When you reach the level of fame that The Beatles acquired in the 1960s, there is a sense of both freedom and peril that impact your creative output. Freedom, of course, comes with fortune and fame as the tertiary ‘F’ that few mention. Money in your pocket and fans at your door is always likely to breed consolidated confidence in one’s ability to keep pushing ahead with the path you laid out before the adoration. Of course, the higher you go walking the tightrope of pop music, the steeper the drops on either side of your balance beam.
Luckily, for the Fab Four of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, the group never seemed too keen to look down and send their legs wobbling. Instead, they championed a wide variety of different concepts and creations to keep their entire output feeling fresh. Love them or loathe them, one cannot dismiss the band’s artistic integrity and desire to evolve constantly — but that doesn’t mean they weren’t without their missteps.
Across their career, there were plenty of moments that the band would look back on with a snort of derision, and John Lennon was vocally dismissive of most of the band’s earlier work. But there was one idea from Paul McCartney that Lennon quickly dismissed as “daft” no matter how much sense it made.
The idea from McCartney centred on getting the band back into their safe zone for once. The group had retired their touring schedule in 1966, but as the final album approached and the band looked set to go their separate ways once and for all, McCartney had a strong desire to take to the stage as they had before the fame.
Before grabbing the attention of the whole world, The Beatles were a hard working club band. Happy to play for hours and hours, the Fab Four were tireless in delivering bouncing anthems. Whether at the famous Cavern Club or during their heady stay in Hamburg, The Beatles always put a shift in. It was a moment which, in 1969 and 1970, seemed utterly idyllic. They would put on a show with no fuss and no fame, and it would be just a group of lads from Liverpool playing some tunes and having a good time.
“Before John was leaving the Beatles, I was lying in bed at home one night, and I thought we could get a band together, like his Plastic Ono Band,” recalled McCartney. “I felt the urge because we had never played live for four years. We all wanted to appear on a stage but not with the Beatles. We couldn’t do it as the Beatles because it would be so big. We’d have to find a million-seater hall or something.”
It’s true. The band’s fame had grown to such a phenomenal height that even to contemplate a tour would be easily one of the most stressful things the band would ever have planned. All that while, the group was practically tearing itself apart in preparation for their seemingly inevitable split. McCartney wanted to strip all that away and just focus on the thrill of playing live.
“I wanted to get in a van and do an unadvertised concert at a Saturday night hop at Slough Town Hall or somewhere like that,” he continued. The idea was that the band would operate as a covert band, as he explained: “We’d call ourselves Rikki and the Red Streaks or something and just get up and play. There’d be no press, and we’d tell nobody about it. John thought it was a daft idea.”
It was an idea plucked from the misty memories of The Beatles’ early days. McCartney continues: “My best playing days were at the Cavern lunchtime sessions. We’d go on stage with a cheese roll and a cigarette, and we felt we had really something going on. The amps used to fuse, and we’d stop and sing a Sunblest Bread commercial while they were repaired.”
If that halcyon image doesn’t get you misty-eyed, then the next one will. McCartney seemingly longing for his old life, before fame truly struck, he recalled: “I’d walk off down the street playing my guitar and annoying the neighbours. I couldn’t do that now, but it’s what I want to do with this new group.” Of course, with Wings, McCartney wouldn’t quite achieve the quaint nights out mentioned above. But Macca is still touring to this day, making good on his promise to return to rocking whenever he can.
John Lennon has had a lot of great ideas over the years, been behind some of the finest artistic endeavours and purveyed a sense of social justice that few had heeded in his heyday. But it has to be said, deciding not to tour as Rikki and the Red Streaks is one of his worst attempts to preserve his artistry. Instead, we will just have to imagine what if and revel in their iconic 1970 rooftop performance, which you can see below.