Music

A Tell-All Beatles Book Came Out 40 Years Ago — Here’s Why the Author Is Releasing the Transcripts

Fifty years ago, Steven Gaines, a New York Sunday News rock ‘n’ roll newspaper columnist, lined up to ask the BeatlesJohn Lennon a question during a press event for the musical Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band On the Road. Gaines blurted out, “Hi, John, does seeing Sgt. Pepper’s being made into an off-Broadway show make you feel old?” Lennon responded acerbically: “I don’t need that to make me feel old, mate. Next!” 

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It was a humiliating moment for Gaines, and he wandered off. Peter Brown, the Beatles’ former day-to-day manager and president of the Robert Stigwood Organization, which produced the show, noticed Gaines’ dejection, invited him to talk in a nearby lounge, and the pair became lifelong friends. Later, using Brown’s connections, the duo spent much of 1980 recording exclusive interviews with Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono and Beatles insiders such as Apple Corps’ Neil Aspinall and publisher Dick James. The transcripts became the basis for their 1983 best-seller The Love You Make: An Insider’s Story of the Beatles.

Reading like a “paperback pulp novel,” as Rolling Stone declared, the book contains revelatory allegations such as Lennon’s brief sexual relationship with the Beatles’ late manager, Brian Epstein, and Lennon and Ono’s journey through heroin addiction. When the book came out, McCartney burned it in his fireplace, and his late wife, Linda, photographed the destruction. Now that Brown and Gaines have released the full transcripts from those 1980 interviews in a new book, All You Need Is Love: The Beatles In Their Own Words, which is out now, Gaines tells Billboard by phone from his East Hampton, N.Y., home that the first book may have been “polarizing,” but it’s based on talks with reliable — and comfortable — sources such as a jovial, weed-smoking McCartney.

Billboard: Why put this book out now, 41 years after the publication of The Love You Make?

Steven Gaines: I had the tapes in a bank vault for 40 years while we tried to figure out what to do with them. I wanted there to be full access to the tapes for historians, for the public. Peter and I, getting up in years, decided we had to make a decision now. Publishers were interested. We didn’t do it for the money, because there’s not a huge amount of money involved.

black and white book cover with photo of the beatles

My favorite detail in the book is “Dalí’s coconut” — a $5,000 gift Lennon commissioned for Starr in which the surrealism master Salvador Dalí created what appeared to be half a coconut lined with a sponge and “a long, curly black hair that he’d plucked from his mustache, he claimed, although I had my suspicions,” as Brown writes in the book.

A young man working for the Beatles in New York, Arma Andon, came in from America, because Dalí wanted to be paid in cash, and you couldn’t bring cash, especially in American dollars, out of England. He went out with Peter Brown and Dalí and his wife Gala to dinner. When it was over, Salvador Dalí asked Arma Andon if he’d like to go with him to a whorehouse. We didn’t put that in the book because it had nothing to do with the Beatles. 

The other weird thing was … the hair in the coconut. We don’t know if Dalí got that from his mustache or his pubic hair. John wanted so badly to give Ringo something special, because Ringo felt so maligned and [like] such an outsider and they didn’t appreciate his drumming. When Peter showed it to John, they wet the hair, and the hair curled up, or straightened out, or — I forget what it did. John loved it so much. I forget what they gave Ringo instead. Ringo never knew about the coconut.

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I was surprised at the bluntness of your questions, especially to McCartney: “Rock ‘n’ roll bands had a reputation for being bad on the road, like tying groupies to bedposts and f—– them with a fish. But you guys were supposed to be celibate.”

It was one of the things I always wondered about. They were always painted as such angels. Then, of course, there was Hamburg [where the Beatles performed in Germany in the ’60s] and all the hookers. It really shocked me that Paul said there were lots of girls on the road. Why hadn’t any of them come forward?

Paul invited me and Peter to his house in Sussex for the weekend. Paul whispered to me, “Do you smoke grass?” I said, “Not since I’ve been here.” He said, “I’m not allowed to smoke in the house because of the kids and because I’ve been arrested. Let’s go out in my car and we’ll drive around and smoke a joint.” We got into his Mini, the fanciest Mini I’d ever seen. He put one joint on the dashboard of the car. 

Then the second joint fell down around the windshield-wiper defroster slot. Paul said, “Oh, no, no, no, they’ll find it, they’ll pull me over for a ticket, and Linda, and they’ll find it! We’ve got to get it out of there.” So we pulled over to the side of the road. We opened up both the doors to the car. He got some screwdrivers out of the bonnet and we started unscrewing the dashboard. His neighbors were walking down the street: “Having car trouble, Mr. McCartney?” “Oh, no, that’s OK, that’s fine, thank you very much.” We never found the joint. We screwed everything back together. 

That was my experience in the interview: He was really shockingly forthcoming.

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For decades, Yoko Ono was said to have broken up the Beatles, but the studio footage in Peter Jackson’s documentary Get Back suggests it was really about business — particularly regarding Allen Klein, whom Lennon wanted to hire as manager, while McCartney and others disagreed. All You Need Is Love indicates all these reasons are true, and others as well.

The first thing was that Brian [Epstein] died. He was the glue that held the Beatles together. Then the guys were getting tired of each other. They couldn’t go out on the street, they were the most famous people on earth, everything they did, every gesture, everything they said, was blown up, and they could only see each other, and it created tremendous tension.

If the feelings behind them weren’t so bad, they maybe would have solved those financial problems. There is a moment in Get Back when John and Yoko go over to speak with Peter Brown. Peter says, “Allen Klein is here,” and John and Yoko say, “Oh, when can we see him?” Peter says, “He’s at the Dorchester [Hotel in London], you can see Allen Klein tomorrow.” What they do behind everyone’s back is call the Dorchester and see him that night. And he brainwashes them. He made everything worse. He picked at all the scabs. He made the Beatles fight with each other.

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How did you and Peter come up with this arrangement to write together?

In 1980, I was broke and down and out and unhappy and miserable in New York. He was living in Laguna Beach in a penthouse on a cliff. He said, “You’ve got to get out of New York. Stay here for a while.” It was glorious, and I said, “What about that book now?” He said, “Let’s write a proposal.” Then it exploded. We got $250,000 for the hardcover rights, $750,000 for the paperback rights. It went on and on until we had almost $2 million in advances. The problem was, it was too honest, it was too direct and the Beatles fans weren’t ready for it. But everybody’s grown up now. They’re ready for All You Need Is Love.

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