Library puts Beatles’ handwritten lyrics on display by request

Steven Berger

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Seven of The Beatles’ original lyric sheets arrived at Northwestern’s Music Library in the early 1970s. Now, NU students have the opportunity to take a glimpse into music history usually confined within the library’s archives.

Deering Library is the only academic library in the country with original Beatles lyric sheets, said D.J. Hoek, head of the NU Music Library. Reproductions of the original documents are now on display on the library’s main floor.

The exhibit contains seven lyric sheets: “The Word” from the 1965 album “Rubber Soul” and six tracks from 1966’s “Revolver”: “Eleanor Rigby,” “Yellow Submarine,” “Good Day Sunshine,” “For No One,” “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “I’m Only Sleeping.”

Before this year, the documents could only be viewed by appointment. But after the lyric sheets were featured as a “hidden treasure” in the library’s publication last summer, requests to see them increased and the Music Library decided to display high-resolution copies.

The manuscripts are so unique that it is impossible to put a price on them, Hoek said, calling them “most likely the most valuable materials that the University Library owns.”

Every piece in the collection has personal touches from its writers: penned in Paul McCartney or John Lennon’s hand or scrawled on a manila envelope or a torn-out piece of notebook paper. Some of the sheets offer a glimpse into how the band’s music evolved.

In one draft of “Yellow Submarine,” the lines “And we live a life of ease / Every one of us has all we need” are crossed out with the plea “Disgusting!! See me.” in the right margin. The same two lines are repeated directly below, with “And” changed to “As” – the way the lyrics appear in the song’s final version.

“There’s a lot of important history in the development of the songs that’s reflected in these documents,” said Music Prof. Gary Kendall, who offers a summer session course on The Beatles. “It is the only kind of hard evidence we have of how The Beatles’ creative process took place.”

The originals were last on display in a 2003 exhibit of Beatles memorabilia on the second floor of Deering. The library decided to use reproductions for the ongoing exhibit because of the manuscripts’ high value, keeping the originals preserved in a high-security, temperature-controlled room.

In his three and a half years at NU, Hoek said he has never had what he would call a “serious” Beatles researcher ask to view the manuscripts. Requests have come instead from Beatles fans. As studies of the history of pop culture multiply, he said it is important to have the unique pieces available for researchers and fans alike.

“Whether somebody writes a big symphony or just a song that really means a lot to people, it doesn’t just happen; there’s a lot of work that goes into it,” Hoek said. “Lyrics to songs like ‘Eleanor Rigby’ are just part of our culture. We never think about how that song did not exist at one point. Somebody actually had to put pen to paper.”

Music sophomore Christian Gero grew up listening to The Beatles, like many children whose parents lived during Beatlemania. Though he has walked past the display, he said he did not realize what was inside the nondescript glass cases.

“It’s a big part of music history in the past century,” Gero said. “I didn’t even know about it, but I’ll definitely be there.”

The exhibit will be on display through April 18.