string noise, so the engineers and George Martin used to strike a balance between the colour of the electric thing and the natural acoustic. It's a coloured acoustic.
We were just about to walk away to listen to a take when John leaned his guitar against the amp. I can still see him doing it. He really should have turned the electric off. It was only on a tiny bit, and John just leaned it against the amp when it went, 'Nnnnnnwahhhhh!' And we went, 'What's that? Voodoo!' 'No, it's feedback.' 'Wow, it's a great sound!' George Martin was there so we said, 'Can we have that on the record?' 'Well, I suppose we could, we could edit it on the front.' It was a found object, an accident caused by leaning the guitar against the amp.
The song itself was more John's than mine. We sat down and co-wrote it with John's original idea. John sang it, I'm on harmonies and the drumming is basically what we used to think of as 'What'd I Say' drumming. There was a style of drumming on 'What'd I Say' which is a sort of Latin R & Â that Ray Charles's drummer Milt Turner played on the original record and we used to love it. One of the big clinching factors about Ringo as the drummer in the band was that he could really play that so well.
Even in the early days they would compose some of the songs alone, as John did with 'Not a Second Time' or Paul with 'She's a Woman', which was issued as the Â side of the new single. It was written on 8 October 1964, walking in the streets of St John's Wood, and recorded at Abbey Road the same day.
PAUL: Like 'Can't Buy Me Love', this was my attempt at a bluesy thing. We always found it very hard to write the more rock 'n' roll things. It seemed easy for Little Richard to knock 'em off, penny a dozen, but for us it wasn't quite so easy, being white boys who'd not been to a gospel church in our lives. So instead of doing a Little Richard song, whom I admire greatly, I would use the style I would have used for that but put it in one of my own songs, so this was about a woman rather than a girl. Bluesy melody is quite hard to write so I was quite pleased to get that.
Beatles for Sale
John did a very good thing: instead of playing through it and putting like a watercolour wash over it all with his guitar he just stabbed on the off-beats. Ringo would play the snare and John did it with the guitar, which was good, it left a lot of space for the rest of the stuff. That was a distinctive sound on that. I have a recollection of walking round St John's Wood with that in my mind so I might have written it at home and finished it up on the way to the studio, finally polished it in the studio, maybe just taken John aside for a second and checked it with him, 'What d'you think?' 'Like it.' 'Good. Let's do it!'
That creative moment when you come up with an idea is the greatest, it's the best. It's like sex. You're filled with a knowledge that you're right, which, when much of your life is filled with guilt and the knowledge that you're probably not right, is a magic moment. You actually are convinced it's right, and it's a very warm feeling that comes all over you, and for some reason it comes from the spine, through the cranium and out the mouth. That was a quicky and it was a nice little R & Â thing which I liked.
These were the years when the partnership was at its height. After the success of A Hard Day's Night came the Beatles for Sale album with eight new Lennon-McCartney compositions. Were it not for the pressure of touring, there would probably have been more originals; even so, the album contained some classics. One song, 'I'll Follow the Sun', dated back to Forthlin Road (they still had a stock of songs left over from the Forthlin Road song factory to use up) and another, 'Every Little Thing', Paul wrote at Wimpole Street sitting in his garret room alone, strumming his guitar.
PAUL: 'Every Little Thing', like most of the stuff I did, was my attempt at the next single. I remember playing it for Brian backstage somewhere. He had assembled a few people. It was one of those meetings - 'Oh, we have to do some recordings, who's got what?' and we played a few at Brian. We didn't often check things with Brian, in fact I just remember it in connection with this because I thought it was very catchy. I played it amongst a few songs; it was something I thought was quite good but it became an album filler rather than the great almighty single. It didn't have quite what was required.
Paul and John were much more likely to write songs at Kenwood than for John to come into town to work in the music room at Wimpole Street, which, in any case, wasn't always available. Paul enjoyed the drive out to the country in his Aston Martin, whereas negotiating West End traffic was not a pleasurable experience for John. Paul, Ringo and George were all keen drivers; George in particular developed a taste for fast cars and even bought his own McLaren, whereas John learned to drive much later than the others and had a crash shortly after passing his test, which unnerved him. He normally used a driver. Paul: 'It was always nice to have an excuse to drive out into the country so that generally meant that I got out to John's house.'
Sometimes he would be chauffeured out to Kenwood. On one occasion this provided the impetus for a song. The driver was not one of the regulars that Paul knew, but as they were turning into John's driveway Paul casually asked him if be had been busy. 'Busy?' he said. 'I've been working eight days a week.' Paul went into John's house and told him, 'Well, I've got the title: "Eight Days a Week".' Paul: 'Neither of us had heard that expression before so we had that chauffeur to credit for that. It was like a little blessing from the gods. I didn't have any idea for it other than the title, and we just knocked it off together, just filling in from the title. So that one came quickly.'
Another Kenwood number was 'Baby's in Black'.
PAUL: We wanted to write something a little bit darker, bluesy, the tide's dark anyway. It's in 3/4 time, one of the first waltzes we wrote, which was interesting for us because most of our stuffs in 4/4. It was very much co-written and we both sang it. Sometimes the harmony that I was writing in sympathy to John's melody would take over and become a stronger melody. Suddenly a piebald rabbit came out of the hat! When people wrote out the music score they would ask, 'Which one is the melody?' because it was so co-written that you could actually take either. We rather liked this one. It was not so much a work job, there was a bit more cred about this one. It's got a good middle.
For the next three years the Beatles usually performed 'Baby's in Black' as the third number in their set. They would open with 'Rock and Roll Music', followed by 'Long Tall Sally' to get things moving, then announce, 'And now for something different.' Paul: 'And that was "Baby's in Black", we used to put that in there, and think, "Well, they won't know quite what to make of this but it's cool."'
John and Paul wrote 'I Don't Want to Spoil the Party' as a country and western for Ringo. A lot of the boats from Liverpool used to go to New Orleans and Texas, transporting oil from the Gulf of Mexico, and the sailors would bring back blues and Ñ & W records. Ringo loved country and western. He knew the work of all the great early country artists like Jimmie Rodgers and years later, after the Beatles split up, he even recorded his own solo country and western album, Beaucoups of Blues.
PAUL: Ringo had a great style and great delivery. He had a lot of fans, so we liked to write something for him on each album. 'I Don't Want to Spoil the Party' is quite a nice little song, co-written by John and I. It sounds more like John than me so 80-20 to him, sitting down doing a job. Certain songs were inspirational and certain songs were work, it didn't mean they were any less fun to write, it was just a craft, and this was a job to order really, which Ringo did a good job on.
'What You're Doing' was a bit of a filler. I think it was a little more mine than John's, but I don't have a very clear recollection so to be on the safe side I'd put it as 50-50. It doesn't sound like an idea that I remember John offering, so it sounds like a way to get a song started, some of them are just that. 'Hey, what'cha doing?' You sometimes start a song and hope the best bit will arrive by the time you get to the chorus ... but sometimes that's all you get, and I suspect this was one of them. Maybe it's a better recording than it is a song, some of them are. Sometimes a good recording would enhance the song.
It was the first song in which the Beatles deliberately distorted the tape by overriding the desk, the beginning of a series of experimental recording techniques which would stretch George Martin's skill and imagination to the utmost and test EMI's archaic equipment at Abbey Road to the limit.
'No Reply', 'I'm a Loser' and 'Yes It Is' were very much John Lennon songs. Paul: 'We wrote "No Reply" together but from a strong original idea of his. I think he pretty much had that one, but as usual, if he didn't have the third verse and the middle eight, then he'd play it to me pretty much formed, then we would shove a bit in the middle or I'd throw in an idea.' John said that the song was his version of 'Silhouettes' by the Rays.
PAUL: Looking back on it I think songs like 'I'm a Loser' and 'Nowhere Man' were John's cries for help. We used to listen to quite a lot of country and western songs and they are all about sadness and 'I lost my truck' so it was quite acceptable to sing 'I'm a loser'. You didn't really think about it at the time, it's only later you think, God! I think it was pretty brave of John. 'I'm A Loser' was very much John's song and there may have been a dabble or two from me.
The song was recorded on 14 August 1964, shortly before the Beatles embarked on their American tour.
'Yes It Is', the John Lennon Â side to 'Ticket to Ride', was once again written by Paul and John together at Kenwood.
PAUL: I was there writing it with John, but it was his inspiration that I helped him finish off. 'Yes It Is' is a very fine song of John's, a ballad, unusual for John. He wrote some beautiful ballads but I'm known generally as the balladeer. The interesting thing is that we actually come out rather equal, the more you analyse it, the more you get to the feeling that both of us always had, which was one of equality. I don't think John ever felt he was better than me and I don't think I ever felt I was better than John. Certainly when we worked it would have been fatal in a collaboration for either of us to ever think that. It was just that I brought a certain 50 per cent and John brought a certain 50 per cent.
There is a persistent idea that John and Paul only really wrote together in the very early days, but this is not true. They both valued their songwriting partnership highly. It was artistically fulfilling as well as a very valuable commercial asset and it was not something that either of them took lightly. John Dunbar, who was a frequent visitor to Kenwood in 1965-66, remembers that John would often play through Paul's new songs when Paul was not there, running through them, making sure there was nothing more he could do to help. They relied upon each other to finish off a song, even as late as 'The Ballad of John and Yoko', which John brought round for Paul to check before they recorded it in April 1969.
PAUL: John would often have the melody and the lyrics to one verse, and the trickiest thing is making any more of it. The second verse is nearly always the killer because you've often said it all in the first verse, but by pushing yourself you can actually get a second verse better than your first. It's always more difficult because you mustn't repeat yourself, you've got to take the idea somewhere else but it has to have the the same metre and the same melody. That was often where he or I needed help.
Then you have a chorus or a middle. We used to call everything a middle eight, even if it had thirty-two bars or sixteen bars. George Martin used to point out, 'Paul, hasn't this got sixteen bars?' 'Yes, George, it has.' 'But you're calling it a middle eight?' 'Yes, George, we are.' 'I see. Super!' We called them middle eights, we had heard musicians say 'That's a nice middle eight' and we didn't get the significance of the word 'eight'. We just learned the word for it and that was what we called it: there were verses, choruses and middle eights.
There tended to be four verses in our songs: one chorus that repeated endlessly and a middle eight. So if it was John's idea, generally I would come in at the second verse, be there for the middle eight and be there for the third and fourth verses, the resolution. We would often knock out the fourth verse and repeat the first, because it seemed like a nice top and tail and also there was a commercial aspect that we were aware of: if people heard a verse twice they were more likely to remember it. The first verse was always good to finish with, it was like, 'Remember what I told you at the beginning of this song? I'm going to reiterate it now.' That was always a good little trick.
Their financial adviser James Isherwood's proposal to float Northern Songs on the stock market was a good one. John and Paul's problem was that they were liable for tax at a very high rate on their income. What they needed was some tax-free income and since there was no capital-gains tax in those days, this meant they would not pay any tax on the proceeds when they sold their shares on the exchange. It was, however, an ambitious scheme because no one had ever done anything like this before and Isherwood was not sure that the Stock Exchange would even accept a company whose income consisted solely of music written by two young men with no proven track record: what if they dried up, what if they argued, what if they veered off in a non-commercial direction or, even worse, what if one of them had an accident or died? Every merchant bank that Isherwood approached refused even to consider the idea of supporting an application to the Stock Exchange.
Isherwood went to Lord Goodman, known to Private Eye as 'two dinners Goodman', who had risen to power along with the Labour Party hierarchy when Labour won the 1964 election. Goodman acted for Prime Minister Harold Wilson and represented a number of powerful, wealthy Labour supporters, many of them property developers. He had been chairman of the Newspaper Proprietors' Association and, more importantly, he had connections with a large number of stockbrokers. Acting together with a firm of City stockbrokers, Goodman and Isherwood drafted a letter to the Stock Exchange. They estimated their chances of being able to go public at about 10-1, but with Goodman behind them they succeeded.
Brian Epstein took no part in the business. James Isherwood: 'He didn't know enough about the financial side of things to be particularly interested. He left the whole operation entirely in my hands. I'd always felt that Brian was extremely efficient, but it soon became clear to me that while he was adept at arranging tours, he had no financial expertise of any kind.'
Five million five shilling (25p) shares were issued, of which Dick James and Charles Silver took half between them. Paul and John got 1,000,000 each, and Brian 500,000. It was decided to offer 2,000,000 of them to the public at seven shillings and ninepence (38.75p) each, which meant each of the parties was contributing two fifths of their holdings. Brian was so scared that an unsuccessful flotation would destroy Paul and John's reputation as songwriters that he disappeared. He remained incommunicado until several days after the shares entered the market, leaving Isherwood to make all the decisions by himself.
James Isherwood was fearful that adverse press comments might have a disastrous effect on the flotation, and indeed, Frederick Ellis, the chief financial editor of the Daily Express, strongly advised his readers not to buy Northern Songs shares. To counter this, Isherwood put together a syndicate using his own money, money under his control and some of Charles Silver's cash. The syndicate had enough to purchase 500,000 shares in case anything went wrong. This turned out to be a very shrewd move. Northern Songs Limited became a public company on the London Stock Exchange on 18 February 1965. Isherwood remembers it well:
That first morning, I heard from the Brokers just after the Stock Exchange opened at ten o'clock. There were a lot of shares on offer. Accordingly I instructed the brokers to buy every share that came on the market. There didn't appear to be another buyer, and in consequence the price dropped. It continued to fall over the next few days, and I bought every available share until eventually the market reached rock bottom at five shillings and nine-pence, compared with the issue price of seven shillings and nine-pence. I had spent almost all of the syndicate's money.
A few days later Brian re-surfaced and I told him what I'd done. Over the next two or three weeks the public suddenly began to realise that as the music of John and Paul was being so widely played on the radio, perhaps the ownership of shares in Northern Songs was not a bad thing, after all, and buying orders for the shares began to arrive at the brokers. They had none available! They got in touch with me, and I agreed to release five thousand shares that day, and subsequently about ten thousand each day at gradually increased prices. The last of the syndicate shares I released were at a price of fourteen shillings (7Op), nearly double the original issue price. The flotation had been a success and created for both John and Paul, and incidentally, Brian, a substantial capital asset.
At the time James Isherwood was holding substantial sums of money for both George and Ringo so he decided to buy 25,000 shares for each of them at the original issue price of seven shillings and ninepence. This gave them a respectable financial share in the music they were playing.
For John and Paul, when they were sagging off school to write songs in the living room of Forthlin Road, the original dream - even before the fantasy of making it as a rock 'n' roll band - had been to become successful songwriters. They had always seen this as their career and ever since the formation of Northern Songs had given songs to the other members of Brian Epstein's ever-growing management company, and encouraged outsiders to record their material by sending round acetates to likely candidates. Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas were the recipients of four originals, but it was with a cover of John and Paul's 'Do You Want to Know a Secret' that they had first hit the charts, replacing the Beatles' own 'From Me to You' at number one in June 1963. The Â side was a Lennon-McCartney composition, 'I'll Be on My Way', co-written in early Liverpool days. Paul: 'It's a little bit too June-moon for me, but these were very early songs and they worked out quite well.'
Billy J's 'Bad to Me', released in July 1963, written specifically for him by John and Paul, sounded very like the Beatles and also made number one. Since the formula was working so well, Brian Epstein asked for yet another original, and on 1 November Billy J released 'I'll Keep You Satisfied'. Paul: 'That was a good one. Billy J was having a bit of success and because he was out of the same stable as us, it made sense for us, if we weren't having to write a lot of stuff for ourselves, to knock off a couple for friends. It was pretty much co-written: John and I sat down and purposely wrote it for Billy J in a couple of hours. This one is one I still like. I find myself whistling it in the garden.' It was another top-ten hit but this time only reached number four.
The fourth attempt, 'From a Window', was again written purposely for Billy. John and Paul were hot. Brian would come up and say Billy needed a new song and they would write it on the spot. Paul: 'We would just make it up. We would sit down at rehearsal and grab a couple of hours somewhere and just with a pen and a bit of paper, scribble the lyrics down.'
Another signing to Brian Epstein's stable was the Fourmost, who also began their career with two Lennon-McCartney compositions: 'Hello Little Girl' and 'I'm in Love'.
PAUL: Unfortunately the words aren't too wonderful. They're a bit average, but the Fourmost were eager to have a hit and they were very good friends of ours. They were more of a comedy group, a really very funny cabaret act, and when it came to making a record and being serious on a TV show, they always laughed and giggled. They were always having such a laugh, it was very difficult for them. They just weren't the kind of guys who were going to get a major hit. I tried a few times.
Both songs reached the top twenty, which got their name known and enabled them to switch to cabaret later when the hits stopped coming.
Yet another Epstein act who got a start with a Lennon-McCartney song was Cilia Black, the cloakroom girl at the Cavern, who reached number 35 in the British charts with 'Love of the Loved'. Once again, these were purpose-built songs. Paul described 'It's for You', which she released in August 1964:
I wrote it for Cilia. That's not a bad little song. I remember when we first went over to America, plugging it to all these DJs, we used to talk to endlessly, 'Look, there's this girl singer in our stable and you should listen out for this song.' It didn't do very well. I ended up writing a few songs for Cilia, actually. 'Step Inside Love' was a later one. Cilia Black was getting her first TV show with a guy called Michael Hurll and they came to see me backstage somewhere and asked me, would I write the theme tune for it, so I said yes. I did a little demo of it, with myself double-tracked, up at Cavendish, and that was it. I quite like the song, it's very cabaret, it suited her voice. It was just a welcoming song for Cilia.
Not everything that John and Paul wrote was successful, and some of their songs they would have preferred to put away in a drawer and forget about. 'Tip of My Tongue', released by Tommy Quickly in July 1963, is just such a song.
PAUL: Oh, my God! There were always a couple of songs that we didn't want to do because we didn't think they were very good, but other people would say, 'Well, I'll do it, I think it's quite good.' Tommy Quickly was one of our friends out of Brian Epstein's stable. This is pretty much mine, I'm ashamed to say. It sounds like one of these where I tried to work it around the title.
'That Means a Lot', released by P. J. Proby in September 1965, was another example of a song that Paul and John had rejected as not good enough for the Beatles.
PAUL: Normally I'd try and bury these songs and not put them out but there was so much pressure from people, they'd say, 'Have you got anything?' I'd say, 'I have, but you really don't want to see them.' They'd say, 'I do! Believe me, I think I can make a good job of it, and your name on it would be a big plus.' So P. J. Proby, a friend of ours that we met during the Jack Good television show that we did, Round the Beatles, wanted to do it, so I gave it to him. He had a minor hit with it.
The record went to number thirty.
Paul's earliest work included songs like 'When I'm Sixty-Four', an old-fashioned cabaret song which remained bereft of lyrics until he resurrected it in the mid-sixties. In the days before the Beatles' success, Paul and John were writing with a view to a music career like Rodgers and Hammerstein. In those days, the greatest accolade possible for a songwriter was to write something for Frank Sinatra; as it still is for many people. It was something that they talked about a lot, so much so that one night, when he was still a teenager living at Forthlin Road, Paul wrote a song specifically for Sinatra.
PAUL: I wrote it in bed at that moment when you're just dropping off and all these things are coming to you, but you ought to go to sleep. I used to keep pencil and paper by my bed, and I've got the ability to write in the dark, though some of the lines cross each other. I wrote this song called 'Suicide' which was very cabaret, 'If when she tries to run away and he calls her back she comes ... it's okay, because she's under both his thumbs ...'all that kind of shit. Very Sinatra, I thought. 'She'll limp along to his side ... I call it suicide!' It was murder! Horrible song! But you had to go through all those styles to discover your own. I only had one verse, so I cobbled together another.
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And the funny thing was, years and years later, he rang me at Abbey Road studio, and it was a great moment when one of the engineers said, 'Paul, Sinatra's on the phone.' And I was able to go, 'Oh. I'll be there in a minute,' touch a fader and then go off. And everyone would go, 'Oooooo! Sinatra's on the phone!' How many people have that? He was asking for a song, so I found the song, made a demo and sent it to him. Apparently he thought it was an almighty piss-take. 'No way!' he's supposed to have said to one of his people. 'Is this guy having me on?' So my career with Sinatra ended in terrible ignominy. I think he couldn't grasp it was tongue in cheek. It was only supposed to be a play on the word 'suicide', not actual physical suicide. If a girl lets a guy trample all over her, she's committing some sort of suicide. I think he sent the demo back. Looking back on it I'm quite relieved he did, actually, it wasn't a good song, it was just a teenage thought.