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Beatles in Rolling Stone: A Timeline

Twenty-five of the most memorable times John, Paul, George and Ringo graced the magazine’s pages

25 Best Rolling Stone Beatles Stories

The Beatles have enjoyed a long history with Rolling Stone, going back to the magazine's very first issue in 1967 when John Lennon adorned its front page. Since then, Rolling Stone has given each of the Fab Four multiple cover stories, explored the endurance of Beatlemania over the decades and rated the group's discography as one of the most vital in the history of rock & roll. Most recently, Paul McCartney appeared on the cover in anticipation of the release of the album The Beatles: Live at the Hollywood Bowl.

To celebrate nearly 50 years of Beatles insights, scoops and tributes, Rolling Stone has picked 25 of the most memorable times the group and its members have filled the magazine's pages, from groundbreaking and revealing interviews with McCartney and Lennon to a spotlight on how Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band became the most cherished LP in rock.

John Lennon Graces Premiere Issue

November 9th, 1967

The cover of the premiere issue of Rolling Stone featured a photo of John Lennon dressed in military attire for his role in Richard Lester's film How I Won the War. Inside, the issue featured more photos of the Beatle along with a Lennon quote: "I feel I want to be them all – painter, writer, actor, singer, player, musician. I want to see which one turns me on and what I'll be like when I've done it." Also, Rolling Stone founder and editor Jann S. Wenner reviewed the film. "Sometimes the movie gets a little exhausting," he wrote. "But it's definitely something to see: John Lennon is a good actor."

George and Ringo Discuss India Visit

February 10th and February 24th, 1968

Within a matter of months from the release of the first issue, the magazine spoke with Ringo Starr and George Harrison for early installments of "The Rolling Stone Interview." At the time, the magazine deemed the drummer "the least quoted of the Beatles," and he took his opportunity to speak to discuss his thoughts on drugs, drummers, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi – with whom they had recently studied – and "the flower movement" and the Vietnam War. "There's no good reason to take anyone's life," he said. The Harrison interview, which covered his thoughts on the Yogi, LSD and religion, was so long it ran into the following issue. "[People] haven't been able to see God because he is hidden in themselves," the guitarist said in response to a question about how yoga leads to self-realization. "All the time, people concentrate their energies and activities outward on this surface level that we live on."

Read the second half of George Harrison's interview.

Four Beatles songs featuring sitar:

John and Yoko Bare All

November 23rd, 1968

A few issues later, John Lennon was the subject of a Rolling Stone Interview. The magazine published the nude photos that would grace Lennon and then-girlfriend Yoko Ono's Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins album that year, and the cover quoted the Bible, "They were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed." Inside, Lennon held nothing back about the photos. "I know it won't be very comfortable walking around with all the lorry drivers whistling and that, but it'll all die [down]. … We're all naked really. When people attack Yoko and me, we know they're paranoic; we don't worry too much." He also discussed Bob Dylan's influence on "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," the stories behind many songs on the previous year's Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour and his favorite cover versions of Beatles songs. "Ray Charles' version of 'Yesterday' – that's beautiful."

Read the whole interview.

Paul McCartney Goes It Alone

April 30th, 1970

Less than a year before the Beatles officially dissolved their partnership, Paul McCartney put out McCartney – an album he recorded solely by himself, save for some backing vocals performed by his wife, Linda. To mark the occasion, the Beatle sat for his first "Rolling Stone Interview," which was accompanied by photos taken by Linda. "From very early on, when our bass player [Stuart Sutcliffe] died, I have been lumbered with the bass," he said. "All the time, however, what I really wanted to do was play guitar and play lead, so that's what I've done on this LP." Elsewhere in the interview, McCartney confirmed that there would be no new Beatles records and that he and Lennon weren't speaking at the time, and he weighed in on the "Paul is dead" affair that surrounded the release of Abbey Road the previous year. "I couldn't understand it," he said. "I was just pleased, you know, because I knew I wasn't dead."

Read the whole interview.

The Beatles Break Up

May 14th, 1970

Although the cover of this Rolling Stone featured Captain Beefheart, the first page inside bore the headline "One Guy Standing There, Shouting 'I'm Leaving.'" It was the magazine's chronicle of the Beatles' unceremonious breakup. "The Beatles haven't had a future, for me, for the last two years," Lennon said. "All of us are laboring under this delusion about Beatles and McCartney and Lennon and Harrison and Starr. But, you know, we all have to get over it, us and the public. It's a joke. What we did is what we did but what we are is something different." Lennon also pointed to the "White Album" as the period in which the group splintered. "Every track is a [solo] track; there isn't any Beatle music on it," he said. The article also announced the release of the Let It Be album, which featured tracks the group had recorded for an LP originally to be titled Get Back that were remixed by Phil Spector. "[He] has redone the whole thing and it's beautiful," Lennon said.

Read the whole article.

The 20 Greatest Beatles Songs, as picked by Rolling Stone (ranked from last to first):

The Beatles Make a Last Splash Live

July 9th, 1970 and June 4th, 1987

About a year before the Beatles broke up, on January 30th, 1969, the Fab Four played a final concert together on the roof of their Apple Corps offices in London. The whole thing lasted less than an hour and contained only five original songs including two performances of "Get Back." But it was magical. "On behalf of the group and myself, I hope we passed the audition," Lennon joked when they were done. It was filmed for what would be the Let It Be movie. Rolling Stone ran an in-depth, behind-the-scenes article about the making of the film, which had just come out, in 1970. It revealed that the group had shot hundreds of hours of footage, that "Get Back" began life as a political song and that the band had played a number of Fifties rock & roll songs while in the studio that didn't make the cut. In 1987, Rolling Stone named the concert one of the "20 Concerts That Changed Rock & Roll." "It was quite good," George Martin said of the concert in an interview for that feature. "It was a hell of a lot of noise, I can tell you. You could hear it from Westminster." Most surprising, director Michael Lindsay-Hogg told the magazine that after the gig, the band didn't much talk about it other than the fact that they had had fun.

Read the whole 1970 article.

John Lennon: The Definitive Rolling Stone interview

January 21st and February 4th, 1971

The magazine kicked off the year after the Beatles broke up with an incredible two-part, in-depth "Rolling Stone Interview" with John Lennon that spanned two issues. It had been conducted shortly after the recordings of Lennon's and Yoko Ono's Plastic Ono Band LPs ("I think it's the best thing I've ever done," Lennon said of his), and the Beatles breakup was still fresh for the singer. "'Beatles' is another myth," he said of why he included the line "I don't believe in Beatles" in his song "God." "I don't believe in it. The dream is over. I'm not just talking about the Beatles, I'm talking about the generation thing. It's over, and we gotta … get down to so-called reality." But that didn't mean he wouldn't look back. In between vulnerable and revealing moments, he shared his opinions of the other Beatles' solo LPs, the foursome's musicianship, their use of LSD, the stories behind many of their songs and the group's catalogue. "[Sgt. Pepper's] was a peak," he said. "Paul and I were definitely working together … I always preferred the double album [the "White Album], because my music is better on the double album … but Pepper was a peak all right."

Read Part One and Part Two of the interview in their entireties.

George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh

September 2nd, 1971

Turmoil struck India in 1971 when more than 7 million Bengalis sought refuge in the country during the Bangladesh Liberation War. Musician Ravi Shankar, a Bengali who'd befriended the Beatles in the Sixties, brought the crisis to the attention of George Harrison, who organized one of the greatest benefit concerts of all time to raise money and awareness for those suffering. Rolling Stone chronicled the event, which was held at New York City's Madison Square Garden in August of that year and featured performances by Harrison (whose band included Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston and Leon Russell), Shankar and Bob Dylan. "[The audience was] so happy, the joy of their being there was felt by each of us," Shankar told Rolling Stone after the concert. "This hasn't happened for so long now."

Read the whole article.

Paul McCartney’s Beatle Pride

January 31st, 1974

A month after Paul McCartney released Wings' landmark Band on the Run album, he sat for a lengthy "Rolling Stone Interview," in which he discussed his return to touring. Although the Beatles had performed their rooftop gig in 1969, they hadn't toured since 1966, so his return to the road with Wings in 1972 was a momentous occasion to him. "[I was] very nervous," he said. "We decided not to do any Beatle material, which was a killer, of course, because it meant we had to do an hour of other material, and we didn't have it, then. … But by the end of the Europe tour I felt better, and at the end of the British tour I felt good. … Everyone digs it, and there's enough stuff not to be nervous." He also shot down the notion of a Beatles reunion, though he didn't completely write off that time in his life. "I am proud of the Beatle thing," he said. "It was great and I can go along with all the people you meet on the street who say you gave so much happiness to many people. I don't think that's corny."

Read the whole interview.

John Lennon Makes Peace With His Beatles Legacy

June 5th, 1975

A few months after issuing Rock 'n' Roll, an album of cover songs that he'd tumultuously recorded with Phil Spector during a brief split with Yoko Ono, John Lennon opened up about his life in a revealing interview with Rolling Stone. He spoke about peace among the Beatles, his affinity for Wings' Band on the Run, why he liked Elton John's and David Bowie's Beatles covers and how he feels about his legacy. "I've got used to the fact – just about – that whatever I do is going to be compared to the other Beatles," he said. "If I took up ballet dancing, my ballet dancing would be compared with Paul's bowling. So that I'll have to live with." He also said at the time that he'd be open to rekindling working relationships with his past bandmates. "I could play with all of them," he said.

Read the whole interview.

McCartney Takes Flight

June 17th, 1976

Between releasing Wings' Wings at the Speed of Sound studio album and the group's triple-LP live outing Wings Over America, McCartney met up with Rolling Stone on the road. It was a year after he'd finally begun regularly incorporating Beatles songs into his set lists, and he said it had taken him that long to get over the "trauma" of the band's breakup and subsequent legal disputes over its assets with Apple and the management of Allen Klein, who'd represented the other three Beatles. "It was like reliving a sort of a weird dream, doing a Beatles tune," he said. "One of the guys promoting us on that European tour said, 'At the end, you should just come on with a guitar and do 'Yesterday.' I thought, 'Oh God, I couldn't face it.' Because there was a lot of rubbish on, you know." He also took issue with Lennon singing "the dream is over," with regard to the Beatles in his solo song "God." "I'm a Beatles fan," he said. "When John was saying … it was all a dream, I know what he was talking about, but at the same time I was sitting there thinking, 'No, it wasn't.' It was as much a dream as anything else is; as much crap as anything else is. In fact, it was less crap than a lot of other stuff."

Read the whole article.

Wings' Beatles covers, from Wings Over America:

George Martin Looks Back

July 15th, 1976

Six years after the Beatles called it quits, Rolling Stone ran a Fab Four cover story to coincide with a double-LP compilation of the group's hits. The issue included a reevaluation of its catalogue by critic Greil Marcus and a revealing interview with producer George Martin about how the songs included on the collection were made, right down to the studio trickery he'd masterminded. He explained how he had placed a piano alongside George Harrison's guitar (recorded at a slower speed) for the bass line in "Anytime at All," how John Lennon had played an organ with his elbow for "I'm Down" and how he had organized "20-some-odd or more" tape loops that the group had brought in for "Tomorrow Never Knows." He also talked about the Beatles' band dynamic. "[George] didn't like Paul's bossiness," he said. "George wanted to be in the front with the other two. … He is talented, but when you have two like Lennon and McCartney, who are so enormously talented, it's silly to look elsewhere. So I kind of tolerated George. Sometimes, in looking back, I regret I didn't encourage him more."

Read the whole George Martin interview.

George Harrison Discredits All ‘Fifth Beatles’

April 19th, 1979

The same year that George Harrison put out his self-titled eighth studio LP, which contained the hits "Blow Away" and "Love Comes to Everyone," he shared some humorous commentary about his life post-Beatlemania along with some insights about when the band was together. In the decade since the Beatles' rooftop farewell concert, Harrison had grown sick of people claiming to be the "fifth Beatle." "There're about 10 million fifth Beatles," he said. "No, really, that's sickening. … These people – 'the man who gave away the Beatles' – none of them know what they're talking about. … The Beatles were in and out of these people's lives in a flash, and yet they're still there 15 years later talking about the 10 minutes we were in their lives, and robbing the money of innocent kids while doing it. It's pathetic. It's immoral; it shouldn't be allowed." He also explained why the other Beatles welcomed his sitar experiments. "I think it was John who really urged me to play sitar on 'Norwegian Wood,' which was the first time we used it," he said. "Now, Paul has just asked me recently whether I'd written any more of those 'Indian type of tunes.' He suddenly likes them now. But at the time he wouldn't play on them. 'Within You, Without You' was just me and some Indian musicians in the studio by ourselves. It sounds a bit dopey now in retrospect, except the sitar solo's good."

Read the whole interview.

Paul McCartney Talks John Lennon

July 12th, 1979

A few months before the death of John Lennon, who had taken a break from making music for a number of years to focus on raising son Sean, Paul McCartney discussed his former foil with Rolling Stone. "I hope that if he would like to record again, he will record again, but I hope that if he doesn't want to, he doesn't," he said, adding, as a joke, "Whatever gets you through the night." He said he expected Lennon was enjoying being a father. "I would imagine he's just getting on with his life and being cool and I hope he's digging it." He also shared his thoughts on the "Lennon/McCartney" songwriting credit. "There's probably only about, say, 20 [songs] that are really our own," he said. "On the rest, there's quite a bit of collaboration. I supposed you do get a little niggled, you wish people knew that was mine. But, hell, how much credit do you want in a lifetime?"

John Lennon: In Memoriam

January 22nd, 1981

John Lennon was shot and killed outside his New York City home on December 8th, 1980. Rolling Stone dedicated an entire issue – graced with Annie Leibovitz's iconic, vulnerable portrait of Lennon and Yoko Ono – in tribute to the Beatle. Its contents included an interview with Lennon conducted days before the murder, a portfolio of Leibovitz's photographs of Lennon including some taken the day of his death, coverage of the public grief that followed the news, a critical examination of Lennon's genius, an excerpt from Lennon's 1971 interview with Rolling Stone and a chronology of his life. "People are always judging or criticizing you, or focusing on what you're trying to say on one little album, on one little song, but to me it's a lifetime's work," Lennon said in what would be his final interview. "From the boyhood paintings and poetry to when I die – it's all part of one big production."

Read "Lennon's Music: A Range of Genius," "Ghoulish Beatlemania: Thoughts on the Death of John Lennon" and "John Lennon: The Last Session" from the issue.

Beyond Beatlemania

February 16th, 1984

Rolling Stone celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Beatles' show-stopping Ed Sullivan debut with a special cover story, along with an essay pondering "Why We Loved the Beatles," a look at teenagers discovering the band in the Eighties, remembrances of the TV appearance by Allen Ginsberg, David Letterman, Sting and others, and an insightful look at the Beatles' apocrypha dubbed "Beyond Beatlemania." That last article provides a fascinating look at superfan Dave Morrell's collection of studio outtakes, rare concert tapes and "the Beatles music that the world wasn't supposed to hear." It's a hobby that impressed even the band's members. "I can honestly say I was the first person to play [Beatles bootleg Yellow Matter Custard] for John Lennon," Morrell said. "And he was totally knocked out. … [He] was so excited that he later told Howard [Smith, radio DJ] on the air that he was sending copies to the other Beatles. He was very gung-ho."

Read the whole article.

Paul McCartney and George Harrison Commemorate 20 Years of Rolling Stone

November 5th, 1987

Two Beatles participated in interviews for Rolling Stone's 20th anniversary issue, which also coincided with the release of the Beatles catalogue on CD for the first time. Naturally, the latter fact brought the Beatles to the forefront of the magazine's conversations with Paul McCartney and George Harrison. "When I heard the first side of [Sgt. Pepper's] this time, I thought it had finished," McCartney said. "There was enough on the first side for a whole album. And then it flips over and you've got 'Day in the Life' to come. So without boasting too heavily, I really thought it was a great album." Harrison discussed his disillusionment with people trying to reunite the Beatles. "If somebody asks me to do something, and then next thing I find out they've also asked Paul and Ringo … I don't want to be set up, put in a situation where I'm tricked into being in the Beatles again," he said.

Inside the Beatles’ Hit Factory

March 1st, 2001

To celebrate the release of 1, a 2001 compilation of the Beatles' 27 Number One hits in the U.S. and the U.K., Rolling Stone broke down the genesis of each track with a little help from producer George Martin, engineer Geoff Emerick and Yoko Ono. The Kinks' Ray Davies, U2's Bono and Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan also weighed in for what is an enthralling and rare look at why the Beatles' hits are so special. From "Love Me Do" to "The Long and Winding Road," with stops at "Eleanor Rigby," "Paperback Writer" and "Something," among many others, Rolling Stone dissected each hit. "Every song he'd written at the time was autobiographical," Ono said of "The Ballad of John and Yoko." "And actually we were having a very hard time, very heavy stuff going on. He made it into a comedy, rather than a tragedy." And Emerick recalled his reaction to Phil Spector's embellishments on "The Long and Winding Road": "It was an insult to Paul. It was his record. And someone takes it out of the can and starts to overdub things without his permission."

Read the 100 Greatest Beatles Songs, which includes the 27 mentioned above.

The Beatles' 1:

Remembering George Harrison

January 17th, 2002

After a years-long fight with cancer, which was first discovered in 1998, George Harrison died on November 29th, 2001. Rolling Stone paid tribute with an issue dedicated to the "Quiet Beatle." Tom Petty, Mick Jagger, Keith Richard, Yoko Ono, Elton John, Paul Simon and others all paid tribute in interviews in the issue. "He was a giant, a great, great soul, with all the humanity, all the wit and humor, all the wisdom, the spirituality, the common sense of a man and compassion for people," Bob Dylan told the magazine. "He inspired love and had the strength of a hundred men. He was like the sun, the flowers and the moon, and we will miss him enormously." The issue also contained features on Harrison's life after the Beatles and a breakdown of his 25 most memorable musical moments.

Read "25 Essential George Harrison Performances" from the issue.

The Number One Album of All Time

December 11th, 2003

When Rolling Stone undertook the enormous task of selecting the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2003, it consulted with 273 people, including artists, producers, record execs, record store owners journalists and others in the music industry, who voted on the canon. By the time they were done, the Number One Album of All Time was readily apparent. "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is the most important rock & roll album ever made, an unsurpassed adventure in concept, sound, songwriting, cover art and studio technology by the greatest rock & roll group of all time," Rolling Stone declared. "It is simply the best of everything the Beatles ever did as musicians, pioneers and pop stars, all in one place."

Read the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

The Greatest Album of All Time:

How the Beatles Changed America Overnight

February 19th, 2004

Rolling Stone marked the 40th anniversary of the Beatles' landmark performance on The Ed Sullivan Show with a lengthy examination of how that broadcast, which went out on February 9th, 1964 and reached an estimated 73 million viewers, impacted not just American music but American life, as well, in a way that was greater than that of Elvis Presley's on the show in the Fifties. "Nobody could hear a thing except the kids in the audience, screaming," John Moffitt, associate director of The Ed Sullivan Show, recalled of the Beatles' performance. "They overpowered the amplifiers. The cameramen couldn't hear. Even the kids couldn't hear anything, except each other screaming." Sullivan made rock a mainstay on his program after the Beatles, welcoming the Rolling Stones, the Dave Clark Five, the Supremes, the Byrds, the Doors and many others and paving the way for regular rock-music broadcasts on television into the modern age, from MTV to the music played during sports games. "[Rock's ubiquity has] descended from that one night," Rolling Stone declared. 

Read the whole article.


Why the Beatles Broke Up

September 3rd, 2009

The Beatles catalogue was remastered for the first time in two dozen years in 2009, which prompted Rolling Stone to reassess why the group had fallen apart. A cover story that year told the inside story of the forces that tore apart the world's greatest band. "I don't think you could have broken up four very strong people like them even if you tried," Yoko Ono is quoted as saying. "So there must have been something that happened within them – not an outside force at all." The story examines the period from the late Sixties, around the time they recorded the "White Album," through to the tumult of 1970, poring over various factors from Ono accompanying John Lennon to the studio and the strains of running Apple to the tensions surrounding Allen Klein managing all of the Beatles except Paul McCartney and Lennon rebuffing McCartney about the notion of touring again. "It was all such a long time ago," George Harrison is quoted as saying. "Sometimes I ask myself if I was really there or whether it was all a dream."

Read the whole article.

John Lennon’s Last Days

December 23rd, 2010 and January 6th, 2011

Thirty years after John Lennon was killed, Rolling Stone paid tribute again by printing the entirety of the Beatle's final interview from 1980 and a moving new piece by Yoko Ono chronicling the singer's final days, as he and she were promoting their Double Fantasy LP. "The very last day of John's life, we woke up to a shiny blue sky spreading over Central Park," she wrote. "The day had an air of bright eyes and bushy tails. … In a room next to the control room, just before we left the studio, John looked at me. I looked at him. His eyes had an intensity of a guy about to tell me something important. 'Yes?' I asked. And I will never forget how with a deep, soft voice, as if to carve his words in my mind, he said the most beautiful things to me. 'Oh,' I said after a while, and looked away, feeling a bit embarrassed. In my mind, hearing something like that from your man when you were way over 40 … well… I was a very lucky woman, I thought."

Read "John Lennon: The Last Interview" and "John Lennon's Last Days: A Remembrance by Yoko Ono" from the issue.

John Lennon's last album:

How the Beatles Took America

January 16th, 2014

Half a century after the Beatles first invaded America, Rolling Stone chronicled how the group had overcome immeasurable odds – media disdain, a clueless record label and a country still reeling after the assassination of John F. Kennedy – and set off the biggest rock explosion of all time. The cover story also tells how they overcame their own insecurities. "They've got their own groups," Paul McCartney is quoted as saying to Phil Spector on the plane over to the United States. "What are we going to give them that they don't already have?" But with their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, their fortunes changed overnight. The story provides an insider's account of how they rose to the occasion and how they managed such an unparalleled cultural victory.

Paul McCartney Remembers the Lost Beatles

 August 12th, 2016

Paul McCartney recalled the lyrics to "Just Fun," a never-recorded song he wrote with John Lennon before the Beatles got serious, in his most recent cover story. "I had a little school-exercise book where I wrote those lyrics down," he said. "And in the top right-hand corner of the page, I put 'A Lennon-McCartney original.' It was humble beginnings." Later in the interview, he speculated on the quality of such unreleased songs. "The thing about the Beatles – they were a damn hot little band," he said. "No matter what you hear, even stuff that we thought was really bad – it doesn't sound so bad now. Because it's the Beatles." He also shot down the prospect of a tour with Ringo Starr, once and for all squashing any hopes of a full-scale partial reunion. "We come together for things like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," he said. "But to actually tour together – leave well enough alone."

Read the whole interview.