The Beatles’ first single, “Love Me Do,” arrived in October 1962, catapulting four Liverpool lads into global consciousness. Meanwhile, in London, a blonde-haired blues guitarist named Brian Jones (aka Elmo Lewis) was on the prowl for musical mates to form an R&B-based group that would take its name from the old Muddy Waters song “Rollin’ Stone.”
And the world hasn’t been the same since.
Now, to commemorate the Beatles’ enduring legacy and the Rolling Stones’ perpetual rock flame, the publishers of LIFE Magazine have issued a pair of hefty coffee table treasures that use pictures to tell the stories of our planet’s two most celebrated pop acts. LIFE: With the Beatles is a whopping, 300-plus page journal painstakingly—but lovingly—assembled—by official Fab Four photographer Robert Whitaker as his magnum opus (he was dying of cancer when compiling his images). LIFE: The Rolling Stones—50 Years of Rock ‘n’ Roll collects hundreds of studio and stage shots taken by various LIFE staffers over the course of the band’s long (and still lengthening) career. Both volumes are must-haves for the libraries of any self-respecting audiophile and rock enthusiast.
The burly With the Beatles is crammed with hundreds of poignant, amusing, curious, and just downright exquisite images of the Fab Four at the height of Beatlemania.
Born in Herfordshire but influenced by his father’s Australian heritage, young Robert Whitaker took up the camera like “a splendid toy” and studied at the University of Melbourne. He set up shop as a freelancer and was fortuitous enough to accompany a reporter from Australian Jewish News on an interview with Beatles manager Brian Epstein. Whitaker liked posing his subjects with accessories that accentuated their personalities, so he took a portrait of Epstein with his face framed by peacock feathers (page 42). Brian so loved Bob’s worked that he signed him on to be “the indispensible chronicler of Beatlemania” from 1964-66.
Whitaker joined Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr for several world tour and was clicking away at now-legendary shows at Shea Stadium, Comiskey Park, and Candlestick Park. He shot the lads onstage, from whence they commanded the attention of enraptured thousands, and behind-the-scenes, where the boys were…well, just boys. Whitaker was the man responsible for the images on several now-familiar cover sleeves, including the notorious “baby butcher” artwork for Yesterday & Today. He saw John and Paul work their songwriting magic. He joined them on set for television appearances and press conferences. But he also hunkered in hotel rooms and suffered long waits in airport lobbies with the band and its handlers.
In short, Whitaker saw almost everything during his tenure with The Beatles and recorded it all for posterity, and when the dream-gig ended it was more because the quartet had decided to stop touring than anything Robert had (or hadn’t) done. Sadly, he had to fight with Apple Corps for the rights to his own images after The Beatles broke up.
“Robert understood The Beatles and what made them not only different, but exciting and charismatic,” the editors note. “And The Beatles understood Robert Whitaker and what made him the right photographer for their life and times.”
The book provides a Whitaker bio and afterword, with the main contents (approximately 275 pages) split between the band’s three years of globetrotting. We’re treated to formal shots of the “famously playful and cheeky” foursome, like page 40’s image of the guys standing on a garden wall outside an Argyllshire country home. There’s shots of the band on the set of its television Christmas special, clad in Eskimo attire and snacking between takes. Page 64-65 finds the guys posing with broomsticks and enjoying tea time. Mick Jagger pays a visit on page 48. Awestruck fans crowd the Hammersmith Odeon on pages 72-73. A caption informs us that a ticket for the group’s show at Astoria Theatre in Finbury Park cost a mere ₤10 (about $60 USD today). The band performs “I Feel Fine” on exercise equipment for a promotional video.
Surrogate stickman Jimmy Nichols sat in for Ringo when the drummer took ill in late 1964. Pages 94-97 find Mr. Starkey recuperating in the hospital and receiving visitors, like his mum. One image shows Ringo smoking in bed, pretending to use the body of one of Whitaker’s cameras as a makeshift ashtray. Later (pages 150-151) Ringo lights up in another hospital while posing with wife Maureen and newborn son Zak.
1965 found The Beatles filming Help! in Cliveden with director Richard Lester. Whitaker’s lens catches them darting through a field of soldiers (pages 110-111), and wearing press hats and fake beards on a soundstage (pages 118-125). During a break in the action at a swimming pool, Bob has John frame Paul’s face with a life preserver (page 104). We learn Paul “tortured” Lester with repeated performances of song-in-progress “Scrambled Eggs,” and how he gifted the filmmaker with a copy of the finished product: “Yesterday.” Some sequences for the movie were shot in the Bahamas—but the boys weren’t allowed to get tan because they had to return to England for pickup shots occurring earlier in the spy-caper spoof.
We take Whitaker’s POV as The Beatles play the Ed Sullivan show for the last time (August 14, 1965) and board a helicopter for their famed Shea Stadium show in Queens, New York (134-138). An overhead view of the park shows the stage dwarfed on the infield; the screams of fans likewise smothered the volume of the actual music. At Chicago’s Comiskey Park, concertgoers paid a paltry $5.50 ($40.00 today) to attend one of two 35-minute shows (pages 142-143). On page 147 Paul warms up his Hofner viola bass in the Minnesota Twins locker room before taking the stage at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington.
Whitaker also caught some quiet moments with John, Paul, George and Ringo at home. The lovely series on pages 158-167 show Lennon relaxing with wife Cynthia on the grounds of their Weybridge home. John poses with a dandelion in his right eye on page 158. On page 165 he brandishes a garden hoe in the kitchen with Cynthia and baby Julian.
“I found it actually quite difficult to become part of the group,” Whitaker recalls.
“I didn’t talk music. Paul seemed to sneer when I’d point a camera his way. Ringo was always a great wit, and could cope fantastically, but we weren’t very close. John Lennon, though, became a good friend.”
The photographer assembled the band in early ’66 for a conceptual art piece later titled “The Somnambulant Adventure.” The Beatles were dressed in butcher smocks and decorated with dismembered plastic baby dolls and hunks of meat (pages 185-191). Sausage link “umbilical cords” connected the accessories, intended to symbolize the “birth” of The Band. One iconic shot was picked for the North American compilation album Yesterday and Today—but EMI executives opted for another image after shipping 750,000 units with the controversial cover.
Other images recount the video shoots for “Paperback Writer” and “Rain,” and an appearance on Top of the Tops. We watch as tour fatigue settles over the band backstage in Munich (pages 226-227), where Paul tinkers with an early version of a key-tar, and wait out Typhoon Kit with the entourage at a hotel in Anchorage, Alaska. En route to Tokyo, the group wears Japanese “happi” smocks (provided by the airline). Caretakers Neil Aspinall and Mal Evans watch over The Beatles’ luggage and equipment (pages 252-253). In the Land of the Rising Sun, the lads become prisoners in their rooms because of fan hysteria—and some threats from anti-Western college student protesting their appearance at sacred martial arts center at Budokan. They kill time by working together on a painting they later dub “Images of a Woman” (pages 275-277). Elsewhere, Lennon squints and smiles until his face resembles the Japanese mask peeking out from his jacket (page 279).
The prodigious photo-book culminates with The Beatles’ first trip to the Philippines, where a miscommunication results in their snuffing a telexed invite to a breakfast reception by First Lady Imelda Marcos. The following morning, Paul and company are hassled by airport personnel (page 297). The July 4 concert at Rizal Stadium in Manila is attended by 80,000 eager fans—and a contingent of heavily-armed soldiers. Ringo and George don’t mince words later when recounting the sordid experience to the press.