Could you sing like John?
If Lennon had left The Beatles?
By Spencer Leigh
What if it was John Lennon rather than Pete Best who left The Beatles when they were on the cusp of fame? Where would he, and they be now?
Most musicians don’t give up. Even if they stop playing professionally, they still entertain their families or their friends down the pub.
In Liverpool, the Merseycats charity has been successful in finding musicians of the ’60s and coaxing them back on stage to strut their stuff through ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, ‘What’d I Say’ and ‘Some Other Guy’. The Undertakers, The Fourmost, Ian and The Zodiacs, The Remo Four and Denny Seyton and the Sabres: the list is almost endless. Almost.
Few musicians have resisted the call to appear at a Merseycats reunion, but John Lennon has always said no.
Who would have been in the group?
John Lennon, you may remember, was a leading figure in the Beatles - maybe even the leader - until that fateful day on August 16, 1962 when he was sacked by Brian Epstein.
The Beatles were on the verge of a national breakthrough - and Paul, George and Pete with a new vocalist, the effervescent Gerry Marsden, achieved worldwide success with ‘How Do You Do It’ and then ‘ I Like It’. Paul’s melodic flair was brought out in the million-selling ‘Yesterday’, although if John were around, Paul would never have rhymed ‘yesterdays’ with sequesterdays’ in what was the most ingenious couplet of the ’60s.
John and Eppy never got on. John hated him saying that the Beatles would be bigger than Elvis. ‘Come off, Eppy,’ he would shout, ‘even Cliff could make a better film than G.I. Blues.’
He rebelled when Epstein wanted to replace the raucous, American rhythm and blues from their act (‘Twist And Shout’, ‘Money’) with cheerful, Tin Pan Alley, three-chord pop. John was adamant: ‘If you want the Beatles to sing ‘How Do You Do It’, Eppy,’ he said, throwing him his Rickenbacker, ‘you can take my place - but have some singing lessons first.’
Then there was Cynthia. Brian had wanted to market four desirable, unattached young men…and here was John with a pregnant girlfriend. He told John that a married Beatle would be disastrous for their following, but, John, even though a nonconformist, did not want his child born out of wedlock.
Ringo Starr of the Hurricanes
Many recall the outburst at the Cavern on August 15. Eppy was redfaced about John sabotaging his plans, and John chided him, ‘You’re the mistake, Eppy. We should have stayed with Allan Williams.’
Albert Goldman’s infamous hatchet job on Paul McCartney states that Paul, forever ambitious for the Beatles, shared Epstein’s thoughts that night and agreed that John should go. Epstein asked John to call into his Whitechapel office the following morning. ‘No one has ever repeated that conversation, but John went into The Grapes and announced, ‘I’m not a Beatle anymore.’
At first, John with typical Merseyside arrogance said, ‘I’m going to do it on my own.’ He’d heard the new American folksinger, Bob Dylan, and he decided on something similar. Too similar unfortunately as his first and only single, ‘Working Class Hero’, lent heavily on Dylan’s own ‘Masters Of War’ and he was sued for plagiarism. ‘Of course I pinched the bloody tune,’ said Lennon in court, ‘Folk songs are for the people: there shouldn’t be such a thing as copyright.’ His record company lost and after Lennon had had ‘a visit from the boys’, he decided that he wanted nothing further to do with ‘capitalist record companies.’
There was nothing to report: he never played his guitar, never wrote songs, never jammed with another band. In fact, he never did anything: long before the term was fashionable, he was a househusband, looking after his son while his wife worked as a designer.
Although the only tracks by John Lennon on record are ‘Working Class Hero’, its Utopian B-side ‘Imagine’, and some rock’n’roll that the Beatles cut with Tony Sheridan in Hamburg, a cult now surrounds him. Beatlefans long to meet the group’s original lead singer and rhythm guitarist. ‘I love looking at photos of George, Paul, Gerry and Pete,’ says Lee Mavers from the Beatles fan club, ‘but look at this photo of the Beatles from 1962 and it is John’s face you are drawn to first. I can’t understand why he gave it all up.’
Eventually, after calls to the Liverpool Echo, John Lennon was found, living off his Giro in Birkenhead: his marriage had ended after an affair with a Japanese artist. ‘That’s what she says,’ says John, ‘but there’s no call for househusbands once your kid has left home.’
After all this time, John Lennon has been persuaded to perform again. Tonight, after 40 years, John is going to be playing at the Cavern in a band which includes Ringo Starr from the Hurricanes, his son Julian, and a few former Quarry Men. ‘I have nothing to prove,’ he insists, ‘It’s just a way of spending some time. I know I was the best. The Beatles are the nowhere men, not me.’
No one knows how good John Lennon will be. The Grapes is across the road. He might drink too much. He might curse at the audience. No one will mind. Everyone is waiting for the moment when Paul’s former partner steps on to the stage. Paul has sent a goodwill message to The Cavern. ‘Well, he would, wouldn’t he?’ is John Lennon’s savage rejoinder.
Words: Spencer Leigh
last updated: 21/05/2008 at 16:09