Tag Archives: Maureen Cleave

1966 ➤ The interview that made John Lennon US public enemy number one

Evening Standard,Maureen Cleave, Lennon, interview, More popular than Jesus, How does a Beatle live?

First published in the London Evening Standard, March 4, 1966

Maureen Cleave, 1964, Evening Standard❚ MAUREEN CLEAVE [left] died this week aged 87. She was a long-time colleague and friend who was refreshing to know and a perfectionist at work. She was the author of this landmark piece of journalism in 1966 in which Beatle John Lennon said ironically: “We’re more popular than Jesus now.” Bang in the middle of the Swinging 60s, at the height of Beatlemania, the most successful pop group in history became possibly the most hated. In America’s Bible Belt, outrage sent fans out to burn The Beatles’ records and radio stations round the world banned their music. The Fab Four never played live concerts again.

Maureen had written the first significant critique of the band in the London Evening Standard in February 1963, headlined “Why The Beatles create all that frenzy”. What she identified was the band’s unique stage presence while acknowledging the Liverpudlian scallywags as fresh young jokers in the Max Miller cheeky-chappie mould. This kick-started her career as probably the most clear-sighted interviewer of her generation and her survey in 1966, “How does a Beatle live?” still makes a riveting read as John Lennon guides her through his 22-room home deep in the Surrey banker-cum-oligarch belt…

➢ Read on at Shapers of the 80s:
1966, More popular than Jesus – Maureen Cleave’s full Lennon interview from the Evening Standard in 1966

Beatles, bonfires,More popular than Jesus, 1966

Christian outrage in 1966: public bonfires were organised in Alabama, Texas and Florida to burn The Beatles’ records

➢ If ever a journalist had a quote taken out of context and rehashed evermore, it was Maureen Cleave – The Times obituary, Nov 2021

➢ Once the Beatles had become the most famous entertainers in the world, Cleave witnessed at first hand the destructive force of modern celebrity – Daily Telegraph obituary, Nov 2021

➢ Journalist who was close to the Beatles and known as one of Fleet Street’s most exacting interviewers – Guardian obituary, Nov 2021



Maureen Cleave elaborates on 1965’s interview with Bob Dylan (above), filmed by D A Pennebaker for his documentary Don’t Look Back. The discussion below is extracted from The Bridge, Number 6, Spring 2000 (courtesy of @bob_notes). Click on image to enlarge…

Maureen Cleave, Bob Dylan, Don't Look Back, interview, DA Pennebaker, Matt Tempest, TheBridge


Blogger Stephen McCarthy explored this filmed interview with Bob Dylan in the light of his conversion to Christianity in 1978. We see Maureen Cleave ask Dylan: “Do you ever read the Bible?” because she hears echoes of its ideas in so many Dylan songs. Yet Dylan seemed uneager to follow that line of questioning.

McCarthy writes: “Remember now, this was prior to the recording of songs like Highway 61 Revisited which begins with the lines, “Oh God said to Abraham, ‘Kill me a son’. Abe says, ‘Man, you must be puttin’ me on’” … Granted there were allusions to The Bible in earlier songs, such as Gates of Eden etc, but in my opinion, it was fairly perceptive of Maureen Cleave to have discerned the religious thread that could be found woven into many of Dylan’s earliest songs. And it also begs the question, did she somehow instinctively suspect that times they were a-changin’ for Bob Dylan in some sort of spiritual sense?”



2020 ➤ And now Bowie pays the ultimate tribute to Little Richard

obituaries, rock-n-roll, gay issues, Little Richard,

Little Richard in 1957: So many saxophones in the band that Bowie as a child went out and bought his own

➢ When rock-n-roll legend Little Richard died
this week at the age of 87, the official David Bowie
website published this tribute…

“Some cat was layin’ down some rock n roll…” The young David Jones soaked up influences like a dry sponge and he found the music and attitude of Little Richard, among others, inspirational to say the least. As a 15-year-old in 1962, Jones saw Little Richard live for the first time and then again the following year with The Rolling Stones as one of the support acts. He listed the 1959 album, The Fabulous Little Richard, among his favourite 25 for a Vanity Fair feature in 2003.

Little Richard, David Bowie

Bowie’s own Star Pic of Little Richard: described as his most treasured possession (© The David Bowie Archive)

Here’s Bowie talking in 1991: “I sent away for a photograph of Little Richard when I was seven years old, it was called Star Pic and it took eight weeks to arrive and when it arrived it was torn… and I was absolutely broken-hearted. The first record I think I bought was called I Got It, which he later re-wrote as She’s Got It. And ever since I saw that photograph, I realised he had so many saxophones in his band. So I went out and bought a saxophone intending that when I grew up I’d work in the Little Richard band as one of his saxophonists. Anyway it didn’t work out like that, but without him I think myself and half of my contemporaries wouldn’t be playing music.”

We’ll leave you with a Tweet posted by David’s son, Duncan Jones: “From what my dad told me about his love of this legend growing up, it’s very likely he would not have taken the path he did without the huge influence of Little Richard. One of the highest of the high. Enjoy whatever’s next, Superstar.”


Little Richard, David Bowie,obituaries, rock-n-roll,video,interview

Bowie and Richard 1991: click pic to view video interviews in a new tab

Little Richard , biography , rock-n-roll,

Excerpt from Charles White’s authorised biography, The Life and Times of Little Richard: The Quasar of Rock (Harmony Books, Sept 1984)

➢ Elsewhere at Shapers of the 80s:
Nailing the maverick talents of Little Richard, king of rock-n-roll – the Maureen Cleave interview 1985

Little Richard ,obituaries, rock-n-roll, gay issues, bbc, interview, video,Ray Connolly,

Richard meets Connolly: Click on pic to run BBC video in a new tab

❏ ABOVE: In one of his first TV appearances, the Evening Standard’s Ray Connolly interviews rock-n-roll’s irrepressible icon Little Richard for Late Night Line-up in 1972. “I used to be an opera singer, Oh-ooohhhhhh!” (© Posted by BBC Archive)


Little Richard , obituaries, rock-n-roll, gay issues,

Little Richard in 1971: “his queerness made him dynamic”

➢ Little Richard’s queer triumph – The legend himself sometimes sought to distance himself from the LGBTQ community but his queerness is what made him a dynamic performer – by Myles E. Johnson in The New York Times, 10 May 2020

➢ Prime force of rock-n-roll who made an explosive impact with songs such as Tutti Frutti, Good Golly, Miss Molly, Lucille and Long Tall Sally – by Michael Gray in The Guardian, 10 May 2020

➢ Too black, too queer, too holy: why Little Richard never truly got his dues – How did a turbaned drag queen from the sexual underground of America’s deep south ignite rock-n-roll? We unravel the mystery behind Little Richard’s subversive genius – by Tavia Nyong’o in The Guardian, 12 May 2020

➢ How Little Richard changed the world: The legacy of the singer, who died last week, goes beyond music and helped change our attitudes to race, sex and class – by Daniel Finkelstein in The Times, 12 May 2020


1980 ➤ The Lennon we knew: unfulfilled talent with a genius for making friends the world over

John Lennon, Yoko Ono, New York City, 1980,Allan Tannenbaum

The last pictures: Allan Tannenbaum photographed John Lennon and Yoko Ono throughout November 1980, the month before the murder. The couple were emerging from a self-imposed five-year seclusion to prepare for the release of Double Fantasy, Lennon’s final album

❚ ON THIS DAY IN 1980, ex-Beatle John Lennon, one the few gods in the international pantheon of pop, was shot dead in a New York City street, aged 40. Today it’s impossible to describe convincingly the impact of The Beatles throughout the exhilarating decade we call the Swinging 60s, when their songs themselves became barometers of change.

John Lennon death,Time magazine, Newsweek, 30th anniversary
Here is how music journalist and Beatles expert Paul Du Noyer encapsulated the contribution of the Lennon & McCartney partnership (1957-1970) in a mighty partwork published by The Sunday Times in 1997 titled 1000 Makers of Music:

“Whether measured in statistics or simply the love of the common people, the Beatles’ achievement looks unbeatable. And the engine of it all was the songwriting team of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Before them, nobody dreamt that rock and roll would spawn enduring songs or that English rock could rule the world. Musically illiterate, the two Liverpool teenagers began by aping their American heroes and grew into writers of prolific originality. From the sunny simplicities of She Loves You, or A Hard Day’s Night, to the artful ingenuity of Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever, they dazzled at every turn. Each was rocker and balladeer, lyricist and composer. They were a marriage of truth and beauty: Lennon soul-baring and verbally acrobatic (Norwegian Wood, I Am the Walrus); McCartney having the greater gift for melody (Yesterday, Hey Jude). Mostly they wrote alone, but raised one another’s game. Neither displayed the same consistency after the split [in 1970]. They lacked anyone with the nerve to say ‘Why don’t you change that bit?’ Their key work was A Day In the Life, 1967.”

➢ An index to Paul Du Noyer’s
published work on The Beatles

Today The Beatles hold the records for selling more albums in the United States than anybody else, and they head Billboard’s all-time top-selling Hot 100 list of singles artists, compiled in 2008. At home The Beatles have enjoyed more number one albums in the UK charts than anyone.

In the 60s, the mass media we know had scarcely left the starting line. This was a simpler era when any globally successful pop group was a novelty. When Beatlemania burst, it was a bombshell. The Fab Four, as the band were dubbed, found themselves writing many new rules in the celebrity game which fan worship then transmuted into the cultural phenomenon called Beatlemania — hordes of girls who stalked, pounced and screamed in frenzy — all accurately parodied in Dick Lester’s effervescent films, Help! and A Hard Day’s Night, based on the Beatles’ sudden worldwide fame. It also resulted in a deranged fan shooting his hero Lennon dead.

Beatlemania 1965, LHR

Typical Beatlemania: the band fly out from Heathrow bound for Austria and public vantage points are abrim with fans. Picture from Getty

Such sway did The Beatles hold, that their Merseyside cheek inspired provincial British pop groups not only to dare take on the unimaginative impresarios of the London entertainment mafia for whom blandness was the key to an act’s success, but then to take on the world showbiz mafia dominated by America, where within corporate frameworks artistic spontaneity might actively be indulged. The Beatles’ music — like the self-expressiveness of rock and roll — had a passion that chimed with the forces of grassroots social change, of liberation, emancipation, the debunking of authority figures, and the reform of cobwebbed institutions such as government, church and unions, all of which had been under attack by the stormtroopers of the satire movement since its dawn in 1960 with Beyond the Fringe.

The early Beatles hits captured the essential “sunny simplicities” of pop, though these acquired darker overtones as the decade matured and the increasingly “affluent society” of the West drew criticism from the New Left. By 1968, the daftness of the hippy dream saw The Beatles setting up Apple Corps. In 25-year-old Paul McCartney’s words this was to be “a business with a social and cultural environment where everyone gets a decent share of the profits. I suppose it’ll be like a sort of Western Communism”. Whateva.

John Lennon death, Daily Mirror, people magazine, 30th anniversary
One secret to The Beatles becoming fab was being born in the port city of Liverpool, which had long bred its own resilient sense of humour. The band empathised with the working-class values of their community in ways the few young bloods in London’s middle-aged mainstream media found refreshing. Their heritage also included Liverpool’s role as the “New York of Europe” and home to Britain’s oldest Black African community. Little Richard and Berry Gordy’s Motown were in their blood, and The Beatles maintained the noble trade between Britain and North America which has seen each enhance and export the other’s music in a continuing chain of call-and-response since World War 2.

The songwriting partnership of Lennon & McCartney was unique, as also was their distinct vocal style absorbed from heroes such as Ben E King, and they transformed popular music utterly, never to be equalled. In his most infamous article, The Times’s music critic William Mann concluded in 1963: “They have brought a distinctive and exhilarating flavour into a genre of music that was in danger of ceasing to be music at all.” [See more, below]

Lennon’s own undoubted greatness was co-dependent on McCartney. Moreover, it becomes impossible to estimate the loss to music caused by his early death, when many people feel that, despite his wit and intelligence, his shortcomings hindered him from fully realising his true potential. This was the unsentimental verdict of journalist Maureen Cleave — who had known The Beatles since writing the first significant piece about them — as expressed in her frank and moving obituary for The Observer magazine in December 1980.

Beatles, life magazine, tribute
My other Evening Standard colleague who knew Lennon well during the Beatles’ later years is Ray Connolly, Liverpudlian author of many illuminating articles on Lennon. Connolly was due to meet him the day after he was shot. (“The last phone call I made before going to bed was to the Lennons’ apartment in New York to tell them that I would be in New York at lunchtime the following day.”) He agrees the Beatle was no saint, but he was “someone who wrote and played rock and roll music better than virtually anyone else”. In addition: “When he died millions of people mourned the loss of a friend. His real genius was in his ability to communicate. He was to perfection a creature of his times.”

In his instant paperback published by Fontana within two months of Lennon’s shooting, Connolly writes:
“[The American composer] Aaron Copland once said that when future generations wanted to capture the spirit of the 60s all they would have to do was to play Beatle records. That’s true, but I would go further. Future historians will find that understanding of the 60s and the 70s widened immeasurably by focusing on the life of John Lennon. From Liverpool war baby to killer’s victim just across the road from Central Park, Lennon’s every interest told a story of the times. The widespread grief at his death was compared with the mourning which followed the assassination of President Kennedy [in 1963]. No one should have been surprised, though many were.”

One of the reasons was that “Lennon chose the role of anti-hero for much of his life, casting off the trappings of glamour, throwing aside the shell of lovable immortality. John Lennon would never have made a politician. Political heroes are pragmatists. That is their job. John Lennon had no time for pragmatism. He was outspoken about everything and everybody, and then bore the consequences for his outrageousness.”

Ray Connolly, John Lennon biography, Fontana— Extracted from John Lennon 1940-1980, a biography by Ray Connolly (Fontana 1981). For many more interviews with all the Beatles, visit Connolly’s website and archive that includes Lennon: The Lost Interviews in which the journalist claims that “arguably one of Lennon’s most inspired acts was his deliberate destruction of The Beatles in 1969”. Connolly’s latest novel The Sandman arose from his years writing about rock music, not least about John Lennon and the Beatles, and is now available on Kindle


In 1000 Makers of Music critic Ian MacDonald summarised the contribution of the Beatles as a band:
“As expressive of England in the 1960s as the music of Benjamin Britten in the 1950s, The Beatles made some of the world’s best music during their decade (1960-1970)… from the infectious melodies of their early beat-group years, through the LSD adventure of their central period (Revolver, 1966, and their key work Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967). Each member of this Liverpool foursome made a vital contribution to a sound that blended boldness of melody and rhythm with a harmonic originality and richness of detail unknown in today’s pop… The Beatles redefined pop, revolutionised studio recording and completely dominated the culture of the 1960s. Their influence remains omnipresent.”

Ian MacDonald, Revolution in the Head, Lennon death, 30th anniversary— Ian MacDonald was the author of the monumental song-by-song analysis, Revolution in the Head: The Beatles Records and the Sixties (Pimlico).

His real name was Ian MacCormick and the book is worth consulting also for his essay Fabled Foursome, Disappearing Decade, on the social effects of the 1960s.


Richard Williams’s obituary for Ian MacDonald (1948-2003) in the Guardian noted: “Probably no other critic — not even the late William Mann of The Times, with his famous mention of pandiatonic clusters — contributed more to an enlightened enjoyment of the work of The Beatles than Ian MacDonald, who has died aged 54. In his book Revolution In The Head, first published in 1994, MacDonald carefully anatomised every record The Beatles made, drawing attention to broad themes, particular examples of inspiration and moments of human frailty alike. What could have been a dry task instead produced a volume so engagingly readable, so fresh in its perceptions and so enjoyable to argue with that, in an already overcrowded field, it became an immediate hit.”

Sample William Mann’s legendary and hilarious critique of Beatles technique from 1963:
“… One gets the impression that they think simultaneously of harmony and melody, so firmly are the major tonic sevenths and ninths built into their tunes, and the flat submediant key switches, so natural is the Aeolian cadence at the end of Not A Second Time (the chord progression which ends Mahler’s Song of the Earth) … Those submediant switches from C major into A flat major, and to a lesser extent mediant ones (eg, the octave ascent in the famous I Want To Hold Your Hand) are a trademark of Lennon-McCartney songs … The other trademark of their compositions is a firm and purposeful bass line with a musical life of its own; how Lennon and McCartney divide their creative responsibilites I have yet to discover, but it is perhaps significant that Paul is the bass guitarist of the group.”

➢ Extracted from What Songs The Beatles Sang
by William Mann, music critic of The Times

➢ William Mann’s monumental review of the Sgt Pepper album in 1967: The Beatles revive hopes of progress in pop music


Over the past year Lennon’s life has twice been intelligently dramatised. In Nowhere Boy, visual artist Sam Taylor-Wood made her film debut directing several exceptional acting perfomances in an emotionally convincing evocation of Lennon’s adolescence during the austere 1950s, based on a novel by Lennon’s sister. For BBC television, Edmund Coulthard directed Lennon Naked, an unsentimentally credible account of Lennon’s confronting the desperate emotional crossroad that caused him to destroy the Beatles and abandon his wife and son for Yoko Ono.


“When we played straight rock, there was nobody to touch us in Britain. As soon as we made it [as The Beatles], the edges were knocked off us, and Brian put us in suits. But we sold out. The music was dead before we even went on the theatre tour of Britain [Feb-June 1963, supporting other acts such as Roy Orbison]. We had to reduce an hour or two of playing to 20 minutes and go on and repeat the same 20 minutes every night. The Beatles’ music died there. As musicians we killed ourselves then.”

➢ John Lennon speaking in The New York Years
— this week’s BBC Radio 2 documentary by Susan Sarandon

Lennon’s Aunt Mimi Smith on his music

Aunt Mimi Smith, John Lennon“He used to drive me mad with his guitar playing, and I’ll always remember telling him, ‘The guitar’s all right for a hobby, John, but it won’t earn you any money’.”
➢ View the complete 1981 video interview
with Aunt Mimi

➢ 20 most underrated John Lennon tracks in NME Dec 14, 2010

Beatlemania, Hard Day's Night,

Beatlemania: the band on the run from fans and police in Dick Lester’s 1964 film A Hard Day’s Night


1966 ➤ When John Lennon became US public enemy number one

Beatles, burnings, Alabama,more popular than Jesus

Birmingham, Alabama in 1966: a warm welcome awaits The Beatles

Beatles, tour, USA 1966, burnings, Shea Stadium,more popular than Jesus

From the extreme right to another: God-fearing fans burn Beatles records in the Bible Belt in 1966 . . . while 45,000 more pack Shea Stadium in New York City. (Picture by AP)

❚ FAME FASCINATES NOW NO LESS THAN IT DID THEN. Interest in John Lennon intensifies this year because it brings the 70th anniversary of his birth and the 30th of his murder in New York. There, a prestigious 70th birthday celebration is being held at Radio City Music Hall on September 25 starring The Fab Faux, a premier-league tribute band. Soon after, Liverpool goes into overdrive for two whole months of Lennon worship.

Lennon Naked, BBC, drama, Naoko Mori

Lennon Naked, an unflattering new drama-doc: Christopher Eccleston stars as John Lennon with Naoko Mori as Yoko Ono. © BBC

Tonight and tomorrow BBC4 steals a march with Lennon Naked, a robust drama-documentary charting the musician’s activities from 1967 to 1971, a turbulent period which included the dissolution of The Beatles as the most popular group in pop history, huge enough to have pioneered the stadium concert. The sudden death in 1967 of gifted Beatles manager Brian Epstein was devastating for each of the Fab Four – Lennon most of all. He leaned ever more heavily on the bewitching catalyst for change in his own fortunes, the artist Yoko Ono, whom he had met the previous November in London.

With Beatlemania at its height, and the Fabs the coolest ambassadors for Swinging London, 1966 had precipitated its own trauma. Not only was Lennon taking his first steps exploring the not-yet fashionable halucinatory drug LSD, but in July a bombshell exploded in his lap, as The Beatles’ world tour was about to descend on 14 cities in North America.

An interview was published in an American teen magazine in which he boldly asserted of The Beatles’ fame: “We’re more popular than Jesus now.” Across the American Bible-belt and beyond, God-fearing Christians were outraged. Anti-Beatle demonstrations and public burnings of their records ensued, the Ku Klux Klan – a right-wing hate group – vowed vengeance and death threats were reported. Such was the pressure on the whole entourage that when a fan threw a lit firecracker onstage in Memphis and it went off, the Beatles’ press agent Tony Barrow recalls: “All of us at the side of the stage, including three Beatles on stage, all looked immediately at John Lennon. We would not at that moment have been surprised to see that guy go down.”

Though repeated apologies were issued at press conferences across the States, after the San Francisco concert on August 29, 1966, the whole furore persuaded the band to stop touring ever again.

The now notorious “Jesus” quote had arisen in conversation with the British journalist Maureen Cleave, a clear-sighted interviewer on the London Evening Standard where it had been first published without raising an eyebrow in the increasingly secular UK. Today, Shapersofthe80s republishes her riveting account of her tour of Lennon’s Weybridge home, which set out to explore the then novel phenomenon of four popstars who were so famous they couldn’t set foot in public without being mobbed. Thanks to the trust the Fab Four placed in her, Cleave sought to put Beatlemania under the microscope by interviewing John, George, Paul and Ringo separately and successively, under the series title How Does a Beatle Live? Lennon, for one, would ask when you rang, “What day is it?” – with genuine interest.

➢➢ Click to read the original article on Lennon,
How Does a Beatle Live?

Maureen Cleave, The Beatles, Evening Standard,more popular than Jesus

Maureen Cleave recalls: “Ringo used to say the only place he felt safe was in the lavatory; so the Standard once took a photograph of them all there, with Paul sitting on the washbasin.” She never mentions that she was sitting in the middle.

➢➢ Beatles pics from 1966 – Daily Mirror slideshows