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The Oxford Companion to the London 2012 Opening Ceremony

By Alice Northover
Many questioned how the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games Opening Ceremony was going to make a mark after the spectacular Beijing Olympics only four years earlier. While Beijing presented the Chinese people moving as one body — dancing, marching, and presenting a united front to the world — the British answer was a chaotic and spirited ceremony, shifting from cricket matches to coordinated dance routines, Mr Bean’s comedic dream to a 100-foot Lord Voldemort.

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“I Hope They Don’t Think We’re a Rock ‘n’ Roll Outfit”: The Rolling Stones Debut, 12 July 1962

By Gordon Thompson
Fifty years ago, in one of London’s busiest shopping districts, the Rolling Stones stepped onto a stage for the first time, full of adolescent confidence and probably not a little performance anxiety. On this Thursday night, a crowd of friends and the curious came to support this muddle of middle-class English adolescents ambitiously exploring a relatively esoteric niche of American music. But everything about this first gig would portend a band that would be, a band that parents would hate and teens love, a band that would be ruthless in its pursuit of success.

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The Beatles at EMI: The Contract, 18 June 1962

By Gordon Thompson
Perhaps the most significant unresolved controversy surrounding the recording of the Beatles first single “Love Me Do” rests on the question of whether or not EMI had finalized a contract with them. To wit: on 6 June 1962, were the Beatles auditioning or were they already under contract? Documentation and personal memories conflict such that no single answer can claim to be definitive, even as the evidence suggests a nuanced social interplay between Parlophone’s George Martin and Beatles manager Brian Epstein.

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The Beatles’ first visit to EMI, part 2

By Gordon Thompson
For the Beatles first visit to EMI, George Martin (the director of Parlophone Records) asked his associate Ron Richards to serve as the artist-and-repertoire manager, which involved rehearsing the band and running their session. Pop groups represented a normal part of Richards’ portfolio and clearly the Beatles didn’t rank high enough on Martin’s list of responsibilities to warrant his presence. That would eventually change, but on 6 June 1962, the Beatles presented only a blip on his radar.

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The Beatles’ first visit to EMI, part 1

By Gordon Thompson
Fifty years ago, the Beatles recorded for the first time in a building that would eventually bear the name of their last venture. On Wednesday, 6 June 1962, the most important rock band of the twentieth century auditioned at the EMI Recording Studios in Abbey Road, London.

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The Beatles Get a Second Chance, 9 May 1962

By Gordon Thompson
On this spring morning fifty years ago, Brian Epstein climbed the front steps and passed through the simple entrance of the EMI Recording Studios in St. John’s Wood, London, placing him on the other side of the looking glass. As a retailer, he had sold recordings made in these studios by Sir Edward Elgar, Sir Thomas Beecham, and, more recently, Cliff Richard and the Shadows. The neophyte manager of the Beatles now eagerly anticipated the possibility of watching through the control room window as his “boys” joined that exclusive club.

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“Davy” Jones, actor and musician

By Gordon Thompson
As the Beatles made their historic debut on American television in February 1964, the cast of Oliver!, the actor playing the role of the Artful Dodger, and other acts on the show watched from the wings as the hysteria unfolded. Davy Jones had started his acting career on British television, making his debut appearance in the venerable Coronation Street followed by the gritty Liverpool police drama, Z-Cars.

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Brian Epstein and the quest for a contract

By Gordon Thompson
On a cold winter’s day in early 1962, Brian Epstein and the Beatles huddled together contemplating their failed bid for a Decca recording contract and the bitter aftertaste of rejection that left emptiness in their stomachs. But hunger can feed ambition. Disappointments would ensue, but almost immediately Epstein would be the proverbial right man in the right place at the right time and meet a string of people who were looking for something not quite exactly unlike the Beatles.

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The Beatles wait, January 1962

By Gordon Thompson
Fifty years ago in January 1962, British popular music crept toward the brink of success. Notably, the coming months would see Britain’s Decca Records release the UK’s first international rock hit Telstar created by the quirky iconoclast Joe Meek with his studio band the Tornados. That recording declared Meek’s infatuation with the first telecommunications satellite and proved that London’s recording industry had the potential to compete in the United States.

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Brian Epstein transforms the Beatles, December 1961

By Gordon Thompson
Fifty years ago in December 1961, Brian Epstein made a leap of faith that he could change his life and the lives of four young musicians. He could not foresee that he would change Western civilization. A few weeks earlier, the Liverpool businessman had heard the din of the Beatles in a claustrophobic former vegetable cellar and had seized upon the idea of transforming the band into something the world could embrace. He seems to have had few second thoughts about his decision, even as he allowed that he might fail.

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“What Brings Mr. Epstein Here?” 9 November 1961

By Gordon Thompson
The transformation of the Beatles from four musicians with humble roots into British cultural icons (second only to Shakespeare in some minds) began in Liverpool, even if a recent decision by the Trademark Trial and Appeals Board of the United States Patent and Trademark Office may attempt to shape how we remember those roots in the future. Ironically, that decision comes shortly before a relevant anniversary in Beatles history.

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The Beatles and “My Bonnie”: 23 June 1961

By Gordon Thompson
To many adolescents fifty years ago, the future seemed bleak: the “King” had become preoccupied with refurbished Italian schmaltz while the world drew closer to Armageddon. But hope buzzed in the heart of an ungrounded amplifier in a West German high school.

Goodwill had floundered between the recently elected American president, John F. Kennedy and the Soviet Union’s premier, Nikita Khrushchev over the Soviet blockade of Berlin and America’s support of the failed

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The foundations of British rock: Archer Street

By Gordon Thompson
Fifty years ago, on Monday 22 May 1961, London’s constabulary attempted to terminate a British musical tradition. For as long as most of them could remember, musicians had gathered Monday afternoons on the short stretch of pavement between Rupert Street and Great Windmill Street in Soho to collect their pay from previous engagements and to pick up work for the coming week. A local merchant had probably complained about the disparate crowd blocking the street, so the police

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“The Start of a Solo Career”: Paul McCartney, 10 April 1970

By Gordon Thompson


Even in the storm’s dawning, both fans and defamers alike recognized magic in the Beatles’ ability to collaborate and to adapt in pursuit of a shared vision, and at the heart of this quest lay the desire to make great recordings. In the beginning of their career with EMI, their willingness to subvert their individual identities to a common cause (and the joy with which they did so) contributed to their success. In the

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“Tomorrow Never Knows”: The Beatles sample the future, April 1966

By Gordon Thompson

Forty-five years ago, at the beginning of April 1966, on the almost anniversary of a London dentist surreptitiously spiking his and George Harrison’s coffees with Lysergic acid diethylamide, John Lennon visited Barry Miles’ Indica Books and picked up a copy of Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, and Richard Alpert’s The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. In its pseudo-mystical prose, Lennon found partial inspiration for one of the most audacious recordings the Beatles would ever attempt.

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