It was the dawn of the sixties, in the working class English port of Liverpool. Four talented and slightly scruffy lads are playing a dank, dark and somewhat dangerous club called the Cavern, when fate comes calling in the shape of an unlikely new fan; record store owner Brian Epstein. (Note, quotes from Mr. Epstein, who passed away in the late sixties, are from BBC archival footage.)
BRIAN: Oh, when I first saw the Beatles, I was immediately struck by their charm. They had enormous personal charm and wit, and I remember being very enthused by their performance. Still, I’d come away with the strong feeling that something quite simply wasn’t right.
PAUL: So, we meet Brian, you know, and he had this Zodiac car, and we were all quite impressed, ’cause none of us knew anyone with a car like that.
GEORGE: He invited us to tea, and we had ham sarnies on these delicate little plates, with our favorite ciggies on the side-quite the showman, was our Brian.
PAUL: After the tea, he tells us John had to go.
Brian Epstein was convinced that the Beatles would be, in his words, “Bigger than Elvis…”, but he felt the antagonistic Lennon would be a detriment to his business plan. He had a newcomer to the Mersey music scene in mind.
BRIAN: Well, the band had had other members-of course, Stuart Sutcliffe died tragically of a brain aneurysm, and Pete Best was replaced with Ringo Starr, who had been a smash in Rory Storm’s group. But I really had an instinct that what the Beatles needed was something unique.
PAUL: ‘Course, we were sad to give John the sack, as he really had been the keenie in some ways. I heard he owns a confectionary in Soho currently.
GEORGE: We could have handled things better, or been nicer, I suppose, but I think it’s true, and history has shown, that the Beatles are actually Paul, George, Ringo, and the Hulk. I mean, I’m sorry for John and Pete, but I can’t imagine anything coming from having had them in the group.
HULK: HULK PLAYING IN LOCAL SKIFFLE GROUP THE CORVETTES– BRIAN SAY JOIN BEATLES! HULK FURIOUS! SMASH STAGE! CRUSH BRIAN CAR!
BRIAN (Laughs): Yes, I’m afraid no one was any too keen on the idea at first.
But the chemistry was undeniable. Three slender young Liverpool lads and an eight-foot-tall emerald Goliath proved to be an unbeatable combination.
GEORGE:At first, we were a bit skeptical, you know. His guitar skills were a bit rough. But we were knocked out by his harmonica playing.
RINGO: I saw him and I went, “GAH!! F***! SAVE ME!” but we got along famously later.
The Beatles with their newest member went to EMI, where they were championed by George Martin, a gifted producer who saw something unique in the boys’ raw sound.
GEORGE: Well, the famous story is that George Martin comes in and says, “If there’s anything you boys don’t like, just tell me.” And I said, “Well, for a start, I don’t like your tie.” Then the Hulk added, “I DON’T LIKE YOUR FACE! HULK SMASH!!”
This incident delayed the release of the first Beatles album, SMASH THE BEATLES, by a fortnight while producer Martin was in hospital. However, the album, driven in sales by the hits SMASH ME DO and PLEASE SMASH ME, went to number one in both Britain and America. And the Beatles never looked back. The Hulk’s facile and unpredictable wordplay was constantly on radio stations everywhere.
“OH, YEAH YOU,
MAKE HULK ANGRY.
YOU MAKE HULK SO MAD
SAY TO HU-U-ULK,
HULK WANT TO CRUSH PUNY BANNER! HATE BANNER! ARRGHGHHG!!”
RINGO: We got off the plane at the airport, and I remember we’re all looking around, ’cause there’s this huge crowd and all. We thought the President was coming in, or something.
PAUL:But it turned out to be that they’d all come to see the Hulk fight the Abomination.
GEORGE: It came out later to all be a publicity stunt by some deejay called Murray the “K.” When the Hulk found out about it, he was rather non-plussed, wasn’t he?
HULK: HULK SMASH MURRAY THE “K!”
The Beatles had arrived in America, and the American press loved every minute of it.
PRESS: HOW DO FIND AMERICA?
PAUL: Turn left at Greenland.
HULK: HULK JUMP! FIGHT STUPID FISH MAN!
PRESS: WHAT DO YOU THINK OF BEETHOVEN?
RINGO: I love him, especially his poems.
HULK: GRRRRAARA! HULK HATE STUPID BEETHOVEN!
PRESS: WILL YOU SING FOR US?
GEORGE: We need money first!
HULK: ARRRAHH!! QUIT ASKING HULK STUPID QUESTIONS!!! HULK HEAD HURTS! ARRRGHGH! ARGHGHH!!
Two sensational and historic appearances on the Ed Sullivan show proved what teenagers already knew. The Beatles had conquered America.
In a poorly-conceived attempt to compete, many other groups of the British Invasion also recruited new members.
MICK JAGGER: Right, we had this fella, this huge git covered in orange rocks, and we thought, you know, rocks, stones, it’s a natural, right? Only, he can’t play a stitch and he can’t sing, can’t dance at all…only thing about him was this blind bird he brought round. She was lovely, weren’t she?
PETE TOWNSHEND: Christ, don’t bring that up. All right, yeah, we had Sasquatch as a “percussionist” for a while. Bloody useless, he was. I’d smash my guitar, and he’d lift an oil tanker. Audiences would boo us til we’d play f***ing TOMMY again.
MICKEY DOLENZ: Oh, man, we didn’t even have our own monster. We used a studio monster and Peter Tork just lip-synched to it.
SMASH THE BEATLES was only the beginning. The band had a streak of number one hits that broke all known records; CAN’T BUY ME BEANS, I WANT TO HOLD YOUR CRUSHED SKULL IN MY HAND, and the bittersweet uptempo ballad, SMASH!, which revealed a sad heart beneath the Hulk’s smiling surface…
“When Hulk was younger,
So much younger than today,
He wanted beans argh arghhhh!
Hate stupid soldier try to shoot Hulk ARGHH!!”
But few saw this side of the Hulk. Close friend and former Beatle roadie Neil Aspinall said in a 1974 Rolling Stone interview, “That Hulk. He sure liked to smash things. He smashed me once in 1964, and then twice in 1965, but you know, he were a good bloke, bless him.”
The Hulk, increasingly frustrated by what he felt was the tyranny of the pop song formula, then had his vision for what would become their masterpiece. Sgt. Fury’s Howlin’ Commando Band. The album contained moments of shimmering studio wizardry and poetic vision, and the songs, A DAY IN THE LIFE-A FIST IN THE FACE, and WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM THE DEFENDERS became touchstones for a new generation of serious music criticism.
PAUL: With Fury, I really felt that we’d done it. That we’d made something new. We’d all been inspired by the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, and this was sort of our way to stay on top.
HULK: HULK HATE THREE MINUTE 1-4-5 FORMAT! HULK EARS HURT!
But then, an offhand comment in yet another press conference nearly derailed the Beatles’ momentum.
HULK: HULK NOT AFRAID OF ANYONE! HULK BIGGER THAN JESUS! BRING JESUS HERE AND HULK WILL SMASH!
A visibly angry and uncomfortable Hulk had to retract his statement later, when it became clear that his words had enraged even his most ardent fans…
HULK: HULK NOT SAY HULK BETTER THAN JESUS AS PERSON OR GOD AS THING. HULK SAID IT AND IT WRONG OR TAKEN WRONG. HULK…GRRR…HULK SORRY!
Events like this alienated Hulk even from his formerly steadfast bandmates. He increasingly found pleasure among the alternative art community in London and New York. Hulk was invited to a showing by an Avant-Garde artist named Yoko Ono.
HULK: STUPID ART WOMAN HAVE LADDER. SAY HULK CLIMB. HULK CLIMB LADDER AND SEE SIGN SAY “YES!” HULK BLOWN AWAY BY STUPID ART WOMAN POSITIVE MESSAGE. ASK STUPID ART WOMAN MARRY HULK.
The formerly solid songwriting team of Hulk/McCartney now existed in name only. The Beatles increasingly relied on studio musicians to provide backing tracks for works they’d written individually. The Hulk’s joy at meeting Stupid Artist Woman was evident, but the rest of the band found themselves increasingly at odds with this new, activist, beret-wearing Hulk.
GEORGE: He started bringing Yoko into the studio, and making these tape loops while stoned. He did that one, HULK SMASH #9, that was just him saying, “Hulk Smash” over and over with her havin’ an orgasm in the background.
PAUL: He pulled it together for ALL ACROSS THE MULTIVERSE. Lovely melody, that. But yeah, he was gone, really. He and Yoko started the Purple Pants for Peace movement. I quit paying attention after their Bag-In at Dr. Strange’s house.
It was the beginning of the end. A final hit record carried the Hulk/McCartney shared writing credit, GIVE PEACE A SMASH, but the writing was on the wall and the Hulk, hating both walls and writing, was enraged and smashed it.
Those who loved the music of the Beatles are quick to point fingers at those they felt contributed to their breakup, but perhaps the Hulk was simply meant to be alone–Perhaps the Hulk’s largest solo hit said it best:
“Imagine Hulk not angry
Not want to hit and fight
Not want to smash the Leader
No enemy in sight
Imagine Puny Banner
Imagine all Marines
All be friends to Hulk
In great big field of beans
Imagine all the people
Leaving Hulk alone, aha!
You may say Hulk a dreamer.
But Hulk not agree with that
Hulk hope someday, Hulk find you.
And then the Hulk will smash you flat.”