Boomers Loved That Beatles’ Hairstyle

The 1960s will be remembered for many things in the cultural milieu, and most notably among them is hairstyles. Any discussion of hairstyles of the 1960s would hardly be complete without acknowledging the tremendous influence the hairstyles of The Beatles — John, Paul, George and Ringo — had on a Youth Culture poised to explode.

The Beatles themselves changed hairstyles throughout their tenure as rock ‘n roll kings, but it all started when John spotted a young Norwegian schoolboy in the 1950s who, after swimming, left his hair hanging over his forehead. That look, combined with his fringed hair on the back of his head, was one that John particularly appreciated, and remembered. That boy was Jürgen Vollmer. In late 1961 when the band was playing in Hamburg, Paul and John decided to hitchhike to Paris. As luck (or rather, destiny) would have it, Mr. Vollmer picked the pair up on his way to Paris — sporting the style that John had so admired years earlier. John and Paul remarked how much they liked Mr. Vollmer’s haircut, and asked if he would cut their hair like his when they got to Paris. Thus, John and Paul were the first to receive the style, which became known as the moptop.

The moptop was a medium-length hairstyle, noted for its straight cut at the base of the neck, continuing over the ears and straight across the forehead. George and Ringo followed suit after seeing John and Paul, and the Fab Four took on the additional moniker of the Moptops.

Immediately upon their arrival in the U.S., The Beatles became style icons.

When they were introduced in the U.S. in February of 1964, their moptop hairstyle was an instant hit. It was copied worldwide and spawned one of the first licensed Beatles products: Beatle Wigs, manufactured by the Lowell Toy Manufacturing Corporation of New York. Many companies followed suit making wigs out of plastic and real hair, but only Lowell could claim their wigs as “authentic.”

Soon after arriving in the U.S., the group faced a press conference at the Plaza Hotel in New York. Having never seen their hairstyle before, a reporter asked George Harrison what he would call his haircut. In true Beatles fashion, George responded, “Arthur.” That scene was recreated in the movie, A Hard Day’s Night (1964), when a reporter asks George, “What would you call that, uh, hairstyle you’re wearing?”

In the 1950s, the predominant hairstyles for men were the shorter Crew Cut and Flat Top, while longer styles included the Pompadour and Ducktail. Some say it was President John F. Kennedy who ushered in the era of longer hair being more acceptable by flaunting his locks without a hat as the decade of the sixties began. Nevertheless, the likes of The Beatles’ haircut had not been seen on our shores before the band landed in New York.

As the sixties progressed, so did The Beatles’ hairstyles. It becomes hard to distinguish where The Beatles’ influence on worldwide hairstyles began and where what was happening in the world influenced The Beatles. By the time they recorded Sgt. Peppers in 1967, the group had replaced their moptops with much longer hair and, often, full beards.

Mister Boomer, like so many baby boomers, first saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. He recalls how their appearance shook the boomer world, and was all that was being talked about around school. Girls loved their hair, calling it “cute,” while guys thought it was “cool.” Mister Boomer was somewhat ambivalent about their hair, but did greatly admire their suits — an Edwardian style with black velvet-trimmed collars. His attention was quickly drawn to their music as he developed a preference of “She Loves You” over “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Hair, for Mister B, was neither here nor there.

Mired in a Parochial School education, Mister Boomer and his classmates had to adhere to rules and regulations regarding dress codes and hairstyles. As soon as the first inklings of this new hairstyle were uttered on school grounds, new regulations expressly prohibiting the moptop hairstyle were adopted, naming The Beatles as the example of what would not be permitted. Parents had no choice but to enforce the rules, despite the pleadings of their children. Since Mister B didn’t care much either way, he never sported the hairstyle, though some friends did eventually acquire a moptop when they got into high school.

What do you remember about The Beatles hairstyle, boomers? Did you have to have a moptop of your own?

Boomers Thought Paul Was Dead

Though there are many bands, musicians and songs that help to define the teen years of the boomer generation, perhaps there is none more ubiquitous in the lives of boomers across this country as The Beatles. North, south, east and west, regardless of background, economic class or race, most boomers have memories of hearing and playing Beatles records. So it came as a real shock to boomer fans when rumors circulated that one of The Beatles, Paul McCartney, had died.

No one knows exactly where the rumors started that The Beatles’ Paul McCartney had died, but a British Beatles fanzine acknowledged and refuted the rumor in 1967. The first U.S. mention of the “Paul is dead” phenomenon came from an Iowa college newspaper in September of 1969. The article said that Paul died in a car accident in November of 1966, following a particularly contentious recording session for the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.

The rumor proffered that The Beatles covered up Paul’s death, replacing him with William Shears Campbell, the winner of a look-alike contest. Conversely, sometimes William Sheppard was identified as the replacement. It was said that the band then placed clues within their albums that substantiated the rumor that Paul was gone, with most clues supposedly only audible when the record was played backwards. Allegedly, the look-alike was the “Billy Shears” mentioned on the Sgt. Pepper’s album.

Mister Boomer first heard about the rumor as it circulated in anticipation of a radio program that was to discuss whether it was a hoax or the real deal. That was October of 1969. The buzz in the neighborhood piqued the interest of Mister B and his siblings, as two sisters on the block invited the group over to their wood-paneled basement to listen to the broadcast.

After hearing the so-called “evidence” clues on the radio, Mister B and his siblings remained skeptical. Someone mentioned that the pre-Halloween radio broadcast of War of the Worlds by Orson Welles could have been the inspiration for this radio broadcast that purported to discuss the controversy. None of those in attendance knew that rumors had previously circulated in Britain for years. Returning home, Brother Boomer — like thousands of boomers across the country — broke out his Magical Mystery Tour, Sgt. Pepper’s and White albums in an effort to play some of the songs backwards on his bedroom record player. One such clue, planted in the backwards-playing of Strawberry Fields Forever, was supposedly John Lennon saying “I buried Paul.” McCartney himself later revealed that the words Lennon said were “cranberry sauce.” To Mister B’s ears,”Paul is dead” clues weren’t what emanated from the speakers. Instead, it sounded like complete gibberish.

Boomers “found” clues in album covers and songs that, in their eyes, substantiated the “Paul is dead” rumor.

On October 21, 1969, The Beatles’ press office said the whole controversy was “a load of rubbish,” calling any and all aspects of the rumor a hoax. In November of 1969, Life magazine did an interview and pictorial with McCartney and his wife Linda at their home in Scotland. Though the rumor subsided after the magazine was published, for whatever reason it still persists on conspiracy Web sites to this day.

The phenomenon of people starting rumors about celebrity deaths is alive and well on the Internet. Dozens of famous actors and musicians have been the target of these hoaxes in recent years, including this year alone: Tony Danza, Jerry Springer, Denzel Washington, Ruby Dee, Eddie Murphy, Bill Cosby (five times in one year!), Mick Jagger, Keanu Reeves, Cher and many others — even contemporary British soul singer Adele.

In our day rumors circulated through fanzines and radio programs, but today anyone, anywhere in the world, can start a rumor that gains enough momentum to be brought to the public’s attention with a few keystrokes on their home computer or smartphone. With the “Paul is dead” hoax, were we seeing the tip of the iceberg in a strange trend that would span the decades?

When did you hear that “Paul is dead,” boomers?