No matter how much of a super fan you are of The Beatles, there are some things about the Fab Four you just don’t know. Believe me, it was a humbling experience to realize some factoids that escaped me. For example, did you know that in August 1968, Ringo left the band in a huff during the recording of “The White Album,” in a life-imitating-art kind of way — just like when he took off in A Hard Day’s Night? Or that John Lennon often slept in a coffin?
We dug up many more fantabulous factoids to show you there was really more going on under the surface. The takeaway? While they might have been the most famous members of the human race for the seven years they were together, they really weren’t that much different from the rest of us. The foibles, the missteps and the rather mundane inspirations they turned into something truly extraordinary, are things we can all relate to. Except for John Lennon? He once told producer George Martin to make a song sound “orange.” See what we mean.
“I Feel Fine.” John Lennon bragged that the Beatles’ 1964 single was one of the first pop songs to use guitar feedback. “I defy anybody to find an earlier record,” he asserted in a 1980 Playboy interview, “unless it is some old blues record from the ’20s.” Paul McCartney agreed in a 1994 interview, adding that the effect was discovered by accident; Lennon absentmindedly leaned his guitar against an amplifier and liked the sound so much he used it in the song. Luckily Lennon added the proviso, since Johnny “Guitar” Watson had been intentionally screeching out otherworldly feedback sounds and reverb since 1954’s “Space Guitar.” How to reconcile that? Beatle scholars credit it as one of the first pop songs to use guitar feedback.
“Rain.” While the jury might still be out on the feedback issue, The Beatles do get credit for becoming one of the first popular acts to use backward tape loops in their 1966 song “Rain.” It was some of these backward messages that would be used by conspiracy theorists as “proof” that Paul McCartney was dead in 1969; an urban myth that stemmed from the bassist’s moped accident in 1966.
“Ticket to Ride.” Paul McCartney claimed the song was inspired by a romantic train ride on the Isle of Wight, while John Lennon, always the contrarian, insisted the ticket reference was to cards indicating a clean bill of health for Hamburg prostitutes in the 1960s, where The Beatles performed from August 1960 to December 1962.
“Hey Jude” was originally titled “Hey Jules” after John Lennon’s 5-year-old son, Julian. Lennon believed it to be his erstwhile partner’s greatest song and convinced him to keep the rather odd line “the movement you need is on your shoulder,” after McCartney tried to change it. More than seven minutes in length, “Hey Jude” was then the longest single to top the U.K. charts.
“Ballad of John and Yoko.” While credited to Lennon/McCartney, this is technically a John Lennon solo composition written during his honeymoon in Paris with Yoko Ono. Its indicative his loyalties are shifting to Yoko, his new wife, and away from his bandmates.
“Ticket to Ride.” While a facile bass player, Paul McCartney played lead guitar on several tracks, including “Ticket to Ride,” “Taxman,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Good Morning Good Morning” and “Back in the U.S.S.R.” George Harrison would often be congratulated on them, and would reply, “No, that was Paul.”
Just to keep things equal, George Harrison played bass on “She Said She Said.” This was the very rare track that Paul McCartney did not appear on.
“A Day in the Life.” Just to prove it takes a village to turn out a hit, that famous final chord in the song was played simultaneously by McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, George Martin, and the band’s road manager, Mal Evans, on three separate pianos.
“Paperback Writer.” John Lennon and George Harrison sang “Frere Jacques” on the background vocals of this “Paperback Writer.”
Paul McCartney played the drums on “Back in the U.S.S.R.” and “Dear Prudence” from The Beatles, aka “The White Album,” after Ringo Starr stormed out of the studio. Although they wouldn’t officially disband until April 1970, this was one of the first signs The Beatles were starting to unravel. It was August 22, 1968, a little more than six years to the day after he joined, when Ringo walked out during the sessions. But after some time and distance Ringo decided to return two weeks later. His bandmates were overjoyed and covered his drum kit in flowers that spelled out: “Welcome Home, Ringo.”
“The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill.” You know that flamenco guitar you’ve always liked on the intro to “Bungalow Bill”? Not wanting to shatter anyone’s illusions, but it was actually a Mellotron. Fans have speculated which band member played the guitar at the beginning of “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill,” but it’s just someone pressing a note on a Mellotron and triggering a tape loop of flamenco guitar.
“Because” from Abbey Road was inspired by Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 (commonly known as the “Moonlight Sonata”), but played in reverse. Yoko Ono played the piece’s first movement at the piano and John Lennon asked her to play the chord progression backward, then he wrote a melody around it. This from the guy who claimed he liked to play “conceptual chess” with a board or pieces.
“Get Back.” The first draft of “Get Back” included the line “Don’t dig no Pakistani taking all the people’s jobs,” but the line was eliminated when the band realized the lyric, intended to be an ironic comment on right-wing groups attacking Pakistani immigrants, would be interpreted as racist.
“Can’t Buy Me Love.” Sound engineer Norman Smith played all the hi-hat parts in “Can’t Buy Me Love” after he found out the tape the percussion tracks had been recorded on had a ripple in it when it arrived at Abbey Road, losing the treble in Ringo Starr’s performance. Smith recorded new parts and never told a soul until 40 years later.
“Martha My Dear.” While deeply romantic, Paul McCartney wrote “Martha My Dear” about his beloved Old English sheepdog, even though he had just met Linda Eastman, who he would later marry, around the same time.
“I Am the Walrus.” The “egg man” in “I Am the Walrus” was a reference to John Lennon’s friend Eric Burdon of The Animals. Lennon nicknamed him that after Burdon told him a story about a sexual encounter he had with a Jamaican woman who cracked an egg on his bare stomach and licked the yolk off his body.
“When I’m Sixty-Four.” Although credited to Lennon/McCartney, Paul wrote “When I’m Sixty-Four” on his father’s piano when he was 16. It was more a throwaway for the band, played during the band’s residency at The Cavern Club, usually with just Paul on piano to kill time if one of the amps broke.
“Come Together.” The song began as a campaign song for LSD guru Timothy Leary when he ran for governor of California in 1969. Leary’s campaign slogan was “come together, join the party,” with “party” intended as a reference to drug culture. Leary’s campaign came to an end when he was jailed for marijuana possession, which freed John Lennon up to rework the track. Leary later attacked Lennon for “stealing” the idea, but Lennon maintained he did nothing wrong since he wrote it.
“I Saw Her Standing There.” Genius borrows department. In his autobiography, Paul McCartney confesses that the bass line from “I Saw Her Standing There” was taken from Chuck Berry’s “I’m Talking About You.” “I played exactly the same notes as he did and it fitted our number perfectly,” he said. “Even now when I tell people about it, I find few of them believe me. Therefore I maintain that a bass riff doesn’t have to be original.”
“With a Little Help from My Friends.” The original line in “With a Little Help from My Friends” was “What would you do if I sang out of tune/Would you stand up and throw tomatoes at me?” Ringo Starr insisted that Paul McCartney and John Lennon change the lyric because he didn’t want anyone to actually throw tomatoes at him. They complied. After all, they’d been through an earlier debacle of fans throwing jelly beans at them after George Harrison admitted he liked jelly babies (not the same thing) in an interview. Harrison commented, “We don’t like jelly babies, or fruit gums for that matter, so think how we feel standing onstage trying to dodge the stuff, before you throw some more at us.”
“Savoy Truffle.” To continue with the sweets theme, George Harrison wrote “Savoy Truffle” to rib his best friend Eric Clapton about his obsession with chocolate and candy. Clapton suffered at the hands of dentists as a result of his sweet tooth, inspiring the line: “You’ll have to have them all pulled out after the Savoy Truffle.”
“Helter Skelter.” Even though the Beatles were at the top of the pop heap, Paul McCartney wasn’t immune to competition, reportedly writing “Helter Skelter” after reading a Pete Townshend quote in Melody Maker where he claimed “I Can See for Miles” was the loudest, rawest, most uncompromising song they had ever recorded. McCartney decided to do one better and penned “Helter Skelter,” before he even heard The Who song.
“Yellow Submarine.” Donovan, elfin poet king of the ‘60s who wrote “Wear Your Love Like Heaven” and “Mellow Yellow,” contributed the line “Sky of blue, and sea of green, in our yellow submarine.”
“Doctor Robert.” According to Paul McCartney, John Lennon wrote “Doctor Robert” about Dr. Robert Freeman, Freymann, the owner of a New York clinic who prescribed a cocktail of vitamin B12 and huge doses of amphetamines for the glitterati, rather like Dr. Nick of Elvis fame.
“I’ve Got a Feeling” The last song John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote together, and their first real collaboration in the three years since “A Day in the Life.” But it wasn’t like their earliest songs, instead they merged two songs they each were working on because they realized they sported similar tempos: McCartney’s “I’ve Got a Feeling” and Lennon’s “Everybody Had a Hard Year.”
“Yesterday.” Keith Richards isn’t the only one who writes hits in his sleep. Paul McCartney claimed “Yesterday” came to him in a dream as a complete melody, totally realized. He made his friends listen to it, asking them, “Is this by me or did someone else write it?” The only thing he had to change was the name. In his sleep, he titled it “Scrambled Eggs.”
“She Said She Said” was inspired by the time John Lennon took LSD with David Crosby and Roger McGuinn in 1965. Reportedly, Peter Fonda turned up and spoke of having been through a near-death experience during an operation prompting Lennon to write, “I know what it’s like to be dead.” Is it possible this might have had more to do with the time when Lennon shared a Hamburg apartment with Stu Sutcliffe and would sometimes sleep in a silk-lined coffin he had stolen from a garbage dump?
“She Came in Through the Bathroom Window.” From the medley section of Abbey Road , the song is based on a true story. A fan used a ladder in Paul McCartney’s garden to climb in the bathroom window, before stealing a picture of his father, some clothes and photos taken by Linda Eastman.
“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” The song was not about LSD, despite the acronym and the rather psychedelic image of “marmalade skies” and “kaleidoscope eyes.” The inspiration came when 4-year-old Julian Lennon showed his father a drawing of a girl named Lucy who sat next to him in school. Lennon was inspired by his rendering of the girl, who Julian said was “in the sky with diamonds.” Her name was Lucy Vodden, who later moved to London where she lived until 2009 when at the age of 46 she succumbed to complications related to lupus. Julian Lennon rekindled their friendship in the last years of Vodden’s life.