Sunday, June 01, 2008

Behind the Spotlight

Two Years Ago

by Billy Shepherd and Johnny Dean

In July, 1965, the Beatles were in the throes of a fantastically successful continental trip. Including Italy, where, surprisingly, there had never been the same symptoms of Beatlemania as in, for instance, France and Germany. But the boys barnstormed the Italians . . . playing to audiences of 10,000 and 22,000 on the same night in Milan at the Palais des Sports.

Not Happy

Yet Paul wasn't entirely happy with everything. He told us: "The Italians seem to have a strange attitude to a pop group. We saw one girl, about thirteen, who screamed at us when we were leaving an hotel. Suddenly she was grabbed by her mother and given a right old beating . . . there in the street. They seem to think that there is a disgrace in showing enthusiasm for pop artists. We don't like it--it's not the kids fault, really."

However, "Hard Day's Night" was a good box-office success in Italy prior to the boys' arrival, so their fears that the Romans and the Milanese might be a bit of a wet-blanket after the riots of Paris were not confirmed.

The boys did notice that the Italians were rather behind in their musical tastes. There were some unknown British groups there doing very well with out-and-out rockers from the Bill Haley catalogue and the Beatles found that numbers like "Long Tall Sally" were most popular with the fans. Funniest thing about Italy, though, were the groups of photographers who followed the boys everywhere. When John popped out for a newspaper, he was surrounded by about five dozen picture-men, some on scooters and all apparently appearing out of thin air at exactly the moment he pushed through the swing-doors of the hotel. . . .

After Italy the boys went on to Spain, appearing for concerts in bull rings there. Somewhat naturally, they were loaded down with souvenirs when they arrived back at London Airport to a mass of delighted fans and a whole lot of interesting new work. Ringo Starr, wearing a matador-hat, was in especially good form--he'd just celebrated his 25th birthday and had been involved in something like forty different parties to commemorate it. And his wife Maureen had given him a sword, an historic old gun and a pikestaff--to add to his collection of 17th century antiques at his home. His mum and dad had also unearthed an old sword. Ringo was delighted.

So were the fans when it was announced that the new single "Help", their tenth, would be out a week earlier in July, 1965, than was previously expected. And the final details of the next LP, tying up with the film, were revealed . . . but more about that next month.

Always Win

John and Paul have always done exceptionally well in the Ivor Novello Awards. These "prizes" of the music industry were awarded annually by a panel of experts--and handed over at a luncheon organised by the Variety Club of Great Britain. In 1965 we went along to see the grand ceremony--but predictably it didn't work out as planned.

For a start, John didn't make it at all. Paul came in very late, explaining that John had had a bit of a late night and was very sorry. The organisers could have been a bit upset but such is Paul's charm that they merely laughed delightedly and said: "Well, you can never be sure of anything where the Beatles are concerned . . ."

So it was Paul only who received two statuettes for "Can't Buy Me Love"--as the Most Performed Work of 1964 and as the Highest Selling Single. Then they won two Certificates of Honour for "A Hard Day's Night", as the second Most Performed Work and the second Outstanding Theme (from TV, radio, film or stage). Their other cause for celebration was another certificate for "I Feel Fine", which was the year's second biggest selling record. The rest of the awards went to rather "squarer" songs, though Paul said he was glad Tom Springfield and Welshman Clive Westlake picked up a certificate for penning Dusty Springfield's big hit "Losing You".

Good old Paul was bobbing up and down like a yo-yo receiving the Beatles awards, which were made separately. As he stood there, cameras popping all round him, he said, in reference to the way certain people had threatened to send their MBE's back to the Queen after the Beatles had similar awards: "I only hop the other winners won't want to send THESE back." And there was another roar of laughter.

What Happens

Anyway, in this month of July, 1965, as "Help" came out--George Harrison was being interviewed about that interminable old question as to what would happen if the Beatles didn't actually make number one this time. We've reported this rather irritating question several times in this "Spotlight" feature but we make no apology for repeating it. George took a realistic view of it all. He said: "We hope to get to the top. But we know we can't stay there for ever, so I'm just hoping that it'll be the Rolling Stones that take over from us."

This was something new--a top group member hoping that the nearest opposition would supersede his own group. "But we want several weeks up there," he added quickly. "Then they can have the place to themselves with 'Satisfaction', which we think is the best thing they've ever done."

As for "Help" . . . well, it was a number one (of course). But it is interesting to recall that George and John were both even more keen on the "B" side which was "I'm Down" . . . and they'd have begged for that to be the top deck if there hadn't been a film to consider. Said George: "We still like keeping up with the really wild sort of rock--and 'I'm Down' has John on Hammond organ and it swings along like mad . . . especially with paul putting on what we call his Little Richard-type voice."

Good Flip

As ever, the Beatles had insisted on putting out a strong flip-side. Paul explained: "Often people say they like the 'B' sides more than the top sides. But this is probably because they hear the main number more often so they tend to find it too familiar and then they're knocked out that we've bothered to put anything at all on the 'B' side!"

It's a policy, through and through. Even now the Beatles insist on a value-for-money coupling. How many other groups worry about that!

The preview of the film "Help" came up right at the end of July but Mayflower books brought out a synopsis for fans before the first cinema showing. But we'll recall the LP and the film in the next issue . . . suffice it here and now to say that "Help" was unique in that United Artists made more copies of it than had ever been printed before for a colour film. This was headline news in all the world's trade movie papers--and a stirring commendation of the incredible popularity the boys enjoyed.

Actually we went behind the scenes one afternoon in July, 1965, to see what really happened when a new Beatle single was pressed. Said a spokesman at the EMI pressing plant: "It's all stations go when the Beatles are on the scene. We have to lay on extra staff and we're always hard-pressed coping with the orders which flow in from all over the country. Sometimes there is a delay between the announcement of a Beatle title and the actual release of the record. This is so that we can get something like 500,000 copies ready to be whipped out all over the country . . . if there is delay it is not really fair to the fan who knows that his friend has already got a copy . . ."

And this was also the month when Ringo announced that he was moving into a new house. It was a very big place, he announced proudly . . . and it was only about a mile from John Lennon's place at Weybridge. Seven bedrooms, three bathrooms, a massive lounge and what Ringo said added up to "hundreds" of littler rooms all over the house.

Pending parenthood brought out the best in Ringo, even though he often took the mickey out of himself when talking about Maureen and her "interesting condition".

Anyway, before the end of July, two years ago, "Help" was right at the top of the charts . . . their ninth disc to rush to the top. It was Paul who said, on the telephone from Manchester: "We never take anything for granted. We're always rather surprised when a single actually gets to number one in the charts." And that wasn't unnecessary modesty either . . . because all the other Beatles have said much the same thing in the last couple of years.

Because so many of you Beatle stalwarts like to recall the past achievements as well as savour the current ones, we'll not forget about reminding you of the "Help" film and LP next month. But there was also a lot else happening for the boys in that rather unpredictable August of 1965.

To find out about it, just make a mental note to join us in about four weeks' time. Glad to let you in on the happenings. . . .

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