The Beatles – Please Please Me (1963), From Me To You (1963), Do You Want To Know A Secret (1963), You Can’t Do That (1964 ), Run For Your Life (1965), Girl (1965), Getting Better (1967 ), Across The Universe (1969).
Cynthia Powell met John Lennon at the Liverpool Institute of Art in 1957 in a lettering class, she was an attractive brunette who lived in the more prestigious suburb of Hoylake, he was a rocker/Teddy Boy from a broken home who had been raised by his stern Aunt Mimi (below with John), she didn’t like Cynthia and was cruel to her, John masked his affection for Cynthia by acting tough and teasing her.He asked her out for end of term drinks at the Ye Cracke pub (below), Cynthia told him she was already engaged, and Lennon replied, “I didn’t ask you to fuckin’ marry me did I?”. Despite Cynthia’s initial reservations, she broke off her engagement, dyed her hair blonde at John’s request, to look like Brigitte Bardot, and the two became lovers.Soon after John revealed himself to be a very jealous, possessive, and insecure young man, after Cynthia danced with his fellow band mate Stuart Sutcliffe (below centre, with John and George) he slapped Cynthia, and on other occasions he was seen to punch and slap her at the college, he was a violent and abusive person with severe anger management problems, and Cynthia ended their relationship. Three months later, after profusely apologising for his behaviour, and promising not to repeat the physical abuse, they were re-united, but John would still continue to be moody and unpredictable, and increasingly unfaithful to Cynthia, particularly when away from Liverpool and performing in Hamburg. She on the other hand was deeply in love, and totally dedicated to his future success.
In 1962 Cynthia became pregnant to John and they arranged to get married that year, she was 22 and he was 21, Lennon was dismissive of the events surrounding the pregnancy, claiming that it was just a “Saturday night special”, and “a baby conceived in a whiskey bottle.” Brian Epstein was paranoid about the fans discovering that any of the Beatles were married, so they had to even conceal Cynthia’s pregnancy and the arrival of son Julian in 1963, but the fans soon found out for themselves. Early Lennon songs were influenced by Cynthia, despite her modest, retiring comments to the contrary “It was too sloppy when you were young to dedicate anything to anybody. Macho Northern men didn’t do that in those days. I can only muse about our time together and feel from the music.”The Beatles debut album was a huge hit and several songs underlined the depth of feelings that Lennon felt for Cynthia, Please Please Me and From Me To You, where all lyrically simple, greeting card declarations of love and lust, but also musically and vocally engaging, on the former, Lennon attempted a Roy Orbison-meets-Everly Brothers vocal sound.
On From Me To You and Love Me Do, Lennon’s harmonica was strongly influenced by Delbert McClinton’s bluesy harmonica on Bruce Chanel’s Hey Baby (McClinton below centre, John on left and Bruce Chanel on the right) and Frank Ifield’s I Remember You, both of which were current hits in the UK, and regularly formed a part of the Beatles live performances.Beatlemania was now a phenomenon, Do You Want to Know A Secret was notable for its opening spoken words “ You’ll never know how much I really love you/ You’ll never know how much I really care/ … Listen, do you want to know a secret/ Do you promise not to tell… “ a very personal message from Lennon, but something he chose not to sing himself, giving it to George Harrison, on which George recorded his first lead vocals, and also not releasing it as a Beatles single in the UK, but rather giving it to Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas, who had a #2 hit with it there in 1963.
In 1964 the Lennon song You Can’t Do That, again portrayed the jealous, insecure person that Lennon was, its genial tone was contradicted by the tense threats, sexual paranoia, and emphasised by the song’s nagging, insistent groove – “Well, it’s the second time I’ve caught you talking to him/ Do I have to tell you one more time, I think it’s a sin/ I think I’ll let you down (let you down)/ And leave you flat (gonna let you down and leave you flat)/ Because I’ve told you before, oh/ You can’t do that.”
Lennon would revisit this theme of jealousy and insecurity in future songs including Run For Life from the Rubber Soul album (1965) “ Well, I’d rather see you dead, little girl/ Than to be with another man/ You better keep your head, little girl/ Or I won’t know where I am …”, and 1970’s more apologetic Jealous Guy. Girl off the Rubber Soul album was another confessional piece by John, who was unsure about the future of his marriage, and the apparent indifference that he felt from Cynthia “ When I think of all the times/ I tried so hard to leave her/ She will turn to me and start to cry/ And she promises the earth to me/ And I believe her/ After all this time I don’t know why/ Ah, girl, girl…”. At the same time he would write Norwegian Wood, the first song to combine rock music and sitar, inspired by a clandestine affair he had with London journalist Maureen Cleave (centre below with the group), John’s infidelity and jealousy would ultimately contribute to the failure of his marriage to Cynthia.John had replaced his violent, abusive drinking bouts, by self-medicating with industrial quantities of cannabis and LSD, taking over a thousand trips in the period 1965-70. His legendary bad temper, bigotry, and hypertension had been replaced by drug-fueled love and understanding, but Cynthia has subsequently confirmed that Lennon’s drug habit spelled the end of their relationship. Sgt Pepper’s took the world by storm in 1967, and entire volumes have been dedicated to unpacking the inspirations and coded messages within the lyrics. But John has confirmed that by this time he was feeling regretful about his treatment of Cynthia, and particularly the physical abuse he had subjected her to during their relationship, in the song Getting Better, largely composed and sung by Paul, John contributed several important lyrics “ I used to be cruel to my woman/ I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved/ Man I was mean but I’m changing my scene/ And I doing the best that I can…”, and during the recording of the song when Paul sings “It’s getting better all the time ..” John replies “It can’t get no worse.”
By 1967 the twice-divorced Yoko Ono had commenced an aggressive pursuit of John Lennon, she wrote to him regularly and even when he accompanied Cynthia and the others to the Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in Rishikesh (India ) she telegrammed him regularly and continued a barrage of love letters. Lennon moved out of the chalet he was sharing with Cynthia, claiming he could only meditate when alone, physically distancing himself from his wife. Left to right in the front row-Ringo Starr, Maureen Starkey, Jane Asher, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Patti Boyd, Cynthia Lennon, John Lennon.Soon after the pair returned to London, Cynthia returned home to “Kenwood”, their house in Weybridge (London) to find Yoko Ono ensconced there with her husband. Before the end of 1968 Yoko was pregnant with John’s child, he divorced Cynthia in 1969, and married Ono later that year. 1969’s Across The Universe would accurately depict John’s feelings for his wife, and presage what was to happen before the end of that year – “I was lying next to my first wife in bed, you know, and I was irritated, and I was thinking. She must have been going on and on about something and she’d gone to sleep, and I kept hearing these words over and over, flowing like an endless stream. I went downstairs and it turned into a sort of cosmic song rather than an irritated song, rather than a ‘Why are you always mouthing off at me?
Cynthia (above right with from left to right with Yoko, Julian and Sean) would marry three more times, and struggle financially, existing on the proceeds of sales of her Beatles memorabilia, Cynthia sadly passed away in 2015. John would continue to be a creative musical force and to juggle the demands of parenthood and co-habitation, with the challenges of promoting world peace through his music and conducting a very public affair with his personal assistant May Pang (below right), John was murdered by Mark Chapman in New York City in 1980.
In 1969 the Summer of Love was in full flower in Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles, where an artist colony of actors, writers, and musicians had lived for decades since the early days of Hollywood. Over the years Harry Houdini, Clara Bow, Mary Astor, Boris Karloff, Leslie Caron, and Errol Fynn were all stars who had domiciled in this exclusive neighborhood. In the late 1960’s it was colonized by the rising stars of the hippie counterculture – Frank Zappa, John and Michelle Phillips and Mama Cass Elliot, Jimi Hendrix, Carole King, Jim Morrison, and members of the Doors, the Byrds, the Monkees, Buffalo Springfield and Canned Heat – all lived there.
Joni Mitchell’s light-filled timber home at 8217 Lookout Mountain Road was the hub for a close-knit circle of folk-rock musicians who would gather around the fireplace in her living room, squatting on cushions, drinking wine, sharing joints, and exchanging ideas and tunes into the night.It was at one of these sojourns at Mitchell’s house that Graham Nash, singer/guitarist with the Hollies, visited and as well as falling in love with Joni, he started to harmonise with Stephen Stills (above left) and David Crosby (above right) for the first time, and all agreed that his distinctive high tenor was exactly what they were looking for, the following year Neil Young would come on board, and CSNY was complete.Nash and Mitchell were considered the golden couple of the folk-rock movement at the time, she was working on her album Clouds, and Nash was working on his songs for the CSNY debut album Déjà Vu. The couple would often have breakfast at Art’s Deli on Ventura Boulevarde, and on what was a grey, drizzly LA morning, as they were heading back to their car, they noticed a beautiful vase in the window of an antique shop, Joni loved it, Graham encouraged her to buy it, and she did. When they returned home, Graham said to Joni “Why don’t you put some flowers in the vase and I’ll light a fire… and I started to think, God, that’s an incredibly domestic scene … I love this woman, and this moment is a very grounded moment in our relationship, I sat down at the piano, and an hour later Our House, was done“.
From a really old-fashioned moment of shared domestic harmony, a song of great innocent elegance emerged, clearly the two were soul mates, and would remain so for another two years, but the free-spirited Joni did not share Graham’s idea of a conventional domestic arrangement, which she equated with subservience and drudgery. On the other hand Graham Nash was seeking a loving relationship like the one depicted in the movie The Enchanted Cottage, in which two damaged people, hiding from the world, fall in love, and find that all their scars become invisible, at least to each other.
The song was released as the second single off the Deja Vu album, after Neil Young’s Ohio, and was a top twenty hit globally. Nash had been briefly married to Rose Eccles (1964-66) who inspired the Hollies song Jennifer Eccles, and after he and Mitchell parted he married actress Susan Sennett (below) in 1977 and they were divorced in 2016, in 2019 he married artist Amy Grantham.
Joni Mitchel was married to bass player Larry Klein (1982-1994, below), and she subsequently wrote about her relationship with Nash in her song Willy (Nash’s nickname), on the Ladies Of The Canyon album, released in 1970
The Chelsea Hotel is situated at 222 West 23rd Street (NYC), the imposing red brick Gothic edifice was built in 1883 and converted into a hotel in 1905, it has ruled the block for over a hundred years, and although you will not find mini-bars, plunge pools, and sleek modern design within, it has housed many literary luminaries, and its rooms have intriguing secrets to reveal. Welsh writer Dylan Thomas (above) downed 18 whiskies at the nearby White Horse Pub, staggered back to his room at the Chelsea and lapsed into a fatal coma, and Irish writer Brendan Behan spent his boozy twilight years slowly drinking himself to death there. Arthur C Clarke penned 2001: A Space Odyssey in Room 603 , and the Beat artists and writers Alan Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Charles Buckowski, William S Burroughs, Jackson Pollock all lived there as did Jack Kerouac (below), who wrote On The Road within its walls. In the 1960’s the Chelsea hosted a roll call of the great, the good, and the slightly shabby- Jimi Hendrix, Dee Dee Ramone, Patti Smith, Bob Dylan – and many name checked the Chelsea in their songs – Joni Mitchell’s Chelsea Morning, Lou Reed’s Chelsea Girl (recorded by Nico), Jefferson Airplane’s Third Week in the Chelsea, and famously Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel #2.In 1968 Cohen took up residence at Room 425 at the Chelsea, and said of the less than salubrious accommodation “I love hotels to which, at 4 a.m., you can bring along a midget, a bear and four ladies, take them to your room and no one cares about it at all.” Cohen hoped to be inspired by the bohemian vibe of the old hostelry, but he was struggling in what was the vibrant singer-songwriter folk boom of the 60’s in New York. He was perceived as an ageing wannabe, even though he was only thirty-three, his album Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967) had flopped in the States despite attracting critical praise, his only hit had been Judy Collins version of Suzanne, for which he did not receive royalties after agreeing to sign away copyright in an exploitive contract.In 1968 Cohen returned to the lobby of the Chelsea one morning at 3.00 am after drinking at the nearby White Horse Pub, in search of company and inspiration; he crossed the lobby, festooned with the art works of those who had paid for their rent with paintings (including Brett Whitely), and entered the rickety elevator where he was joined by a young women with wild hair and hippie clothes. She was looking for Kris Kristofferson and he was looking for Brigitte Bardot, she was a 25-year-old singer from Port Arthur in Texas, her band was Big Brother and the Holding Company, and her name was Janis Joplin. They would both make some generous concessions to each other in that elevator, to share a night of passion, in Room 425 at the Chelsea.Janis Joplin would die of a drug overdose in 1971, Cohen and guitarist Ron Cornelius would collaborate on a flight from Nashville to Dublin’s Shannon Airport to write a song about that night, it was Chelsea Hotel, – “I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel/ You were talking so brave and so free/ Giving me head on the unmade bed/ While the limousines wait in the street…” Cohen continued to tinker with the lyrics and added other verses “ I remember you well at the Chelsea Hotel/ You were famous, your heart was a legend/ You told me again you preferred handsome men/ But for me you would make an exception”, resulting in the final version of the song, and its #2 designation.
The song featured on Cohen’s 1974 album New Skin for the Old Ceremony, and Cohen would always describe the circumstances surrounding this liaison at his live performances, and it was only in 1994 that he expressed some regret about this kiss and tell song “ it was an indiscretion for which I’m very sorry, and if there is some way of apologising to the ghost, I want to apologise now, for having committed that indiscretion.”
It all started in the fashionable seaside Ipanema neighbourhood of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), and the daily walk that seventeen year-old Heloisa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto (above right at 17, and left at 62) would take from her home in Montenegro St, to the popular Veloso café bar every day, often stopping to buy cigarettes for her mother. The Veloso (below) happened to be the regular meeting place for lyricist Vinicius de Moraes and musician Antonio Carlos Jobim, who felt compelled to describe the way she stole the attention of everyone she passed, in a song that they originally called Menina que Passa (The Girl Who Passes By)– “ But each day when she walks to the sea/ She looks straight ahead, not at me.”The song became a jazzy bossa nova fusion hit, when an English language version, translated from the Portuguese by Norman Gimbel, was recorded in New York in 1964 by vocalist Astrud Gilberto (below right), her then-husband guitarist Joao Gilberto and jazz saxophonist Stan Getz (below left). The song had warm, languid, infectious, Latin rhythms, sexy riffs, the cool sax of Getz, and the endearingly naïve vocals of young Astrud, which made the record a global hit. Many young women claimed to be The Girl From Ipanema, which was the new title of the song. Its popularity, and the false claims of others forced the composers to reveal who their inspiration was for the iconic song, so in Revelação: a verdadeira Garôta de Ipanema (“Revealed: The Real Girl from Ipanema“) Moraes revealed her true identity and wrote that she was “the paradigm of the young Carioca: a golden teenage girl, a mixture of flower and mermaid, full of light and grace, the sight of whom is also sad, in that she carries with her, on her route to the sea, the feeling of youth that fades, of the beauty that is not ours alone—it is a gift of life in its beautiful and melancholic constant ebb and flow.”
The Girl From Ipanema is believed to be the second most recorded pop song in history after Yesterday by the Beatles, it won a Grammy Award for Song of the Year in 1965, and is hard to avoid if you regularly travel in elevators. The tune secured fame for Heloisa and she went on to become a model and bikini store owner in São Paulo, she also appeared on the cover of Brazilian Playboy in 1987 and again in 2003 at the age of 56 with her daughter (below), when she was still turning heads “Tall and tan and young and lovely/ The girl from Ipanema/ Goes walking and when she passes/ Each one she passes/ Goes ahh.”