Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney - Howard Sounes (2010)
PART ONE. WITH THE BEATLES
Chapter 7. YESTERDAY
HOME SWEET HOME
When Paul and the boys returned to England after their 1964 North American tour John went back to his new home, Kenwood, a 27-room mansion on the St George’s Hill estate at Weybridge in Surrey, a private gated community built around a golf course. Ritchie and George, who weren’t earning as much from publishing (Starr hadn’t yet written any songs), remained for the time being in London, sharing a new flat in Knightsbridge, though they too would soon buy country homes. Although a fortune was piling up in his account at Coutts, the private bank patronised by the Royal Family, Paul felt no urgent need to splurge on a country mansion like John, who had a wife and child to look after, and when he did buy property McCartney always occupied less ostentatious houses.
At this stage, London life was the thing, and when Paul wasn’t on the road it gave him a cosy feeling to be part of the Asher family at Wimpole Street. Jane’s brother Peter was an increasingly good friend. Peter and Gordon Waller were enjoying a surprisingly successful pop career on the strength of songs given to them by Paul, including a pot-boiler entitled ‘A World Without Love’. It wasn’t deemed good enough for the Beatles, and had even been rejected by Billy J. Kramer, but Jane’s brother took it to number one in Britain and the USA in the autumn of 1963, the first of three hits Peter and Gordon scored with Paul’s cast-offs.
When he did decide to buy property, Paul looked first for a house for Dad. The Beatles’ original home addresses were all well known to fans, and Jim McCartney had become used to girls knocking on his door asking to see inside 20 Forthlin Road. ‘I’d usually ask the ones who’d come a long way if they’d like some tea,’ Jim would say. ‘When they said yes, I’d say there’s the kitchen. They’d go in and start screaming and shouting because they’d recognise the kitchen from photographs.’ Patient though he was, Jim had just about had enough of this carry-on and, at 62, he was ready to stop work. So Paul put Dad on the ‘McCartney Pension’, retiring the very first McCartney Pensioner to a detached house on the Wirral.
For working-class Liverpudlians like the McCartneys, the Wirral peninsula represented a better, gentler way of life where professional people lived in larger, often detached homes in a semi-rural setting. For £8,750 ($13,387), Paul bought such a home for Dad, a five-bedroom property named Rembrandt in the village of Gayton. The house was mock-Tudor in style, with views across the River Dee to Wales. It would primarily be a home for Jim and Mike McCartney, but also a Merseyside base for Paul when he was up north, and indeed it is a house he still uses. ‘He says it’s his best house, best memories,’ a member of McCartney’s domestic staff confides, pointing out what a big social shift it was for the family to move across from Liverpool in 1964. ‘It was like coming abroad, he said, when they moved over here.’
Jim had plenty to occupy himself with at Rembrandt, which had large gardens front and back, surrounded by mature trees. He planted laurel and lavender by the front door and kept himself busy mowing the lawns and raking the leaves. Still, there was more to life than gardening. There had been no woman of significance in Jim’s life since Mary died, but with the boys grown up Jim had a twinkle in his eye again. ‘He was looking for a young, smart bird,’ confides cousin Mike Robbins, who became match-maker when he introduced Jim to his friend Angela Williams, a former Butlin’s Holiday [camp] Princess who’d lost her first husband in a car crash, leaving her a widow at 35 with a young daughter, Ruth, to look after. The child was now five. Angie was working as a secretary for Littlewood’s, the football pools company, when Mike and Liz Robbins went round to her flat for dinner. ‘Will you ever marry again, Ange?’ Mike asked the widow.
‘No. Unless it’s a rich old man who loves music,’ replied Angie, who was an accomplished pianist. Mike and Liz looked at each other. ‘Who are you thinking of?’ Angie asked them.
‘Have you heard of Paul McCartney? His father.’
Jim and Angela went on a date. Four more followed. One night at Rembrandt Jim put a proposition to Angela.
While I sat playing the piano, Jim put his hands firmly on my shoulders and said, ‘You’re costing me a fortune in taxis. I want to ask you something … Do you want to get married? Do you want to be my housekeeper? Or do you just want to live with me?’
Angela replied that, for Ruth’s sake, they should marry. They rang Paul immediately, and he drove up from London in his new Aston Martin sports car. The initial meeting between the star and his prospective stepmother was friendly. Always good with children, Paul bonded with Ruth, who became his stepsister when, on 24 November 1964, Jim and Angela were married by the McCartneys’ clergyman relative Buddy Bevan in North Wales. However, relations between Paul and Angie would deteriorate considerably.
Three days after Jim McCartney married, the Beatles released their new single, ‘I Feel Fine’, which opened with a wow of feedback, the first time such a sound had been used deliberately as an effect on a pop record. ‘I Feel Fine’ was a John song. ‘There was a little competition between Paul and me as to who got the A-side, who got the singles,’ John said of this period of their partnership. ‘If you notice, in the early days the majority of the singles - in the movies and everything - were mine …’ Gradually, this would change. The B-side of the new single, ‘She’s a Woman’, was a Paul song and it’s an excellent composition, into the lyrics of which he sneaked a crafty drug reference about turning on, a nod to his recent meeting with Bob Dylan. The single went to number one in the US and Britain in December, where it stayed into the new year.
A new LP, Beatles for Sale, was released a few days later, packaged slightly differently in the USA as Beatles ’65. Because the Beatles’ British career predated their success in the United States, Parlophone and Capitol were out of sync with album releases, the Americans releasing Beatles recordings under different titles with slightly different tracks initially. To catch up with the UK, Capitol put out no less than four Beatles albums in 1964 - Meet the Beatles!, The Beatles’ Second Album, Beatles ’65 and Something New - without consulting the band about titles, cover art or song selection. Capitol included singles on these LPs, whereas at home a Beatles single was often released as an extra treat, with an exclusive and often equally delicious B-side, neither of which would be on the LP. The new single, ‘I Feel Fine’, was not on Beatles for Sale, for example, but did feature on Beatles ’65 in the USA.15
Beatles for Sale had been recorded by George Martin on the fly between the Beatles’ engagements, and Martin rates it as one of their lesser works. ‘They were rather weary during Beatles for Sale,’ he has commented. ‘One must remember they’d been battered like mad throughout 1964 …’ As with previous albums, the LP was comprised of original compositions and cover songs including the rock ’n’ roll warhorse ‘Kansas City’, but there was still much of interest. Dylan’s influence is heard on John’s ‘I’m a Loser’, while Paul’s ‘I’ll Follow the Sun’ was pretty. The inspiration for ‘Eight Days a Week’ came from a casual conversation Paul had with his chauffeur on the drive to Kenwood. ‘How’ve you been?’ Paul asked as they headed out of town.
‘Oh, working hard,’ grumbled the chauffeur, ‘eight days a week.’
When Paul arrived at John’s country mansion, he told his friend what the driver had said. ‘John said, “Right - ‘Ooh, I need your love babe …’” and we wrote it. We were always quite quick to write.’ When they finished a new song like this, Lennon and McCartney would usually perform it for Cynthia Lennon, or whoever else was around, to see what sort of reaction they got, making sure to write down the chords and lyrics. ‘We couldn’t put it down on a cassette because there weren’t cassettes then,’ notes Paul. ‘We’d have to remember it, which was always a good discipline, and if it was a rubbish song we’d forget it.’
The first full year of Beatlemania ended in December with Another Beatles Christmas Show, staged at the Hammersmith Odeon, a huge West London cinema that was becoming one of the capital’s premier music venues. Once again the Beatles were obliged to act the fool as well as perform, and again there were a host of support acts, including the Yardbirds, featuring Eric Clapton who became an important friend. ‘Paul played the ambassador, coming out to meet us and saying hello,’ recalls Clapton, who also remembers Paul playing a new tune backstage. It had come to him in a dream at Wimpole Street, and he wasn’t sure whether it was an original composition or an old melody that had lodged in his unconscious. Neither Clapton nor his band mates recognised it.
The Christmas show compère this year was Jimmy Savile, night-club owner and DJ. One of Jim’s business interests was the Three Coins club in Manchester, which the Beatles played twice, in 1961 and 1963. ‘The first time, they travelled over from Liverpool and got a fiver for the whole gig, and they went down well. So they came back [and] got £15 [$23],’ recalls Savile, who was best known as a Radio Luxembourg disc jockey. As such, Jim had helped promote the Beatles’ career. They rewarded the DJ with what he calls ‘the greatest non-job’ he ever had.
Because first of all you couldn’t hear yourself think, at all. And the audience, when they saw me come on, knew that I was coming on to introduce the lads, and you could actually taste the noise. The noise was just quite unbelievable! And for the whole of the  days I never, ever uttered a word. All I did was just mime all sorts of things, and sort of dived about the stage, and suddenly I would look over to the wings and put my hands on my head as though I can’t believe what I’m seeing, and then I’d run off the other side, and the Beatles would run on this side, and that was it. That’s how I’d introduce [them].
The DJ also appeared in skits with the boys in Hammersmith.
I was a yeti, and what I did I appeared, having climbed up a ladder with a yeti outfit on, looking at the Beatles who were standing about down there doing bits of things, and of course all the crowd is shouting ‘Behind you! Behind you!’ It was real pantomime stuff.
After a break in which Paul took Jane to Tunisia, and Ritchie married Maureen Cox, the Beatles went back into the studio to record songs for their second United Artists movie, Help! Despite having had little time to prepare, John and Paul were able to write strong new material for the film and its soundtrack album, much of which has a Dylanesque quality. There is a new introspection in ‘Ticket to Ride’, for example, the title of which is also a punning reference to Paul’s Uncle Mike and Aunt Bett, who were now running the Bow Bars pub in Ryde on the Isle of Wight. To visit Uncle Mike, Paul was obliged to buy a ferry ticket from Portsmouth - literally a ticket to Ryde.
John later claimed the title song ‘Help!’ was a cry of anguish at a time when he had lost direction in life, though this wasn’t apparent to his band mates. The only sign John may have been unhappy was that he had put on weight, which altered his appearance markedly. One of the curious things about John was how much his looks changed over the course of a relatively short life. His original boyish face fattened and widened around the time of Help!, giving him the full face of Henry VIII. As he lost weight in the latter druggy stages of the Beatles’ career, his face became thin, pinched and bony, making him look like a different person entirely, which was appropriate for a man of many moods. In contrast, one could always see the happy boy Paul had been in the confident man he became.
George Martin kept the tape running continuously when the band was in the studio, to capture every precious second of Beatles’ sound, with John and Paul’s between-songs chatter preserved for posterity as a result. The boys were working on one of John’s songs, ‘You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away’, on Thursday 18 February 1965, when Paul broke a glass in the studio. ‘Paul’s broken a glass, broken a glass …’ Lennon chanted like a child, before asking: ‘You ready … Macca?’ using his friend’s schoolboy nickname. They were still making music together much as they had when Paul sagged off from the Inny to hang out with John at Forthlin Road, but now the friends were partners in business, too - big business. This very day Northern Songs was floated on the London stock exchange.
The flotation of Northern Songs was tax efficient for John and Paul. High earners were taxed excessively under Harold Wilson’s Labour Government of 1964-70, those earning over £20,000 a year ($30,600) suffering a 50 per cent surtax on their income, rising to 55 per cent in 1965, meaning that most of the Beatles’ money went to the taxman. By floating the company in which their songs were held - 56 titles so far - Paul and John created shares that could be sold tax-free. Northern Songs was divided into five million ordinary shares, two and a quarter million of which were offered to the public at seven shillings and nine pence each in pre-decimal money (39 new pence, or 59 cents). The prospectus revealed that the Beatles were contracted to the company until 1966, with Northern Songs having an option to renew for a further three years, with John and Paul obliged to write at least six new songs per year. In reality they were writing many more, and figures showed that Northern Songs was a rapidly growing business. In its first two years, the company reported six-monthly profits rising from £17,294 ($26,459) to almost a quarter of a million pounds. The flotation was oversubscribed, giving Northern Songs an initial paper value of £1.9 million ($2.9 m). The share value then fell below offer price, as speculators took a quick profit. Thinking this might happen, the Beatles bought shares back, a shrewd move as the shares recovered and doubled in value over 12 months, during which time they added another 35 songs to the catalogue. Paul had initially been allotted one million shares in Northern Songs, to which he added bought-back shares, giving him just over a fifth of the public company, worth approximately £300,000 ($459,000), a vast sum at the time. John had the same, with Brian, George and Ritchie all holding smaller stakes. Over half the limited company was still owned by Dick James, though.
At this stage in his career, Paul left business decisions to others, more interested in making music and having fun than reading contracts. Having been introduced to marijuana, grass had become part of the Beatles’ quotidian lives, creating a problem for director Richard Lester when he came to shoot Help! in February 1965. ‘We showed up a bit stoned, smiled a lot and hoped we’d get through it,’ admits Paul. ‘We giggled a lot.’ Like their first film, Help! was a musical in which the Beatles played themselves and performed their songs, while a slightly larger budget meant Lester could shoot in colour, which helped him decide to make Help! a Pop Art fantasy poking fun at ‘the state of Britain in 1965 and Harold Wilson’s white-hot, modern society’.16 At the start of the picture, the Beatles are seen returning home to four adjoining terrace houses in an ordinary British street. ‘Lovely lads, and so natural,’ comments a neighbour approvingly. When the camera cuts to the interior we see that the Beatles actually inhabit one huge open-plan bachelor pad fitted with every mod con. There was a surprising personal connection between this outlandish set and Paul’s Liverpool family. Aunt Ginny and Uncle Harry had recently moved into a terrace house in Mersey View on the Wirral. When Ginny’s widowed sister Milly moved into the house next door, Harry knocked a secret door through the partition wall so the sisters could come and go as they pleased without anybody knowing the cottages were connected. The plot of Help! is ‘nutty’, as actor Victor Spinetti has observed. Ringo owns a ring coveted by an Indian Thug sect led by the homicidal Clang, who pursues Ringo and his fellow Beatles across Britain, Austria and the Bahamas. If the boys were going to make a movie, they figured they might as well go somewhere nice, and their accountant had recently established a tax shelter for them in the Bahamas. They flew to Nassau on 23 February, staying on the island two weeks. Jim McCartney decided to surprise his son by taking Angie to the Bahamas for a belated honeymoon at the same time, which displeased Paul. ‘The Beatles arrived several days before our holiday ended,’ Angie later recalled. ‘Jim said, “Let’s go to their press conference and surprise them.” But all Paul said was, “What are you doing here?” I felt that Paul was angry that we had turned up when he was there to work.’
After the Bahamas, the Beatles travelled to Austria. Neither Paul nor any of the other Beatles had skied before and there was a great deal of falling over and general mucking about in the snow, again partly due to pot-smoking. Dick Lester’s patience was tested to the limit. Unlike their first film, in which the boys appeared determined to do their best, they seemed less interested in being actors now than in getting high and having a laugh. For Paul, though, the trip was memorable for John paying him a cherished, virtually unique compliment. ‘I remember one time when we were making Help! in Austria. We’d been out skiing all day for the film and so we were all tired,’ he reminisced in the 1980s. ‘I usually shared a room with George. But on this particular occasion I was in with John.’ The Beatles could have had a suite each, of course, but they preferred to share rooms on the road, taking comfort in each others’ company. John and Paul were listening to one of their albums as they changed out of their ski clothes.
There were three of my songs and three of John’s songs on the side we were listening to. And for the first time ever, he just tossed it off, without saying anything definite, ‘Oh, I probably like your songs better than mine.’ And that was it. That was the height of praise I ever got off him… There was no one looking, so he could say it.
THE SMASH OF THE CENTURY
It was a fine time to be in London, which started to ‘swing’ at least a year before Time identified the phenomenon with its famous April 1966 cover story, ‘London: The Swinging City’. The death of Sir Winston Churchill in January 1965 can be seen as a watershed, marking the end of the drab post-war period, after which the nation seemed to embrace colour and change. Most British people were much the same, of course, but a creative and cultural renaissance was taking place in the heart of the capital, one that caught the attention of the world, and Paul was at the centre of it.
The Beatles may have been the premier British pop band of the day, but they were not the only ones making exciting new music. As other Mersey Sound acts fell by the wayside, new, mostly London-based bands, such as the Stones, the Who and Pink Floyd came to the fore, remaking rock ’n’ roll into a more elaborate form of popular music. Rock, as it was becoming known, would be one of Britain’s great exports, something the country could do as well as America, with the success of the Beatles in the USA paving the way for these new British bands. It was also partly thanks to the success of the Beatles that talented, young, working-class people from diverse walks of life were accepted as celebrities, the likes of photographer David Bailey, actor Michael Caine and Bradford-born painter David Hockney, who along with his friend Peter Blake became a leading light in modern art. Writers grouped together as the Angry Young Men had also paved the way for this cultural change with their plays and novels. A working-class accent, which had hitherto been a disadvantage in British life, was now very much in vogue. The snobby Chelsea Set wanted to mix with such people. ‘Anybody who had any sort of character or creativity or charisma was welcome,’ notes Lord St Germans, one of the dandies involved in Beatles merchandising, adding that ‘it helped to be good-looking’. The young started to dress differently, women wearing bright make-up and short skirts, pioneered by the designer Mary Quant; while men grew their hair and affected an eclectic mixture of modish, foppish and antique clothing. The trend-setters shopped in boutiques in the King’s Road and on Carnaby Street in Soho. They met up at night in such fashionable clubs as the Ad Lib, a penthouse above Leicester Square from which one could observe the futuristic Post Office Tower-an icon of the new, white-hot Britain - being erected in Fitzrovia.
How wonderful it was to be young, good-looking and successful in London at this time, moreover to be loved and admired by people all over the world, the money absolutely pouring in. Paul was in this happy position. Despite the niggardly royalty deal the Beatles had with EMI, and the unfavourable terms of the publishing agreement with Dick James, the star was informed by his accountant in 1965 that he was a millionaire. He was earning so much he kept fat envelopes of spare cash in his sock drawer at Wimpole Street. He’d done the right thing by his nearest and dearest, buying Dad a house on the Wirral, and giving his kid brother an allowance; he’d treated himself to some boys’ toys, notably his Aston Martin and Radford Mini de Ville (a souped-up Mini with a luxurious interior); and he’d given Jane some nice gifts, too, bits of jewellery and other fripperies. Now he proved how serious he was about their relationship by taking Jane shopping for a house.
Paul chose a property in Cavendish Avenue, a quiet residential street in St John’s Wood, within walking distance of Lord’s Cricket Ground, Regent’s Park and, most importantly, the EMI studios on Abbey Road. ‘He wanted to be right above the shop,’ notes Tony Barrow. ‘He wanted to do that for the purposes of self-achievement, further climbing up the ladder. You can’t do that if you are stuck out in the country.’ Paul could also get into the West End easily from St John’s Wood, while his chosen neighbourhood retained a village-like atmosphere, community life focused around the shops on Circus Road, where Paul became a patron of the pub, Post Office, greengrocer, café and grocery store. To this day he pops into Panzer’s for his bagels and enjoys a drink at the Star on nearby Charlbert Street.
As Tony Barrow correctly indicates, buying a house in this neighbourhood represented a further step up for Paul. Step one had been from Speke to a better class of council house on Forthlin Road; step two was lodging in Wimpole Street with the Ashers; step three saw him ensconcing himself among rich and distinguished neighbours living in grand mid-nineteenth-century houses built for the gentry. The Honourable David Astor, Editor of the Observer and son of Lord and Lady Astor - whose stately home, Clivedon House, had been used for the ‘Buckingham Palace’ scenes in Help! - was one such neighbour, as were the journalist Woodrow Wyatt, Labour MP Leo Abse and the actor Harry H. Corbett, star of Steptoe and Son. On the west side of the avenue, behind high brick walls and double gates, stood a series of large, detached mansions with raised ground-floor drawing rooms, kitchens below and servants’ quarters in the attics, very Upstairs Downstairs. There were stables in the back from the days when residents kept carriages. Most had since been converted into garages, and one or two neighbours ran a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce. It was one of these properties, 7 Cavendish Avenue, that Paul bought for £40,000 ($61,200) in April 1965, then spent a small fortune having done up over the course of the next year. Paul referred to his new house simply as Cavendish. It is still his London home.
As renovations were made to his new home, Paul remained in his garret in Wimpole Street, where was born the most successful song he or virtually any songwriter of his generation wrote, a song that would be covered by more than 3,000 artists and played millions of times on the radio, what Paul refers to as ‘possibly the smash of the century’. One morning in 1963 Paul awoke in his garret with a melody in his head that he assumed was a jazz standard, one of the songs his father used to play that had insinuated itself into his unconscious. Paul went straight to the piano. ‘I just fell out of bed, found out what key I had dreamed it in, and it seemed near G, and I played it,’ he told journalist Ray Coleman.
I said to myself: I wonder what it is, you know. I just couldn’t figure it [all out], because I’d just woken up. And I got a couple of chords to it. I got the G, then I got the nice F sharp minor seventh, that was the bigwaaaahhhh. That led very naturally to the B which led very naturally to the E minor. It just kept sort of tumbling out with those chords. I thought: well this is very nice, but it’s a nick … [By which he meant that the melody was so perfect he couldn’t believe it had come to him in a dream.] There was no logic to it at all. And I’d never had that. And I’ve never had it since. This was the crazy thing about this song. It was fairly mystical when I think about it, because of the circumstances. It was the only song I ever dreamed!
Paul played the tune for friends wherever he went, at the Georges V in Paris, backstage at concerts, to the extent that it became a joke within the band, George Harrison grumbling that anybody would think Paul was Ludwig van-bloody-Beethoven the way he went on about that tune. Paul was canvassing as many people as possible to see if it really was an original composition, and played the tune one evening at the home of the singer Alma Cogan. At this point there were no words. Alma’s mother came in and asked if anybody would like a snack of scrambled eggs. Paul began to play the tune over with new dummy lyrics, ‘Scrambled eggs/Oh my baby how I love your legs/oh scrambled eggs’, and this became the working title of the song: ‘Scrambled Eggs’.
In May 1965 Paul and Jane took up a standing invitation from Bruce Welch of the Shadows to visit him at his holiday home in Portugal. The couple flew first to Lisbon, and were then chauffeur-driven the 160 miles south to the Algarve. Paul occupied himself during the long drive by fitting words to his new tune. The moment they got to the villa, Paul dashed for a guitar like somebody in need of the toilet. ‘He said straight away, “Have you got a guitar?” I could see he had been writing the lyrics on the way down; he had the paper in his hand as he arrived,’ recollects Welch. Although Paul had written reflective love songs before, notably ‘Things We Said Today’, the lyric to this new song was surprisingly mature for a man approaching his 23rd birthday, reflecting on a broken love affair.
Why she had to go, I don’t know, she wouldn’t say.
I said something wrong, now I long for yesterday.
It was a song of confusion, defeat and regret, emotions one wouldn’t imagine Paul had much experience of, from what we know of his young life, and radically different to the upbeat songs that had made the Beatles popular. Here was a lachrymose ballad more suited to artists like Frank Sinatra or Ray Charles (both would cover it). Paul’s innately musical mind had somehow conjured a classic - a mark of genius - to which he’d finally put words. The words are not brilliant, but the lyric does resonate. Paul has suggested that the song related to the death of his mother, showing how deep that loss ran.
When he got back to London, Paul performed ‘Yesterday’ for the band and George Martin at EMI where they were finishing the Help! soundtrack.
Ringo said, ‘I can’t really put any drums on - it wouldn’t make sense.’ And John and George said, ‘There’s no point in having another guitar.’ So George Martin suggested, ‘Why don’t you just try it yourself and see how it works?’ I looked at the others: ‘Oops. You mean a solo record?’ They said, ‘Yeah, it doesn’t matter, there’s nothing we can add to it - do it.’
Played solo on acoustic guitar, ‘Yesterday’ sounded a little like a Dylan song. What made ‘Yesterday’ distinctively Beatlesque was George Martin’s decision to orchestrate it with strings, not in the schmaltzy style of Mantovani, but using a string quartet to lend the song a classical elegance. Unable to read or write music, Paul’s contribution to creating the string accompaniment was limited to listening to what George did and making comments, though his comments didn’t lack perspicacity. Paul made it clear, for example, that he didn’t like the way the session musicians hired for the job - two violins, cello and viola - added vibrato. Paul insisted they play the notes precisely. A little vibrato crept in, but not enough to make the recording like Muzak (though ‘Yesterday’ would be used as that). Arranging this record was a turning point for George Martin in his relationship with the band, after which he made an increasingly significant, creative contribution. ‘It was on “Yesterday””, he said, ‘that I started to score their music.’ Partly as a result, Beatles’ records began to become more interesting. Paul knew they had done something special. He went out clubbing that night, running into a friend at the Ad Lib. ‘I just recorded this great song,’ he told Terry Doran (a car dealer friend of Brian Epstein’s, later referenced in ‘She’s Leaving Home’ as the ‘man from the motor trade’). ‘It’s so good!’ he told Terry, who thought Paul impossibly conceited.
It was at the Ad Lib around this time that John and George had their first, life-changing acid trip, long before Paul tried the drug. John and Cynthia and George and his girlfriend Pattie Boyd had been to a dinner party at the home of their dentist. After dinner the dentist slipped the drug - then unrestricted and little understood - without warning into their coffee, insisting mysteriously that they stayed where they were. John and George suspected the dentist was trying to get them and the girls into an orgy. The dentist said no, admitting rather that he’d dosed them with LSD. John was furious. George didn’t even know what LSD was. Although it had been in existence since the 1940s, lysergic acid diethylamide was only beginning to be used recreationally, its powers as yet little understood. It would come to have a considerable effect on the Beatles’ music.
Despite his warnings, the Beatles decided they would have to leave their dentist’s house. Their Hamburg friend Klaus Voormann had formed a band with Paddy Chambers and Gibson Kemp, the drummer who replaced Ringo in the Hurricanes. Paddy, Klaus and Gibson were playing the Pickwick Club, and John, George and the girls wanted to see them. George drove them all in Pattie’s Mini, which seemed to be shrinking as they travelled across town. After watching Paddy, Klaus and Gibson at the Pickwick, the party moved on to the Ad Lib. ‘Suddenly I felt the most incredible feeling come over me,’ George recollected. ‘It was something like a very concentrated version of the best feeling I’d ever had in my whole life.’ To reach the Ad Lib the Beatles had to enter a door on Leicester Place, next to the Prince Charles Theatre, and take an elevator to the penthouse. There was a red light in the lift. As the lift rose, the light seemed to glow like fire. As George recalled, ‘it felt as though the elevator was on fire and we were going into Hell, but at the same time we were all in hysterics and crazy. Eventually we got out at the Ad Lib, on the top floor, and sat there, probably for hours and hours.’ Ritchie was there. He listened as his friends babbled about the fire in the lift. John noticed that their table was s - t - r - e - t - c - h - i - n - g. At dawn George drove Pattie, John and Cynthia home to Surrey very, very slowly.
The boys couldn’t wait to tell Paul. John had always loved Alice in Wonderland and here was a drug that could send him down the rabbit hole any time he liked. He urged Paul to take LSD without delay. Paul’s reaction highlights an essential difference between him and his friend, one that would become more pronounced.
I really was frightened of that kind of stuff because it’s what you are taught when you’re young. “Hey, watch out for them devil drugs.” So when acid came round we’d heard that you’re never the same. It alters your life and you never think the same again, and I think John was rather excited by that prospect. I was rather frightened by that prospect. I thought, Just what I need! Some funny little thing where I can never get back home again.
So Paul declined LSD, and kept declining as John and George took more acid trips, growing closer as a result. They were in the LSD club now, and Paul wasn’t. It created a rift.
At the end of June the Beatles went on a European tour, after which was the London première of Help! ‘It looks good but becomes too tiresome to entertain,’ as film critic Leslie Halliwell wrote succinctly. Although not as enjoyable as A Hard Day’s Night, Help! did well at the box office; the eponymous single was number one and the album, with its striking semaphore cover, would also top the charts. Buried on side two of the UK release, between ‘I’ve Just Seen a Face’ and the closing track ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy’, was Paul’s ‘Yesterday’, which was a strange way to present such a great ballad, but then again the song sounded different to everything the Beatles had previously recorded.
The stage début of ‘Yesterday’ took place in the unlikely setting of a TV variety show broadcast from Blackpool, the seaside resort north of Liverpool. Blackpool Night Out was an independent television programme presented by comedian brothers Mike and Bernie Winters, broad family entertainment featuring comics, dancers and singers. Televised live, the show was watched by millions of people across the country. So it was that the band took the stage at the Blackpool ABC on Sunday 1 August 1965 to promote Help! Halfway through their set, George announced that Paul was going to sing the next song alone. He made the introduction with a sarcastic reference to another popular TV show, Opportunity Knocks, in which neophyte acts tried to break into the big time by winning the votes of a television audience: ‘And so for Paul McCartney of Liverpool,’ George said, in impersonation of presenter Hughie Green, ‘Opportunity Knocks!’
‘Thank you, George,’ muttered his friend, now alone on stage with his acoustic guitar. A spotlight focused on Paul as he mimed to the EMI recording of ‘Yesterday’, a song so sad that the girls in the audience momentarily ceased screaming. At the end John led the other band members back on stage, handing Paul a joke bouquet of flowers that came apart in his hand. ‘Thank you, Ringo,’ Lennon said snidely to McCartney. ‘That was wonderful.’
From Blackpool to New York! The show the Beatles played two weeks later at the William A. Shea Municipal Stadium in New York City was nothing less than the first ever stadium pop concert.
Hitherto, British pop bands worked their way up from clubs to dance halls before establishing themselves on a national circuit of cinemas and theatres. Some - the Hammersmith Odeon, the London Palladium - were larger and more prestigious than others, holding around 3,000 people, and occasionally bands played the Royal Albert Hall, which seated over 5,000, but few artists ever played anything larger. The Beatles, being unique, had played to bigger audiences in North America - 18,700 at the Hollywood Bowl; 20,000 at Empire Stadium in Vancouver, big arenas by modern standards - but no music act, British or American, had ever attempted to put on a show in a sports stadium. No act had the pulling power to fill so many seats and, technically speaking, it was impossible to amplify a band adequately in such a capacious venue.
It was Sid Bernstein who had the chutzpah to make history. Having successfully booked the Beatles for two shows at Carnegie Hall on their first visit to the United States, the ebullient New York promoter realised he could have sold those seats many times over. He started talking to Brian Epstein about putting the boys on at Madison Square Garden in ’65. The Garden then held 17,000 people.17 When he did his sums, Sid saw that even this venue wasn’t large enough to accommodate all the New Yorkers who might want to see the boys perform. ‘I’m changing my mind. I’d like to do them at Shea Stadium,’ Sid told Brian over the telephone, referring to the home of the New York Mets.
‘How big is that?’ asked Epstein.
‘Fifty-five thousand seats,’ replied Sid. This meant that the Beatles could play to as many people in one night as they could over three weeks at Carnegie Hall. When Brian had digested the data, he expressed cautious excitement.
‘I don’t want an empty seat in the house, Sid.’
‘Brian, I’ll give you $10 for every empty seat.’
Neither Sid nor Brian needed to worry. All 55,600 tickets - priced around $5.00, plus taxes - sold. Not only would the Beatles at Shea Stadium be the biggest show any act had played, it would be the Beatles’ highest-earning single engagement at $180,000, worth about $1.2 million in today’s money (or £802,352).
Sunday 15 August 1965 was a beautiful late summer day. Fans started arriving early, girls dressed in light dresses, tanned from the long holidays, many accompanied by their parents. Gradually the layers of bleacher seats filled, the noise level escalating as thousands of girls decided to start screaming early. They carried on screaming through the sunny day, through all the support acts - a peculiar selection of singers, jazz bands, disco dancers and celebrity announcers - enjoying a collective and prolonged hysterical fit. Many got so worked up they fainted. Late in the afternoon the Beatles boarded a helicopter in Manhattan and were flown out to the gig, everybody crowding the windows to peer down at the horseshoe-shaped stadium. In the sulphurous gloaming, 55,000 fans looked up at the red, white and blue chopper hovering overhead and, realising the Beatles were on board, many took flash pictures ‘to create a momentary display of dazzling light that lit up the evening sky’, as Tony Barrow later wrote. When they landed, the boys were transported to the stadium in a Wells Fargo armoured truck.
Around a quarter past nine, when the temperature had dropped and it was properly dark, Ed Sullivan, whose company was filming the show, sidled on stage to make the introduction. ‘Here are the Beatles!’ White noise. ‘Here they come.’ Louder noise. Unlike a modern stadium show, where the audience’s first view of the act is the moment they appear on stage, the Beatles ran out of the tunnel under the stands, as if they were about to play a baseball game, sprinting across the diamond to take their places on the stage. Another way in which this seminal stadium show was arranged more like a sports event than a rock concert, as we have become accustomed to, was that fans weren’t permitted to sit or stand in front of the stage. Everybody was seated back in the bleachers, though virtually the entire audience was on their feet now, screaming, many girls trying to scale the mesh fence penning them back while fatherly cops tried to persuade them to be sensible and get down.
John, Paul, George and Ringo, wearing beige, army-style tunics with black trousers and Wells Fargo badges, looked happy and excited. Ever the professional, Paul paused to thank Mr Sullivan for his introduction, then joined the others in their usual short, frantic set, a set that looks puny and amateurish in such a vast space when viewed today on DVD, especially so in comparison to the thunderous stadium concerts Paul McCartney now plays. Each short song was prefaced with a few corny words of introduction. ‘We’d like to carry on with a song from Yesterday and Today,’ said George, for example, referring to the Capitol album of that name. ‘This one is a single as well, and it features Paul singing a very nice song called “Yesterday”.’ The sound was appalling, like listening to somebody singing down the telephone from Australia. Normally the Beatles used 30-watt Vox speakers on stage; for Shea they had special 100-watt speakers, but the music was essentially relayed via the PA system, as used for baseball announcements. Also, the acoustics in an open-air stadium are different to a theatre. Sound is blown about with the wind. And, of course, there were no Jumbo screens to help the fans see the performers. Despite all these shortcomings, almost everybody at Shea had a great time. Among the thousands straining to see and hear were Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who went on to perfect the stadium rock tour with the Rolling Stones in the Eighties and Nineties. A bank of white lights were shining directly at Paul, making him sweat profusely on what was already a warm evening. The show was being filmed by cameramen standing directly in front of the stage. Nevertheless, all the Beatles had a ball, with John behaving much as he had back at the Kaiserkeller when he got over-excited: pulling faces, speaking in tongues and stopping short to comment on what he saw. ‘Ah! Look at ’er. Ah!’ he said as he watched cops chase a stray fan running across the diamond. By the time they came to the last song, John was playing the organ with his elbows and laughing his head off, George giggling along with him. Paul, ‘sweating cobs’ under the lights, as they say in northern England,18 remained focused, as if he had done it all before, though even he had to laugh at the end.
After New York the Beatles played a series of arena concerts across North America, working their way west to California where five days had been set aside for rest and recuperation. The boys ensconced themselves in a house in the Hollywood Hills, where they hung out with actor Peter Fonda and members of the Byrds, and where John and George turned Ritchie and Nell on to LSD. ‘I played pool with Neil Aspinall, ’ recalls Don Short, one of the friendly Fleet Street journalists invited to hang out with the band in LA. ‘Neil Aspinall played like a demon genius. He potted every ball. He said later that he saw every ball as the size of a football - I was totally unaware of what they were up to.’
Though he still refrained from trying LSD, Paul did get laid in Los Angeles, according to starlet Peggy Lipton, his squeeze from his last trip to the coast. Paul invited her over to the house for dinner, to John’s amusement, as the actress recalls: ‘I got the idea that he thought Paul was an idiot to take a girl so seriously he’d actually invite her to dinner, when all he really needed to do was fuck her after dinner.’ Again, the chief point of interest is that Paul was prepared to cheat on Jane, whom he was still with. He’d just given her a diamond pendant for her 19th birthday, and was planning to move into Cavendish with her when the decorators were finished. Considering what was on offer to the Beatles, it would of course have been amazing had Paul remained faithful on the road, and it seems he was far from that. On his return from America, Paul confided to his Uncle Mike how wild he had been out west. ‘He said to me, “Have you ever tried four in the bed?” when they came back from America and [the girls] were laid on by the studios. I said, “Four in a bed?” He said, “Yes.” Three gorgeous blondes and him.’ To which Uncle Mike could only exclaim: ‘Gor blimey!’
This was also the week the Beatles met Elvis Presley at his house in Bel Air. Expectations for the meeting were high. Elvis had been Paul’s number one musical hero as a boy, likewise John, though both had a low opinion of the work Presley had done after being drafted into the army. The Elvis the boys were about to meet was now 30 years old and settled into an undemanding life of routine and mediocrity, acting in a seemingly endless series of jukebox movies, the likes of Paradise, Hawaiian Style, which he’d just finished shooting. In this, as in everything he did professionally, Elvis was the pawn of his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, who exploited his artist without a care for the music that originally entertained and inspired so many people. In many ways Elvis was an example of how not to conduct a career.
When the boys entered Elvis’s home on North Perugia Way, the King was watching a mute TV, simultaneously playing electric bass to a record on the jukebox. The Memphis Mafia were gathered around him, the Beatles bringing their own gang of cronies. On this occasion the gang included Neil, Mal, Tony Barrow and NME journalist Chris Hutchins, who’d helped arrange the meeting. Brian and the Colonel were also present, ‘watching over their stars like parents’, as Hutchins observed. After some desultory conversation, the boys picked up instruments and played along with Presley, Paul sitting on the sofa next to his hero. He wasn’t overwhelmed. Indeed, he joked that Brian might be able to find El a job playing bass in one of his Mersey Beat bands. They also talked of cars and touring, exchanging horror stories. ‘We’ve had some crazy experiences,’ Paul told Presley. ‘One fellow rushed on stage and pulled the leads out of the amplifiers and said to me, “One move and you’re dead.”’ The King concurred that it could be real scary out there. As they left the house after what was a relatively short and stilted meeting, John Lennon quoted from the movie Whistle Down the Wind, in which Alan Bates’s fugitive character is mistaken briefly for Jesus Christ by a gang of children. ‘That wasn’t Jesus,’ he told the lads, ‘that was just a fella.’ In later years Paul put the best perspective on the summit, saying: ‘It was one of the great meetings of my life.’ It was Elvis after all, the man who had inspired them, his career in decline as theirs was ascendant. ‘I only met him that once, and then I think the success of our career started to push him out a little; which we were very sad about … He was our greatest idol, but the styles were changing in favour of us.’
Elvis’s highest-placed single in the Billboard chart that year was ‘Crying in the Chapel’, which reached number three in May 1965. The Beatles scored five US number ones in the same year, the fourth of which was Paul’s ‘Yesterday’. Never released in Britain as a single, but put out by Capitol in the USA, ‘Yesterday’ spent four weeks at the top of the chart that autumn. Over the years it would become the most successful Beatles song of all, the first to receive five million airplays in America and counting.