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The Beatles (including drummer Pete Best, second from right) perform at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. February 1961.Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
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The Beatles (including drummer Pete Best, left) pose in Hamburg, Germany during their residency at the Star-Club. May 1962.Horst Fascher/K & K Ulf Kruger OHG/Redferns/Getty Images
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The Beatles stand outside Paul McCartney's Liverpool home. Circa 1960.Keystone/Getty Images
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The "Silver Beatles" (from left: bassist Stuart Sutcliffe, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, temporary drummer Johnny Hutch, and George Harrison) perform in Liverpool. 1960.Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images
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A publicity handout for The Beatles (including drummer Pete Best, left) billing them as the "Silver Beatles," the name by which they were briefly known in 1960 before becoming "The Beatles" that August.Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
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John Lennon (center, singing) performs with his group The Quarrymen at St. Peter's Church in Liverpool on July 6, 1957.
Paul McCartney was in attendance at this performance and was introduced to John Lennon by a mutual friend after the show. The pair hit it off, prompting Lennon to invite McCartney to join the group soon after. Thus, the transformation of The Quarrymen into The Beatles had truly begun.Wikimedia
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Paul McCartney (left), John Lennon (second from left), and Lennon's first wife, Cynthia (right), at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. October 1962.SSPL/Getty Images
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The Beatles pose in a small backyard in London with their instruments. 1963.Terry O'Neill/Getty Images
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John Lennon poses for a portrait in Liverpool. Circa 1961.Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
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Paul McCartney poses for a photo at an unspecified location. 1963.Fiona Adams/Redferns/Getty Images
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The Beatles and associates (from left: manager Allan Williams, his wife Beryl, his business partner Lord Woodbine, bassist Stuart Sutcliffe, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, drummer Pete Best) at the World War II memorial in Arnhem, the Netherlands during a trip to Hamburg, Germany. August 16, 1960.
The inscription behind them reads "Their Name Liveth For Evermore." Keystone Features/Getty Images
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The Beatles perform at the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany. May 1962.K & K Ulf Kruger OHG/Redferns/Getty Images
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The Beatles, including their original drummer Pete Best, second from left, 1961.Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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George Harrison poses for a portrait at an unspecified location. April 1962.K & K Ulf Kruger OHG/Redferns/Getty Images
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Guest pianist Roy Young performs with The Beatles (from left: drummer Pete Best, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison) at the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany. May 1962.K & K Ulf Kruger OHG/Redferns/Getty Images
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Ringo Starr poses for a portrait as a member of Liverpool rock group Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, the band he played in just before joining The Beatles in August 1962. Circa 1959.Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
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The Beatles perform at the Cavern Club in Liverpool on August 22, 1962.Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
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Paul McCartney on stage at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. Circa 1960.Keystone/Getty Images
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John Lennon (center, singing) performs with The Quarrymen in Liverpool on June 22, 1957.Wikimedia
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The Beatles pose for a portrait during a recording session at Abbey Road Studios in London on March 5, 1963.Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
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The Beatles (from left: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and drummer Pete Best) perform at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. 1961.Mark and Colleen Hayward/Redferns/Getty Images
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John Lennon performs with The Beatles at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. December 1961.Evening Standard/Getty Images
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Paul McCartney poses for a portrait at an unspecified location. 1962.Keystone/Getty Images
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The Beatles, including George Harrison (left) and John Lennon (center), perform with English rocker Tony Sheridan during The Beatles' first trip to Hamburg, Germany. 1960.Ellen Piel - K & K/Redferns/Getty Images
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The Beatles (from left: drummer Pete Best, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, John Lennon, bassist Stuart Sutcliffe) perform at the Top Ten Club in Hamburg, Germany. Circa 1960.Ellen Piel - K & K/Redferns/Getty Images
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Beatles drummer Pete Best at the Cavern Club. 1962.
Best served as the group's drummer from August 1960 to August 1962, at which point he was fired for various reasons (including his playing, personality differences, and supposed jealousy of his popularity from the other Beatles) and promptly replaced by Ringo Starr just before the group took off.Mark and Colleen Hayward/Redferns/Getty Images
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Beatles bassist Stuart Sutcliffe poses for a portrait at an unspecified location. 1962.
Sutcliffe, a friend of John Lennon's from art school, played with The Beatles in 1960 and 1961. He died the following year of an aneurysm believed to have been caused by head injuries that he suffered during a street fight just after a Beatles performance in Liverpool in January 1961.Collect/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images
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George Harrison performs with The Beatles at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. 1962.Mark and Colleen Hayward/Redferns/Getty Images
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John Lennon plays guitar at an unspecified location. 1960.Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images
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Ringo Starr sits behind his drum kit not long before joining The Beatles. 1962.Unknown/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images
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John Lennon (left) and Paul McCartney (right) perform with The Beatles during their final residency at the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany. December 1962.Sammlung Horst Fascher - K & K/Redferns/Getty Images
Meet The Beatles Before ‘The Edges Were Knocked Off’
ONE NIGHT IN 1962, a 21-year-old John Lennon was due onstage with The Beatles at the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany. But he was nowhere to be found.
Club operator Horst Fascher went looking for Lennon, ultimately finding him in the bathroom with a young woman. Fascher quickly threw cold water on the pair and ordered Lennon to the stage.
When Lennon countered that he wasn't about to perform dripping wet, Fascher replied, "I don't give a shit, you're going onstage and I don't care if you do it naked."
And that's precisely what Lennon did, save for the underpants he'd kept on and the toilet seat that he was now wearing around his neck.
Now, what's remarkable about this night is how unremarkable it was for the early Beatles' time in Hamburg.
There, between August 1960 and December 1962, the young group honed their craft and sowed their wild oats in the city's red-light district, participating in plenty of escapades just as salacious as the one involving Lennon and the toilet seat.
In Hamburg, The Beatles popped pep pills to stay awake all night so that they could play seven-hour sets to drunken sailors and brawlers as well as the red-light district's ever-present "population of whores, pimps, bouncers, strippers and transvestites," in the words of Beatles biographer Philip Norman.
Lennon himself would frequently open his shows with a sarcastic "Heil Hitler!" or urinate out the second-story window of his lodgings above the music clubs.
"We used to jump around and do all the things they're doing now, like going on stage with toilet seats and shitting and pissing," Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1970. "That's what we were doing in Hamburg and smashing things up...It is something that you do when you play six or seven hours. There is nothing else to do: you smash the place up, and you insult everybody."
But when The Beatles shot to fame in 1963, these were precisely the kinds of stories that Beatles' manager Brian Epstein and the band members themselves tried, very often successfully, to bury. This shift both defined who The Beatles would become and wiped out who they might have been.
As Lennon told Rolling Stone:
As soon as we made it, we made it, but the edges were knocked off. You know Brian put us in suits and all that, and we made it very, very big. But we sold out, you know. The music was dead before we even went on the theater tour of Britain. We were feeling shit already, because we had to reduce an hour or two hours' playing, which we were glad about in one way, to 20 minutes, and we would go on and repeat the same 20 minutes every night. The Beatles music died then, as musicians. That's why we never improved as musicians; we killed ourselves then to make it. And that was the end of it.
That, of course, was far from the end of it. In fact, for all but the most studious Beatles fans, the moment that they put on the suits in order to conquer Britain and then the world was actually the beginning of it.
Indeed, the common retelling of The Beatles' story starts in late 1962 and glosses over Hamburg and the rest of their wild youth with but a quick glance. However, the early Beatles photos above provide a seldom-seen look at the band's beginnings in Hamburg and Liverpool, when rock's most revered band had yet to have its edges knocked off.