1. I made the news today oh, boy... The decadent playboy and Guinness heir whose tragic death inspired a Beatles classic and sounded the death knell of the swinging Sixties
Just after midnight on December 18, 1966, in a London festooned with Christmas lights, 21-year-old Tara Browne, a Dublin-born brewery heir, music lover, style icon, racing car driver and sometime Vogue model, lost control of his light-blue Lotus Elan in South Kensington, London, and collided with a black van.
His passenger, girlfriend Suki Potier, later claimed that Browne wasn’t going particularly fast – although that would have been wildly out of character for the speed-obsessed young aristocrat. In her version of events, a white car – either a Volvo or an E-Type Jaguar, never traced – emerged unexpectedly from a side street and forced Tara to swerve.
Browne’s final act in life was to pull the steering wheel to ensure that he, not Suki, took the full impact of the collision. ‘A gentleman to the very end,’ said his friend, the model and actress Anita Pallenberg.
A month after that fatal crash – and the day after Browne’s mother Oonagh won custody of her late son’s two small children in the High Court – John Lennon, suffering from writer’s block during the making of The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, propped a copy of the Daily Mail on his piano music stand and turned over the front page. There, in the middle of page three, was an article headlined: ‘Guinness Heir Babies Stay with Grandmother’.
John had heard about Tara’s death, though unlike Paul McCartney, he hadn’t known him well. The two Beatles had just been discussing whether or not Browne, son of Lord Oranmore and Browne, would have inherited his father’s seat in the House of Lords had he lived.
Lennon touched the piano keys and out came the opening line of a song:
‘I read the news today, oh boy
About a lucky man who made the grade…’
Fifty years on, Tara Browne is familiar to many as the man in the first verse of The Beatles’ A Day In The Life, who ‘blew his mind out in a car’ and then drew a curious crowd of onlookers who wondered whether he was ‘from the House of Lords’.
Pallenberg, girlfriend of Tara’s close friend, the doomed Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones, said that after Browne died, ‘the Sixties weren’t the Sixties any more’.
Rich, handsome and effortlessly cool, Tara was the living, breathing quintessence of Swinging London – a dandy with the air of a young prince, always right on the heartbeat of the moment in everything he did, whether introducing Paul McCartney to the mind-expanding possibilities of LSD in his Belgravia mews, turning heads in his psychedelic AC Cobra or gadding about London’s West End with Peter Sellers or Roman Polanski.
Browne thrilled to danger of any kind – experimenting with the newest drugs, shooting the breeze with the East End villains who popped into his motor repair shop in Chelsea, and tearing up the King’s Road in a low-slung sports car, a record player built into its dash, the needle skipping across the vinyl as he weaved through the traffic.
Born in 1945, Tara was the younger son of Dominick Browne, the fourth Lord Oranmore and Browne, and Oonagh Guinness, a glamorous society beauty and member of the sixth generation of the brewing dynasty, whose surname was as famous as Ireland itself.
His parents divorced when he was young, and Tara rarely saw the inside of a classroom, forming his personality at the feet of his mother’s coterie of writers, intellectuals and aristocratic black sheep, including the painter Lucian Freud, film director John Huston and writer Brendan Behan.
Even as a small child, he was precocious to a degree that would leave strangers open-mouthed in shock.
During his mother’s dinner parties at Luggala, her grand gothic home in Ireland’s Wicklow Mountains, he would walk down the centre of the table barefoot in blue satin pyjamas, greeting the guests.
At the age of eight, while other children sat meekly in school, Tara was on one of Huston’s film sets in Italy, watching Humphrey Bogart arm-wrestle the eccentric, flamboyantly homosexual writer Truman Capote for money. As a 13-year-old, sophisticated far beyond his years, he travelled everywhere in his mother’s chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce, splurging a £720-a-month allowance at a time when the average industrial wage for a man was £546 per year.
Sung by John in a disembodied, almost spectral voice, A Day In The Life is considered by many to be The Beatles’ greatest song – a musical high point of the decade and a haunting coda to an album that represented the last hurrah of Swinging London.
To the pop stars, models and aristocrats who knew him, the tragic end of Tara Browne had a similar significance. Singer Marianne Faithfull, with whom Browne had ‘a little scene’ weeks before his death, would later describe the news of Tara’s fatal crash as ‘like a death knell sounding over London’.
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2. Melanie Coe
In February 1967, John Lennon and Paul McCartney spotted her story in The Daily Mirror. The pregnant teen ran away from the North London home she shared with her parents but had not run off with the father of her unborn child, or “a man from the motor trade" as the song suggests. Instead, she shacked up with a croupier for a week before her parents found her. She later had an abortion.
Coe and McCartney had crossed paths before—when he was the judge of a lip-syncing contest that she won on Ready, Steady, Go! four years before. She performed Brenda Lee's "Let's Jump The Broomstick" and McCartney gave her the award. Winning the contest also meant she danced on the show for a year.
3. Real 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' gravely ill
Not so unusual, really.
Except she is Lucy Vodden — the girl who was the inspiration for the Beatles' 1967 psychedelic classic "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" — and he is Julian Lennon, the musician son of John Lennon.
They are linked together by something that happened more than 40 years ago when Julian brought home a drawing from school and told his father, "That's Lucy in the sky with diamonds."
Just the sort of cute phrase lots of 3- or 4-year-olds produce — but not many have a father like John Lennon, who used it as a springboard for a legendary song that became a centerpiece on the landmark Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album.
"Julian got in touch with me out of the blue, when he heard how ill I was, and he said he wanted to do something for me," said Vodden, who has lupus, a chronic disease where the immune system attacks the body's own tissue.
Lennon, who lives in France, sent his old friend flowers and vouchers she could use to buy plants at a local gardening center, since working in her garden is one of the few activities she is still occasionally well enough to enjoy. More importantly, he has offered her friendship and a connection to more carefree days. They communicate mostly by text message.
"I wasn't sure at first how to approach her. I wanted at least to get a note to her," Julian Lennon told The Associated Press. "Then I heard she had a great love of gardening, and I thought I'd help with something she's passionate about, and I love gardening too. I wanted to do something to put a smile on her face."
Vodden admits she enjoys her association with the song, but doesn't particularly care for it. Perhaps that's not surprising. It was thought by many at the time, including BBC executives who banned the song, that the classic was a paean to LSD because of the initials in the title. Plus, she and Julian were 4 years old in 1967, the "Summer of Love" when Sgt. Pepper was released to worldwide acclaim. She missed the psychedelic era to which the song is indelibly linked.
"I don't relate to the song, to that type of song," said Vodden, described as "the girl with kaleidoscope eyes" in the lyrics. "As a teenager, I made the mistake of telling a couple of friends at school that I was the Lucy in the song and they said, 'No, it's not you, my parents said it's about drugs.' And I didn't know what LSD was at the time, so I just kept it quiet, to myself."
There's no doubt the fanciful lyrics and swirling musical effects draw heavily on the LSD experiences that were shaping Lennon's artistic output at the time — although many of the musical flourishes were provided by producer George Martin, who was not a drug user.
"The imagery in the song is partly a reflection of John's drug experiences, and partly his love of 'Alice in Wonderland,"' said Steve Turner, author of "A Hard Day's Write," a book that details the origins of every Beatles song. "At the time it came out, it seemed overtly psychedelic, it sounded like some kind of trip. It was completely new at the time. To me it is very evocative of the period."
Turner said his research, including interviews with Vodden and Julian Lennon, confirm that she is the Lucy in the song. He said it was common for John Lennon to "snatch songs out of thin air" based on a simple phrase he heard on TV or an item he read in the newspapers. In this case, Turner said, it was the phrase from Julian that triggered John's imagination.
Veteran music critic Fred Schruers said Julian Lennon's reaching out to help Vodden as she fights the disease is particularly moving because of the childlike nature of the song.
"It's enormously evocative but with a tinge of poignancy," he said. "It's the lost childhood Julian had with that little Lucy and the lost innocence we had with the psychedelic era, an innocence we really cherished until it was snatched away."
Vodden, 46, was diagnosed with lupus about five years ago after suffering other serious health problems. She has been struggling extreme fatigue, joint pain, and other ailments.
"She's not given up, she's a fighter, and she has her family backing her, that's a good thing," said Angie Davidson, campaign director for St. Thomas' Lupus Trust, which funds research. "We need more people like her, more Lucys."
Davidson, who also has the disease, said it affects each person differently, typically causing exhaustion and depression. When the disease kills, she said, it does so by attacking the body's internal organs.
It has become difficult for Vodden to go out — most of her trips are to the hospital — but recently she and her husband went to a bookstore and heard the song playing over the store's music system. When they went to another shop, the song was on there as well.
"That made me giggle," she said.
4. Beatles' 'Sgt. Pepper' at 50: How Paul McCartney's Dad Inspired 'When I'm Sixty-Four'
Alongside Elvis Presley, Little Richard and Buddy Holly, it's important to cite Jim Mac's Jazz Band among Paul McCartney's formative influences. The obscure ragtime combo never cut a record, but it happened to be fronted by the future Beatle's father, Jim. "My dad was an instinctive musician," McCartney recalled in the Beatles Anthology documentary. "He'd played trumpet in a little jazz band when he was younger. I unearthed a photo in the Sixties, which someone in the family had given me, and there he is in front of a big bass drum. That gave us the idea for Sgt. Pepper: the Jimmy Mac Jazz Band." Beyond inspiring the cover image, McCartney's musical heritage would get an affectionate nod on the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band track "When I'm Sixty-Four."
The elder McCartney got his showbiz start like his son: playing workmen's dances around Liverpool as a teenager. Unfortunately, a wardrobe malfunction marred his band's public debut. "We thought we would have some sort of gimmick, so we put black masks on our faces and called ourselves the Masked Melody Makers," Jim related to Beatles biographer Hunter Davies. "But before half time we were sweating so much that the dye was running down our faces. That was the end of the Masked Melody Makers." In their embarrassment, the group changed their name to Jim Mac's Jazz Band. "I ran that band for about four or five years, just part time. I was the alleged boss, but there were no distinctions. We played once at the first local showing of the film The Queen of Sheba. We didn't know what to play. When the chariot race started we played a popular song of the time called 'Thanks for the Buggy Ride.' And when the Queen of Sheba was dying we played 'Horsy Keep Your Tail Up.'" The young Beatles would have a similar experience during an early gig backing a stripper. Unable to read her music – or any music, for that matter – they simply improvised on the spot.
Dental difficulties forced Jim to abandon the trumpet by the time sons Paul and Michael were born, but he filled the McCartney home with music played on a piano purchased from Harry Epstein – father of future Beatles manager Brian. Though self-taught, he possessed the flair of a gifted natural musician. "I have some lovely childhood memories of lying on the floor and listening to my dad play 'Lullaby of the Leaves' – still a big favorite of mine – and music from the Paul Whiteman era, old songs like 'Stairway to Paradise,'" says Paul in the Anthology. "To this day I have a deep love for the piano, maybe from my dad: It must be in the genes."
The sounds of the Twenties and Thirties, channeled through his father, became McCartney's musical foundation. "I grew up steeped in that music-hall tradition," he told author Barry Miles in the book Many Years from Now. "My father once worked at the Liverpool Hippodrome as a spotlight operator. They actually used a piece of burning lime in those days, which he had to trim. He was very entertaining about that period and had lots of tales about it. He'd learned his music from listening to it every single night of the week, two shows every night, Sundays off. ... He had a lot of music in him, my dad."
Jim encouraged his sons to learn how to play piano, noting that it would lead to plenty of party invites. McCartney was eager, but Jim refused to pass along his untutored technique. "I would say, 'Teach us a bit,' and he would reply, 'If you want to learn, you've got to learn properly,'" McCartney remembers. "It was the old ethic that to learn, you should get a teacher." But teachers conjured up images of schoolwork, hardly appealing for a young boy. "In the end, I learnt to play by ear, just like him, making it all up."
Before long he was making up melodies of his own, one of the earliest being "When I'm Sixty-Four," a jaunty tune that straddled the line between homage and parody. "I'd started fiddling around on my dad's piano. I wrote 'When I'm Sixty-Four' on that when I was still 16 – it was all rather tongue-in-cheek – and I never forgot it. I wrote that tune vaguely thinking it could come in handy in a musical comedy or something." Largely written before Presley and the rest of the rock brigade had fully conquered British shores, it's a fascinating look at McCartney's early aspirations. "When I started songwriting, it wasn't to write rock & roll. It was to write for Sinatra. It was to write cabaret," he says in a 1992 episode of The South Bank Show.
The song stuck around, becoming a jokey party piece in the Beatles' early repertoire when they played Liverpool's Cavern Club. John Lennon, rarely one to openly embrace the sentimental, shared fond memories of the tune to Hunter Davies. "It was just one of those ones that he'd had, that we've all got, really; half a song. And this was just one that was quite a hit with us. We used to do them when amps broke down, just sing it on the piano." The Beatles' former drummer, Pete Best, has also recalled Paul launching into the song during onstage power failures, giving authenticity to the line, "I could be handy mending a fuse when your lights have gone."
"When I'm Sixty-Four" seemed doomed to wallow in obscurity until the fall of 1966. Jim had turned 64 that July, but more likely it was the recent spate of Twenties throwback groups – the New Vaudeville Band, the Temperance Seven and the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band among them – that made Paul reconsider his primitive composition. "I thought it was a good little tune but it was too Vaudevillian, so I had to get some cod lines to take the sting out of it, and put the tongue very firmly in cheek," he told Miles "I did it in a rooty-tooty variety style." In spite of, or perhaps because of, its age, it seemed to fit the psychedelic variety show McCartney had been conceptualizing for the next Beatles album.
Work began on "When I'm Sixty-Four on December 6th, 1966, at EMI's Abbey Road studios, with the Beatles recording a basic rhythm track. Though it had been nearly half a decade since they aired the song at the Cavern, they picked it up fast. "Because the group was already so familiar with the song, the backing track was laid down in just a couple of hours," engineer Geoff Emerick recalls in his memoir, Here There and Everywhere: Recording the Music of the Beatles.
To flesh out the arrangement, Paul asked producer George Martin to arrange a breezy clarinet part. Martin immediately got the musical reference. "'When I'm Sixty-Four' was not a send-up but a kind of nostalgic, if ever-so-slightly satirical tribute to his dad," he explained in 1994. "It is also not really much of a Beatles song, in that the other Beatles didn't have much to do on it. Paul got someway 'round the lurking schmaltz factor by suggesting we use clarinets on the recording, 'in a classical way.' So the main accompaniment is the two clarinets and a bass clarinet, which I scored for him. This classical treatment gave added bite to the song, a formality that pushed it firmly towards satire."
The song itself is perhaps the least complex on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, but it does contain one notable instance of studio slight-of-hand. "During the mix, Paul also asked to have the track sped up a great deal – almost a semitone – so that his voice would sound more youthful, like the teenager he was when he originally wrote the song," writes Emerick. However, McCartney himself disputes this, maintaining it was done to make the track more buoyant. "I think that was just to make it more rooty-tooty; just lift the key because it was starting to sound a little turgid."
The song was mixed down before the New Year, making it the first track on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band to be completed – though it nearly didn't make it onto the album. "When I'm Sixty-Four" was provisionally earmarked as a potential B side to either "Strawberry Fields Forever" or "Penny Lane," which were being produced concurrently. But after a lengthy stretch of no new Beatles releases, and whispers in the press that the band's bubble had finally burst, Brian Epstein wanted to make a splash with their next single. "Brian was desperate to recover popularity, and so we wanted to make sure that we had a marvelous seller," explains Martin in the Anthology. "He came to me and said, 'I must have a really great single. What have you got?' I said, 'Well, I've got three tracks – and two of them are the best tracks they've ever made. We could put the two together and make a smashing single.' We did, and it was a smashing single – but it was also a dreadful mistake."
Upon its release on February 17th, 1967, the double-A-sided "Penny Lane"/"Strawberry Fields Forever" became the first Beatles single since 1962's "Love Me Do" that failed to reach Number One in the United Kingdom. Adding insult to injury, it was blocked from the top spot by Engelbert Humperdinck's overblown cover of the Forties chestnut "Release Me." Martin believed the chart success was hampered by the fact that record compilers counted the two sides as individual entries, thus splitting the sales. In fact, the Beatles' release outsold Humperdinck's by nearly double. Still, Martin remained guilt-ridden for his part in breaking the so-called "roll" of Number Ones. "We would have sold far more and got higher up in the charts if we had issued one of those [songs] with, say, 'When I'm Sixty-Four' on the back," he later lamented.
There were no hard feelings from the band. When Martin turned 64 in January 1990, McCartney sent him a birthday greeting: a bottle of wine.
5. The Most Famous Circus Poster of All
I wish the whole world could see them. All of them.
There is however one poster, that over a billion people have heard of, but never seen.
What am I talking about?
It is a world famous song that John Lennon wrote after he bought an antique poster in 1967, announcing a circus performance in Rochdale England.
The poster was printed in 1843, and it announced that Pablo Fanque's Circus Royal would be presenting the "grandest night of the season" and that the production was to be "for the benefit of Mr Kite" and would feature "Mr J Henderson, the celebrated somerset (sic) thrower" who would "introduce his extra ordinary trampoline leaps and somersets over men and horses, through hoops, over garters and lastly through a hogshead of real fire. In this branch of the profession Mr H challenges the world."
Lennon said that "Everything in the song is from that poster, except the horse wasn't called Henry." (The poster identifies the horse as "Zanthus".)
How crazy can you get? Make a world famous song by just reading out the words on a poster? And inject music from the circus? John Asked George Martin, the genius Beatles producer, to make the record feel like being in a real circus. "I want to smell the sawdust" John said. Martin used historic sound clips from a real steam caliope.
OK. Enough talk. Listen to the lyrics and music now. Click here .
Below is the original poster and the lyrics undereath. All the lyrics' words are there.
6. The REAL Sgt. Pepper Was a Canadian Cop. How a Police Assignment with The Beatles Created a 50-Year Mystery
The Beatles are the most-studied, best-documented musical entity in history. Everything they ever did has been archived on a day-by-day basis, even hour-by-hour. What else could there possibly left to know about them?
Tired of being shuffled about the planet by manager Brian Epstein and screaming fans who couldn’t hear a single note, the Beatles decided to stop playing live. For that point on, they would function entirely as a studio band. In November 1966, they retreated to Abbey Road work on what would become their eighth album.
In November 1966, they retreated to Abbey Road work on what would become their eighth album. About halfway through the sessions, Paul McCartney came up with the idea of the Beatles assuming the identity of an Edwardian-era military band, recording the entire album under an alias. That way, he reasoned, the band could be freer to engage in new musical experiments.
Tour manager Mal Evans chimed in, suggesting that the name of this fake group copy that of some of the new bands coming out of San Francisco, such as Quicksilver Messenger Service or Big Brother and the Holding Company. After some discussion, the group settled upon “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band.”
The project turned into one of the most influential in music history. The album–a sort of a concept record, a fairly new thing–formed the dividing line people “rock’n’roll,” the oft-dismissed music of kids that was still considered a fad by many, and “rock,” an artform that needed to be taken seriously. From then on, the album became the preferred format with its 40-minute pallet. Yes, the 7-inch single survived, but all the serious music (and all the serious money) was to be made with LPs.
Fine. But let’s back up. Who was this Sgt Pepper fellow? Was it an alter-ego of one of the Beatles? Was he a fictitious creature born in Abbey Road’s Studio 2? And why the name “Sgt. Pepper?” It’s a mystery that has confounded Beatles fans for decades.
One explanation begins with five antique medals that John Lennon is seen wearing in the photo on the Sgt. Pepper album artwork. Those medals belonged to Major Thomas Shaw, the grandfather of former Beatle drummer, Pete Best. Major Shaw was awarded the medals for his service in India, which began in the late 1800s. Lennon, who had long admired the medals back when the Beatles were still playing the Cavern Club in Liverpool, borrowed them from Pete’s mom, Mona, for the photo shoot. It’s since been speculated that Major Shaw was in the inspiration for Sgt. Pepper.
Details are murky, but one story is that Paul was gifted the patch by an OPP officer at Malton Airport (Now Pearson International) in August 1965 when the Beatles were in town to play two shows in one day at Maple Leaf Gardens.
Another tale suggests it was given to John Lennon by an Ontario cop in 1966. Still another story says that the patch was one of four given to the Beatles by an OPP corporal at the airport on September 28, 1964, as the Beatles waited to board a chartered flight to Montreal. Paul, John and Ringo each personally got a patch while George (who was unwell that day and boarded the plane early to get comfortable) presumably got his later. As far as anyone knows, all the patches were stuffed in a bag with all the other gifts the Beatles received.
Paul certainly doesn’t remember where it came from. As he told Life magazine in 1969 when asked about the patch’s significance in the Paul-is-dead hoax: “It is all bloody stupid. I picked up that OPD badge in Canada. It was a police badge. Perhaps it means Ontario Police Department or something.”
The patch sat unused in the Beatles’ possession until it came time to create the Sgt. Pepper outfits, which were designed by a theatrical costume company from London, M. Berman Ltd. Using picture books the company provided, the four suits were put together with a mishmash of materials. The execution was deliberately anti-military, a nod to the peace movement of the 60s and to the kids who were ironically wearing soldiers’ outfits around London, sticking flowers in the barrels of rifles carried by any police or military personnel.
Again, fine. But what prompted Paul to dig out the OPP patch?
Rewind to the morning of August 17, 1966, one year to the day from when Paul possibly received his OPP patch. The Beatles flew into Toronto International Airport from Philadelphia. The band was met by their local security detail. Leading the squad was an OPP officer from Aurora, Ontario, a conservative sort who didn’t like how young people were growing their hair down over their eyes. Young men, he believed, should always be clean cut. He wasn’t a fan.
Over the next 24 hours, this officer and his men were responsible for keeping the Beatles safe between the airport, their suites at the King Edward Hotel and Maple Leaf Gardens. They played two shows that day, the first at 4 pm and the second at 8:30 pm. In between, there was a press conference back at the hotel.
This cop was there for it all, making sure the band was safe. He was also tasked with ensuring didn’t do (read: smoke) anything illegal.
The pressure on the security detail was intense. Not only did they have to deal with throngs of fans, but in 1966, rock’n’rollers were still viewed with nervous suspicion. The OPP didn’t want these British ruffians causing any embarrassing trouble. Meanwhile, the Beatles were suspicious of any kind of authority and bristled at the idea of constant security, despite needing to stay safe from crazy fans.
Neither side need be concerned. The OPP officer and the Beatles got along extremely well. Despite their haircuts and their distasteful music, the cop was charmed by the band’s humour and attitude. The Beatles seemed to be amused by him, too.
A weird mutual respect quickly developed. By the time they parted on the morning of August 18, they were almost friends. The Beatles also thought this officer had a rather cool name: Sgt. Randall Pepper.
Twelve days after meeting Sgt Pepper, the Beatles announced they were retiring from touring forever. After a break, they reconvened at Abbey Road and began work on their next album with producer George Martin. Sgt. Pepper was released on June 1, 1967.
As far as Sgt Pepper’s family knows, Paul dug out the OPP patch he’d received in 1965 (1964? 1966?) and had it sewn onto his costume as a “thanks-for-being-so-cool-and-not-letting-us-get-busted” shout-out to their police friend in Canada.
Sgt. Pepper—the real one—was flattered, but didn’t make a big deal of it, especially after he got into a spot of bother from his supervisors who thought he might have slipped Paul an official police patch. “We do not give official OPP property to anyone, especially filthy rock’n’rollers!”
Randy Pepper died in 1970 around the same time the Beatles broke up.
Why is this story left out of Beatles history? Cheryl Finn, Sgt. Pepper’s (it feels funny to type that) granddaughter says, “It was just part of family folklore. We all knew about it. My mom and uncle would mention it occasionally. Mom says it got her out of a few speeding tickets. But overall, the family didn’t consider it terribly important.”
7. The Beatles: ‘Lovely Rita’ the Most Famous of Meter Maids
The Beatles are the best-selling music group of all time, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is considered by many to be their greatest album. Even though they were together less than 10 years, The Beatles changed what we call rock ‘n’ roll.
Not many other modern musicians can be called as musically revolutionary as the Fab Four. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. They were listed in Time magazine’s compilation of the 20th century’s 100 Most Influential People.
Abbey Road Studios in London is where most of their magic happened – even outside it, too, in the form of a parking ticket. To McCartney, this parking ticket must have been a part of that magic they found in the studio. A song was born from this infamous parking ticket, and the woman who “… looked like a Rita …” became the most famous of all “meter maids.”
There is one universal truth among celebrities: No one is exempt from parking tickets. Just this year, the tabloids have witnessed LeAnn Rimes, Jennifer Garner and Madonna getting one.
But surely McCartney is exempt from this unwritten universal truth? Not according to Meta Davis, a former traffic warden who claims to have ticketed McCartney’s vehicle while it was illegally parked outside Abbey Road Studios in early 1967.
“I had to make out a ticket which, at that time, carried a 10 shilling fine. He [McCartney] looked at it and read my signature written in full – Meta Davis. He said, ‘Oh, is your name really Meta?’ I told him that it was. … He said, ‘That would be a good name for a song. Would you mind if I use it?’ And that was that. Off he went.”
The number of negative slurs in “Lovely Rita,” although quite funny regardless of your profession, range from the overuse of the term “meter maid” to the verse “in a cap she looked much older, and the bag across her shoulder made her look a little like a military man.”
The Beatles, named by Rolling Stone as the Greatest Artists of All Time, presented an entire song, written by McCartney, about getting a parking ticket. At least the magazine’s second greatest artist of all time, Bob Dylan, warns everyone to “watch the parkin’ meters” in his song “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” (The meter maid could have been avoided if The Beatles had listened to more of Dylan’s music.)
Instead of becoming angry with her, McCartney accepted the ticket with good grace, Meta Davis said, and would go on to express his feelings in song. All in good fun, “Lovely Rita” put the “meter maid” job title on the radar and probably influenced a generation of angry motorists to turn from meter maid haters to meter maid suitors.
Besides, Meta Davis got the last laugh with her infamous quote, “I was never a Beatles’ fan.”
Pop Culture won last time (see “Cool Hand Luke,” September PT), but Parking easily wins this round, to even the score at one a piece.
8. Who’s the Real Sgt. Pepper? New Beatles Book Unveils Identity of Soldier Seen on Album Cover
Spizer, who talked about the discovery and the book this week on the weekly Beatles podcast “Things We Said Today,” credited the find to Frank Daniels, who wrote an essay for the book on Babington under the pseudo name Max Gretinski. “Both of us try to top each other with finding obscure stuff that I jokingly say only you, me and 15 other people in the world will care about,” Spizer told the radio show. Babington’s identity was confirmed by one of the men who were involved with creating the cover, Spizer said.
In the essay, Gretinksi (Daniels) details some of Babington’s military history, including his service in the 16th Queen’s Lancers in the Second Boer War and the First Calvary Brigade in South Africa. While much wasn’t known about his history in 1967, Babington’s face was, the essay says, because it was included in the book “Celebrities of the Army.”
“You knew about Beatle cards, but in the U.K. they had military history cards. And Major Gen. Babington was also one of these people that was on a card,” Spizer said. “So I think the artists got the idea to have the ‘Sgt. Pepper’ cutout card from those cards and out of those cards picked this one as their model.”
And there’s no question about whether the picture in the “Sgt. Pepper” album is Babington. The book includes side-by-side pictures of Babington and the mythical Sgt. Pepper. “As they said in ‘Yellow Submarine,’ the resemblance is uncanny,” Spizer quipped.
The discovery comes on the heels of the release of several CD sets by the Beatles May 26 that include a new remix of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by Giles Martin, son of the late Sir George Martin, and Sam Okell based on the original monaural mix which was preferred by the Beatles and that had several differences from the stereo mix. The largest set, six discs with four CDs, a DVD and a Blu-ray disc, includes the remix, discs of album outtakes, rarities and a monaural version of the album, plus video content.