Few of those many momentous nights enjoyed by the Beatles at the height of their fame were to have more profound consequences than one spent at an unprepossessing two-bedroom flat near London's Bayswater Place in April 1965.
It had been an inconsequential evening of socialising shared by George Harrison, John Lennon, their wives Cynthia Lennon and Patti Boyd and George's dentist, who had just drifted over their social horizon. Then the five, accompanied by the dentist's wife, adjourned from the small dining room to the lounge, where the dentist slipped LSD - a substance then as little known to the Beatles as to most in Britain - into their coffees.
The details of George and John's introduction to the sense-enhancing drug have, until now, remained one of the most enigmatic aspects of the band's history, despite 1,000 books on the subject, as has the name of the man described only as the "wicked dentist" by George in the one interview which relates a sense of the event for the Beatles Anthology. In a new book the music writer, Steve Turner, reveals the dentist to be John Riley, the son of a Metropolitan Police officer who, after training as a cosmetic dentist in Chicago, became a dentist to the stars.
It was the Beatles' first experience of the drug - one which made the small room of the flat in Strathearn Place "as big as the Albert Hall" according to Cynthia and gave George the impression that he was " falling in love" with everyone he met after later driving the group in his Mini to the Pickwick Club and Ad Lib, near Leicester Square.
The experience spawned the surreal lyrics of Help!, which went to number one in September 1965 with declarations such as "Now I find I've changed my mind, opened up the doors" (after Aldous Huxley's LSD-inspired Doors of Perception and "My independence seems to vanish in the haze." From the Revolver album to the acid-induced "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" (LSD?) track on the Sgt Pepper album and later rows with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who disapproved of the substance, the experience shaped the band's destiny.
Turner's book, The Fab Four: The Gospel According To The Beatles (WJK Press, £14.99), discounts the much rehearsed tale that the dispenser of LSD that night was Victor Lownes, the legendary Playboy executive. By research through the Land Registry and dental registration documents, Turner has found Riley's Canadian ex-wife, Cyndy, living near Gibraltar in southern Spain. She, Boyd and Cynthia Lennon have enabled him to piece the story together.
Riley, it seems, was a south Londoner destined for life as an NHS dentist in north London, until heading to the Northwestern University dental school in the US and returning as one of Harley Street's few cosmetic dentists, whose clients also included Dudley Moore. His LSD supply was manufactured at a farmhouse in Wales and he administered it out of curiosity rather than an intent to "turn on" the band to drugs, Riley's wife has told Turner.
It is a matter of dispute whether he and the band had discussed the drug beforehand. "Patti [Boyd] said that the boys were unprepared for this and George told Melody Maker that he had never heard of it when [they took it]," said Turner.
"Yet Cyndy [Riley] says the band had talked about it but said they just wanted the experience to 'happen'." (This might explain why Riley was covert about slipping the dose.) The dentist's decision not to tell the boys what he was doing led to George's term of opprobrium for him. "We were innocent victims of the wicked dentist whom we'd met and had dinner with a few times," he says in the Anthology.
Riley's illicit action certainly went down badly with the band. Though his brush with the celebrities brought him a fleeting role in the film The Texican, all contact with him was severed after the LSD incident. He died in a car crash in Ireland in 1986. Cynthia Lennon evidently still hasn't forgiven him. "When you go for dinner with your dentist, you don't imagine a professional man would do something like that," she told Turner.
A little Help?
* 'HELP!' (1965)
Some see the song as the first LSD-induced Beatles single. Also an expression of the stress John Lennon felt at the band's rapid rise to fame
When I was younger, so much younger than today
I never needed anybody's help in any way
But now these days are gone and I'm not so self assured
[LSD brings an altered state; self-confidence goes]
Now I find I've changed my mind, Opened up the doors
[LSD changes the mind, as in Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception]
Help me if you can, I'm feeling down
And I do appreciate you being round
Help me get my feet back on the ground
[floating, in an LSD-induced haze]
Won't you please, please help me
[helplessness, loss of control]
With grateful acknowledgment to Michael S Hoffman. Click HERE for his site .
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