The Beatles arrived in the U.S. 50 years ago and embarked on a history-making path of pop culture dominance. "The Sixties: The British Invasion" looks at John, Paul, George and Ringo and how the Fab Four's influence persists.
Over the years, the facts of the Beatles' story have sometimes been shoved out of the way by half-truths, misconceptions and outright fiction. Here are a few details you might have heard, with the true story provided by Mark Lewisohn's "Tune In" and others.
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John Lennon once said that Ringo Starr not only wasn't the best drummer in rock, he wasn't the best drummer in the Beatles. Biographer Mark Lewisohn says this is a line from a TV comedy sketch in the 1980s -- after Lennon died. The Beatles actually defended Ringo strongly over the years.
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The Beatles were against wearing suits. Again, not true, says Lewisohn. Though Lennon later trashed the neat look as a sellout demanded by manager Brian Epstein, in the early '60s they were eager for a change. "I just saw it as playing a game," said Harrison. "I'll wear a f****** balloon if somebody's going to pay me!" said Lennon.
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They grew up poor. Not really. Harrison's and McCartney's families were working class, and Lennon's childhood included trips to an upscale relative's house in Scotland. Only Starr, who was also sickly, grew up in poverty, in the blighted Dingle neighborhood.
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They booted drummer Pete Best out of jealousy. Producer George Martin wasn't impressed by Best (second from left), and McCartney has said he "was holding us back." The rest of the Beatles were equally unsentimental. Ringo Starr, who had played with the Beatles occasionally, was a far better drummer -- and when he joined, "from that moment on, it gelled," said Harrison.
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Stu Sutcliffe was a terrible bassist. Though Sutcliffe (standing, third from left) was no McCartney, he went from complete neophyte to solid rhythm player during the band's Hamburg days. He left the job because he wanted to pursue his painting, and McCartney remembers being "lumbered with" the position as new bassist.
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John Lennon saw his mother, Julia, killed in front of him. Julia Dykins, as she was known after her marriage to Bobby Dykins, died on July 15, 1958. After a chat with her sister, John's Aunt Mimi, she went to catch a bus and was hit by a car crossing Menlove Avenue. John found out about her death later that day.
Courtesy Harper Collins/Beatles Book Photo Library
The Beatles made their U.S. television debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show," February 9, 1964. It was the band's first U.S. television performance, but they'd already been seen on American TV during a CBS News segment in December, 1963. Pieces from the segment also ran on Jack Paar's talk show in January 1964.
The title "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" is a reference to LSD. Though its imagery of "plasticine porters" and "kaleidoscope eyes" owes a lot to drugs (as well as John Lennon's fondness for Lewis Carroll-esque absurdity), the song was inspired by a drawing made by Lennon's son, Julian.
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"Paul is dead." An elaborate theory -- perhaps best explained by Joel Glazier in a 1979 article for the Beatles fanzine "Strawberry Fields Forever" -- maintains that Paul McCartney (here with Brian Epstein) died in 1966 and was replaced by a talented double. (There are dozens of clues for you all -- especially on the White Album.) Though it's fascinating to ponder all the backwards sounds and colorful images, this theory says more about our abilities to find patterns than it does about McCartney's fate.
Courtesy HarperCollins/Beatles Book Photo Library
The Beatles performed on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show." Lennon and McCartney did visit "Tonight" on May 14, 1968, but they didn't perform -- and the guest host for the evening was Joe Garagiola. Ed McMahon was around, though.
Yoko Ono broke up the Beatles. Oh, if only Yoko hadn't stolen John away from the group, they would have stayed together! Right. Actually, the Beatles were already fragmenting -- Ringo temporarily left during the making of the White Album, and George walked out during the "Get Back" sessions -- and financial issues were getting in the way of the music. Lennon was ready for something new, but everybody was tired.