The Beatles in Evanston: A Rare Look at Northwestern’s Beatles Manuscripts

As a touring band, the Beatles visited Chicago three times in the 1960s to play at two South Side venues that no longer exist: the International Amphitheatre (1964 and 1966) and Comiskey Park (1965).

But in a way, the Fab Four have been in the Chicago area for decades.

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That’s because John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s personal handiwork are residing at Northwestern University’s music library in Evanston.

The library refers to the collection as the Beatles Manuscripts – they comprise handwritten lyric sheets for seven songs the Beatles released in 1965 and 1966.

Specifically, the library holds the original lyric sheets for six songs from the 1966 album “Revolver”: “Eleanor Rigby,” “I’m Only Sleeping,” “Yellow Submarine,” “Good Day Sunshine,” “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “For No One” as well as the lyrics for “The Word” from 1965’s “Rubber Soul.”

The Beatles wave to fans after arriving at Kennedy Airport in February 1964. The Beatles wave to fans after arriving at Kennedy Airport in February 1964.

Northwestern is one of only two libraries in the world to hold handwritten Beatles lyrics – the other is the British Library, the United Kingdom’s official library.

“There are a lot of lyric sheets like this out there, but they’re held in private hands,” said Greg MacAyeal, the music library’s curator.

Northwestern was gifted the manuscripts in 1973 by American composer John Cage, who obtained them from Yoko Ono in the mid-1960s for a project amassing hundreds of manuscripts of 20th century composers.

The lyric sheets include factoids some Beatles fans may not already know. For example, McCartney originally titled his “For No One” composition as “Why Did It Die?” when he scrawled its lyrics onto a manila folder; and the Lennon-penned tune “And Your Bird Can Sing” was first known by a different name: “You Don’t Get Me.”

Beatles historian and author Robert Rodriguez said the manuscripts illustrate how the Beatles songs evolved while the band itself was transforming from a touring act of pop stars to sophisticated songwriters in the studio.

“They have a lot of significance in that they do offer a little bit of insight into the creative process that they were working with at that time,” Rodriguez said. “The period of late 1965 through 1966, that’s when you really see the Beatles start thinking of themselves beyond being this touring band going out and playing hits on the road.

“Come ‘Revolver’ in April of ’66, which is where most of these songs are from, they basically are throwing away the rulebook on everything they know about how to make records,” Rodriguez added.

  • The Beatles Manuscripts were donated to Northwestern by American composer John Cage in 1973.

  • The lyrics to "Eleanor Rigby" were written by Paul McCartney on a small piece of notebook paper.

  • Manila folders, scrap paper and more – the Beatles used ordinary and unconventional forms of stationery to write their songs on.

  • The first page of "Yellow Submarine," a song written primarily by Paul McCartney for Ringo to sing.

  • A cheeky notation next to crossed-out lyrics for "Yellow Submarine."

  • John Lennon originally titled the song "And Your Bird Can Sing" as "You Don't Get Me."

  • The lyrics to "Why Did It Die?" – which would later be known as "For No One," were written by Paul McCartney on a manila envelope.

  • Beatles historian Robert Rodriguez and Northwestern music library curator Greg MacAyeal sit before the Beatles Manuscripts.

  • "The Word" is the only lyric sheet from 1965's Rubber Soul that Northwestern possesses.

  • For "The Word," Paul McCartney reportedly drew the colorful doodles while John Lennon wrote the lyrics.

  • The lyric sheet for "I'm Only Sleeping," a John Lennon composition.

  • Northwestern's music library features a permanent display of Beatles Manuscripts facsimiles.

  • On the rare occasion that the Beatles Manuscripts are taken out of storage, they're encased in plastic for protection.

The Beatles Manuscripts rarely leave the secured, locked and guarded location they’re kept in, but Northwestern’s music library does have a permanent exhibit of high-quality facsimiles for the public to view.

MacAyeal estimated the Beatles Manuscripts are altogether worth between $7 million and $15 million based on previous auction sales.

Note: This story was originally publised on June 11, 2018.

Follow Evan Garcia on Twitter: @EvanRGarcia

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