YES, IT’S 50 YEARS (OUCH!) SINCE THE CHALLENGE “JOHN OR PAUL?” started a million gymslip fights and feuds. From the beginning The Beatles belonged to everyone, unlike the rock’n’rollers and balladeers and popsters of previous eras. We all learnt to twist and shout, we all longed to be just 17, you know what I mean, and to say that we all had a favourite would be to diminish the intensity of the allegiances to individual Beatles which were as compulsory as long hair and mini-skirts.
Your choice of Beatle marked you out. John, the witty, difficult, edgy genius, was for the offbeat clever girls, the ones who liked books and poetry and smoked on the way to school. Paul was the boy next door, only with buckets of presence and glamour, whose soulful eyes and self-conscious smile appealed to girls who wore dolly rocker dresses and whose hair was short and sharply angled or hung in straight gleaming curtains. George was always the quiet one, the shy one, loveable because he was cute and unthreatening. He was the safe one. As for Ringo, to choose him marked you out as what in a previous decade was called square. Good old Ringo was for those who didn’t really get music and whose Sixties were not about to swing.
Those perceptions formed back in the days that started with Love Me Do were faulty. Our heroes were human after all and refused to conform to their personae. John could be cruel and misogynist and did weird things together with Yoko. Paul turned out to be not quite so bland. His musical talent emerged from John’s shadow and he turned out to be a bit of a rocker as well as a great ballad writer, and he was into the London alternative art and literary scene. Before George’s mystical side emerged, he was a bit of a selfish git with an old-fashioned view of women. As for Ringo, not much more to say really.
So now they are part of history and millions of words have been written about The Beatles. We know all there is to know, there are no secrets to emerge. But for many of us, our favourite Beatle defined something essential about ourselves, something that time hasn’t changed even though we know that our hero, our crush was not the person we thought he was.
Here’s the admission then, when the truth comes out after a bottle of wine, when the edges of the facts and of common sense are blurred, it has to be John.