Dave Morrell will never forget the night he got to “turn on” a Beatle.
It was October 4th, 1974, a cool autumn evening. And there, on a bed in his East 52nd Street apartment, was John Lennon, sprawled alongside Derek Taylor, the former Beatles press officer, and Mike McGear, Paul McCartney’s brother.
“What have you got?” John asked.
“I think it may be something you’ve never seen before,” said the lanky, longhaired 21-year-old Morrell. There was a hushed air of anticipation as Morrell and his 17-year-old sidekick, Ron Furmanek, got into action. They set up a 16mm film projector and aimed it at the white shade drawn across the expansive penthouse windows.
The movie that unreeled seemed anything but shocking or explosive; four moptops vainly trying to outscream an army of tonsil-baring teenage girls was an all-too-familiar memory, and the select audience was only mildly amused. Then suddenly, something unexpected happened. As John huddled with Paul and George around one microphone, their harmonies on “This Boy” soared above the pandemonium. By the time the cinematic John began belting out his plaintive solo in the song’s middle eight, the ex-Beatle had jumped from the bed to sit cross-legged on the floor, gazing up slack-jawed at his younger self.
“Wow,” he said, slumping backward as the lights finally went up.
The party had just begun. For the next few hours, the two Beatlemaniacs delved into their suitcase of memorabilia and regaled their hero with obscure Beatles tapes, newsreels and photographs. After they’d exhausted their supply of treasures, John turned the tables. He took the boys out onto the balcony and pointed to a spot over the skyline where he had recently sighted a flying saucer. Then, leading them through the rest of the apartment, he showed them his original drawings for the sleeve art of his just-released album, Walls and Bridges, before rummaging through his bedroom closet and emerging with a large envelope.
“I’ve lived all over,” John said. “I don’t carry a lot of things around in a trunk. You see my walls — there are no gold records. I don’t have my Beatles guitars. But I do have one thing with me.” And from an envelope within the envelope, he pulled an acetate of the Beatles performing “How Do You Do It?” It was the unreleased non-Beatles song that George Martin had the group record as a follow-up single to “Love Me Do” in 1963. The public got to hear it only by Gerry and the Pacemakers because John came up with “Please Please Me” instead.
“It was incredible,” Morrell says. “John was such a Beatle fan himself that after we turned him on with our stuff, he wanted to turn us on, too.”
David George John Morrell (his real given name) was a pioneer in what has since become the big business of collecting Beatles memorabilia. Today, the collectors can essentially be divided into three distinct groups: those with money, those without money and those to whom virtually everything the Fab Four touched is simply priceless.
The well-to-do group might be found on chic New Bond Street in London, placing bids at Sotheby’s auction galleries on memorabilia ranging from a gold record for Abbey Road (sold for $4000) to the 19th-century piano on which Lennon composed “A Day in the Life” ($12,500). The primary buyers, says Sotheby’s, are American, Japanese and British; the material put up for sale is often from the Beatles’ friends or the odd thief. Last year, Sotheby’s pulled from the auction block a gold LP for Band on the Run that rightfully belonged to Paul McCartney.
The group of collectors at the lower end of the income scale can generally be found at the various Beatles conventions and festivals held each year around the U.S. While these fans gather to discuss the joys and minutiae of their favorite band, the emphasis is more often on commerce than commentary. What you find, for the most part, are outrageously inflated prices for items that were once available at your local Woolworth’s. The byword of these conclaves might well be caveat emptor; fraudulent pieces are said to be rampant, and authenticity is often in doubt.
The final grouping tends to scorn the pretenders in the other categories. These men and women traffic in those things that were never intended to see the light of day: unreleased song and album tapes, diaries, unpublished writings and clandestine films. At times, their relentless pursuit of such things has unearthed material even the Beatles didn’t know existed; at other times, their detective work has been, shall we say, extralegal. While some collect solely for the sake of collecting, others, such as Dave Morrell, have loftier goals: sharing aspects of the Beatles legacy with the band’s millions of admirers around the globe.