LIVERPOOL, England -- In a way, my Magical Mystery Tour around Liverpool actually began in New York City. And not just because I flew out of JFK airport, but rather, because I attended a Billy Joel concert at MSG a few weeks before. After playing a few of his hits to start the show, Joel turned his attention to The Beatles, both lavishing praise on the legendary band before covering "A Day in the Life," and thanking the Fab Four for inspiring him. "I wouldn't be here, if it weren't for The Beatles."
A lot of musicians would probably say the same. There's plenty of G.O.A.T. talk these days, but when it comes to rock and pop music, The Beatles are actually the greatest of all time. They were brilliant. They were prolific. And they are timeless.
I've always liked The Beatles (who doesn't?) since being given an anthology of their early work by my parents when I was in sixth grade, but I've never considered myself a super fan. However, the moment Billy Joel said those words, I felt compelled to learn more about these British icons during my trip to cover the British Open. I'm glad I did.
After doing some research, I settled on something actually called the Magical Mystery Tour, which starts at a bus stop that's about a 10 minute walk from Liverpool's main train station (It's a 40-minute train ride from Royal Birkdale, the site of this week's British Open). For about $20 (£15.95) I bought a ticket for the two-hour trip on this bad boy:
And off we went with our fantastic -- and appropriately named -- guide, Paul. We pulled up to Penny Lane under a blue, suburban sky with "Penny Lane" blaring over the bus' speaker:
Same thing for Strawberry Field:
We saw The Beatles' childhood homes. We saw where they went to school. We saw the spectacular cathedral where an 11-year-old Paul McCartney was turned away from the choir (Music's version of Michael Jordan being cut from his high school basketball team). And we saw where Paul and John Lennon met on July 6, 1957. On that day, Paul went to see John's band, The Quarrymen, play at a church festival. Upon meeting, John asked Paul to play a song for him. Two weeks later, Paul received an invite to join the band that would become The Beatles a couple years later.
But to me, the most special site was Paul McCartney's family home from 1955-1964.
Within the confines of that house, the majority of The Beatles' early songs were written and practiced for the first time. You see, John lived with his aunt, who didn't approve of rock & roll, while Paul's dad, Jim, had formerly been the frontman for a jazz band. At this spot, so many tunes that permeate our culture to this day were created. I stared at that house and tried to picture Paul, John, George and Ringo coming up with the chorus for "I Want To Hold Your Hand," or playing "In My Life" for the first time.
And then I settled for hearing more Beatles tracks on the bus ride back into the city, where we were dropped off near The Cavern Club. It was here where The Beatles played their first big gig on March 21, 1961. Well, if you count playing a lunch concert that paid them £5:
Over the course of the next two-and-a-half years, The Beatles performed 292 shows at The Cavern Club, named as such because you walk down two flights to get into the sprawling space.
What a cool spot. The walls are filled with memorabilia from famous musical acts to visit throughout the years, but it's basically a shrine for The Beatles.
Although The Cavern Club was shut down from 1973-1984, it's still a thriving spot for live music. And at 1:45 p.m. on a Monday, the day's first act, Jaie Lupton, was already wrapping up a two-hour set in front of a lively crowd.
"Well, I already did that one . . . but I'll do it again!"
No one complained. And everyone broke into the song's familiar refrain.