New York Press Conference 1964
Reporter: Where you your haircuts come from?
George Harrison: Our scalps.
In their early years as a fledgling rock and roll band in the late 1950s and into the early 1960s, The Beatles each sported typical slicked-back, greased-up Tony Curtis/Elvis Presley type D.A. haircuts. In an early explanation as to the origin of the Beatles haircut, George was quoted as saying that he came out of the swimming baths one day, his hair had fallen down over his forehead, and he just left it that way.
The true derivation of the world famous coiffure is a bit more complex. In August of 1960, the newly-0named “Beatles” consisted of five members: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, bassist Stu Sutcliffe, and a newly-hired drummer named Pete Best. The band was hired to play as series of gigs in August of 1960 in Hamburg, Germany. It was there that they met two people who were to have a profound effect on their future careers as icon and trendsetters: Astrid Kirchherr and Jürgen Vollmer.
Kirchherr was a very original and creative photographer. One night she saw The Beatles play at a local club in Hamburg called the Top Ten Club (she was talked into going by her boyfriend Klaus Voorman and fellow artist and friend Jürgen Vollmer). Astrid, Klaus, and Jürgen struck up an immediate and close friendship with the five young, talented, and slightly homesick young rock and rollers. Also, Astrid and bassist Stu Sutcliffe almost immediately fell in love.
Using Jean Cocteau’s 1950 film Orpheus as her main inspiration, one day Astrid gave her beloved Stu a new haircut (it was also a style she had seen on many German boys at her college). She washed the grease out of his scalp and combed the locks straight down, over his forehead. Astrid recalled that she originally used the long combed-over cut on her boyfriend Klaus Voorman, to cover up his bog, floppy ears.
(Image credit: Astrid Kirchherr)
Although the exact dates are nebulous, it is indisputable that Stu was the first Beatle to sport the Beatle haircut on stage. When Stu came onstage to perform that night, John and Paul laughed hysterically and ridiculed poor Stu. Stu was soon to leave the band in early 1961 (he died tragically in April of 1962 of a brain hemorrhage at the early age of 21).
George was actually the first of the later famous Beatles to wear the Beatle cut. Astrid recalled (after Stu), “then George came along and asked me to cut his hair that way.” She added that “John and Paul couldn’t decide whether to have the different haircut.” When George came on stage with his hair combed forward in front of an audience at the Top Ten Club “the rockers gave him funny looks” and he combed it back the next day. This was in the early months of 1961.
George Harrison, before and after.
In October of ’61, John and Paul decided to take a spur of the moment vacation to Paris (one of john’s aunts had given him the princely sun of £500 for his 21st birthday). In Paris, they encountered their old friend Jürgen and asked him to give their hair the combed over treatment. According to Paul, “He (Jürgen) had his hair mod style. We said, ‘Would you do our hair like yours? We’re on holiday, what the hell, we’re buying capes and pantaloons, throwing caution to the wind.’ He said ‘No, boys, I like you as rockers. You look great.’ But we begged him enough. So he said alright. We sat down in his hotel and we just got it. The Beatle cut.”
The new Beatle cut was not without its early drawbacks. Their road manager Neil Aspenall recalled, “The boys were an easy target for troublemakers who attended those early dates. Gangs would often make it a point of shouting insults at them. It was their childish way of looking for a fight or getting back at the Beatles because their girls thought so much of them.”
In August of 1962, drummer Ringo Starr was asked to join the band. Drummer Pete Best never joined John, Paul, and George in combing his hair in their new over-the-forehead look. His hair was too curly. When later asked why he never combed his hair into a Beatle cut, he replied, “They never asked me.” This bit of non-conformity, while not the entire reason, was probably one of the contributing factors when when the Beatles decided to give poor Pete the sack after two years of loyal drumming with them.
At the time, Ringo not only had a greasy swept-back haircut, he also sported a stylish beard. Ringo recalled John’s phone call to him, asking him to join the Beatles. “You can keep your sidies (sideburns), but lose the beard,” he was instructed. Early publicity photos, as well as Ringo’s picture on the Beatles’ first album Please Please Me, show Ringo clean-shaven, but still with a slightly swept-back coiffure.
By late 1962, the Beatle haircut was firmly established as an easily-recognizable part of the Beatles joint persona. In the early months of 1963, the band had already gotten used to being referred to as “the four moptops” by the British press. In September of 1963, The Beatles record “She Loves You” was played on Dick Clark’s popular dance show American Bandstand. According to Newsweek, when kids saw a photo of four long-haired kids, they just laughed. The record received a mediocre 73 rating in the “Rate A Record” segment of the show.
When they first came to America in February of 1964, TIME magazine referred to their hair as “mushroom haircuts.” Besides the obvious Beatles wigs, the Fab Four cottage industry also spawned Beatle hairbrushes, Beatle combs, and Beatle hairspray. Their then-controversial haircuts became fodder at every Beatle press conference.
John stated that he hadn’t visited an actual barber in years; George cut his hair when they were on tour and his wife Cynthia cut it when he was home. Ringo’s girlfriend Maureen Cox, a hairdresser by trade, cut his hair (the two married in February of 1965).
On the Beatles tour of Australia in mid-1964, two girls named Grace Ferrigno and Val Bahrens got to cut John, Paul, and Ringo’s hair in Melbourne (George was out at the time on a “scenic mountain drive.”) Later, the girls tried to sell the precious sheared locks of hair outside Festival Hall. They ended up making no sales. No one believed the hair was real.
Interestingly, when asked in an early interview about what his future goals were, Ringo stated, quite sincerely, that his dream was to own a string of hair salons. Although he led an incredibly successful life with huge accomplishments, this was one goal Ringo was never to achieve.