The Beatles, rock music’s most popular, important, and influential band, were born 60 years ago today — on July 6, 1957, when two Liverpool teenagers named John Winston Lennon and James Paul McCartney met for the first time, at a church fundraising fair in the Liverpool, England, suburb of Woolton. The 16-year-old Lennon’s “skiffle” group known as The Quarrymen were performing at the affair, the type of event known as a “fete” in Great Britain — and incredibly, an audience member recorded a portion of the young Lennon’s performance on a primitive (by today’s standards) reel-to-reel tape recorder.
That crude recording, made 60 years ago today, can be heard below on this page. The tape is the first known recording of Lennon singing — but less than seven years later Lennon would be, along with his fellow Beatles, one of the most famous and popular people in the world. Together with McCartney, Lennon would form pop music’s greatest and most influential songwriting partnership.
The tape was recorded at St. Peter’s Church in Woolton by a member of the church’s youth club, Bob Molyneux, who was a retired police officer by the time he pulled the tape out of a vault in 1994. He had hidden the one-of-a-kind recording there for the previous 31 years. Around the time Lennon and The Beatles were becoming internationally famous, in 1963, Molyneux offered to give the tape to Lennon — passing word to the Beatles’ founding member through the group’s drummer, Ringo Starr.
But when time passed and Molyneux never heard from Lennon, he simply stashed the tape reel in a secret vault, removing it only in 1994 to put it up for sale at the prestigious auction house, Sotheby’s.
The tape, featuring Lennon singing two songs, is believed to have been recorded just moments after Lennon was introduced to the 15-year-old McCartney by a mutual friend and schoolmate, Ivan Vaughan. Lennon’s group, which played skiffle — a then-popular form of music in Britain that was a precursor to rock and roll but required less musical ability — performed on the back of a flatbed truck, which served as their stage. The two songs sung by Lennon on the recording are “Puttin’ on the Style,” which was a chart-topping hit in the United Kingdom for skiffle star Lonnie Donegan, and “Baby, Let’s Play House,” which was made famous by America’s “King of Rock and Roll,” Elvis Presley.
Listen to the poorly recorded but nonetheless historic tape by clicking on the video below.
The following video, created by the HistoryPod podcast, contains further details on what turned out to be the world-changing meeting of Lennon and McCartney.
Though the meeting of the teenage Lennon and McCartney would turn out to be one of the most important cultural moments of the 20th century, at the time it seemed anything but Earth-shaking. McCartney, clad in a white jacket and black “drainies,” or drainpipe trousers — a type of pants that today would be called “skinny jeans” — briefly taught Lennon how to properly tune his guitar.
McCartney then played a few songs for Lennon on the guitar, including the then-current American rock and roll hits “Twenty Flight Rock” by Eddie Cochran and “Be-Bop-A-Lula” by Gene Vincent. McCartney also played a couple of tunes on a piano, and when Lennon leaned in to play a chord on the keys, McCartney realized that Lennon was drunk.
“It’s not that I was shocked,” McCartney would recall in an interview 38 years later. “It’s just that I remember this particular detail.”
The Beatles took a few years to come together after the initial Lennon-McCartney meeting, with George Harrison joining the group in February of 1958 and drummer Pete Best signing on in 1960 — only to be replaced two years later by Richard Starkey aka Ringo Starr, who completed the Beatles’ lineup that would remain together until the band’s acrimonious breakup over legal and business, as well as creative, conflicts in April of 1970.
[Featured Image by William Vanderson/Getty Images]