by Alan Chrisman, c. 2018
Let’s just suppose John Lennon hadn’t met Paul McCartney; how would things have been different?
Or what if they had passed their Decca Records audition? They might have been forced to record someone else’s songs, like Mitch Murray’s “How Do You Do it”. Decca might have released a single and it might have become a minor hit. And on that supposed Decca album there might even have been, unnoticed, one of their early original songs like “Like Dreamers Do” . Or what if Brian Epstein hadn’t decided to manage them, would they have ever made it out of Liverpool, then London, let alone America? And if George Martin hadn’t signed them, would any other producer had allowed them to do their own songs or experiment with new sounds? Would there have been a Revolver or Peppers without him and his innovative engineers? On the other hand, Martin, without them, might have only become known for his James Bond soundtracks and comedy records.
How would that have changed music in Britain? Would it, after skiffle had faded in a year or two, have reverted back to imitating U.S. pop stars and sounds. Without The Beatles leading the assault on America would there have been a British Invasion? No English bands had before made much of a mark on American shores. What if Kennedy hadn’t recently been assassinated and the pop charts weren’t filled with clean-cut white “Bobby Bobbys”, as Jerry Lee Lewis called them, because most of the 50’s often black founders of rock’n’roll had vacated the spots for various reasons. So there was a real vacuum to fill.
Of course, the 60’s would still have happened, civil rights and anti-Vietnam demonstrations and drugs and acid rock from California. In England, some Brit. bands like the Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, and Animals would have still copied their blues heroes. But how many would have written their own songs if Lennon/McCartney hadn’t shown that it was possible? Would Brian Wilson have gone against his record company and some of his fellow Beach Boys, wanting to move past just writing about girls, cars and surfing? Although he was already experimenting with pot and sound textures, without Rubber Soul, would he made the Good Vibrations of Pet Sounds? And even Bob Dylan , already with a following on college campuses with his protest songs, but also craving a mass audience, having been booed for going electric, if he hadn’t heard “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and recognizing that “was where music had to go.”? Would his new direction have been accepted by the general public without the revitalization of rock by the The Beatles too? What if there had been no Hard Days’ Night movie and The Byrds’ Roger McGuinn hadn’t seen George Harrison’s Rickenbacker guitar and decided to put it together with Dylan’s folk and help popularize folk-rock? Pop music might have just remained entertainment for teenagers, but The Beatles, especially, showed that it could be so much more- even art.
What might each Beatle have done instead? Would Paul have become a teacher as his mother wanted; perhaps at Liverpool Institute where he might have become a headmaster? Or with his natural musical talent, he might have become a Prof. of Music and composed a classical piece about his childhood called, “Liverpool Oratorio.” Or he might have become just a songwriter providing songs for pop singers like Welsh singer, Tom Jones(whom in real life turned down “Long And Winding Road”). Or perhaps with his boyish good looks and charm, he might have been the next pop idol a la Cliff Richard and had hits with his ballads “Yesterday” and ” Michelle.” But unlikely then, he would have been allowed to display his more rocky side, such as “She Loves You” “Lady Madonna” or “Paperback Writer”. Although he could have still had massive hits with his own songs, “Hey Jude” or “Let It Be”. Or maybe he might have gone another way and become like an Andrew Lloyd Weber and written a show for Broadway based on a character whom had a lonely wedding called “Eleanor Rigby”. That’s all possible.
George Harrison, might have joined his mate, Jackie Lomax’ Liverpool band, The Undertakers, and they might have written together a guitar instrumental, like “Cry For A Shadow. But unlikely anything as majestic as “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” or “Something” or “My Sweet Lord”, with Lennon/ McCartney not providing him expert competition.
And Ringo? After Rory Storm broke up, his drum skills would have gotten him steady work in several Liverpool bands and he’d have been a regular at Butlins’ Holiday camps. And maybe opened a hair dressing shop and married its hairdresser, Maureen. In short, he would still have been Ringo.
But what of John Lennon-if he hadn’t met Paul? After his teenage band, The Quarry Men, fell apart, would “Johnnie” Lennon, as he might have been called, like his estranged father, “Freddie”, have become a Liverpool pub entertainer, playing old rock covers(and perhaps an occasional original tune), when he wasn’t in jail for getting in drunken fights? Or might he have done stand-up comedy like his Dove Dale Primary School classmate, Jimmy Tarbuck? Comedian Lennon, known for his politically-incorrect jokes about “cripples.” For as a Liverpool School of Art friend had said, “You will one day hit the bottle or hit the top boy and nothing in between.”
Would his pub friends have believed him when he said he knew he’d always been a genius? Would there have ever been a “Strawberry Fields Forever” or “Walrus” (or “Imagine” or “Give Peace a Chance”, if he hadn’t met a Japanese avant garde artist), or a more commercial, Paul McCartney?
It took a lot of just the right circumstances and personalities and talents to all come together. Fortunately, they all did. A Beatle flapped its wings and the universe opened up-for us all.