In the early sixties, the US was the recipient of the “British Invasion” of numerous musical groups from Great Britain. Initially, dozens of these bands became quite popular, but like many other musical trends, most quickly disappeared into obscurity. However, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones would remain prominent and their popularity survives to this day.
Although their tenure as a band only spanned five years, the Beatles remarkable music catalog and impact as a cultural phenomenon guarantees ongoing widespread universal interest. Initially, marketed as the “bad boys” opposite of the squeaky clean Beatles, the Rolling Stones eventually evolved into an everlasting enterprise with unanticipated longevity. Throughout their remarkable careers, both of these bands have been scrutinized to a remarkable extent, seemingly allowing for every facet of their lives to be analyzed in great detail.
Surprisingly, and perhaps deliberately, much of the most notorious or controversial aspects of these groups and their members have been misrepresented or glorified. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones have produced some of the most memorable music in the history of popular culture. They have also been involved in death, scandal, divorce, and personal insensitivity even to loved ones that they would just as soon the public forget or never comprehend. It would be hard to find two entities who spent as much time burnishing their public image as much as they spent on their professional creativity. For that reason, even the most devoted fans are not aware of some of the most fundamental facts or less known anecdotes about these two groups. Here are fifteen things you probably don’t know about the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
15. Some Shows On The Beatles’ Final Tour Did Not Sell Out
Much of the euphoria created by the unique phenomenon of The Beatles was generated by their live performances. On February 9, 1964, the Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show was viewed by over seventy million people. The Beatles’ 1965 tour kicked off at New York’s Shea Stadium, an unprecedented venue for musicians that was a sellout and the largest moneymaker in entertainment history up to that time. A similar response greeted the Beatles in ten subsequent concert locations in the US and Canada.
The Beatles attempted to repeat this success in 1966, scheduling a thirteen city tour that was played almost exclusively in stadium sized venues. While the tour was financially successful for the Beatles, based on a healthy appearance fee and percentage of any gross sales, some of the shows did not sell out. Shea Stadium was 11,000 short of its 55,600 capacity. The Beatles final show on August 26, 1966 at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park sold only 25,000 tickets of an available 42,500 and its promoters lost money.
Fatigue over Beatlemania and controversy concerning John Lennon’s comments about the Beatles being more popular than Jesus Christ probably had something to do with disappointing ticket sales. Ultimately, the Beatles vowed, especially after a near riot at Dodger Stadium that placed them in actual physical jeopardy, that they were permanently finished with touring.
14. Altamont Victim Meredith Hunter’s Grave Went Unmarked For 35 Years
Only months after the media sensation over the three-day Woodstock Festival in August of 1969, the Rolling Stones attempted to duplicate this style of event to conclude their 1969 US Tour. A free concert featuring the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and the Rolling Stones was initially proposed for San Jose State University, Golden Gate Park and Sears Point Raceway, but each venue eventually fell through, the Sears Point location only days before the scheduled December 6 concert. At the last minute the owner of Altamont Speedway, near Livermore, California, offered his racetrack as a location.
With little time to organize, a makeshift stage was thrown together and event managers haphazardly assigned perimeter security to the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang in exchange for $500 dollars worth of beer. By nightfall, a surging crowd had become unmanageable with a stage only a foot off of the ground resulting in violent confrontations in which Hell’s Angels attacked concertgoers and musicians with fists, chains and pool cues. A recipient of this violence, 18-year-old Meredith Hunter attempted to charge the stage, brandishing a .22 caliber pistol visible to Hell’s Angel Alan Passaro. Passaro chased Hunter back into the crowd and stabbed him repeatedly with a hunting knife. Despite the efforts of Hunter’s girlfriend and volunteer physicians, Hunter quickly died, his wounds requiring helicopter airlift and emergency surgery.
Passaro was subsequently tried and acquitted based on self-defense and footage from the film “Gimme Shelter” which clearly showed Hunter with a gun. Passaro would drown in a lake in 1985, $10,000 in his pocket. Hunter’s mother sued the Rolling Stones and ultimately settled for $10,000, but her son’s grave went without a marker until a 2006 short film entitled “Lot 63, Grave C,” told the story of Hunter’s unmarked burial location. Subsequent to the film, the cemetery received several donations to finally purchase a gravestone.
13. Ringo Starr: Rock and Roll’s Unlikeliest Super Star
Ringo Starr was born Richard Starkey on July 7th, 1940 in the toughest of Liverpool, England’s working class neighborhoods. His father left him and his mother when he was three, forcing her to take housecleaning and bartending jobs. At age six, he was hospitalized when a ruptured appendix resulted in peritonitis and a twelve-week coma. An additional fall while in hospital necessitated a total of a year of hospitalization. Virtually illiterate, he spent much of his time as a truant. At age thirteen, he came down with tuberculosis, which necessitated another two-year hospital stay, where he amused himself playing makeshift percussion instruments.
By the time he regained his health, schoolwork was pointless and at age sixteen he got his first job with the British railroad system. He was let go after failing a medical exam and was also fired from a job as a bartender on a ship. At seventeen, Ringo would receive his first set of second hand drums from his stepfather and also managed to get hired as an apprentice carpenter. By 1960, Starr was a member of one of Liverpool’s most popular bands, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, a group accomplished enough to be offered a three month summer gig for twenty pounds a week at a middle class holiday park in Wales.
Unfortunately, Ringo would have to choose between his apprenticeship, then in its fifth and final year, and his music career. Despite the pleas of his parents and his fiancée, Ringo chose show business. He would bounce between Wales, Hamburg and Liverpool for two years before accepting an offer to join the Beatles and first playing with them only eighteen days before the group’s first recording session at EMI on September 4, 1962.
Beatles producer George Martin was so unimpressed that he replaced Ringo for the band’s second session a week later when Starr was relegated to tambourine on “Love Me Do” and maracas on “Please, Please, Me.” Starr thought he was about to be fired like his predecessor, Pete Best, but his Liverpool ties to the rest of the band and affable personality allowed him to overcome a shaky start. He was quickly accepted and would eventually become an integral part of the most famous quartet in music history.
12. The Rolling Stones Have A Strange Connection To The 2003 Iraq Invasion
Jimmy Miller was a legendary music producer who was involved with many high profile musicians, none more prominent than the Rolling Stones. Floundering as a result of their misguided attempt to mimic the psychedelic sound of the Beatles, the Stones were ready to get back to their roots and decided to work with Miller in 1968. They would record together on “Beggars Banquet”, “Let It Bleed”, “Sticky Fingers”, “Exile On Main Street” and “Goats Head Soup.”
Miller was more than just a mere producer, contributing the unique cow bell sound on “Honky Tonk Women” and occasionally playing various percussion instruments on other Stones’ songs. Miller is even name checked on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” as “Mr. Jimmy” a song where he played drums. Unfortunately, like many in the Stones’ entourage, Jimmy Miller became deeply involved in heroin use and he and the Stones parted ways in 1973. Although he would continue to produce rock music, he would die of liver failure in 1994, aged 52. His New York Times obituary would list several survivors, including a sister, “Judith, of New York City.”
Later, his sister Judith would write several articles in the same paper as a staff reporter that alleged that Saddam Hussein possessed both “weapons of mass destruction” and chemical weapons that he was capable of dangerously implementing. Several members of the Bush administration, including Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleeza Rice, would repeatedly cite Miller’s journalism in an effort to justify an invasion of Iraq.
Judith Miller would eventually be fired from the New York Times when her journalism concerning Iraq’s weapons capability was shown to be false and possibly deliberately planted as a result of her ambiguous relationship with Vice-President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff, Lewis (Scooter) Libby. Judith Miller would also receive a brief jail sentence concerning her refusal to testify in the Valerie Plame affair, also involving Libby.
11. Why Are The Publishing Rights Of The Song “Penny Lane” Owned By The Daughter Of A Dead Australian Billionaire?
How John Lennon and Paul McCartney lost control of the publishing rights to their music catalog company, Northern Songs, is an oft-told tale involving decades of unforeseen circumstances and complex business minutia. The amateurish decision by Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein to give away fifty percent of the publishing rights to a start-up music publisher named Dick James and his financial backer was problematic from the start. Epstein’s healthy slice of twenty percent of the remainder also was something McCartney and Lennon signed away, not realizing the potential value of this business asset.
Eventually, after Northern Songs went public, a British entertainment conglomerate, ATV outbid Lennon and McCartney themselves in a complicated and successful attempt to buy the Beatles catalog in 1969. ATV would continue to own Northern Songs until Australian corporate raider Robert Holmes A Court successfully wrested control of ATV from British magnate Lord Lew Grade in 1982. In typical fashion, corporate raider Holmes A Court immediately began stripping out assets from ATV, including Northern Songs. Along came Michael Jackson, recently enlightened by Paul McCartney as to the value of ownership of song catalogs, to aggressively bid on the property.
Jackson was so intent on buying this asset that he not only bid up the price to $47.5 million, he was also willing to appear publicly at an Australian charity telethon sponsored by Holmes A Court AND allow the seller’s sixteen year old daughter to select a single song of which she would retain ownership. Although Homes A Court shrewdly suggested “Yesterday”, Catherine Holmes A Court selected “Penny Lane”, which she owns to this day. Her father died of a heart attack in 1990, aged 52.
10. Keith Richards’ Blood Detox Story Is An Urban Myth He Started As A Joke.
Keith Richards’ battle with heroin abuse began in the early seventies and lasted a decade. Coping with serious addiction and touring and recording with the world’s greatest rock and roll band was quite a physical challenge that required numerous trips to expensive rehabs. At least one Stones’ memoirist, Tony Sanchez in the 1979 “Up and Down With The Rolling Stones,” maintained that Richards went to an expensive Swiss clinic that minimized the withdrawal process from heroin by completely exchanging Richards’ blood for transfused fresh blood.
Richards supposedly took the cure during the Stones’ 1973 tour. This story was repeated in Victor Bockris’ 1992 Richards biography with a greater attention to medical detail. However, while promoting his autobiography “Life” on national television, Richards told CBS host Anthony Mason, “I created the myth, it’s all my own work.” He went on to say that he was annoyed by having to explain that he was on his way to rehab and figured he could explain it all with a story so preposterous, no one would believe it. He was wrong
9. Eleanor Rigby Is A Unique Beatles Song
On April 28, 1966 four violinists, two violaists and two cellists recorded the melody for the Lennon-McCartney song “Eleanor Rigby.” All eight musicians were paid the standard Musician’s Union Fee of nine pounds. Although both John and Paul were in the studio control room, George Martin, who had written the score accompanying the Lennon-McCartney lyrics, conducted the octet.
This would be the only song ever recorded by the Beatles in which they did not play any instruments. It was also the first Beatles song that did not contain the words I, me, mine, you, or your, the first Beatles song about a person and the first Beatles song that was written in the third person. Although “Eleanor Rigby” reached number 11 on the American music charts, it did reach number one as the “B” side of “Yellow Submarine”, a much more popular hit at the time of both songs’ release.
8. The Second Single Released By The Rolling Stones Was a Lennon-McCartney Song.
The Beatles differed from most popular music acts in the early sixties in that they wrote most of their own material. On their earliest albums, the Rolling Stones recorded cover versions from other songwriters. By late 1963, both bands knew each other and when the Stones were looking for new material to record, Paul McCartney suggested their recently written song, “I Wanna Be Your Man,” which the Stones quickly recorded and released on November 1, 1963 as their second single ever.
Although the song was never released on an album, (until much later compilations) it turned out to be a modest hit and continued the band’s momentum. The Beatles would record “I Wanna Be Your Man” on their second album, “With the Beatles”, three weeks later. Essentially filler, it was sung by Ringo Starr. In 1980, John Lennon would recall, “It was a throwaway. The only two versions of the song were Ringo and the Rolling Stones. That shows how much importance we put on it: We weren’t going to give them anything great, right?” This would be the only collaborative effort between the two bands in their long history.
7. “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” Was a Real Person
When the Beatles released their album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, “ listeners quickly seized upon the acronym believed to be clearly spelled out by the song “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.” L-S-D, which would be very much in keeping with the psychedelic theme of the overall endeavor. But John Lennon always denied that LSD had anything to do with the song’s composition. Instead he claimed that, one day, his four-year-old son, Julian, came home from nursery school with an elaborate drawing. John asked what the drawing was called, his son quickly replied that it was of a classmate, “Lucy…in the sky, with diamonds.”
Lennon thought that was brilliant and quickly collaborated with Paul McCartney to add the phrases that made the song a psychedelic classic. When John and Cynthia Lennon got divorced in 1968, Julian lost touch with Lucy, whose name was O’Donnell. But, even as a teenager, Lucy was aware of her special status as the inspiration for one of the Beatles’ major hits.
In 2009, she would be diagnosed with Lupus and through a professional acquaintance, Julian Lennon became aware of her condition, which was already serious. He would acknowledge that this was the “Lucy” in his famous drawing and would also remain in constant contact with his former schoolmate until Lucy Vodden’s (nee O’Donnell) death in late September, 2009. Julian’s drawing ultimately disappeared for many years until it was purchased at auction by Pink Floyd member, David Gilmour.
6. Keith Richards’ Closest Brush With Death Actually Happened Onstage
Keith Richards has been involved in many serious incidents involving narcotics, house fires, car accidents and most recently a 2006 Fiji Island fall from a palm tree that required an emergency flight to New Zealand, brain surgery and titanium screws to shore up a skull fracture. But Richards claims all of this was nothing compared to what happened to him at a Sacramento concert on December 3, 1965. As Richards leaned in to provide the chorus of a song, his guitar touched an ungrounded microphone. Blue sparks and an electrical crack that sounded like a gunshot knocked the Stones guitarist flat on his back, the surge of electricity so strong it melted his guitar strings.
The show was immediately halted and Richards was rushed semi-conscious to the nearest emergency room. One of his only recollections of the incident was a doctor in his vicinity saying “Well, they either wake up, or they don’t.” Another doctor opined that it was the rubber soles of Richards’ new Hush Puppies that reduced the voltage to a tolerable limit. Despite the scare, the Rolling Stones, Richards included, performed the next night in San Jose.
5. Although He Was Raised By His Aunt, John Lennon Was Not An Orphan
John Lennon left the household of his biological mother, Julia Lennon, and went to live with his Aunt Mary “Mimi” Smith when he was five years old. It’s complicated, is the only brief way to explain why and how this occurred. Julia and Mimi were two of five sisters born to Annie and George Stanley. Because the family disapproved, Julia secretly married merchant seaman Alfred Lennon in 1938 when she was twenty-four, in a civil ceremony, unattended by any member of her family.
John Lennon was born on October 9, 1940 and his father was absent, spending long periods at sea. Julia Lennon, involved with another man, would give birth to an illegitimate daughter in June of 1945. This daughter would be adopted by a Norwegian couple and John Lennon would not even be aware of her existence until 1964. Julia Lennon eventually met and had two daughters with John “Bobby” Dykins and it was this relationship that prompted John to move in with his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George.
Because Julia Lennon had never divorced Alfred Lennon and was “living in sin” with Dykins, Mimi aggressively disapproved of such an arrangement and convinced Julia to allow her to raise John. However, both Mimi and John were in constant contact with Julia, the two sisters interacting on practically a daily basis. It was from one of these interactions that, on July 15, 1958, Julia Lennon, walking from Mimi Smith’s home to a nearby bus stop, was hit by a car and killed by a drunken, off duty policeman.
Already 17 years old, John Lennon was greatly affected by the death of his mother. Much of his music would be unconsciously reflective of his problematic childhood, he would specifically write “Julia” and name his first born son Julian in his mother’s memory.
4. Rolling Stone Magazine Once Assigned Truman Capote To Cover A Stones’ Tour, It Didn’t Go Well
In 1972, the Rolling Stones embarked on one of their most successful and infamous North American tours. Mick Jagger married Bianca Macias on the French Riviera, in May of 1971 and the couple began to cultivate more of a jet set, high society image that was a departure for the rest of the Stones.
Accordingly, in anticipation of the much publicized 1972 Rolling Stones tour, Rolling Stone Magazine commissioned Truman Capote to travel with the band and ultimately write an article concerning the experience. Capote traveled with his companion Princess Lee Radziwill, the sister of Jackie Kennedy, who the Stones immediately nicknamed “Truby” and “Princess Radish.” Capote thought little of the Stones music and especially alienated the band by complaining about noise levels, even while backstage.
In Dallas, after Capote and Radziwill passed on a late night party, Richards retaliated by pounding on Capote’s door and screaming “Wake up, you bitch, fucking wake up! Come to the party and find out what rock and roll’s all about!” Agitated by Capote’s lack of a response, Richards then grabbed a bottle of ketchup off of a room service tray and sprayed it all over Capote’s hotel room door. Not surprisingly, the author left the tour shortly thereafter and the article was never completed.
3. John Lennon Left Great Britain In 1971 And Never Returned
John Lennon left Britain on August 31, 1971. There were several reasons for the decision to move to New York City. Intense hostility to Yoko Ono from the British tabloid press, especially to any artistic endeavor, was felt to be onerous. Yoko was also caught up in a US custody battle over a daughter from a previous marriage. An exhibition of Ono’s art was set to run in New York in October, 1971 so a short term stay seemed appropriate. The couple initially stayed at the St. Regis Hotel and found New York both welcoming and discreet enough to eventually prompt them to rent an apartment in Greenwich Village.
Unfortunately, the Nixon administration began a lengthy process to attempt to deport both John Lennon and Yoko Ono and it was apparent that if Lennon left the US during this process he would be barred from reentry. John and Yoko successfully battled the US government, eventually settled in the Dakota Apartments, had their first child Sean and John was granted a green card by the Carter administration in 1976.
His immigration status resolved, Lennon then sank into a period of seclusion, emerging only in 1980 to revitalize his music career. In early December, 1980, in one of his weekly phone calls to his Aunt Mimi Smith, Lennon began to discuss an imminent return to visit her at her home in southern England. Only days later, on December 8, 1980, he died in New York City, having never returned to his birthplace and homeland.
2. “Exile On Main Street” Was Haphazardly Recorded In a French Chateau Once Occupied By The Gestapo
In 1971, like many other celebrities, the Rolling Stones were advised that for financial reasons, they needed to leave Great Britain or face as much as a 93 per cent income tax levy. They decided to head for the Cote D’Azur, also known as the French Riviera, where each band member located a temporary residence. Keith Richards rented Villa Nellcote, in Villefranche-sur-Mer, a 16 room mansion and one of the most impressive homes in the region. It also served as Gestapo headquarters during wartime, swastikas still in evidence in the basement.
Richards’ rental would serve as headquarters for the recording of the Stones’ latest album, if only so that the other band members could quickly ascertain his whereabouts. Despite, or perhaps because of the lurid decor in the cellar, the Stones set up their music studio downstairs, the rooms were also said to have distinct acoustics. They also had their mobile recording studio stationed outside, Jimmy Miller at the controls. Mick Jagger was preoccupied with his pregnant girlfriend and soon to be wife, Bianca, frequently leaving for Paris and extended absences.
Throughout the summer and fall, sessions involving mostly Richards, Mick Taylor, Jimmy Miller, saxophone session player Bobby Keys and occasionally Jagger, Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman would be heavily influenced by Richards bluesy, heavier rock and roll. By November, 1971, the chateau had become a crash pad for various unsavory hangers on, musical instruments were being burglarized and Jagger felt he needed to try to organize the summer’s work into something more acceptable.
The Stones abruptly left the Riviera for Los Angeles, major studio overdubbing and a double album “Exile on Main Street” released just in time for their 1972 tour. It is considered by many to be the finest album the Stones ever made. Nellcote sat empty for the remaining months of Keith Richards’ lease. Today, it is owned by a wealthy Russian émigré who declines any inquiries relative to the Rolling Stones.
1. Yoko Ono Put Aunt Mimi’s House Up for Sale On the Day Of Her Funeral
When his Aunt Mimi’s modest house in a Liverpool suburb was being overrun by mobs attracted to John Lennon’s boyhood home, the Beatle decided to buy his former guardian a seaside bungalow along the south coast of England. Mimi Smith would live there for the rest of her life and it was here on December 9, 1980 that she received the shocking telephone call in the early morning informing her of the death of her nephew.
She would also be shocked to discover that John Lennon, as was the case for all of the homes that he purchased for his extended family over the years, had legally retained ownership of her residence. This meant that Yoko Ono was now the legal owner of her home, a situation that distressed her greatly, as it meant that Yoko could sell the home at any time.
Mimi Smith lived until December 6, 1991, dying at age 85. The financial relationship between Yoko Ono and Mimi Smith after John’s death remains unknown but the house fell into disrepair during the last decade of her life. When she died, her funeral was attended by Cynthia, Sean Lennon and Yoko Ono, who immediately put the house up for sale. It was sold to a developer and later demolished in 1994.
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