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Decades on, Beatles' lovers won't let it be

LONDON (CNN) -- It was June 1964, and a go-getting Dutch interviewer was asking one of those irrepressible questions that often seemed to emerge from out of nowhere whenever Beatlemania crossed paths with the Fourth Estate.

Reporter: "Who mends your stockings when you're on your travels?

George (Harrison): " Stockings? Socks! Nobody, we just have them washed."

More than 35 years and thousands of hard day's nights later, no triviality is too trite when it comes to the pop band that emblemised the hopes and dreams of a generation weaned on Flower Power and Free Love.

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Flush from a new survey ranking The Beatles' Revolver album first among the 1,000 greatest albums of all time, the Fab Four is riding a crest of resurgent popularity that true fans say is a testament to the group's timeless appeal.

A glimpse at the calendar may help to explain some of the newfound Beatle fervour. This spring marked 30 years since The Beatles' break-up, while December will bring the commemoration of the 20th anniversary since the 1980 shooting death of the group's guitarist and singer, John Lennon.

Lennon would have been 60 years old on October 9.

McCartney keeps Fab Four spirit alive

Part of The Beatles' abiding appeal may also stem from the rampant presence of Sir Paul McCartney himself (he was knighted by the Queen of England in 1997). Since the group disbanded, Paul has remained active in both popular and classical music.

McCartney has churned out ambitious symphonic works such as the 1997 album Standing Stone and collaborated with former Beatles to add harmonies to previously unreleased vocal recordings by Lennon.

More recently, in December 1999, McCartney staged a concert from the Cavern Club -- the Liverpool nightspot where The Beatles once dreamed of stardom -- which was broadcast to some 15,000 spectators on a giant video screen in Liverpool's Chavasse Park. The gig was also beamed to a broader audience that watched and heard a choppy feed streamed over the Internet.

And last month, McCartney announced plans to release a dance track, called "Free Now," featuring outtakes from The Beatles' original recordings.

But for Beatles aficionados, the musical escapades of one member alone cannot begin to explain the group's marathon run on the pop charts.

For many of them, The Beatles marked a watershed in Brit-pop history: a group which, buoyed by a nascent mass media, catapulted to iconic status in the popular imagination. By the time The Beatles appeared on the big screen in the summer of 1964, in A Hard Day's Night, they already had millions of devoted, and mostly young, fans -- some of whom openly swooned at the sight of the mop-topped crooners.

The Beatles -- with their catchy melodies and fast witticisms - mirrored the dreams of a '60s generation in the throes of sexual and cultural reinvention. By the time the group disbanded in 1970, some observers say, they had evolved beyond the simple ideals on which they had built their success.

Setting the record straight

A 360-page tell-all memoir written by the group's three surviving members -- McCartney, 58, George Harrison, 57, and Ringo Starr, 60 -- due out this autumn is being billed as a definitive exercise in myth-shattering.

The tome, entitled The Beatles Anthology, will reportedly set the record straight on the group's drug use, sexual exploits, rivalries and -- most significantly -- the whys and wherefores of their break-up.

Beatles at a Glance
1957John Lennon forms the Quarrymen; Paul McCartney, George Harrison soon join
1960The Quarrymen head to Germany as The Beatles
1962Ringo Starr joins the band; Love Me Do issued as first single
1963Beatlemania craze begins in Britain
1964The Beatles conquer the American music market
1966Last official concert played at Candlestick Park in San Francisco
1967Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band released
1970The Beatles break up

The book, according to a recent report in a British newspaper, argues that Lennon walked away from the group, leaving bassist-singer McCartney to make the formal announcement of the split months later. If true, that would topple conventional theories that McCartney precipitated the split.

"We are all bracing ourselves and anticipating the anthology," said Shelagh Johnston, the director of The Beatles Story museum in the group's hometown of Liverpool. "We all just think it's going to be a good read.

"Some people always need to point a finger of blame. Some people blame Yoko (Ono, Lennon's wife) and Linda (McCartney, Paul's wife, who died of breast cancer in 1998.)," Johnston added. "I just think the reason (they broke up) is that they had been to Mars and back, and they had just had enough. I think they all still loved their music, and they all still loved each other, but it's a metamorphosis that they went through."

Johnston said her allegiance to The Beatles dates back to her Liverpool childhood, when her mother and McCartney's mother worked as nurses together in the same district. When McCartney's family moved out of the house, her family moved in.

Until 1964 -- the year of The Beatles' phenomenal transatlantic success -- Johnston read and preserved the voluminous heaps of fan mail (two Royal Mail vanloads a day) - that streamed into the house.

She points to a recent episode she witnessed in her museum's Cavern -- a recreated replica of the famed club where The Beatles got their start -- to suggest that fans will be twisting and shouting over The Beatles for generations to come.

A group of American and Japanese visitors had each brought their toddlers -- a pint-sized girl and a boy -- into the exhibit.

"The two of them in the Cavern caught each other's attention," Johnston recalled. "And I saw them dancing together to (the lyrics of ) 'I Saw Her Standing There.'"

Beatles' 'Revolver' voted best album ever
September 3, 2000
Beatles Get Back with a dance track
August 15, 2000
Magical mystery tome: Surviving Beatles come together to write their story
April 2, 2000

The Beatles Online (Unofficial)
TIME 100: The Beatles
The Internet Beatles Album
The Beatles Anthology
Paul McCartney Official Site

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