Leslie Woodhead’s book, “How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin: The Untold Story of a Noisy Revolution,” documents an interesting aspect of Beatles history – that the Beatles impact in the Soviet Union was not only musical, but also political. You say you want a revolution?
We asked the author what was different about the Beatles’ impact on the U.S. vs. the U.S.S.R.? “The most crucial difference, of course, is that the Beatles were banned in the U.S.S.R., never allowed to play there and their music was officially unavailable to Soviet kids,” he told us in an email interview. “In fact, you could lose your education or your job merely by possessing an illegal imported album. But those kids found their way to the music, and it changed their lives.”
Woodhead said Russian fans got their Beatles music were very determined to get their music – and did.
“Soviet fans were always wildly ingenious in hunting down Beatles music. At first in the mid ’60s, they found a way to inscribe those radio programs onto the only vinyl available — old X-ray photos. So you could listen to “I Feel Fine” on your uncle Sergei’s ribs – ‘records on bones’ they were called. Those X-ray discs were sold by hustlers on street corners and eagerly traded by the kids.
“Soon those kids moved onto reel-to-reel tapes, which were swapped and traded widely across the vast country and the Beatles’ revolution took off. The Fab Four also inspired generations of Soviet kids to make their own music, sawing up tables to make guitar bodies and raiding public call boxes to harvest pickups from handsets.”
Did the Beatles create an intellectual climate that in some way led to the fall of the Soviet Union?
“As a music producer in St Petersburg put it when I asked about how it happened he said, ‘The Beatles inspired a cultural revolution in the USSR, and the cultural revolution helped to destroy Communism.’ A famous Russian reporter I talked to put it this way, ‘The Soviet system was founded on fear and belief. The Beatles helped to conquer the fear and to show that the belief was stupid.’ And a historian told me, ‘They destroyed the slave inside us.’ Every person I talked to from the Beatles generation told me the essential message they took from Beatles music was ‘freedom.'”
Besides the historic story that’s the basis of the book, Woodhead’s book has a different attraction – some never-before-published shots of the group he took in 1964.
“I took the pictures when the Beatles came to play in the Manchester studios of my TV station,” he said. “I had gotten to know the Fab Four a couple of years earlier when I shot the first film with them in the Liverpool Cavern Club. I lost the negatives of the photos for 50 years and only rediscovered them recently. They have been beautifully printed by the man who prints for the Linda McCartney archive.”
What was his best memory of taking the old photographs? “Several memories,” he said. “Following Brian Epstein down the greasy stairs into the Cavern Club and feeling the thrilling sound of the still-unrecorded Fab Four going coming up into my guts. Then seeing John Lennon wringing out his sweat-soaked shirt bucket behind the tiny stage.
“And finally, Paul McCartney telling me, ‘We’ve written all these songs, but no one wants to hear them!’”
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