In just a few short years, The Beatles created the most iconic albums of all time, changing music and pop culture forever. And while they recorded their greatest hits, the four lads from Liverpool were living out some of rock and roll’s craziest stories. From their first American tour to their troubled last days, The Beatles were constantly cooking up the strangest plans, meeting the most interesting people, and winding up in the weirdest places.
10. The Jelly Bean Incident
When The Beatles arrived in America in 1964, they sparked a wild tide of mass hysteria that we all know as Beatlemania. Over 75 million people tuned in to watch their performance on The Ed Sullivan Show, and when they showed up in Washington, D.C., they had to rent the entire seventh floor of the Shoreham Hotel to escape their frenzied fans.
During their 34-day tour, the band played at Carnegie Hall and San Francisco’s Cow Palace, but perhaps their most painful performance was at the Coliseum in D.C. A boxing arena, the stage was set in the middle of the auditorium, meaning the boys were surrounded. Throughout the gig, they had to turn around continually so everyone could glimpse their faces. That meant Ringo had to get up between songs and drag his kit around by himself.
Then fans brought out the jelly beans.
Before their performance, The Beatles had been interviewed by the New York Times, and George made a comment about how much he liked “jelly babies.” Eager to please, starstruck fans loaded their pockets with jelly beans and hurled them at the stage, hitting the band from every side. The candies hit their guitar strings, pinged against Ringo’s cymbals, and smacked the performers in the face.
There’d been a major misunderstanding. Jelly beans aren’t jelly babies. Babies are soft (the US equivalent would be gummi bears), while beans are pretty hard. George was worried he might go blind. “It’s a bit dangerous, you know,” he once said, “because if a jelly bean, traveling about 50 miles an hour through the air, hits you in the eye, you’re finished.” Fortunately, the boys made it through, battered but alive, and went on to play another day.
One of the few men in the audience that evening was future vice president Al Gore. He claims that he didn’t throw any jelly beans.
9. Jimmie Nicol’s 10-Day Drumming Gig
Beatles fans love to debate the identity of the “Fifth Beatle,” that unofficial member who helped push the band to greatness. Some say it’s original drummer Pete Best. Others point to Stuart Sutcliffe, the first Beatles’ bassist. Still other contenders for the title are manager Brian Epstein, producer George Martin, and “Let It Be” pianist Billy Preston. But perhaps the best candidate for fifth Beatle is Jimmie Nicol, the man who replaced Ringo.
Nicol was a 24-year-old drummer and the head of his own band, The Shubdubs. But one day in June 1964, he got a call from Brian Epstein. Ringo was sick with tonsillitis, and the band was about to go on tour. Epstein couldn’t cancel, so he was wondering if Jimmie was interested in filling Starr’s shoes.
Jimmie jumped at the chance, but there were a few snags. George opposed the plan—and Ringo’s pants were too short for the new drummer. But a couple of arguments, one audition, and a moptop haircut later, Nicol was touring with the world’s most famous band. They performed in Australia, Holland, Denmark, and Hong Kong. Everywhere Nicol went, he was mobbed by screaming girls. True, when he was on his own, no one recognized him. But with John, Paul, and George by his side, Nicol was a superstar.
As for poor Ringo, he was back in England, sitting in a hospital bed, feeling down in the dumps. “They’d taken Jimmie Nicol, and I thought they didn’t love me anymore,” he said. Then Paul sent Ringo a “get well” card, and 10 days later, Richard Starkey was feeling better and ready to rock. On his final night on tour, Jimmie was given a £500 bonus and a gold watch. Then he caught a plane back to England, and his glory days were done.
Nicol’s post-Beatles career was less than impressive. His band, The Shubdubs, didn’t do very well, and by 1965, he was bankrupt. He quit the music scene in ’67, and in recent years, he’s vanished from the face of the Earth. He’s supposedly living in London, but Nicol’s own son isn’t sure if he’s alive or not.
But Nicol’s influence has outlasted his reputation. Back on his 10-day tour, the guys would occasionally ask Jimmie how he was getting along. His stock answer was, “It’s getting better.” Inspired, Paul and John took his catchphrase and turned it into their Sgt. Pepper song “Getting Better.”
8. The Great Beatles Relay Race
The Beatles knew a thing or two about music, but even the biggest Beatlemaniac will admit the Fab Four weren’t all that athletic. According to biographer Bob Spitz, there was a time when The Beatles smoked hundreds of cigarettes a day. While it didn’t seem to affect their voices, all that tar and nicotine took their toll on their health. George Harrison even admitted that all those cigs contributed to his fatal lung cancer.
Regardless of their personal habits, The Beatles were eager to show off their sporting skills on the set of their 1965 film Help! It was the boys’ last day on set, filming at Cliveden House, a 19th-century mansion in Maidenhead, Berkshire. When the four weren’t filming, they were goofing off and playing softball, until someone on the crew challenged them to a relay race.
The setup was simple. There were four teams, each one made of six men. The teams were divided into four groups: electricians, carpenters, the camera crew, and the Fab Four. Rounding out The Beatles’ team were their road manager and their chauffeur, and when somebody shouted “go,” the sprinters took off, tearing their way around the Cliveden House and through the garden.
According to Paul, the runners covered at least a mile, and believe it or not, The Beatles won. And thanks to a visiting American DJ who brought along a camera, you can see some of the race for yourself on the Help! DVD.