Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Behind the Spotlight

Two Years Ago

by Billy Shepherd and Johnny Dean

John Lennon has always had pretty fixed ideas on what a star owes to other people. Just a couple of years ago, in September of 1965, he had been with the other Beatles to meet Elvis Presley at the EP mansion in Bel Air. An historic occasion, and one which had a big effect on John.

Afterwards, John said: "When you get to the position of being a star, you owe a lot to the fans and to the people who pay you your money. This means that you turn up on time for shows and you work as hard as you possibly can. You treat each show as important as the last one, whether it is for a TV audience of millions or a theatre audience of a few thousand.

"And when it comes to records, you put every bit of effort and enthusiasm into each one. We all owe it to people to keep the standards high. But I feel that when I'm through with work, then my life simply has to be my own. I don't owe twenty-four hours of every day. My family should be protected because they are part of the other me, not the one who gets up there on stage."

Home Life

And this is still John's fervent belief. He appreciates that there must be a lot of interest in his home life but he doesn't encourage it. He was saying recently that the meeting with Elvis had a lot to do with that. He admired the quiet family life that El still had, despite having been a world star for a good five years longer than the Beatles. He had worked for his privacy and he held on to it despite everything.

John also talked about the difference between the public life of a solo singer as compared with a group. He told Elvis that the Beatles were lucky in having four people up there taking control of the barrage of hysteria. He owned up: "If I was shoved up there, all on my own, I think I would just break up." Well, since then John has been to a lot of places on his own--and he has made his film debut as an individual. But he still hasn't gone on stage to put on a whole show by himself. . . and nor have any other of the boys.

Very Aware

But this doesn't stop them appreciating the problems of other people in the big-time show-business. They are all as aware of the difficulties as of the rewards of remaining up there in the glare of about ten million spotlights.

Oddly enough, though, Elvis . . . "a real star" in the opinion of George Harrison . . . doesn't get regular hit records nowadays. While the Beatles bask, at the time of writing, in the luxury of a number one single and a number one LP, Elvis has become rather patchy in terms of success. Of course, filming is his number one priority these days but going back two years ago an interesting point came out in that meeting between the two giant attractions. El was asking Paul and John just how many hits they'd written so far, and saying that he wished he had more time to pursue his writing. John suddenly broke off and asked Elvis why it was that he didn't go back to his old-style record-making--the wild rock 'n' roll which made Presley an international attraction. El wasn't too sure how to answer this at first. But funnily enough he has since come out with wild rockers and they have proved every bit as successful as his ballads.

So lots of side issues came out of that show-business summit meeting. I'll always remember Ringo saying of Elvis: "Fantastic. He was just like one of us. None of the old Hollywood show-off thing."

Incidentally in that September of 1965, "Help" was just starting to move down the charts. A real eye-opening experience is to play that old track over and then compare it with something like "All You Need Is Love". That gives you an idea of how different the Beatle sounds are from record to record. And how they have developed.

There was a big protest scene going two years ago. Songs with arguments against war, like "Universal Soldier", "Eve of Destruction" and so on were all the rage in the charts. Of course, the Beatles don't actually protest . . . but the word "love" figures in a lot of their song titles. Paul has always been strong on this--as he said recently: "We hope to get people thinking more about love, rather than hate. This is a time in history when what is needed is love, not violence."

Some people accuse the Beatles of merely paying lip service to this, but that's not true. Through the years, they have concentrated on getting across the message that love is fine--and not something to hide under a blanket of bravado.

Beatles Double

But enough of that. Back in September 1965, the Beatles were chalking up some more incredible popularity poll results. This time, it was the Melody Maker poll--a paper with a readership that has a strong jazz-musical backbone, though also reflecting pop tastes of the moment. So in came the Beatles to run away with the group department at both British and World levels. The Americans they pipped handsomely in the World Section were the Everlys, the Beach Boys, the Jordanaires, Supremes.

John Lennon was fourth in the British singer section; George Harrison was second favourite musician. Their vocal record "Ticket To Ride" topped that department but "I Feel Fine" was also listed. John Lennon was third top male TV artist--and seventh in the world singer section. George Harrison was fourth in the world musician rating . . . and in the world listing for vocal records the boys came second with "Ticket To Ride" to . . . yep, Elvis Presley cropped up again with "Crying In The Chapel", which happened to be one Presley disc that the boys didn't rate very highly. However in this last section, the Beatles again were the only group or artist to have two records ("I Feel Fine" was the other) in the top ten.

Ringo Hits Top 100

But what amused Ringo most of all was that his vocal on "Act Naturally" actually made the American top hundred.

Actually it was a fitting little celebration present for Ringo, seeing his name up there in the charts. Because in mid-September, the 13th to be exact, he became the extremely proud father of a baby boy. Yes, Zak made his first appearance in front of the world at Queen Charlotte's Hospital. It was a busy day, one way and another. Maureen Starr was rushed into Hospital early in the morning and Ringo went with her, not getting back home until 11 p.m. that day. He phoned his parents in Liverpool, grabbed some shut-eye and then raced back to the hospital early the next day. History repeated itself last month when Ringo's new baby was born.

Most of the month, the boys were on holiday . . . recovering from their hectic American tour and preparing some ideas for the autumn tour which had been lined up for them. There had been theories that the boys were not keen on touring, but as George explained: "We like getting out to the fans but we are doing fewer things now because we think people have seen more than enough of us in the past couple of years."

George also said with great candour: "Wherever you play you're bound to upset someone. It's when you see the situation from the management side that you realise you really can't win."

However there were quite a few things the boys COULD win during that particular autumn. But more about those next month.

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