Peter Lee

Who Was the Fifth Beatle?

The question sounds like a mystery – something that would be solved with a game of Clue, perhaps. But there’s a laundry list of suspects we can examine who can lay claim to being the famed “Fifth Beatle,” the unofficial member of the band that contributed to their success. Who are they?

  • Mal Evans – Of course, he’s my pick. He was there for the four from their days in the Cavern Club in Liverpool to the last notes played for Abbey Road. He got them drinks, lugged their equipment around, and even played various instruments and sound effects on several notable Beatles songs, He was indispensable.
  • Neil Aspinall – Neil had a similar role to Mal, mbut drifted more toward the administrative side, eventually heading Apple Records.
  • Brian Epstein – Brian was the first manager for the Beatles, getting them  on the map and directing every bit of their rise to fame during Beatlemania; his untimely death in 1966 signaled the beginning of the end for the group, who never recovered from his death.
  • George Martin – Probably my second choice for Fifth Beatle, George produced all of the Beatles albums, helping them with their experimentation that set them apart from other groups. He was instrumental (pun intended) in putting together the Beatles’ sound.
  • Geoff Emerick – He was the Beatles sound engineer during much of their ground-breaking, experimental phase; he and George Martin share the recognition in creating many of the sounds you hear on later Beatles albums.

Not considered:

  • Yoko Ono/Linda McCartney/Pattie Harrison – They were definitely close to the group during their later years. Pattie was the inspiration for George’s “Something,” Linda was no doubt the subject of several McCartney tunes, and Yoko even made it onto a few Beatles records. But some have argued that their husbands’ growing devotion to them drove the band further apart. Can’t really take them seriously as fifth Beatles.
  • Allen Klein, the Beatles second manager.
    Are you kidding me??

Marketing is Hard.

crowd-1431678Each year, over 1 million books are published. That’s about 2,700 books every day.

About two weeks ago, my book, The Death and Life of Mal Evans, was one of the 2,700 books published that day. Trying to get attention in a market like that is like screaming in a football stadium.

I’ve been screaming so much over the last two weeks I’m hoarse. I’ve watched my book rise and fall from the new releases charts as a day trader watches stocks – at a chart so sensitive that one purchase can move it 5-6 positions. (Right now it’s at #16 because I lowered the price and submitted it to an email list that advertises price breaks in Kindle books. It jumped 24 places. But don’t blink – it’ll go down 5 notches.)

It’s maddening – trying to find the secret sauce to selling books on Amazon. You can advertise, give away books, advertise that you’re giving away books, lower your price, advertise that you’re lowering your price – and there are some programs that won’t even guarantee that you’ll get in on their exclusive offers.

I’ve spent lots of money giving away free copies of books to book reviewers – that’s another tactic – and those are just the reviewers who answer your emails. Some don’t even respond, and you’re not guaranteed a good review.

There’s Facebook. There’s Google and Google Plus. Twitter. Linked In. Goodreads. LibraryThing. Shelfari. And dozens of other sites that are dedicated to books and book lovers. But which ones work? Where do you spend your money? One blog post swears by one method, while another post warns to stay away. So I try one thing, and when it doesn’t work, I move on to another.

To those of you who have bought a book, given me encouragement, told another person about it – I sincerely thank you for your support. It’s a lot easier for me to talk to the person next to me in a football stadium, but I have to rely on others to continue the message to the person beside them, until it eventually gets around the football stadium. Or at least in my section. It’s just too loud out there.

It’s out there. Officially.

So, The Death and Life of Mal Evans is officially out there.

I’ve spent most of the week sending out announcements, joining groups, speaking at book festivals, asking for reviews and relentlessly watching the Amazon charts to see if my book was climbing or falling the charts. It’s been a nerve-wracking week.

Part of my anxiety is that this has been, for the most part, my project and my project only for 10 years. No one else has seen it. And now, boom. It’s on Amazon. It’s on iBooks. Smashwords. Scribd. bn.com. People – mostly friends and family – are buying it and reading it.

It feels a bit odd – like I’m suddenly exposed, my neck on the chopping block for anyone to come by and take a shot. (Friends have already found a few errors that eluded dozens of edits, and I’m kicking myself.) Of course, an author has to have a thick skin, but you’re always wondering if it’s good enough – if your writing is really enjoyable and your friends aren’t just saying it’s good. On the other hand, if it’s not, the truth hurts. Its a tough situation to be in.

The kudos and congratulations feel good. Seeing my book in the top 30 Alternative History New Releases is humbling and exciting. But fame – what little I have right now – is scary. I want it to do well. I want it to be well received and bought – partially so I can make up all the money I’ve sunk into it (Self-publishing is NOT cheap, ladies and gentlemen). But deep inside, you wonder if you belong up there. For a first-time author, I’m sure this is natural.

But it’s not the joy and elation you would think. Part of me wants it to be over, and part of me wonders what I will do after all of it is done. But there is a lot of marketing to be done from what I hear, and for an introvert like me, that’s going to be tough.

People have asked how they can help. If you have a copy – if you’ve read it and enjoyed it – please leave a review on amazon.com and goodreads.com. Tell your friends about it.  That will help more than you know.

 

Dedication: To Mal Evans

Mal and JohnOn the eve of publication, I dedicate this book to Mal Evans, the protagonist of our story.

Evans was a real person, having worked with the Beatles from their days in Liverpool all the way through the end of the group in April 1970, and to a lesser extent, with the solo Beatles and with Apple Corps Ltd. for the next six years. He died in 1976 at the hands of two Los Angeles police officers, who mistook his air rifle for a real gun. He apparently was high on Valium and police considered him dangerous.

Mal adored the Beatles. From the minute he heard them playing at the Cavern Club in Liverpool in the early 1960s, he was hooked. And he did everything for them. If the band needed a glass of milk or a pair of socks, Mal ran to the store to get them. He drove the band to many gigs, including one in a snowstorm in which a pebble broke the windshield, forcing him to break a hole in the glass so he could see properly. Another time, he broke plastic silverware to create makeshift picks for the band when they wanted to jam with Elvis. He protected the band from a near-riot in the Philippines after they apparently scrubbed First Lady Imelda Marcos.

It didn’t stop there. He contributed to many Beatles classics, including the film “Help!” He sang in “Yellow Submarine,” played piano in “A Day in the Life” and organ in “You Won’t See Me.” He accompanied the Beatles on their trip to India to see the Maharishi, and subsequently played tambourine on “Dear Prudence.” He played trumpet on “Helter Skelter.”

And it got even more bizarre. He was the silver hammer on “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” playing an anvil in time with the song. He rang the alarm clock in “A Day in the Life.” He shoveled gravel as a rhythm track on the bizarre “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number).” And according to Evans’ diaries, he even helped compose some songs on Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

He did all this for £38 per week – about $58, or the salary of a clerical worker.

Mal Evans setting up a drumIt was a labor of love for Mal, but he seems to be forgotten in most of the Beatles’ stories. When I mention my book to people, they’ve obviously heard of the Beatles, but have never heard of Mal. As luck would have it, Mal was about to publish his memoirs when he was shot, but they weren’t even found until a few years ago; his chance at stardom and immortality was lost with his death.

This book gives Mal a view into what the 1970s would have been like if fate hadn’t broken up the Beatles. New music, new albums, and the legacy of the Beatles growing by leaps and bounds. If you didn’t think they could get any bigger, read this book. It also shows readers what an insider he really was, and how much the members relied on him through the years – even if they sometimes didn’t realize it.

I hope that Mal would enjoy my trip through the 1970s, seeing new Beatles albums being created – and being at the center of the greatest rock n’ roll legacy of all time. As long as he was along for the ride, he would have cherished every moment of it. And he deserves it.

The Beatles Apart: Ringo Starr

Ringo StarrWhen the Beatles broke up in 1970, one would naturally fear for dearest Ringo Starr. The other three had established themselves as talented songwriters, but Ringo was, well, Ringo. He was a great drummer. But he was the funny one, the odd man out, the tone-deaf musician who depended upon the other three.  Stephen Colbert once proclaimed “Paul the cute one; John the smart one; George the quiet one; and Ringo the luckiest man on earth.”

Sure enough, of the four musicians, Ringo was the least successful as a solo artist. But realizing this, he made up for it in other areas, adding such jobs to his resume as actor and entrepreneur. With low expectations, he recorded several huge singles, kept his name in the spotlight and over time has seemed to be the most comfortable with his status as an ex-Beatle.

So what does a drummer do for a solo career after his cash cow abruptly calls it quits? At first, Ringo struggled to find his voice, so to speak, releasing two albums of cover songs – an album of standards and a country-western album. But in 1973, he asked his former bandmates to contribute songs and play on a new album, Ringo.

It was payback time. Ringo always wanted to lend a hand to musicians., and his contributions over the years include playing drums for Harry Nilsson, Carly Simon, Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, Paul Simon and of course, Paul, John and George. Ringo was the only member that got along with the other Beatles. (Although George Harrison would play on a few of John Lennon’s albums, their relationship was testy at times, and neither had any relationship with Paul McCartney.) And when Ringo needed help, all three ex-Beatles gladly agreed to contribute. Ringo was a smashing success and stands as the closest the Beatles ever came to a reunion:

  • John contributed a song that he had written a few years earlier called “I’m the Greatest” (He said that only Ringo could pull off a line like “I’m the greatest – and you better believe it baby!” and not sound egotistical).
  • Paul wrote a charming song called “Six O’Clock” and sang backup vocals on it and another song, “You’re Sixteen.”
  • George wrote and performed on the hit song “Photograph,” which rocketed to No. 1 in the United States.

And then there was “It Don’t Come Easy,” a song Ringo actually wrote. Produced by George, it proved to be a huge hit – probably the only song from his catalogue that most people recognize. Punctuated by horns and George’s trademark slide guitar, the simple melody lended itself well for Ringo’s voice.

It was the highlight of his solo career. And the fall from the top was quick.

1974’s Goodnight Vienna tried to copy the success of Ringo, using John as the composer for several songs, but the quality was not quite as good, and critics were cool. Then came a host of bad albums, each failing worse than the previous, with singles amounting to nothing more than novelty songs (e.g., “Oh My My,” “No No Song,” “Oo-Wee” and “Snookeroo”). He went from record label to record label and battled alcoholism before finding new support in 1989 in the form of his All-Starr Band – a revolving group of famous musicians ranging from Joe Walsh and Peter Frampton to Howard Jones and Ringo’s son, Zak Starkey.

Ringo seemed to handle being on his own a lot better than the other three ex-Beatles. Having stolen the show in the Beatles’ big-screen debut, “A Hard Day’s Night,” he found limited success in B-movies such as “Blindman,” “Son of Dracula” and “Caveman.” He narrated the children’s show “Thomas the Tank Engine” and appeared in numerous commercials, from Pizza Hut to Oldsmobile. He even started his own furniture company in 1971.

His last few albums have seen a return to the Beatlesque sound that his bandmates perfected, and he has used such Beatle wannabees as Jeff Lynne and the members of Jellyfish on his recordings. He is one of only two surviving members of the greatest band of all time. It’s rare company, and he seems to enjoy the role more than ever.

The Beatles Apart: John Lennon

John LennonResolved: That John Winston Ono Lennon, having been blessed with an extraordinary songwriting talent, a sharp wit and creative mind, has been duly canonized it such a way that the legend is bigger than reality.

Be it further resolved that Mr. Lennon needed his former songwriting partner, James Paul McCartney, more than he would ever admit.

All it took was one great visionary song, “Imagine,” to solidify John Lennon’s status as a solo artist. And granted, he had his share of hits during the 70s – enough to fill a greatest hits album. But a closer look at his success reveals some flaws: Was “Oh, Yoko!” anywhere close to the genius of “Strawberry Fields Forever”? Was the controversial “Mother” anywhere near the powerful “Revolution”?

I’m not trying to soil John’s reputation nor deny his rightful place among songwriting legends. He was a gifted writer with a knack for poetic, powerful lyrics.  And as you can tell with “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “In My Life,” he had a talent for writing a memorable melody, too. However, I do want to set give a little perspective on what was frankly an inconsistent and unfortunately short solo career.

As with the other Beatles, his solo career began well – “Instant Karma!” was a perfect example of John’s ability to roll out a song quickly and make it sound natural. Writing and recording took just one day, but he was technically still with the Beatles at the time. This could have been a Beatles single.

I differ with critics on his first solo album, Plastic Ono Band. Where many laud his honest, cathartic songwriting, I find it tuneless. His primal therapy with Dr. Arthur Janov peeled too much away from his psyche, revealing too many raw nerves:

  • “Mother” is typical Freudian psychobabble, plodding along at a barely existent tempo.
  • “Working Class Hero” is a droning folkie protest song that seems to go on forever.
  • “Look at Me” is a retread of “Julia” from the White Album. John should have sued himself for plagiarism.
  • “God,” a song which probably angered those already protesting his “more popular than Jesus” comment, begins well but ends on a three-chord refrain in which John names everything he doesn’t believe in. You wonder from the list whether he believed in anything.

Having gotten Plastic Ono Band out of his system, John toned it down just a little in his follow up, Imagine. Several Lennon classics can be found on this album besides the title track: “Oh My Love,” “Jealous Guy,” and “Give Me Some Truth.” But he couldn’t leave well enough alone, taking his feud with Paul public on the tuneless, grammatically incorrect “How Do You Sleep?”: “The only thing you done [sic] was ‘Yesterday’ / And since you’ve gone you’re just ‘Another Day’.” It made the schism between the two irreparable.

The further John got from the Beatles, the more spotty the results. Some Time in New York City was just awful, with John spouting political rhetoric with an amateur backup band; 1973’s Mind Games offered little more than the title track; and for those who thought that his wife Yoko was bringing him down musically, 1974’s Walls and Bridges, recorded during his “Lost Weekend” away from her, has only his lone #1 hit in the United States, “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” as a memorable track – if you don’t count the lethargic “#9 Dream.”

It was only after five years of house husbandry that John returned to form, with his last release while he was alive, Double Fantasy. Gone were the political statements, the rage and sarcasm. The music was sublime.

It’s ironic that John seemed to be most successful with the type of music he ridiculed Paul for: ballads. “Oh My Love,” “Woman,” “#9 Dream,” and “Watching the Wheels” could all be compared with Paul’s “My Love.” John Lennon was a man of extremes, but Paul’s presence during the 1960s tempered those extremes. Without him, the result was unpredictable and sometimes sub-par. Melody often took a back seat to political statements and
idealism.

John’s death in 1980 made him a martyr; in fact, Paul just admitted that in a recent interview with Esquire, saying, “John did a lot of great work. And post-Beatles he did more great work, but he also did a lot of not-great work. Now the fact that he’s now martyred has elevated him to a James Dean, and beyond.”

Next: Paul McCartney.

 

What if I Don’t Know Anything About the Beatles?

The Beatles with a question mark over themThis is a question I’ve gotten a few times from friends who, for some reason, just haven’t listened to the Beatles that much. They wonder whether they’d understand enough about what’s going on, whether they would get the inside nuances that only Beatle fans might understand.

Granted, you get more out of the book the bigger the fan you are. You understand all the solo songs that might go on a future Beatles album, and you recognize the bit players in the Beatles’ history. But for the rest of you, not to worry. This book is mainly about Mal Evans and the journey he takes throughout the 1970s. And very little is known about Evans.

I have taken great care into trying to describe each song, putting it and each event into its proper context, and giving even non-fans an idea about how all the songs might fit together. I include sections at the end that explain what really happened during the 1970s, and how you can create your own fantasy Beatles albums by splicing together solo album cuts from the four. I also explain why each song made it onto the fantasy albums. If you don’t know who Geoff Emerick is (He was the Beatles’ sound engineer), I tell you.

As Jim Bartlett said, the book moves at a quick pace, and you’ll find yourself wrapped up in the story without wondering what the song “Isolation” really sounds like. Of course, if you’re interested, you can always buy the solo albums or listen to it on Spotify to get a real feel for what’s happening. That’s what I recommend. The Beatles’ journey was one thing. The unplanned journey through the 1970s is a bumpy ride, but it’s full of surprises and beautiful music.

First review!

The first review is in, and it’s a good one! Fellow blogger Jim Bartlett of The Hits Just Keep on Comin’ has posted a review of The Life and Death of Mal Evans. In short, he says the book has been “meticulously planned and is scrupulously written. It’s terrific entertainment, too. It moves quickly, and that’s a good thing, because once you’re into the story, you want to know what happens next.”

Thanks to Jim for the kind words. Stay tuned for more reviews!