Girls are synonymous with the Beatles: they made the band and during its lifespan, the band helped make them.
Whether anonymous amongst the screaming hordes found on black and white Pathè news reels or - thanks largely to Mark Lewisohn’s research - the ones we can put names to, girls helped mold the band. They swarm the Beatles’ story: the demographic of girls that surround the Beatles, or the Beatles’ surrounded themselves with, tell their own tale of the times and inform the observer of the progress of the band and society at large, acting as signposts to who the boys were at each stage along their journey to become men.
By the time the Beatles shouldered their way into the national consciousness in 1963, the early stages of women’s liberation had begun filtering down from the elite sections of society toward the general populous. Previously the pastime of those wealthy enough to have time to pass, by the early 1960’s women were becoming increasingly economically and psychologically independent.
Liberation and independence had, through the economic possibilities allowed to the first post-war generation via an initially quiet postindustrial revolution of opportunity and income, only increased in volume and speed thanks to increased access to the contraceptive pill and in turn, their own sexuality.
Philip Larkin famously wrote of 1963 in his poem Annus Mirabilis:
Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) -
Between the end of the "Chatterley" ban
And the Beatles' first LP.
The lesser known second stanza is perhaps the more revealing.
Up to then there'd only been
A sort of bargaining,
A wrangle for the ring,
A shame that started at sixteen
And spread to everything.
From shame to joy, the Beatles provided the soundtrack to the liberation of a generation of boys and girls. The boys now had a precedent for looking distinctly unlike their fathers and the girls now found a focal point for their conscious or unconscious sexual awakenings. Importantly, both sexes found their parents more or less approving of these four subversively asexual Northern fantasies. For perhaps the only time in history the generational gap was bridged by the very thing that widened it.
Within this context, it’s possible to pinpoint a number of important females in the Beatles’ story. Key figures such as Astrid Kirchherr, Dot Rhone, Lindas Ness and Steen (Christened ‘Lindy & Lou’ by Lennon, the original front row ‘Cavernites’), Roberta (Bobby) Brown, founder of the Beatles’ fan club and then Freda Kelly, who became its secretary. There were also important behind the curtain players like Maggie McGivern, Paul’s clandestine Beatles-era beau.
As the band matured and moved away from their formative surroundings and searched for artistic achievement beyond their horizon, girls became women. Strong willed, intelligent and independent ones at that. As the band matured and their output became ever more sophisticated, so too did their female following and inner circle. Demanding players like Alma Cogan, Eleanor Bron, Linda Eastman and Yoko Ono sat alongside everpresent, more domestic influencers like Auntie Jin, Mary McCartney, Mimi Smith and Julia Lennon.
Whilst on their climb up the showbiz ladder, the Beatles’ audiences changed, evolving with every step. Initially, faces beyond the stage consisted mostly of males or worse - males of a Jazz orientation. These accidental early audiences had attended early Quarrymen Cavern shows in 1957 on the look out for some culture, but instead found a band seeking a way out of skiffle (Jazz for beginners) and into rock and roll. The band received requests on stage to ‘Cut out the bloody rock!’, defiance of which would ultimately earn them a year’s ban from the Cavern stage.
The next few years saw a wide variety of audiences that gave the band an equally wide variety of receptions. First came sporadic shows in tough suburbs of Liverpool that would often result in the band running for the bus as well as their lives after gigs. Hamburg and its angry, drunken war veterans and pseudo-intellectual teenagers followed. The German audience now also included organised criminals, strippers and their cohorts and the threat of violence was always one of Lennon’s ‘big fucking winks’ away.
In between appearances on the proto-Liverpool scene and Hamburg though was the Johnny Gentle tour that lasted for nine days in late May, 1960. For the duration of this, their first tour, the band played mostly to very young girls. For inexperienced, brash young Northern men in their late teens, this could have represented a sticky post #MeToo chapter from their early career. By all contemporary accounts, the boys were nothing but perfect gentlemen to their unsuspecting young audiences, however, often taking the time to chat and interact with them but always respectfully. On home turf, young girls would often crowd into Neil Aspinal’s van amongst guitar cases and amplifiers after a Cavern show, only to get escorted safely back home before their parents had the opportunity to become concerned. It could so easily have gone the other way.
In 2021, all Beatles fans can allow themselves a collective sigh of relief at the band’s collective historic and underreported working-class acts of respect. A retrospective ‘cancelling’ of the Beatles would be to deprive Western culture of its barometer; the measure of brilliance and the possibility of the youth it was playing to. The band’s lack of sinister skeletons in closets is just another justification of their sustained position at the toppermost. This does lead us onto the question of John Lennon’s pertained youthful misogyny - the story of him striking his then girlfriend and then wife. Don’t worry, we’ll come to that.
Often finding themselves in situations where lesser men could have, and historically most certainly would have, taken advantage of, the band fresh home from Hamburg vice-laden shag-a-thons looked upon their growing audience as key individual players in their rise from anonymity to local notoriety and eventual National stardom. Each recognising that courting adoration and nurturing sexless but monogamous fandom from this demographic would be the backbone of their success. And so it played out.
In an act of mutual respect, their regular Cavern audiences - that unusually for pop fandom also included large numbers of boys - adopted a uniform that created an identity and the nucleus of the early mania scene. In an act of solidarity, an easily identifiable epaulette to the growing club would emerge, mirroring the band’s own - black clothing, leather if they could find it, long hair, combed either forward or back, black eyeliner, heels, jeans. The foundations of the quintessential early ’60s style, and it all started here. As fandom turned to worship, which quickly turned into something more frantic and altogether terrifying, interpersonal relationships between the band and its audience became more distant and impossible to sustain. In turn the relationship became fanatical, faceless and shrouded in screams. The loosening of bladders alongside the pelting of Jelly Babies came part and parcel of endless touring. Though they never lost the personal touch, often courteously receiving fans at the front door of their Surrey mansions, Lennon described this period less innocently than being under fire from jelly babies on stage, but as an endless feast of orgies and meaningless sexual encounters. ‘The Beatles’ tours’, said John, ‘were like Fellini’s Satyricon’.
The transition between innocence and experience was a tightrope. Girls with their mothers screaming behind a wall of policemen was one thing, but girls on the other side of the cusp throwing themselves at the Beatles backstage and beyond was another. This remains the part of the story that’s yet to be entirely revealed. Partly to protect the still living protagonists, partly due to the enormous respect the players had for the game, and the game its players. Each attempt to tell the tale of the Beatles and sex has thus far been whitewashed by the Beatles’ own participation in it - see Anthology and, more recently, Eight Days a Week, Ron Howard’s cinematic but disappointing official ‘retelling’ of the band’s touring years.
We’ve all seen the footage of fans writing the names of their favourite Beatle in the sand forty floors below their Miami hotel room window, but what of the girls that made it inside, handpicked by Mal or Nell? Miraculously, little in the way of kiss and tell has occurred, though we know plenty of kissing went on. So why no telling?
This could be seen an extension of the relationship the band had with its Cavern audience and the special relationship each member had with his public. Some interesting stories have made it into folklore, however. Richard Lester, the A Hard Day’s Night, Help! and the Running, Jumping, Standing Still film director recalls a chilling encounter he witnessed in 1965.
‘[He, Lester] accidentally overheard two of the most beautiful women he had ever seen, dressed in identical, stunning black swimsuits, try to coax Paul [McCartney] into taking heroin. The combination of their sexual come-on and the enticement towards hard drugs was one of the most chillingly evil moments Lester has ever encountered. His sense of relief when Paul rebutted the twosome was profound’, wrote Andrew Yule in his biography of Richard Lester, The Man Who Framed The Beatles.
Though Paul did later accidentally imbibe heroin once with art dealer and friend to the Beatles, Robert Fraser, this image of sinister seduction is so far removed from the accounts of the band’s more organic interactions with fans, that it remains a shocking image.
Another Girl is often cited as evidence of the Beatles beginning to wilt under the spotlight. The track and its accompanying album, the film soundtrack, Help!, remains a document of evidence of where the band, and namely Paul McCartney, were in February 1965. Shiny, well produced pop music was the order of the day. Mid-’60s guitar pop was arguably perfected during these sessions, but the material that was put to tape hid a growing maturity that was starting to influence their private lives and would soon intrude on their writing. The Help! material bridged a gap between the innocence of their early recording phase and the experience that followed into their mature period. Though Lennon was clearly singing for help, and in You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away, Ticket to Ride and You’re Gonna Lose That Girl produces work that stands the test of time, the band’s other material has aged slightly less well than most of the ouvre.
McCartney was still singing about girls, in The Night Before, I’ve Just Seen A Face and Tell Me What You See (co-written with Lennon), and he was the main songwriter responsible for only 4 of the album’s 14 titles. Although he did produce his Mona Lisa, Yesterday, he comes across as oddly lightweight here.
A paint by numbers’ Beatles pop song, Another Girl, contained all the elements: a ‘Crumbly & Western’, jolly toned song about a nondescript girl, two part harmonies, trebly guitar solo - played by Paul after wiping George’s overdub off the recording without him knowing - ouch. But a key ingredient is missing - joy. Paul sounds tired and a little unconvincing.
The melody of the song betrays its rather bitter tone. Paul, three years into being the most famous pretty boy on the planet, is now the van that sits in the depot of the sausage factory of female fandom, waiting to collect. So used to adoration is he now that he’s prepared to bin off a relationship safe in the knowledge that another one’d be along any minute. This is a departure from the way in which the band usually sung about their fans. P.S. I Love You; Thank You, Girl; This Boy; From Me To You, now he is perhaps ready to look for something else, but at 22 years of age, was yet to be wise enough to know quite what.