Christmas Day 1963. My Mum, Dad, sister and I are at home in Winchmore Hill. It’s a “town house” with a garage and a “utility” room on the ground floor and the “lounge” and a small bedroom on the first floor. On the second floor are three bedrooms – my room is at the front. My Dad hasn’t yet put The Beatles wallpaper up in the bedroom which would stay there for many years after we moved. Whenever we drove from Kent back to Winchmore Hill to visit my Dad’s sisters, we drove down Church Hill and I always looked up at the old house where the wallpaper in my old bedroom was clearly visible. I reckon that Beatles wallpaper stayed there for about ten years after we moved. I hope they took it down carefully.
Christmas Day 1963. We have opened our presents. I have no idea what I was given. I doubt I gave any presents – I was nine years old and life was all about taking, not giving, of course. My sister has moved on from Cliff to The Beatles and I am following in her wake. Her present, from my parents was “With The Beatles”.
In my mind, whenever I hear the opening line of “It Won’t be Long”, the first track on Side One, I clearly recollect playing Monopoly. It must have been a family present and, in my mind, we spent all day and all of next day learning to play Monopoly and listening to “With The Beatles”. I had the battleship. I think my sister had the little dog, my Dad had the top hat (of course) and my Mum was the old boot which was probably funny at the time.
My parents were very good at playing family games. I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did. I must ask my sister if she enjoyed playing Monopoly, Scrabble, liar dice and all those card games including lots of variations on whist and rummy. I really think it was a fantastic thing to do – it taught strategy, maths and was a very sociable thing for a family to do together. Whenever I visited my parents, after I left home, we would always play Scrabble or cards in the evening.
“With The Beatles” is a really fantastic album but it has additional emotional resonance for me, taking me back to a Christmas Day when I was nine years old. I am so familiar with this album that I don’t often play it – every note is ingrained within my psyche so it’s been interesting to research stuff that I didn’t know about some of the songs.
Steve Turner in “The Beatles Songs” claims that “It Won’t Be Long” could be the story of John Lennon’s childhood. The singer of the song has been rejected, he feels lonely and he is waiting for the girl (or his mother) to come back to him. Thelma McGough, John Lennon’s girlfriend for a few months after his mother was killed recalls him saying “I lost my mother twice. Once as a child of five and then again at seventeen.” Ian MacDonald, in “Revolution In The Head” wrote that “Julia” on “The Beatles” marked the transition between the two muses of John Lennon’s life, his mother and Yoko Ono. It had never occurred to me that the muse for this song was his mother. If pressed, I would have assumed it was Cynthia Lennon. The title also includes a pun on the word “belong” that John Lennon would have enjoyed. Six years later, Charles Manson was to mis-hear George Harrison’s “Don’t be long” on “Blue Jay Way” as “Don’t belong” – i.e. drop out of society. In an interview in 1980, John Lennon stated that it was only when William Mann of “The Times” had written about the Aeolian cadences in this song that “the middle classes started listening to us”. John Lennon had no idea what an Aeolian cadence was (he said that he thought they were exotic birds) and, in fact, William Mann had written this about “Not A Second Time”.
“All I’ve Got To Do” had been written by John Lennon in 1961. He was a huge fan of Smokey Robinson and, having tried to emulate him with “Ask Me Why”, he produced another, equally marvellous, song here. Of the six cover songs on this album, “You Really Got A Hold On Me” is my favourite with really soulful piano playing by George Martin. Paul McCartney has stated that the aforementioned “Not A Second Time” was also inspired by Smokey Robinson.
Every other group in the history of pop music would have released “All My Loving” as a single but with so many great contenders, it remained as an album track in the UK. Paul McCartney has claimed that the lyrics of the song came to him either when he was shaving one morning or when on a tour bus. It was the first time that he had written the words of a song before the tune. Along with “P.S. I Love You”, this song takes the form of a letter to his girlfriend.
On September 10th 1963, John Lennon and Paul McCartney saw Andrew Oldham whilst they were in a taxi. They asked the taxi to stop, picked him up and took him to Ken Colyer’s club where The Rolling Stones were rehearsing. John Lennon and Paul McCartney were told that The Rolling Stones’ record company were pressurising them to release a single but they weren’t sure what to record. The two Beatles said that they had an idea for a song which, if The Stones wanted, they could finish it. Twenty minutes later, The Stones were given a song that would get into the Top Twenty. More significantly, watching The Beatles’ main songwriters at work inspired Mick Jagger and Keith Richards to write their own material. John Lennon later said that it was “a throwaway song – we weren’t going to give them anything great, right?”