Part two of my interview with Lennon historian Jude Southerland Kessler

JWL As mentioned earlier this month, Jude Southerland Kessler has just released her latest book, She Loves You. It's the third volume of her expanded biography of John Lennon—well-timed to take advantage of the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ first live appearance in the US. Jude’s project should keep her occupied for a while. She’s committed to six more Lennon books over the next twenty years.

Here’s the second half of my interview with Jude.

JOL: The goal of The Beatles, dating back at least to 1961, was to be "bigger than Elvis"—which was pretty outrageous for a band making chump change in small clubs in Liverpool and Hamburg. I know their manager, Brian Epstein, used those words a lot. That phrase was the band’s compass, wasn’t it?

JSK: Well, as you know, John had claimed he’d be “bigger’n Elvis” long before Brian picked up the mantra. John alternated it with his vow to “get to the toppermost of the poppermost.” And it was that yardstick which convinced John to choose Brian as their manager.


Begin with the end in mind

Fifty years ago this week The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” hit #1 in America. It marked the beginning of the end of the Old Order.

To some (including my Latin teacher at the time) it foretold the fall of Western Civilization. To others (including me) it foretold the resurrection of rock & roll—and the obliteration of the pop pablum and banal blandness that AM radio (and what else?) had been serving up to us. Suffice it to say, popular music—and culture—would never be the same.

Hyperbole? Check out here how The Beatles bulldozed the musical landscape, including the traditional Hit Parade, curtailing the careers of many middle-of-the-road crooners, surfers, and novelty songsters.

In Britain The Beatles had already scored four #1 rock & roll hits in 1963, but it was January ‘64 when the Fabs broke through on the US charts and became a global phenomenon. By April they occupied the top five slots on the Billboard Hot 100—an unprecedented accomplishment—displacing far fluffier fare!

I often use The Beatles to illustrate many of the “success traits” that top-tier rock bands share with the best business teams, but let me focus on one here. The Beatles were driven, with a monomaniacal focus on the end goal: being the biggest band in the world. They were going to make an impact. Their motto was “to the toppermost of the poppermost”—or "being bigger than Elvis.” (In business-speak we’d say they had an “action orientation” and a “results bias”!) They obviously enjoyed the ride as it unfolded, but their focus was always on the final prize. And they were in perpetual motion to achieve it.