Monday, June 30, 2008

Behind the Spotlight

Two Years Ago

by Billy Shepherd and Johnny Dean

Somebody wrote, quite recently, that a certain new girl singer didn't stand much chance of finding disc success because she'd never even met a Beatle! A bit on the sarcastic side, perhaps, but there's a tremendous list of pop successes which can be put down to some form of Beatle influence--a Lennon-McCartney song, a recommendation from Ringo, a suggestion from George.

Go back to March, 1966, two years ago, and there was the case of a chart-entry group who claimed that they made the breakthrough simply because Paul McCartney fancied a ciggie and didn't have his lighter with him! And that's dead serious. Group concerned, a duo actually, was the Truth. Steve Gold and Frank Aiello had made two records, but with little success.

So they went up to Dick James' offices and the Beatle publisher was talking generally to them about which Beatle songs might give them a third-time-lucky success. The one he fancied most was "Girl". The two boys talked it over--were slightly worried about the fact that they might be described as "jumping on the Beatle band-wagon". In an outer office sat their manager, Jeff Cooper. He, too, was thinking about which songs, by a variety of composers, would best suit the boys.

And in walked Paul McCartney. He fumbled in his pockets. Then he strolled over and asked Jeff, a stranger to him, if he had a light. Jeff obliged happily.

He was sure this was an omen. "We'll do the Beatle song. 'Girl' it is", he said. They did it. And it went straight into the charts. Just sheer coincidence? The Truth didn't think so. But this little yarn illustrates the importance placed on ANYTHING to do with the Beatles. . . .

Around this rather chilly month of March, it was announced that 1966 would see the Beatles touring America, Germany and Japan. Brian Epstein was off to America to fix up details for the boys' biggest-yet-money-spinning trek round the States. And George told us: "The difference between now and a few years back is that we can look right ahead over a whole year and know just where we're going to be in any given month, or week even. It makes life much easier. Most of us now have family scenes going and it's nice to be able to make long-range plans with the wife."

Oh yes, March 1966 was "Beatles At Shea Stadium" time on television. We've dealt fully with this programme in past issues of this incredibly exciting show, in front of 56,000 people, doesn't come amiss, we hope. Almost a documentary, completely entertaining. . . lots of Beatle work in a 50-minute show which also featured dancers, Brenda Holloway and the Sounds Incorporated outfit from Britain.

Quiet Month

We spent a lot of time with John Lennon during this "quietish" month of March. He explained that it was quiet because the newly-wed George was entitled to as long as he wanted for the honeymoon. "But people keep throwing this retirement thing at us. There has to be a limit to what we take on, obviously, and there's no need to go mad rushing around the country. Recording is the problem. As the years go by, Paul and I take longer actually getting down to writing material for albums and singles. Right now we've got to get a new LP finished. So what happens? George comes rushing back from his holiday with Patti and discovers that we've got very little actually done. 'Rubber Soul' seems like only yesterday, but it was a long time ago.

"George Martin wants us to get on with it. But we find that it definitely takes longer now. There's been talk about me doing a record just reading aloud some of my poems but again I don't want to start pushing things. I think I'm more the type to sit back and hope that nice things will happen to me, rather than go out rooting for new things to do. Maybe it's wrong. Not so long ago I'd be like a long-distance runner, go anywhere, if it was likely to really help the group."

Eighth Gold Disc

John might have felt he was slowing down, but the quality was higher thane ver in his writing. "Nowhere Man" was in the process of passing the million mark in the States, earning the Beatles their eighth Gold Disc for sales in America alone. Actually this was their fifth consecutive single to pass the Magic Million Mark and nobody had ever come within a mile of that sort of consistency before. No, not even E. Presley.

Tying in with the "Shea Stadium" show, the boys decided to give everyone of their fan-club members, a souvenir of the production. So they sent out a booklet of colour pictures taken from the show (remember there was no colour television here at that time) and also a replica of a front-row ticket for the performance. It may sound a fairly simple process, just addressing the envelopes and posting the souvenirs . . . but with a fan-club as big as the Beatles it was a massive operation. Another example, though, of how the Beatles liked to come up with little off-the-cuff surprises for their faithful followers. Which means YOU!

We wonder how many of you actually remember a hit record called "Woman". Well, this was by Peter and Gordon and it chased pretty high up the charts just a couple of years ago. The composer according to the label information was one Bernard Webb, and nobody in the business seemed to know who he was. Journalists started digging deep and came up with the astonishing information that it was actually . . . Paul McCartney!

It all started because of a McCartney whim. He wanted to see if one of his songs, performed without a Beatle name attached to it, could make the grade. He'd been long friendly with Peter and Gordon, for obvious reasons, and he offered them the song at exactly the moment they wanted a follow-up single . . . having already made the charts with a fully-credited Beatle song.

Good Song

Of course it was a hit simply because it was a darned good song anyway. Peter and Gordon, who have recently split up to go their separate ways, found it a terrible trial trying to keep the secret of Bernard Webb . . . and from their point of view it led to a lot of criticism. Didn't help when they kept pointing out that the secrecy was purely and simply for Paul's sake. . . .

Mind you, then as now, there were always people trying to stir up controversy about anything connected even remotely with the Beatles. The line taken over Peter and Gordon was that THEY were responsible for hiding Paul's name away--simply because they resented criticism that they were getting to the top on the shoulders of the Beatles . . . especially seeing as how Paul's girl Jane was the brother of Peter. Some artists thought the duo were getting too much advantage; some fans were resentful at not having been told the truth in the first place.

They knew that some of the more bitter critics felt that the Beatles couldn't possibly maintain their standards much longer. "What is there left for the boys to do now?"--that was the main question. And our reply, then as now, is simply this: "There is a LOT left to do if the boys feel sufficiently strongly about doing various things. But if they ONLY go on producing incredible records and writing incredible songs, surely that's enough".

The knockers said it wasn't enough. But again, the fans remained patient during a rather inactive spell. They KNEW their heroes would come up with something that would stop all criticism.

And of course they DID. Read on, same space, next month. . . .

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