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In 1963, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr played the Royal Variety Show, one of their most stressful shows to date. Their popularity was on the rise and, suddenly, they found themselves performing for a large, wealthy audience. Lennon channeled his nerves into joking with the audience. Harrison rolled his eyes at parts of Lennon’s performance.

George Harrison said John Lennon was over the top during one show

In 1963, The Beatles nervously prepared to play the Royal Variety Show. Everyone in the audience bought expensive tickets and the Queen Mother was in attendance. Lennon pointed out their wealth as he introduced the band’s final song.

“For our last number, I’d like to ask your help,” he said, per The Beatles Anthology. “The people in the cheaper seats clap your hands, and the rest of you, if you’d just rattle your jewelry. We’d like to sing a song called ‘Twist and Shout.’”

A black and white picture of The Beatles standing in a line in front of the Queen Mother.
The Beatles and the Queen Mother | George Freston/Fox Photos/Getty Images

Harrison didn’t think this was as spontaneous or charming as the audience did. He also rolled his eyes at Lennon’s performative bowing at the end of the show. It wasn’t something they had ever done before. 

“John did the line about ‘rattle your jewelry’ because the audience were all supposedly rich,” Harrison said. “I think he’d spent a bit of time thinking of what he could say. I don’t think it was spontaneous. John also overdid the bowing as a joke, because we never used to like the idea of bowing; such a ‘showbiz’ thing.”

The Beatles were all nervous ahead of the performance

Lennon admitted that the joke was the best he could do at the time, given his frayed nerves. 

“Everybody’s very nervous and uptight and nobody performs well. The time we did do it, I cracked a joke on stage,” he said. “I was fantastically nervous, but I wanted to say something to rebel a bit, and that was the best I could do.”

Road manager Neil Aspinall recalled all the Beatles being incredibly nervous ahead of the performance. 

“I remember the Royal Command Performance, they were very, very nervous because they weren’t used to that kind of audience,” he said. “This wasn’t the Cavern, this was a big charity show and everybody had paid a lot of money to attend. It was a completely different set of people sitting in judgment.”

George Harrison liked it when John Lennon was over-the-top at another show

At later shows, Harrison was a bit more appreciative when Lennon leaned into over-the-top behavior. During their concert at Shea Stadium, Lennon put on an outrageous Jerry Lee Lewis impression which made Harrison laugh so hard he could barely play.

“I was putting my foot on it and George couldn’t play for laughing,” he said. “I was doing it for a laugh. The kids didn’t know what I was doing. Because I did the organ on ‘I’m Down,’ I decided to play it on stage for the first time. I didn’t really know what to do, because I felt naked without a guitar, so I was doing all Jerry Lee — I was jumping about and I only played about two bars of it.”

A black and white picture of The Beatles onstage at Shea Stadium.
The Beatles at Shea Stadium | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

George Harrison Said John Lennon and Paul McCartney Refused to Take 1 of His Best Songs Seriously

Starr was less impressed with Lennon’s behavior.

“If you look at the film footage you can see how we reacted to the place,” he said. “It was very big and very strange. I feel that on that show John cracked up. He went mad; not mentally ill, but he just got crazy. He was playing the piano with his elbows and it was really strange.”