John’s first wife has been written off as a mere support act. Now a new play recognises her importance in the story of the Beatles
The true identity of the “fifth Beatle” is a contentious matter for fans of the Fab Four. The name of Stuart Sutcliffe, John Lennon’s close friend, is often put forward, as is the ousted drummer, Pete Best. Others claim the title for manager Brian Epstein or record producer George Martin. Yet Cynthia Lennon, the artist by the young Lennon’s side for a decade, is never even considered.
Now a new play about the powerful influence of the first Mrs Lennon is to make the case that she held the band together during the years of their greatest success. “I want to get across how important she was in John’s life, and not just because of their son Julian,” said playwright Mike Howl. “John used to write to her every single day while he was out in Hamburg, playing in the night clubs of the Reeperbahn. Her friends told me they saw some of these letters. I do think that without Cynthia’s love, John would have gone completely off the rails.”
Source: Vanessa Thorpe/theguardian.com
There’s no denying that 1965’s Rubber Soul was a breakthrough for The Beatles. With that record, the band had moved far beyond the “Love Me Do” and “From Me to You” tunes that defined their early records. In their place, you found tracks like “Girl” and “I’m Looking Through You.”
Marijuana and the music of Bob Dylan influenced the Fab Four’s songwriting heavily during this time. You could hear it clearly in John Lennon songs like “In My Life” and “Nowhere Man.” The subject matter was richer, and John was ready to explore new themes.
Looking back on this period before he died, John seemed especially proud of “In My Life.” With that track, he resolved to look into his own past for the first time and translate his experiences into song lyrics. The result was an unqualified success, but he needed a little help.
With all the Beatles brouhaha, it’s easy to forget that Yoko Ono was a boundary-pushing and successful conceptual artist long before a certain Mr Lennon entered the picture.
In fact, he met her thanks to her artwork; cheekily taking a bite from an apple that was actually one of her installation pieces.
Born in Tokyo, Ono studied philosophy before moving to New York in 1953 and soon become a key figure in the city’s avant-garde scene. In 1960, she opened her Chambers Street loft and presented a series of radical works with composer and artist La Monte Young.
One of her most famous works, Cut Piece, was first performed in 1964 and saw the artist sit alone on a stage in her best suit, with a pair of scissors in front of her. The audience had been instructed that they could take turns approaching her and use the scissors to cut off a small piece of her clothing, which was theirs to keep.
The Beatles’ first contract with manager Brian Epstein – marking the start of their transformation into world-conquering pop band – is going under the hammer.
Epstein signed up Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Pete Best – the band’s first drummer – on January 24 1962, just two months after he first heard them play.
The paperwork, from “before any of the music that we know and love”, could fetch £300,000 at Sotheby’s.
Later dubbed the “fifth Beatle”, Epstein had no experience of band management and was running a record shop when he took up the Liverpool band.
Sotheby’s Books And Manuscripts specialist Gabriel Heaton described the contract as “an important piece of our cultural history” and a “transformative document”.
John Lennon was the first Beatle to join the group. (Lennon didn’t meet Paul McCartney until the Quarrymen, the pre-Beatles skiffle band that Lennon founded, played their second show.) Lennon was also the first Beatle to release a solo single, and the first to leave the band. But he was the last Beatle to hit #1. That must’ve been weird.
The nascent rock-critical industry certainly regarded Lennon as the most important, poetic, and generally great Beatle, and much of the public probably agreed. But Lennon wasn’t making hits. All of Lennon’s former bandmates had multiple #1 singles before Lennon ascended to that summit. By the time he got there, Lennon didn’t even think it was possible. He’d spent his immediate post-Beatles years carving out a different path, becoming the world’s loudest and most visible protest performance-artist, staging public stunts with his wife Yoko Ono. He and Ono had done what they could to inject rock ‘n’ roll with avant-garde sensibilities — sometimes successfully, sometimes not. He’d become a public voice against the Vietnam War and against Richard Nixon, and Nixon spent years trying to get him deported as a result.
Source: Tom Breihan/stereogum.com
Few songs are as well known as “Yesterday,” the Paul McCartney classic that went out on The Beatles’ Help! album in 1965. In fact, when BMI rounded up the most-played songs of the 20th century, it landed at No. 3 with more than 7 million radio airplays. (That count came 19 years ago.)
For a band that had rocked to No. 1 in America with tracks like “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You,” fans definitely got a different look with “Yesterday.” For starters, none of Paul’s bandmates appeared on the record.
There was no harmonizing from John Lennon, no guitar work by George Harrison, and not even a lick by Ringo. In their place, you hear a string quartet accompanying Paul on acoustic guitar.