Twice now I’ve mentioned the Beatles in connection with shaving — George Harrison’s impromptu tutorial in A Hard Day’s Night is not only one of the funniest shaving scenes ever, but it also contains a sage bit of advice I’d pass along to anyone, be he a veteran wet shaver, a nervous public speaker or an inexperienced teenage kid out on his very first date: “Put your tongue away. It looks disgusting hanging out all pink and naked. And one slip of the razor and—!”
Now you know why they called him “the Quiet Beatle.”
But what were the Beatles up to when they weren’t shaving? Why, growing beards and moustaches, of course!
The first Beatle with a beard was Ringo Starr, albeit before he officially became a member of the group. Contrary to the conventional slander, Ringo was not some no-talent schlub who lucked into the world’s greatest job, but was in fact one of the biggest musical acts in Liverpool, bigger certainly than the Beatles, and he didn’t need permission from John, Paul and George to develop a style of his own. During his stint with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Ringo sported what is commonly referred to as a “chinstrap” with a scruffy little pencil moustache — what you might call a very sloppy “anchor” beard — to my eye, a very definite nod to the Beatnik style of the late ’50s/early ’60s.
In any event he shaved it off in 1962 when he donned the Cuban boots, collarless jacket and Beatle haircut his new mates were wearing.
Beatle beards were thereafter strictly verboten, and the lads remained clean-shaven until two days after their last live show when on September 1, 1966, George arrived in India with the beginnings of a moustache which he fleshed out into a full beard in time for the promotional films for the “Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever” single in January 1967.
Indeed, as a conscious invocation of the Edwardian fashions favored by the British psychedelia movement, all four Beatles grew facial hair during what became the Sgt. Pepper sessions and from then until the band officially broke up in 1970, at least one member of the band wore some form of beard or moustache.
Of the four, Ringo was the most committed to facial hair, as if he never quite got over shaving to join the band in the first place. He grew a moustache during the Pepper sessions, added a beard during Abbey Road in the Summer of 1969 and has kept both pretty much continuously to the present day — like his drumming and his personality, steady as a rock.
In fact, you might look at the Beatles’ beards as an index to their personalities.
Paul McCartney, always the most image-conscious of the Beatles, seems to have grown his Pepper-era moustache purely as an affectation to promote a particular image and has otherwise been facial-hair-free throughout his career. The one notable exception was after his break-up with longtime girlfriend Jane Asher in June 1968, when he grew a beard and remained resolutely unkempt through the Get Back sessions in early 1969. He was clean-shaven again when he and Linda Eastman married on March 12, 1969. Good boy!
John Lennon, on the other hand, changed his grooming style as often as he changed his music and his politics. In early 1967, he wore a horseshoe moustache. For the cover of Sgt. Pepper, it was more of a walrus. By June of that year, he had ditched facial hair altogether, only to go with bushy lambchops for his cameo (filmed on January 25, 1968) at the end of Yellow Submarine. He was clean shaven again by the Spring of ’68 and remained that way until 1969 when he grew a full beard bordering on the mountain man look, and after the band broke up, he shaved it all off again for charity. Mercurial fellow.
And as I mentioned, George — the most eager of the Beatles to quit touring and shed the moptop image—grew a beard just as soon as he could. In fact, it looks to me like he left his razor in the dressing room at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park and headed straight for the airport where he would board a plane for India, determined to make a new life for himself.
But then that’s what beards are really all about — a man’s boldest statement of who he is, where he’s been and where he’s going.