Early Beatles publicist Tony Barrow, the man credited with coining the phrase “the Fab Four,” died recently at age 80. Here’s a fond remembrance of Barrow by Beatles historian Bruce Spizer …
Tony Barrow was one of the members of The Beatles’ inner circle that I have had the pleasure of meeting during my years as a Beatles author/historian. I first met Tony at the New Jersey Beatlefest around 2000. I was working on my Capitol Records books and was hoping I could interview him, but our schedules did not mesh. He did, however, graciously sign the back of the mono cover to my black & gold label “Please Please Me” LP next to his liner notes credit, along with the covers to all of the Beatles EPs that he had written the liner notes to.
The Monday morning after the event, he and I had breakfast together. We talked about all sorts of Beatles topics, during which time he told some fascinating stories. After about 30 minutes, I excused myself to go to the men’s room. Once there, I pulled down a paper towel and wrote some key words so that I would remembers the gems he had given me. They included: “blood in milk,” “trunk photo impromptu” and “burns transparencies.” I then stuffed the paper in my pocket and returned to the table. Shortly thereafter, I went to my room to bring my suitcase down and head for the airport.
On the plane ride home, I fleshed out the stories from my memory-jogging notes and wrote them down on a legal pad. I later incorporated the stories into my books.
The phrase “blood in milk” was for Tony’s recollections of The Beatles’ legendary Feb. 11, 1963, session during which the band record 10 songs for their first album. Tony was there for the end of the session, telling me about John Lennon’s valiant effort to sing “Twist and Shout” even though he had a severe sore throat. After the song was completed, John went to the Abbey Road canteen and washed down a glass of milk. When he put the glass on the counter, Tony saw blood mixed in with the remaining milk. John had literally shredded his vocal chords to give what remains one of the greatest rock ’n’ roll vocals of all time.
The phrase “trunk photo impromptu” referenced the photo session during which picture used on the “Yesterday and Today” cover was taken. Tony explained that the trunk photos were not taken to replace the “Butcher” cover, but rather were taken for no particular purpose other than having fresh color pictures of the boys.
Although he could not remember the date they were taken, he confirmed that they were taken in Beatles manager Brian Epstein’s office. This gave me a better understanding of the Butcher and trunk covers, causing me to rethink the stories that had been told for years and dig deeper until I discovered what really happened. (See the True Story of the Butcher Cover in Beatlefan #220.)
The phrase “burns transparencies” referred to Brian burning his color transparencies of the Butcher photo session after Capitol informed him that the album was being recalled due to negative reaction over the Butcher cover. Tony told how exhausted the Butcher cover controversy had left Brian, who was relieved that the cover was recalled, but concerned over how the group would react to his failure to have the album released into stores with the cover of their choice.
Over the years, I always looked forward to seeing Tony at Beatles conventions. I was disappointed when he had to cancel a planned appearance due to a temporary shutdown of London’s Heathrow Airport. I realized then, due to his age, that I might never see him again.
When I was working on my “Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records” book with Frank Daniels, I emailed Tony a few times for confirmation or expansion of stories. Even though his health was beginning to decline, he always responded with what he could remember.
I emailed him a few chapters of the book and asked if he would write a blurb for the back cover in the style of his Beatles liner notes. In March 2011, Tony parodied one of his more famous notes by writing, “May I suggest you preserve this book for ten years, exhume it from your collection somewhere in the middle of 2021 and write me a very nasty letter if Beatles fans of the future aren’t talking with respect about this book.”
I called to thank him for the perfect blurb and to let him know how honored I was by his gracious endorsement. I also felt a tinge of sadness amid my excitement, realizing that he probably would not be around in 2021.
I am grateful he made it halfway there. He was truly one of the good guys, a class act who was a part of The Beatles’ success. He kept fans informed through his credited and uncredited stories in The Beatles Monthly Book and left us with a wonderful book of his own, “John, Paul, George, Ringo & Me: The Real Beatles Story.”
He will be remembered way beyond 2021.