John Winston Ono Lennon was born on the 9th October 1940 and went on to help found one of the most important bands in music history. His life was cut short at the age of 40, at the hands of Mark David Chapman.
In other circumstances, 2020 would have seen Lennon enter his eighth decade. To mark what would have been his 80th year, we’ve put together 80 little-known facts about The Beatles. Check out the Burst Gallery Beatles collection for rare images of the man, and his band, in action.
With his trademark spectacles, unruly hair and varying degrees of beard, Lennon was the iconic face of The Beatles. In addition to playing rhythm guitar, he also shared song-writing and singing duties with Paul McCartney. Here are some snippets you might not be aware of:
1. Growing old was one of his greatest fears. During a magazine interview in the early Sixties, he said “I hate the thought of that. Who wants to hear a croaking Beatle of 80?”
2. Lennon’s dentist, John Riley, was responsible for his first encounter with LSD. He slipped some into Lennon’s coffee, at a dinner party where George Harrison, Patti Boyd and Cynthia Lennon were also present.
3. The first instrument Lennon learned to play was the humble harmonica.
4. The trademark spectacles were originally part of the costume Lennon wore while playing Private Gripweed in ‘How I Won the War’.
5. His eyesight got progressively worse throughout the years to the point that, without his glasses or contact lenses, he was classed as legally blind.
6. One of Lennon’s favourite tipples was the Brandy Alexander, a cocktail made up of brandy, crème de cacao and cream.
7. While at school, he was once given three detentions in one day.
8. During his tenure with The Beatles, the lyric that Lennon was reportedly most proud of was ‘all you need is love’.
9. His last performance was with Elton John at Madison Square Gardens. The setlist included ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’, ‘Whatever Gets You Through The Night’ and ‘I Saw Her Standing There’.
10. During a meeting with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Lennon decided to leave early. When the Maharishi asked why, Lennon replied: “Well, if you’re so cosmic, you should know why.”
11. Yoko Ono has never revealed where Lennon’s ashes are, although it is believed by some that they were scattered in Liverpool’s Strawberry Fields.
Although sometimes overshadowed by his bespectacled bandmate, Paul McCartney was the other driving force behind The Beatles. A multi-instrumentalist, the mighty Macca made his mark playing left-handed bass guitar for the band. Along with Lennon, he was the chief songwriter and vocalist. Check out the Music Print collection of McCartney and Beatles prints, to see the great man at work as a solo artist and as a member of the Fab Four.
12. Although he’s famous for his bass-playing abilities, the first instrument McCartney learned to play was the trumpet, bought for him by his father for his 14th birthday.
13. A sinistromanual superstar, McCartney originally struggled to learn the guitar, because they are traditionally designed for right-handed players. After seeing a poster of the left-handed country player, Slim Whitman, holding a left-handed guitar, Macca restrung his own and learned to play that way.
14. Currently, the man is thought to be worth around $1.2billion.
15. McCartney was first introduced to marijuana by fop-haired folkster, Bob Dylan.
16. In The Beatles’ earlier incarnation of The Quarrymen, McCartney started out as lead guitarist. He took to the bass when Stuart Sutcliffe left the band.
17. The NYPD made McCartney an honorary detective after he played a free charity gig for the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
18. As The Beatles increased in popularity, he would carry a lucky charm in his pocket. The charm was a live cricket, named Buddy Holly.
19. Paul McCartney still cannot read or write music.
20. The Quarrymen’s first gig took place on October 18th, 1957. During Paul’s first solo vocals, his voice decided to break – underscored by John Lennon’s mirth.
21. McCartney spent a few hours in a Hamburg jail for setting a condom on fire in a hotel room. Legend has it that he and Pete Best were packing their suitcases and there wasn’t enough light for them to see what they were doing, so they took matters into their own hands.
Known as ‘The Quiet Beatle’ due to his shy persona, George Harrison took most of the lead guitar parts in the band’s songs. However, despite the Lennon/McCartney regime, he managed to sneak a few tunes under the radar, most notably ‘Something’ and ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’. Also a big fan of the ukulele.
22. Harrison started out as an electrician’s apprentice. Luckily for us, he got a bigger kick out of playing music.
23. Although he was given the moniker of ‘The Quiet Beatle’, according to Tom Petty, “he wouldn’t shut up. He was the best hangout you could imagine”
24. For those who like to know, Harrison’s first guitar when he was a member of The Quarrymen was a Hofner President acoustic.
25. As well as being an outstanding musician, Harrison was a huge fan of comedy – so much so that, when EMI pulled out of funding Monty Python’s ‘The Life of Brian’, George mortgaged his house to the tune of £3million so the film could get made. Eric Idle cited this as “the most expensive cinema ticket in history.”
26. One of Harrison’s favourite sweet treats was Jelly Babies.
27. Bob Dylan became one of George’s best friends. Years after The Beatles split up, Harrison asked him to join his supergroup outfit, The Travelling Wilburys.
28. Big-league benefit concerts are almost part of the musical furniture these days. However, what you might not know is that Harrison was responsible for the first. After a chat with Ravi Shankar about Bangladeshi refugees, George organised the first stellar-studded benefit concert, featuring the likes of Badfinger, Bob Dylan and Beatles’ bandmate, Ringo Starr. It took place in 1971.
29. The man was a keen gardener and even put a dedication in his autobiography, ‘I, Me, Mine’, which read “to gardeners everywhere.”
30. George cameos as a reporter in the Monty Python film about a very Beatles-esque band, All You Need is Cash.
31. He once invited a dozen Hell’s Angels to stay at The Beatles’ Apple offices in Savile Row.
The drummer behind The Beatles, Ringo Starr earned his nickname from the fact that he had a penchant for wearing fingerfuls of rings. On top of wielding the sticks, Starr occasionally lent his unique vocals to Beatles songs, most notably – or notoriously – on Octopus’s Garden. What else do we know about the man that influenced a generation of drummers-to-be?
32. Although he’s a southpaw, Ringo plays a right-handed drum kit.
33. A sickly child, he discovered that he is ”highly allergic to onions and garlic and spices.” As a result, he has “never had a pizza, never had a curry.”
34. In 1995, Ringo starred in a commercial for Pizza Hut. Watch carefully and you’ll see that he’s the only person in the advert not to take a bite.
35. Starr chose his stage-name-surname after a stint with a country band called ‘The Raging Texans’. He thought that ‘Starr’ sounded more authentically American.
36. During early gigs, the sound of fans screaming often prevented Starr from hearing what was being played on stage. To compensate, he developed a technique of watching his bandmates’ bums, allowing him to coordinate the beat with the sway of their hips. For an idea of just how manic things got, you’ll find images of screaming Beatles fans in the Music Poster collection
37. At the age of six, Ringo’s appendix burst and he went into a coma for ten weeks.
38. He was the oldest member of the band, but the last to join.
39. Ringo doesn’t own much in the way of Beatles memorabilia. Unaware of how valuable it would all become, he gave much of it away, which he cites as a personal regret.
40. His trademark face-fuzz is less to do with any sartorial sensibilities and more to do with the fact that he hates having to shave.
41. Although he was the first of The Beatles to try marijuana, courtesy of Bob Dylan, Ringo remains the only member of the band never to have been busted for drugs.
Although the focus has always been firmly on the Fab Four, there are others who have been on the radar. While purists might not regard them as bona fide Beatles, they are still part of the band’s story.
The original drummer for the band, Pete Best was fired from the group by Brian Epstein, after one of their first recording sessions.
42. Best was born in Madras, India, before his parents relocated to Liverpool
43. George Harrison discovered Best after bumping into him in the Casbah Coffee Club: “It was some months later that I remembered Pete and the fact that he had his own drum kit and got him to join us so we could go to Hamburg.“
44. Best’s first band was called The Black Jacks.
45. He took lead vocals on an early Beatles track, Pinwheel Twist.
46. In 1968, after The Beatles meteoric rise to international stardom, Best attempted suicide. He was saved by his mum and brother, who talked him out of it.
47. Once news broke that he’d been ousted from the band, outraged fans would shout “Ringo never, Pet Best forever” at Beatles gigs.
48. Best launched a lawsuit against The Beatles, which was settled for an undisclosed sum out of court.
49. When the band released The Beatles Anthology compilation albums in 1995, some of Best’s stick-work was included on a number of tracks
50. He now tours with The Pete Best Band.
51. Best was inducted into the All You Need is Liverpool Music Hall of Fame, in 2007.
If anyone can lay claim to the much-bandied title of ‘The Fifth Beatle’, it’s Stuart Sutcliffe. Sutcliffe served as the band’s bass player between 1960 and 1961, before tragically dying from a brain aneurysm in 1963.
52. With Sutcliffe on bass, Best on drums and Lennon, McCartney and Harrison on guitars, the embryonic Beatles were originally a five-piece.
53. Sutcliffe was born in Edinburgh, before his parents moved to Liverpool.
54. He was an accomplished artist and met Lennon at the Liverpool College of Art.
55. Long before the spotlight fell on John or Paul, Sutcliffe was the heartthrob of the band.
56. While on tour in Hamburg, Sutcliffe met and fell in love with photographer, Astrid Kirchherr. They were engaged within two months.
57. Harrison didn’t rate Sutcliffe as a musician, saying “He picked up a few things and he practiced a bit…. It was a bit ropey, but it didn’t matter at that time because he looked so cool.”
58. Astrid Kirchherr gave Stuart a haircut that was to become The Beatles’ trademark, during the Sixties. While the rest of the band sported Brylcreem and quiffs, Sutcliffe opted for what was to become known as the ‘Mop Top’.
59. After their return from Hamburg, Sutcliffe announced to the band that he was leaving, to return to Germany to be with Kirchherr.
60. He was awarded a scholarship at the Hamburg College of Art and intended to pursue a career as an artist.
61. Sutcliffe died on April 10th, 1962.
Another member of the Fifth Beatle club, Brian Epstein was responsible for bringing the Mop Tops to the masses. He was their manager from 1962, until his death in 1967.
62. Epstein started out with dreams of becoming an actor. He attended RADA, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Albert Finney and Peter O’ Toole.
63. During his time in the army, Epstein was arrested for impersonating an officer. The truth was that he would wear a tailor-made officer’s uniform, while cruising bars in London.
64. He first became aware of The Beatles when they featured on the cover of local music magazine, Mersey Beat.
65. When he was debating whether to manage the band, The Beatles’ former manager, Alan Williams, advised Epstein “not to touch them with a f**king bargepole.”
66. Epstein introduced the idea of the onstage ‘uniforms’ that were to give the band their iconic, Sixties look.
67. He was responsible for firing Pete Best and hiring Ringo Starr.
68. As The Beatles started to make a name for themselves, Epstein gave the green light to the first memorabilia: Beatles sweaters, costing 30 Shillings.
69. He served as best man to both John Lennon and Ringo Starr.
70. Among his other clients, Epstein also managed Cilla Black.
71. He died from an accidental drugs overdose.
Another contender to the fifth Beatle throne, George Martin was the band’s producer and arranger and worked on the majority of their studio singles and albums. A significant figure in The Beatles’ story, there are a few facts about him that might surprise you.
72. Martin taught himself to play the piano, after only eight lessons with a music teacher.
73. After leaving the army, he enrolled at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where he studied the oboe and piano.
74. His first job in the music industry was as Oscar Preuss’ assistant. Preuss was the CEO of Parlophone Records.
75. Before becoming involved with The Beatles, Martin produced records for famous comedians of the Fifties, including Dudley Moore and Peter Sellers.
76. Martin helped to pioneer experimental techniques, such as playing with backwards recordings, time-speeds, and looping. They were to play a big part in later Beatles’ records.
77. It was Martin who suggested putting an orchestra in ‘Yesterday’. McCartney’s initial reaction was: “Oh no George, we are a rock and roll band, and I don’t think it’s a good idea”. With the gentle bedside manner of a great producer he said to me, “Let us try it and if it doesn’t work, we won’t use it and we’ll go with your solo version”.
78. Martin was introduced to The Beatles by Brian Epstein. Epstein gave him a demo tape, which he listened to. In a later interview he said that “the recording, to put it kindly, was by no means a knockout.”
79. At their first audition for him, Martin asked The Beatles if there was anything they didn’t like, to which Harrison quipped: “Well, there’s your tie, for a start.”
80. His death, in 2016, was announced by Ringo on Twitter.
There you have it: eighty facts about The Beatles to mark John Lennon’s eightieth birthday. Was there anything you didn’t know? Do you have any up your sleeve that are worth airing? Either way, drop us a line in the Comments below or just browse the Burst Gallery’s Collection of one of music’s most influential bands.