We've got a ticket to ride. It says so on the Magical Mystery Tour admission stub that arrives in the mail a week before we leave for London and Liverpool: "This portion is your ticket to ride." Our boys, Gabriel, 10, and Charlie, 6, get the reference, of course. It would be hard for them not to, considering that they've been raised to a backbeat of Beatles music. There we were, sleep-starved and half-mad, joggling a colicky newborn on our knees to the insistent rhythm of "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," or doing baby Jazzercise to the hypnotic chord progressions of "Norwegian Wood."
Now our boys explore the music on their own. Without prompting, Charlie happily pops Yellow Submarine into the boom box at bedtime, while Gabriel memorizes the lyrics from the back cover of our ancient Sgt. Pepper LP. And why not?Thanks to the success of the greatest-hits compilation The Beatles 1 and the Anthology box sets, the Beatles remain a powerful force in pop music, even among the Britney-and-Backstreet generation. Their sound—more than 30 years after the breakup—is still here, there, and everywhere.
But the story behind the music, as VH1 might put it, isn't as pervasive. To get the full experience, you have to make the ultimate Beatles pilgrimage: first London, then Liverpool, two cities that for some tourists have less to do with bangers and mash or the Changing of the Guard than with the band that launched a million lunch boxes.
The Beatles, in fact, are still very much a visible, iconic presence in London—unattainable yet ubiquitous, not unlike the Royal Family. Their wax likenesses grace Rock Circus, the rock-and-roll branch of Madame Tussaud's in Piccadilly Circus. Their instruments adorn the world's first Hard Rock Café, at 50 Old Park Lane. And we saw their loopily scrawled lyric sheets to "I Want to Hold Your Hand" in the British Museum, not far from the Magna Carta.
But like the Windsors, the Beatles also remain an invisible presence. At any moment, somewhere in London, you might be walking past a site of quasi-historical pop-cultural significance. And for that reason, we decide a tour guide is needed. We could, of course, follow the trails laid out in The Official Abbey Road Café Guide to the Beatles' London, an invaluable source. Instead we go right to guidebook author Richard Porter, president of the London Beatles Fan Club, holder of the Beatles Brain of Britain title, and organizer of the definitive Beatles' walking tours.