I've often said that if you remember the '60s you probably weren't there. Thankfully, an army of scholars, musicologists, cultural historians and other experts have endlessly analyzed the most enduring symbol of that tumultuous era the Beatles for those of us who were in fact there, helping us remember the musical, political, cultural and deeply personal chords the Beatles struck across their life as a band and well after.
But as I think back on those days, I don't find myself dwelling only on the extraordinary talents of John, Paul, George and Ringo, and the way in which they both inspired, and brought pleasure, to untold millions around the world. Instead, my mind always goes home, to Liverpool. That's the real, untold part of the Beatles story. If anything on the scale of the Beatles were to happen in the early 1960s, it almost had to happen in Liverpool.
When the boys were growing up, Liverpool was still one of the world's great port cities, with hundreds of acres of deep docks. Its population included Welsh, Irish, Scottish and Chinese immigrants; rough and working class, Liverpool was nonetheless the country's most sophisticated music center, and most importantly for things to come its rock-'n'-roll hub. The young merchant seamen who returned to Liverpool regularly from America brought with them a precious cargo of the latest records from Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers and Little Richard, which spread from phonograph to phonograph like a primeval Napster.
Those early rock-'n'-roll songs, which Liverpudlians knew about before anyone else in England getting them off young sailors, crowding into music stores like the one I ran for Brian Epstein in the early days, listening to them on Radio Luxembourg, when the BBC played only middle-of-the-road pop and not much of that formed the core influence upon the young Beatles-to-be. They were reflected in the boys' trademark harmonies and guitar styles, not to mention Paul's oft-used and near perfect imitation of Little Richard's holler.
Then there's the celebrated Beatle charm. We Brits called it "cheeky." But the character, wit and intellect that came off in their raucous press conferences and films were typical, up-the-establishment Liverpudlian. The old joke between two Londoners said it well. "Lots of comedians come out of Liverpool," said one. "You have to be a comedian to live in Liverpool," said the other. Maybe because of the nightly firestorm the Luftwaffe inflicted on the city in World War II, or its unique melting pot of immigrants, or a fierce determination to show urbane London what it could do, Liverpool's special, smart-ass personality became an integral part of the Beatles' mystique.
From my vantage point as a fellow Liverpudlian and later as part of the Beatles' management, I knew the power of our local culture well. It bonded us in a trust and comfort that endured throughout the Beatles' careers. I also knew that what happened with the Beatles was a once-in-a-lifetime chemistry musical influences and unique personalities and perfect timing and sheer talent combining into one explosive force, still felt today in every part of the globe. But it was born in Liverpool.