Music News

When Paul Met Gerry

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."

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Serene Dominic
Contact: Serene Dominic