Paul McCartney recently addressed the infamous Lennon/McCartney songwriting credit, specifically, his name being listed second. The order of their names came from, according to him, being late for a meeting between himself, John Lennon and their manager at the time, Brian Epstein.
While McCartney has (more or less) come to terms with it, there’s a hint of curiosity in that fateful meeting, considering the fact that Lennon and Epstein’s relationship has been widely speculated upon both during The Beatles’ career and in the years that followed their breakup in 1970.
Epstein first heard The Beatles on Nov. 9, 1961 during a lunchtime show at the Cavern Club, down the street from his job at North End Music Store, one of the many facets of his family’s business he’d been involved with over the years. Less than three months later, he signed the group to a five-year deal, despite never having managed a musical act before. Nonetheless, his business acumen played heavily, namely by controlling every aspect of the band’s public image until he was able to present a finely polished, marketable product to the world.
At first, Lennon allegedly resented Epstein’s control, taking particular issue with his list of rules involving their onstage behavior, prohibiting any smoking or swearing. This would be debunked in later years, as Lennon himself was quoted saying that he’d “wear a bloody balloon if somebody’s going to pay me.”
Epstein’s approach worked, however. After being rejected by major labels like Decca and EMI, along with a host of smaller labels, the group was signed to Parlophone by producer George Martin less than six months after they’d entered into their contract. Epstein even took on the awkward task of firing their drummer Pete Best, who was to be replaced by Ringo Starr shortly after their record deal.
<strong>The Holiday In Barcelona
The following year, already in the throes of fame, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr took a vacation to the Canary Islands, while Lennon chose to accompany Epstein to Barcelona on holiday. Given that Epstein was openly gay, which was still illegal under British law at the time, rumors regarding a relationship between the two began to surface.
Lennon would later reveal to Rolling Stone in 1971 that he considered his experience with Epstein akin to a writer accompanying his subject, and admitted that he liked “playing a bit faggy” when with him, which McCartney saw as Lennon’s way of maintaining his unofficial position as leader of The Beatles, saying, “John was a smart cookie. Brian was gay, and John saw his opportunity to impress upon Mr. Epstein, who was the boss of this group.” Lennon would bluntly deny that, explaining, “If someone is going to manage me, I want to know them inside out.”
Back In Liverpool
After Epstein and Lennon returned from Barcelona, it was Cavern Club DJ (and the man who introduced the band to Epstein initially) Bob Wooler who would first call attention to the matter. During McCartney’s 21st birthday at the Cavern Club on June 21, 1963, Wooler began prodding Lennon for information about him and Epstein, telling him, “We all know.”
Lennon did not take the accusation well, and reacted by beating Wooler to the point that he had to be taken to the hospital. It was Epstein who drove him, who maintained to the press that he knew nothing of what led to the incident at the time.
It ended up being The Beatles’ first foray into national headlines, as the story appeared on the back page of the Daily Mirror the next day. The article made no mention of the conversation that preceded the fight, and Lennon, who publicly apologized immediately afterwards, attributed the whole thing to drinking too much and eating too little. Years later, he would recant the incident, saying that it “must have frightened the fag in me to get so angry.”
The Beginning Of Beatlemania
Once again showing his business sensibilities, Epstein had worked out a deal with Ed Sullivan, the definitive tastemaker for America at the time, to give The Beatles the coveted top billing on his Sunday night variety show. They made their debut on Feb. 9, 1964, with more than an estimated 40 percent of America watching them perform three songs, one at the beginning and two more at the end of the show’s hour-long broadcast. Their overwhelming popularity more or less ruined the experience for the host of other acts they shared the stage with that night.
After two more years of non-stop touring, The Beatles made the decision to quit performing live. As Epstein neared the end of his five-year contract, began to tell his friends that he would not be asked back as their manager. He was right: As the group entered the final act of their lives as Beatles, Epstein’s five-year contract was not renewed.
His Final Days
Following their farewell performance at Candlestick Park in August of 1966, Epstein’s anxiety had heightened, as the necessity of his role begun to diminish significantly. Add to that the fact that, despite his success with creating and selling the image of the band, he’d lost out on a number of lucrative deals, namely due to inexperience. Elvis’ own manager, Colonel Tom Parker, once told Epstein he’d thrown away “tens of millions” of dollars due to oversights in areas such as merchandising rights.
Further descending into gambling and drug abuse, he was found dead on Aug. 27, 1967, and was ruled an accidental overdose, rather than a suicide. While The Beatles had elected to manage themselves just a few months earlier, their reaction to his death was profound nonetheless. It was also rather reflective of their newfound Eastern spirituality, as well as the increasingly radical changes to both their appearance and their approach to crafting pop records, that further illustrated them outgrowing Epstein’s once-defining influence.
Rumors In The Aftermath
With Epstein gone, The Beatles soon succumbed to infighting, combating unchecked egos, and creative rifts between them. The tension between the members is well documented in the 1970 film Let It Be, and by the time Abbey Road was recorded, the four of them were never in the studio at the same time.
It wasn’t until 1983, three years after Lennon’s death, that his childhood friend, Pete Shotton, decided to capitalize on the long-standing rumor by publishing a rather candid account of Lennon’s and Epstein’s time together in Barcelona in John Lennon: In My Life. Shotton claims the conversation was confided to him by Lennon himself, which ended up the inspiration for the 1992 arthouse film The Hours and Times. Additionally, in 2007’s The Beatles, Football and Me, journalist Hunter Davies accounts that, while Lennon was straight, he admitted to having a one-night stand with Epstein, saying that he was “daft enough to try anything once.”
Epstein certainly took a particular liking to Lennon, as evidenced by what he once allegedly confided to Lennon’s aunt Mimi, that John was “the only important one.” It was also speculated that Epstein himself liked being talked down to, which would have drawn him to Lennon’s particularly snide way with words. Others, like May Pang, Lennon’s former girlfriend who also worked as his and Yoko Ono’s personal assistant, addressed the rumors as “absurd, and actually impossible,” saying, “Even when Phil Spector once tied up and threatened male sex against him, John was terrified.” In case you needed another anecdote that involved Spector’s absolute insanity.
All in all, the stories remain largely unsubstantiated, as it’s largely assumed that Lennon himself would have admitted it, given how honest he was about accounting for his life just before it was tragically cut short near the end of 1980. In fact, Lennon would prove candid on the subject years earlier, when asked by McCartney (who recently denied any of these allegations) if he’d ever had a homosexual encounter, Lennon simply quipped “I haven’t met a guy I fancy enough.”