Meet The Beatles Before ‘The Edges Were Knocked Off’

Published October 20, 2017
Updated January 22, 2018
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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.

After this photographic look at the early Beatles, learn the surprising stories behind five of the most beloved Beatles songs. Then, have a look at some shocking John Lennon facts and quotes that might leave you rethinking your love for him.

John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.
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Kuroski, John. "Meet The Beatles Before ‘The Edges Were Knocked Off’.", October 20, 2017, Accessed May 18, 2024.