Thursday, May 27, 2010

Why Did the Beatles Fire Pete Best?

From the perspective of the Pete Best camp, the story of his firing is usually told as a tale of jealousy, of three Beatles envious of Best's good looks, talent and female fan base -- turfing him at an opportune moment just before they made it big. The reality may have been different, but regardless it long remained a mystery to Best himself, as he was never properly provided with a reason for his sudden axing from the group.

A key decision maker for the group at the time (1962) was John Lennon, whose leadership continued to carry over from the Beatles' Quarry Men origins ("John is in fact the leader of the group," Paul McCartney said in a radio interview two months after Best's departure). In 1972, John was asked point blank why Best was fired during a radio call-in show (to John's amazement, ten years after the fact, two of the questions from callers that afternoon dealt with the subject of Pete Best). John replied succinctly that Best's poor drumming skills were the reason behind his removal. The full explanation, however, requires going back to a time in the Beatles' career where their future in the music business was anything but certain.

After being rejected countless times by record companies, including EMI and Decca, the Beatles auditioned for Parlophone Records and the time came for the group to record their debut single, "Love Me Do," after being given the somewhat reluctant go-ahead from producer George Martin. As evidenced by the demo heard on Anthology 1, Pete's drumming was anything but skillful or solid. Martin informed the Beatles in no uncertain terms that they could do as they wished for their live concerts, but he would be bringing in a professional drummer to fill-in on their recording sessions.

This became the pivotal moment that sunk Best's career as a Beatle. Here was a group member chosen for expediency's sake in 1960 in advance of an important series of gigs in Hamburg, Germany. He was someone that never completely gelled personality-wise with the other Beatles: he preferred being on his own to hanging out with the others, he did not share their sense of humor, he refused to adopt their soon-to-be-famous haircut style, and so on. This criticism from their new producer, seemingly endangering their all-important recording career, provided the Beatles with a perfect opportunity to bring in a drummer they actually wanted into the group, perhaps for the first time. Previously, they had selected drummers mostly for the simple fact that they owned a drum kit; "they were usually idiots," lamented John. Within days, Pete was out, and Ringo Starr, drummer for Rory Storm & the Hurricanes, was in.

George Martin for his part was surprised, not having intended to change the group's lineup or lose the member whom he thought was "the best looking of the bunch." Despite the change in personnel, Martin refused to back down on the use of a studio drummer for the next session. "I don't even know who you are," Martin said to Starr, who was given maracas to play instead, while Andy White handled the main percussion duties. This was, of course, quickly resolved as Ringo became the Beatles' live and studio drummer, who would later tease George Martin with an indignant, "You didn't let me play, did you?!"

As for their former drummer, the Beatles never looked back, quite literally: they handed off the firing job to manager Brian Epstein and they assiduously avoided contact with Best when sharing a concert bill months later. The whole affair left Best stunned, as expressed in the interview recorded with his mother Mona, below. The Beatles went on to become the biggest rock group in history and they never so much as spoke to Pete Best again.


Anonymous said...

Does anyone know who owns the copyright for the above image of Pete best?

Anonymous said...

Fucking assholes.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said "Fucking assholes", without any mention of who ARE the supposed "fucking assholes".
I'm going to assume he means The Beatles themselves. But why would that be? Is it because The Beatles fired Pete Best, or the WAY they fired Pete Best? If the latter is the case, perhaps an argument can be made on that point. My own response to that, however, is, Too bad, but so what? The hard, cold truth is that if you're "going to make it big" (or want to) in pretty much any chosen field, then there are going to be some hard, cold decisions that have to be made. But the mere fact alone THAT they fired Pete Best is a different matter. If Pete Best's drumming was questioned by the one and only record industry producer who was prepared to give them a shot at recording (after all others had rejected them), not to mention the other Beatles themselves seemed to have some resrvations about Best's drumming as well, and the fact that Best never quite fit in with the rest of the band members, personality-wise, then it would not only be resonable, but arguably inevitable, that his firing would take place. Personally, I believe the lack of cohension with John, Paul and George is what really sealed Pete's fate. I heard Tony Sheridan say in an interview, when he asked John why Pete was fired, Sheridan said John's response was, "Pete is a good drummer. Ringo is a good Beatle".

The reckoning said...

Paul McCartney was jealous of Pete Best just as he had been jealous of Stu Sutcliff for different reasons. Stu was too close to John for Paul's liking, Pete was the handsome one who had the girls' attention.

Pete was used up and discarded but at the end of the day he is still alive unlike George Harrison and John Lennon, he is not somebody like Ringo who is famous for being famous and not for any talent.

And he is definitely not Paul McCartney who appears to have it all but definitely has skeletons in his closet which will tumble out once he goes. More importantly, Pete is not into the occult like Paul and so will not have to pay the piper in one way or another.

No I do not know Pete Best or his Mum, I just know my Beatles history.