In case you missed all six hours of The Beatles Anthology and its accompanying hoopla (what are you, living in a Turkish prison?), just accept this premise: The Beatles are still the yardstick by which all pop music is measured. Whenever some shlub of a group scores a breakthrough hit, we call it its "I Want to Hold Your Hand." If the group reaches its artistic peak, we call it its Sgt. Pepper. If the band's disintegrating, it's White Album time.
But what if Ivan Vaughn--John Lennon's school chum and Quarrymen bandmate--had never brought John and his other friend, Paul McCartney, together on that fateful day in 1956? Or what if, worse yet, an inebriated John had puked all over Paul's wing tips? Things might not have turned out so fab.
Clearly, the two principal Beatles needed one another. Without John, Paul's ambitious, eager-to-please quality and predisposition to middle-of-the-road standards would've gravitated him toward the similarly minded Gerry and the Pacemakers--Merseyside's leading band at the time. No doubt Paul's stellar bass playing and charisma would've put Gerry and Company over the top as the songwriting team of Marsden and McCartney started churning out lightweight pop tunes.
And without perfectionist Paul to teach John how to properly tune his guitar, it would've taken Lennon eons to progress beyond the few banjo chords his aunt had taught him. Needing a foil, John probably would have kept best friend Stuart Sutcliffe in the Quarrymen, even though the scruffy painter hadn't the musical aptitude to play a kazoo, let alone bass.
But don't feel too bad for the John who never was. Once Gerrymania swept across Europe in 1963, the record companies would have scrambled to sign every Liverpool beat group in sight, even truly lousy ones like the Quarrymen. Nevertheless, John Lennon would have been stuck in a skiffle band.
Oh, pity this fanciful pop landscape. It could only have gotten uglier from there:
Paul convinces Gerry to sack his lead guitarist in favor of the underage George Harrison. They debut the new lineup, temporarily known as Long Gerry and the Silver Pacemakers, in Hamburg, Germany, and score big. The group's recording of "My Bonnie" secures the attention of Brian Epstein, who becomes the Pacemakers' manager shortly after seeing Gerry in swimming trunks.
Gerry and the Pacemakers pass the Parlophone Records audition, but producer George Martin doesn't like the way Gerry's brother, Freddie Marsden, plays the drums. After much grappling, Gerry agrees to boot his sibling in favor of moody stickman Pete Best. Unsure of Best's drumming abilities, Martin substitutes a session drummer. But it's power-hungry Paul who insists on playing the drums on all subsequent Pacemakers discs, including the band's debut long-player, Blessed Are Gerry & the Pacemakers!!.
In stark contrast to the Pacemakers' recent string of No.1 hits in Europe is the tremendous commercial and critical thud that greets Meet the Quarrymen!. The British music weekly New Musical Express notes the charisma of Lennon's gutsy vocals, but points out that worthwhile songs such as "It Won't Be Long" and "All I've Got to Do" are hopelessly ruined when the incessant washboard scratching and tea-chest banging begin.
Out of sheer embarrassment, Lennon breaks up the skiffle group to join another Liverpool combo, the Big Three, who kick him out the next week when they realize they'll have to get new stationery if he joins.
Gerrymania reaches fever pitch in America. At one point, Gerry and the Pacemakers are holding down the first five positions on Billboard's album chart--an incredible feat for a band that's only recorded two. The band's first feature film, Ferry Cross the Mersey, breaks all U.S. premire weekend attendance records, and more than four million advance orders roll in for the upcoming album, Pacemakers for Sale.
Undaunted, John joins a group formed in Tottenham by drummer Dave Clark. After three weeks of biting his tongue, Lennon can no longer resist telling Clark that a one-armed guy could play the drums better. John's suggestion to the other band members to ditch the drummer altogether and call themselves the Beatless goes unheeded. Later, Clark drops the second "s" from Beatless, and the Beatles go on to have several massive hits, including "Glad All Over" and "Bits and Pieces."
Tired of playing seaside resorts with Rory Storme and the Hurricanes, Ringo Starr leaves Liverpool to realize his lifelong dream: a life in Texas as a cowboy. There, he finds an Austin outfit, Sir Douglas Quintet, whose members have been faking British accents to secure bookings and media attention. Buoyed by the chance of having an actual limey in the ranks, Sir Doug dumps his drummer with alarming speed.
Gerrymania seems unstoppable, but Paul isn't happy about doing all the work and getting none of the credit. After insisting on individual songwriting credits, he sabotages sappy Gerry compositions like "Girl on a Swing" with incessant overarranging, and convinces George to play sitar wherever possible. Harrison soon takes exception to Paul's bossiness and tells him, "Look, I'll play what you want me to play. If you don't want me to play, I happen to know the Kinks are looking for a sitar player."
Despite dissension in the ranks, Rubber Soul is a pivotal Gerry and the Pacemakers album. But it's the group's last. Soon after Soul's release, Gerry attends an art gallery to watch Japanese performance artist Yoko Ono's one-woman show "John and Me," which consists of her sitting in a Port-O-San and letting people in for half a crown. Smitten, Gerry offers 22 and sits on the potty with Yoko for the next 36 hours.
Lennon, meanwhile, accepts an invitation to join the Moody Blues as Denny Laine's replacement.
Gerry and the Pacemakers shock the world by splitting up. Paul makes the announcement, timed to coincide with his first solo album, Out of My Hair!. The recording industry tries to fill the void by forming Gerry and the Pacemakers substitutes. Don Kirshner develops the idea of having four young musicians starring in a weekly TV series, Davy and the Rainmakers. Ringo auditions for the drumming slot, but is turned down for "not being moody enough like Pete Best."
George makes good on his threat to join the Kinks after Ray Davies throws his brother Dave out of a two-story window. The revamped Kinks begin work on (The Kinks Are) The Village Green Preservation Society album, a song cycle about a sleepy little English village that's ruined by the incongruous presence of sitars, tabla players and a visit from the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
The Beach Boys, suddenly freed from the chains of competing with the Pacemakers, turn out their masterwork, Smiley Smile, whose avant-garde production and bizarre song structures usher in a new era for studio albums. The Rolling Stones, up 'til now besotted Pacemaker copyists, seize upon Smile's innovations for Their Satanic Barber Shop Quartet.
Scarcely a breath behind that release is Lennon and the Moody Blues' Days of Future Pissed, a sketchy concept album about a man's search for his identity throughout the course of a day. It opens with Lennon's "Good Morning, Good Morning" and closes with his "A Day in the Life." Although unhappy about having crummy, pretentious poems written by the band's drummer affixed to his songs, Lennon's not about to argue because he hasn't been on a record since a harmonica stint he did for Cilla Black in 1965.
Because bossy Paul has such difficulty finding musicians who'll play exactly what he wants, he decides to do it all himself with a zillion overdubs. Predictably, his second album is way overdue. To save himself the time of running back and forth to the control booth, he enlists the dubious singing and playing abilities of girlfriend Linda Eastman, a photographer. When Paul and Linda's Lonely Hearts Club Band is released, critics blast Linda for her sheep-bleating vocals and Paul for padding what could have been a classic album rivaling Smile with such treacly fare as "Cook of the House" and "Lovely Linda, Milking Maid."
Paul's popularity plummets further when he invites U.S. soul singer Otis Redding to come to England to record his song about racial harmony, "Ebony and Ivory." When Otis' plane goes down in the Atlantic Ocean, Paul is universally blamed for Redding's death, as well as breaking up the beloved Pacemakers.
Ringo takes to sitting in with the Band. For most of 1967 and '68, the group is holed up in Woodstock, New York, recording demos with Bob Dylan. The Band releases its eponymous album in the fall, with Ringo's surprise novelty hit, "Don't Pass Me By."
John alienates the other Moodies for good when he is quoted as saying, "I'm more persecuted than Jesus Christ, and I've got the stigmata to prove it."
Paul, desperate for someone on whom to blame his miscalculations, enlists the volatile Lennon to join Paul and the New Pacemakers--which, owing to legal complications, later becomes Paul McCartney and Wings. Paul even allots Lennon space for one song, "Mr. Kite," on his upcoming Wild Life album.
The Pacemakers are a distant memory by late 1968. Gerry and Yoko embarrass everyone with their "Grin If You Want Peace" campaign, which includes posing nude for the cover of their experimental album, Two Grinning Idiots.
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George forms a supergroup with John Entwistle (formerly of the Who), Ginger Baker (formerly of Cream) and Tom Fogerty (who leaves Creedence Clearwater Revival to join the project). After spending a frustrated month trying to get their initials to spell out something cool, the members of H.E.F.B. start recording the vast catalogue of songs they weren't allowed to perform in their respective former groups for the unprecedented eight-album boxed set, I Me Mine.
John, free of his debilitating heroin addiction, wants to record the gripping "Cold Turkey" on the next Wings album. When Paul suggests inserting a bridge that later becomes "Another Day," an insulted Lennon bolts to record his solo debut, First He Screams.
The Nixon administration puts pressure on the FBI to dig up dirt on Gerry in order to thwart his Anti-Vietnam/Pro-Grinning campaign. Bolstered by a past pot bust and an unpaid library fine, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service begins deportation proceedings.
By the end of the year, press and public alike begin clamoring for a Gerry and the Pacemakers reunion. They finally get their wish a decade and a half later, in 1985, when Bob Geldof recruits 20 top British acts to band together in the holiday benefit "Paul Aid.