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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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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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“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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The Beatles at the Cavern Club, 9 February 1961

By Gordon Thompson

Fifty years ago, one of the great stories in pop music began when the Beatles debuted in a dank arched subterranean Liverpool club dedicated to music. Located in the narrow lane called Mathew Street, just of North John Street, the Cavern Club had opened as a jazz haven that enfolded blues and skiffle, which was how the Quarry Men, John Lennon’s precursor to the Beatles, had first descended the steps and climbed the tiny stage in August 1957. Three-and-a-half years later, the Beatles had evolved into a

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December 1960: A wild time for the Beatles

By Gordon Thompson

The Beatles reinvented themselves several times over their career, from comic mop-tops to psychedelic gurus to post-modern self-directed artistes; but perhaps one of their most remarkable transformations occurred before most of Britain or the world even knew they existed.

Fifty years ago, as the winter 1960 seeped into Britain, the Beatles returned from a little over three months on the stage boards of Hamburg’s Kaiserkeller where they had put in hundreds of hours of performance. Back in August, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Stu Sutcliffe had recruited Pete Best (and his relatively new drum kit) at the last minute for their very first club residency in the St. Pauli District of West Germany’s busiest port.

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The Beatles Arrive in Hamburg, August 1960

By Gordon Thompson
Although Americans often talk about a “British Invasion” that started in February 1964, the groundwork for that cultural phenomenon may actually have begun fifty years ago this month when, on 17 August 1960, the Beatles began performing at the Indra, a small club in red-light district of the West German city of Hamburg. The van and ferry ride to Hamburg with manager Allan Williams had the Beatles arriving at night in one of Europe’s most decadent enclaves. The St. Pauli district thrived on sex

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The Beatles, Orientalism, and Help!

By Gordon Thompson
At the July 29, 1965 premiere of the Beatles’ second film, Help!, most viewers understood the farce as a send-up of British flicks that played on the exoticism of India, while at the same time spoofing the popularity of James Bond. Parallel with this cinematic escapism, a post-colonial discourse began that questioned how colonial powers justified their economic exploitation of the world. Eventually, Edward Said’s Orientalism would describe the purpose of this objectification as “dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient” (1978: 3). In effect, Said and others argued that portrayals of the non-Western other

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The Beatles Are Dead. Long Live the Beatles

For Beatles fans, it was like watching mortality embrace a loved one. The spring of 1970 brought news of the dissolution of the Beatles and, with the release of Michael Lindsey-Hogg’s Let It Be in May, fans could see the disestablishment for themselves.

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The British are coming: the Summer of 1964 (part two)

By Gordon R. Thompson
In the opening months of 1964, The Beatles turned the American popular music world on its head, racking up hits and opening the door for other British musicians. Lennon and McCartney demonstrated that—in the footsteps of Americans like Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry—British performers could be successful songwriters too.

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