The untold truth of The Beatles

Few bands, if any, can match the Beatles' unique combination of enduring popularity and artistic credibility. But many people only know the bare-bones Beatles story: There were four of them, they were fab, they wrote amazing music, and Ringo got no respect until years later. However, there's a lot more juiciness about the band you probably didn't know.

Lennon wrote 'I Am The Walrus' to screw with people

The Beatles' lyrics were unlike most any other pop music of the time, but that doesn't mean they were intentionally writing profound poetry. Case in point: "I Am The Walrus," perhaps the most lyrically obtuse Beatles song of them all. Why is yellow custard dripping from a dead dog's eye? Why would anyone sit on a cornflake? Was the walrus John or Paul? Is a crabalocker fishwife worth marrying? As it turns out, it's almost completely gibberish, put out by John Lennon as a poke at people taking his pop music too seriously.

According to Beatles Bible, Lennon was working on "Walrus" when he received a letter from a student at his old school, Quarry Bank. In the letter, the student told Lennon that his teacher was having them read Beatles lyrics and analyze them for deeper meaning. Lennon was, as you might expect, deeply amused by the idea, and to mess with this teacher, he decided to take the absurdity of "Walrus" completely over the top. He asked a childhood friend to recall a playground chant they used to sing — he then warped that into the completely meaningless "Yellow matter custard / Dripping from a dead dog's eye" verse, turned to his friend, and cracked, "Let the f**kers work that one out." And to this day, people still try, despite the only real meaning being "John Lennon is a big silly."

They didn't break up because of Yoko

Since the Beatles broke up, people have faulted Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono. To them, things were copacetic in the band, then she showed up, convinced him he was better than the band, he listened, and the two went off to record weird music together. It got to the point where (as explained by TV Tropes) anytime a girl threatens to come between a band, cast, or team, she's the "Yoko."

Except, it's just not true. The Beatles were almost certainly going to break up anyway, and anyone who blames Yoko are simply angry at the wrong target. That's not us saying it — Paul McCartney himself has argued as much. In a 2012 interview with Al Jazeera's English network, McCartney straight-up said, "She certainly didn't break the group up. I don't think you can blame her for anything." In his mind, Lennon was ready to leave anyway, having grown tired (according to Fox News) of the "unhealthy rivalry" between the bandmembers — particularly between himself and McCartney, and wanted to move on. As far as McCartney is concerned, all Yoko did was provide Lennon with the courage and inspiration to leave, and to embrace his own creativity full-throttle.

As for why people continue to blame Yoko decades after the breakup? In the mind of Billboard editor Joe Levy, it's because they "[can't] accept, as … Lennon put it on his first solo album, that the dream was over." Sadly, it's much easier to blame someone than accept that nothing lasts forever.

Many songs by Lennon/McCartney were only written by one of them

Most every Beatles song not written by George Harrison or Ringo Starr (which is most of them) gets credited to "Lennon/McCartney." That's due to an early agreement between the two musicians and Brian Epstein, the band's manager. Epstein and Lennon proposed that any song Lennon or McCartney wrote would be credited to "Lennon/McCartney." According to McCartney in a 2015 Esquire interview, he was initially fine with that, but suggested the credit be reversed if he were the primary (or solo) writer. Epstein and Lennon supposedly agreed, but it never happened. Ultimately, any song they wrote — including songs with one writer — got the same "Lennon/McCartney" credit.

Sometimes, McCartney seems fine with the arrangement. As he put it, "It's a good logo, like Rodgers and Hammerstein. Hammerstein and Rodgers doesn't work." Other times, he's irked by being the second guy in the name, particularly on songs like "Yesterday," which he wrote entirely by himself. Worse for him is that, in the digital era, his name often gets cut from public view. As he explains it, "You know how on your iPad there's never enough room? … What starts to happen is, 'A song by John Lennon an-' … So it's kind of important who comes first." McCartney also told Esquire he tried to get his alternating-credits idea going after the band broke up. Yoko allegedly said yes but then backtracked for unexplained reasons. Decades later, we're not likely to see McCartney/Lennon on anything official anytime soon.

Lennon and McCartney almost reunited on Saturday Night Live

Approximately one second after the Beatles broke up, the public began clamoring for a Beatles reunion. Amazingly, we almost got just that on April 24, 1976, and it would've taken place on Saturday Night Live, of all places.

During that evening's episode, SNL producer Lorne Michaels appeared on-camera to offer the Beatles a comically low $3,000 to reunite on his show and sing a paltry three songs. Obviously, he had no reason to believe the group would actually take him up on the offer, but it almost happened. As it turns out, John and Paul were in New York City, hanging out and watching the show together. As Lennon recounted in the book All We Are Saying, the pair actually considered taking a cab down to the studio and accepting Michaels' offer, just to be funny.

Ultimately they chose not to, but not because they decided the money wasn't right or because they felt it would be detrimental to their legacy to reunite on a comedy show. Rather, they stayed put because, as Lennon put it, "we were actually too tired." That's right — had SNL aired that sketch earlier in the show, John and Paul might've had enough spring in their step to stage the most sought-after reunion in rock history, for about as much as it cost to buy a brand-new 1976 Plymouth Arrow.

One of their album covers initially featured dead babies

The Yesterday and Today album cover is safe and pedestrian: The band poses around a box. But when the album first hit shelves in June 1966, it was to feature an entirely different, far more macabre cover of the Fab Four posing with dead babies (above).

They were just doll parts, but it still makes one wonder why you'd even try such a stunt. Well, according to Rolling Stone, it's because one of the band's favorite photographers, Robert Whitaker, wanted to do something different. As he explained, "I got fed up with taking squeaky-clean pictures of the Beatles, and I thought I'd revolutionize what pop idols are." Huh.

Most of the Beatles were down for it, with Paul deadpanning to the label president that it was their comment on the Vietnam War. But ultimately, a wide release of the cover didn't happen, for the same reason behind most things in life: money. The Beatles were negotiating a new record deal and didn't want to alienate any potential suitors. So they okayed the new, inoffensive cover. But many of the dead-baby covers still exist.

Capitol sent out thousands of advance copies to record stores and promotional outlets, and quite a few were sold before Capitol recalled them, choosing to save money by simply pasting the new cover over the old one. If a fan in the know steamed off the new cover, they would be rewarded with dead babies, an absolutely terrible phrase in literally any other context.

They started out as smoking, swearing hooligans

How do you like your Beatles? Clean-cut, mop-topped, suit-clad pop idols, or colorful, bearded hippies who revolutionized all forms of rock? Here's a third option: The early Beatles were basically punks.

As told in The Beatles Anthology, before Brian Epstein discovered them, the Beatles played in dingy nightclubs, clad in leather jackets and jeans, and were prone to smoking and swearing onstage while eating chicken between songs. Curiously, such multitasking didn't endear them to the mainstream crowd; it seemed like the group was destined to forever play tiny clubs for barely enough money to buy more chicken.

Then, Epstein came along. He felt the group had potential, but they needed to be cleaned up. He told them to quit eating between songs and instead start bowing. He had them ditch the leather and denim for freshly tailored suits, styled their hairdos into something less messy and more fashionable, and even had them start stringing their guitars correctly. Back then, the Beatles would have excess guitar wire dangling from the tuning knobs, so when a string snapped they simply had to tie the excess string to the snapped part and keep on playing. Epstein got them to stop doing that, as wires dangling everywhere just looked messy and unprofessional. The band wasn't thrilled with Epstein's ideas initially but then concluded, as Lennon put it, "it was a choice of making it or still eating chicken on stage." They chose wisely.

The great Beatles boycott

In March 1966, John Lennon sparked more controversy than he ever intended to. During an interview with the London Evening Standard, he claimed, "Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. … We're more popular than Jesus now. I don't know which will go first, rock 'n' roll or Christianity." Few in England bothered to get bothered about the comment, but then it got re-published in Datebook, an American magazine for teenagers. Very quickly, according to Rolling Stone, the USA (particularly the South) went up in arms. Misinterpreting Lennon's words to assume he thought the Beatles were bigger or better than Jesus, radio stations called for Beatles boycotts, people held public record smashings, Beatles concerts were picketed, the Vatican condemned them, and the band even started receiving death threats. At one point, members of the KKK were outright threatening Lennon's life, and the safety of the entire band came into question.

Eventually, after a cherry bomb went off during a concert and spooked the band into thinking someone shot at them, they quit touring completely. Unfortunately for Lennon, his fate might well have been sealed by that point. One of the people outraged with his statements was a born-again Christian named Mark David Chapman, once one of Lennon's biggest fans. By his own admission, in a 1983 prison interview, the Jesus comment sent him into a spiral of hatred for Lennon, one that eventually culminated in his taking Lennon's life.

A 'wicked dentist' introduced them to LSD

The Beatles are closely associated with LSD, whether "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds" is about the drug or not. But the group first encountered LSD not by experimenting with it at a party or being introduced to it by a fellow rock star. Nope, they first did it because of a dentist.

As the band recounted in The Beatles Anthology, in 1965 Lennon, Harrison, and both of their girlfriends were having dinner with a friend Harrison called a "wicked dentist." Without their knowledge or consent, the dentist slipped LSD into their coffee. Harrison felt the dentist had sexual adventures in mind and wanted them all in the right mood for an orgy. But they had places to go and skipped out. Later, they started feeling the drug's effects — as Harrison put it, "suddenly I felt … a very concentrated version of the best feeling I'd ever had in my whole life. … I felt in love, not with anything or anybody in particular, but with everything. Everything was perfect, in a perfect light, and I had an overwhelming desire to go round the club telling everybody how much I loved them — people I'd never seen before." Later, on the drive home, Lennon recalled freaking out over a red light they thought was a fire, and Harrison remembered "really concentrating" on driving 18 miles an hour. Once home, Lennon decided that Harrison's home was a submarine, and he was piloting it. No word on whether the submarine was yellow, but probably.

The original title for 'Yesterday' was 'Scrambled Eggs'

One of the most beloved Beatles songs of all time, "Yesterday" is a simple yet poignant lament for lost love and memories of a better time. But it started life with perhaps the goofiest lyrics the band ever penned. (Well, aside from "Revolution 9.")

According to McCartney, the song's melody first appeared to him in a dream. He woke up, found a piano, found the chords that fit his head-tune, and had the building blocks for an all-time classic. But to ensure he didn't forget the song when more fully awake, McCartney wrote some placeholder lyrics that only someone half-asleep could devise. Calling the song "Scrambled Eggs," Paul wrote the following Dylan-esque couplet: "Scrambled eggs / Oh my baby, how I love your legs." He apparently didn't write any egg-related words after that because he caught the giggles and couldn't continue.

"Eggs" soon became "Yesterday," and the rest is music history. But decades later, McCartney finally got around to finishing his first-draft poem. In 2013, he appeared on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, and the two sang a duet of the completed version of "Scrambled Eggs," complete with lines like "Waffle fries / Oh my darling, how I love your thighs / Not as much as I love waffle fries / Oh, have you tried the waffle fries?" Nothing soothes a heartbreak like comfort food.

'Get Back' originally made fun of xenophobia

The ever-popular "Get Back," one of the Beatles final hits before their 1970 breakup, is mostly a fun song about hippies and the counterculture. But during the writing phase, it was about something very different and the words were much harsher. "Get Back" was once a scathing satire of xenophobia.

Informally dubbed "No Pakistanis" by fans, the original "Get Back" lyrics featured lines like "Who is that black man? Don't dig no Pakistanis taking all the people's jobs," which gives the familiar "Get back to where you once belonged" chorus a way darker edge. According to Salon, the song was meant to satirize anti-immigration, but there's honestly little to suggest that. Taken at face value, it does seem like a sincere "no immigrants" song, so it's probably best that the group never completed or released it. ("No Pakistanis" didn't even make the six-CD Beatles Anthology set.) The band rarely talks about the shelved words, though McCartney did in 1986, making it clear the song was a satire and that all you need to do is observe the Beatles' past to confirm that. As he said, "If there was any group that was not racist, it was the Beatles. I mean, all our favorite people were always black." That said, don't expect — especially in today's super-turbulent climate — McCartney to trot the song out for concertgoers anytime soon, or ever.