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Music

Listen to The Beatles play 'Long Tall Sally' in 1962

@TylerGolsen

It’s hard to imagine a time where The Beatles weren’t the biggest band in the world. Before Beatlemania, before the overexposure, before the endless amounts of films, press coverage, and number one hits, the Liverpool lads were just a scrappy young band going toe to toe against other rock and rollers to see who would make it big.

The Beatles didn’t have an album, a recording contract, a manager, or even a permanent drummer when the opportunity arose for them to go to Hamburg. All they had was a booking agent, who was much more interested in getting gigs for acts like Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. This was in 1960 when most of the band were still teenagers. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison were joined by Stuart Sutcliffe and newly hired drummer Pete Best arrived in August of that year and continued to play throughout the country over the course of two years.

The extended hours performing began sliding the band’s chops. McCartney especially found his versatile voice by covering classic rock and roll tunes that the band considered “shouters”, mostly material by legendary singer Little Richard. Although the band cycled through a number of different songs, trying out ‘Lucille’ and ‘Hey Hey Hey Hey’ among others, McCartney found his foothold with ‘Long Tall Sally’, a throat-shredding showstopper that McCartney perfected over hundreds of performances.

“I owe a lot of what I do to Little Richard and his style, and he knew it,” McCartney wrote after Richard’s passing in 2020. “He would say, ‘I taught Paul everything he knows.’ I had to admit he was right.” The band were even able to befriend Richard while performing in Hamburg. “He would let us hang out in his dressing room and we were witness to his pre-show rituals, with his head under a towel over a bowl of steaming hot water, he would suddenly lift his head up to the mirror and say, ‘I can’t help it cos I’m so beautiful.’ And he was”.

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By the time The Beatles returned to Hamburg in December of 1962, they were a completely different band. Sutcliffe had died just eight months before, and Best had been replaced by Ringo Starr in August. They had landed a contract with EMI, largely thanks to the work of their new manager, Brian Epstein. However, the band still had some outstanding commitments from their old Hamburg days, including a series of concerts pre-booked at the Star Club.

The club’s stage manager brought in a cheap reel-to-reel tape recorder to capture the burgeoning band, allegedly in a deal that traded the ability to record for a couple of bottles of beer. The resulting tapes are of poor listening quality, but they remain essential for capturing The Beatles right before they became the biggest band on the planet. ‘Love Me Do’ had been released two months prior and was making a strong showing on the UK charts for a debut single, leading the group to believe they had finally outgrown their days playing endless shows in Hamburg clubs.

Lennon and McCartney had integrated a fair number of their original compositions into the band’s live set by this point, but the band appealed to the German crowd’s desire to hear classic rock and roll tunes. Chuck Berry tunes were frequently played, as were Carl Perkins tracks that were later to be recorded like ‘Matchbox’ and ‘Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby’. The only originals busted out by the band was the frenetic opener ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and the Brill Building-esque ‘Ask Me Why’.

But as the band barreled towards their finale, McCartney uncorked his signature spot-on Little Richard impersonation for ‘Long Tall Sally’. The Beatles would gradually phase out most of the early rock numbers from their setlist as their originals became more popular and well known, but ‘Long Tall Sally’ was always in the mix, all the way up to their final tour in 1966. It would be the final song that The Beatles played at an official show, closing out their August 29th concert at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. By that point, the band had evolved far beyond the more basic nature of ‘Long Tall Sally’, but McCartney was still eager to give the song a go.

Check out The Beatles performance of ‘Long Tall Sally’ at the Star-Club in 1962 down below.