"I don't like your tie!": How The Beatles' sliding doors moment became the best thing on the internet

3 January 2024, 13:00

The Beatles – Anthology ABC TV trailer

By Mayer Nissim

"I've laid into you for quite a long time. You haven't responded. Is there anything you don't like?"

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George Martin probably had more claim than anyone on Earth to the title of the Fifth Beatle.

He not only produced (almost) everything The Beatles recorded in their peerless eight-year recording career, but also played on oodles of it, and helped push the band further than anyone in pop with their joint studio experiments.

But their very first meeting was almost a disaster.

Less than impressed by a demo tape of the band sent by Brian Epstein, a sympathetic Martin agreed to give The BeatlesJohn Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and, at that time, Pete Best – an in-person tryout at Abbey Road.

In the flesh, things didn't go any better. The not-yet Fab Four set up at Studio Two on June 6, 1962, and after some difficulties with McCartney's amp, eventually got going with a run through Consuelo Velazquez's 'Besame Mucho'.

The Beatles in 1963 (with Ringo Starr) with George Martin in the studio
The Beatles in 1963 (with Ringo Starr) with George Martin in the studio. Picture: Getty Images

An even less impressed Martin nipped off for a cuppa, but when the band started playing their own 'Love Me Do', tape engineer Chris Neal heard enough to go retrieve his boss.

The Beatles went on to tape versions of future Please Please Me tracks 'P.S. I Love You' and 'Ask Me Why', but the truth was, George Martin still wasn't hearing anything special.

So, George bundled the boys into the control room and tore a few strips off them, laying into their look, their sound, their gear and Pete Best's drumming, when a bit of snark from George Harrison changed everything.

Besame Mucho (Anthology 1 Version)

"We gave them a long lecture about their equipment and what would have to be done about it if they were to become recording artists," Norman Smith told Mark Lewisohn in The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions.

"They didn't say a word back, not a word, they didn't even nod their heads in agreement. When he finished, George said 'Look, I've laid into you for quite a time, you haven't responded. Is there anything you don't like?'.

"I remember they all looked at each other for a long while, shuffling their feet, then George Harrison took a long look at George and said 'Yeah, I don't like your tie!'.

"That cracked the ice for us and for the next 15-20 minutes they were pure entertainment. When they left to go home George and I just sat there saying 'Phew! What do you think of that lot then?'. I had tears running down my face."

So one of the great Beatles anecdotes was born, and earlier this year Beatles fans and writers Marc Moss-Jones and Kevin Core took this classic bit of Beatles lore, and retold it 100 times over "refracted through 100 different prisms" on what was once-called Twitter.

So the story of George Harrison telling George "I don't like your tie" is reimagined as a Hancock's Half Hour sketch, some Chaucer verse, a breathless 2023-style Disney+ press release, restaurant review, and delightfully bitchy Popbitch mailout.

Love Me Do (Anthology 1 Version)

It's twisted into alternate realities where the Beatles are inexplicably naked save for their ties, or the size of Borrowers, or are actually fledgling tie-makers who tell George Martin they don't like his record.

It's inventive, surreal and very, very funny, and we wanted to know more about it, so we got in touch with its creators.

"Because of doing stuff for Viz I'm always trying to come up with ideas," Marc tells Gold.

"The George Martin's tie thing came into my head, and I thought that could be a sketch, or an article, or whatever, and immediately four or five ideas occurred to me about it – too many to do any one thing with.

George Martin doing his thing – without a tie
George Martin doing his thing – without a tie. Picture: Getty Images

"Over the course of the next day or so, I though, well, you could make a thing of the fact that there are so many possibilities in this scenario – in this story – and then I mentioned it to Kev.

"We wrote the first 20 or so we had some in the barrel good to go. After that we were writing them as we went along."

Of why the Beatles' tie story lends itself so much to re-imagining compared to others, Marc said: "There are obviously other famous Beatles anecdotes and instances, but not many of them centre around George [Harrison], not many of them have all The Beatles and someone else – someone else who's important – present.

"There are lots of other cool instances you can look back on, but it's a press conference so you don't know who it is they're talking to, it's a journalist.

"Almost everyone who's involved in The Beatles at the time is there. It's them, George Martin is there, Brian [Epstein]'s there – Ringo isn't there obviously – but it's quite a rich cast of characters you can play with... lots of different things you can change or people you can foreground or leave out or bring in."

Kevin added: "The main Beatles anecdotes are often Paul telling them in really entertaining ways but we thought this was possibly a Beatles' sliding doors moment, it's almost like a pivot point.

"It's playing with the idea that if George hadn't made that joke, is it possible that George Martin wouldn't have thought there was much to them?

"There are many ways it could have gone from this actually quite important moment – that led to a multiverse of different options."

Marc said: "We tried to track down the first telling of this story, and it's Norman Smith it seems. It's 'the George Martin tie anecdote', but you look back and George Martin doesn't tell the story anywhere. I've not been able to find it over 60 years where he told that story.

UPDATE: While the Norman Smith telling has become the definitive version of the story, fellow Beatles fanatics have in fact dug out a few times over the years when George Martin did tell the tie tale, including in his memoir and a 2002 Party at the Palace speech written by David Quantick.

"There's enough other anecdotes and analysis to say that George Martin was not all that impressed with them up to that point and it was the personability and the humour and the rapport that finally got him interested – it was a bit of harmonica and being likeable and funny."

He continued: "When the Beatles story gets told and retold and retold, it's one of the starting points. If you're in a Ladybird book of The Beatles, you'd have The Cavern, you'd have them in the control room of Studio B and there's George Martin."

Kevin said: "It's really satisfying when a character tells a joke that's right for that character. It doesn't make sense if Benny Hill tells a Jimmy Carr joke. This is such a George Harrison joke, because he is such a mardy sod all throughout the Beatles.

"You know what a Paul McCartney joke is – very affable. You know John Lennon's. But just the downbeat snark of George, it's a satisfying joke because it fits the character really well. It's just a good jumping-off point for messing with the joke."

Of balancing the need to make the scenarios accessible to both Beatles superfans and casuals, and also people who may not get the settings being spoofed and parodied, Kevin said: "If you enjoy something you don't think 'I'm gonna do the Popbitch one', you think 'What do I do next?', and just start writing.

"You kind of reverse engineer the thing that you've said that you've found quite funny. 'Oh, what if it was a gossip column... what if it was Popbitch like it was invented in the '60s?'.

"If you just sit at the desk all of the influences and all the things that you've found funny and enjoyed about The Beatles they kind of arrive."

Some of the entries show pretty nerdy Beatles knowledge, so we wondered whether Marc and Kevin did their research before they wrote the entries, or used those hallowed Beatles books – Anthology, Revolution in the Head and others – to fact-check the jokes afterwards.

"The stuff that I fact-checked and Googled most while writing these was the peripheral detail," Marc said. "What year did George Martin start working at EMI? What kind of car did he drive, because there's one where his car gets destroyed by a Transformer.

"Other facts make things more believable – the peripheral stuff. Most of the Beatles-y stuff I think it's fair to say was probably in our heads anyway.

"We had two or three that we drafted that we didn't use because they were just references, they weren't really attached to anything – a big mountain of Easter Eggs with no substance to them."

Kevin agreed: "You could absolutely sit down and say, 'Charles Dickens, I don't like your tie' but if there's no actual joke, no point... we needed to have an actual joke in mind coinciding with a genre and The Beatles."

Marc added: "There's a parallel world version of this project which is not as good. We've been at pains to keep it quite open and accessible.

"If someone hasn't heard of Popbitch – some of our American readers – you can still write it in a way that after two lines they can work out it's a gossip sheet.

"If someone hasn't read a Philip Larkin poem they can still fill in the gaps, even if they don't know who Philip Larkin is they can see that this is slightly grim, wry, post-war poetry."

From the other angle, Kevin said: "Neither of us are interested in posts where we'd say, 'the real Beatles heads will really enjoy that reference'.

"There's no point in preaching so much to the choir that you're right into the weeds of really detailed Beatles knowledge. That's not what it was about really."

Not everyone is on Twitter/X of course, and even those who are might want something they can actually hold in their hands, so Marc and Kevin have plans for a book, which will likely be the perfect stocking-filler for The Beatles fan in your life.

"We are going to put the entries in a book which is going to be on one of the print-on-demand platforms," Marc told us. "This is such an insanely niche thing, so let's go with it being niche.

"We're going to expand on things slightly. We're actually in the process of re-ordering the entries to give a bit more shape to the whole thing. With a bit more consideration for what's there you can give it a bit more flow."

Kevin quipped: "If you pitched a Beatles project and they said, 'What's it about? Is it about The White Album era or the Get Back era?' and you said, 'No, it's specifically about George Martin's tie', then it has less legs for a publisher.

"But we've actually had a pretty good spread of people who've engaged with it – it's been surprising!"

You can read all of the I Don't Like Your Tie entries at @dontlikeyourtie. A book is coming soon.