The Drug That Helped Turn the Beatles into the World's Greatest Band

Categories: Drugs

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The Beatles left Liverpool for Hamburg in August of 1960. By the end of the 39 weeks they played there on four trips from 1960 to December 1962, Beatles biographer Mark Lewisohn estimates, the band played about 1,110 hours. On one trip to Germany, the band played 415 hours in 14 weeks.

That's a dream job for a bunch of teenagers. But it was still hard: The early Beatles' shows were raucous, and they didn't like to repeat themselves on stage. Lewisohn's new book -- Tune In, an engaging, detailed narrative of the Beatles from before birth to the eve of their big break in 1963 -- offers revelations as to what helped the band with this exhaustive work schedule: prellies, an upper that has since been removed from the market.


See also: Rappers and Ravers: Quit Glorifying Drugs That Kill

Officially known as phenmetrazine and sold under the name Predulin, the drug was popular in Europe in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Prellies were especially easy to obtain in Hamburg's red light district, St. Pauli. Sold as a diet pill, prellies became the drug of choice for the Beatles and other bands looking to stay sharp and awake. Tony Sheridan -- whose "My Bonnie" features the Beatles as a backing band, the group's first recording -- helped introduce the Beatles to the drug in 1961, during their second trip to Hamburg. "Here's something to keep you awake," he reportedly told the group.

Old speed freaks wax nostalgic about prellies like they do every drug that's no longer around. It's "said by many old, old, incredibly old school speed freaks that phenmetrazine was a far superior drug to benzedrine or dexedrine," writes a user on drug discussion forum Bluelight (I cleaned up his spelling). A drug that metabolizes into phenmetrazine, phendimetrazine, is still available on the market. As Schedule III drug, it can be prescribed in the United States -- but it rarely is. As you can tell by the lack of a clever slang nickname for phendimetrazine, it's not very popular on the recreational market.

Lewinson's book, the first of the All These Years trilogy, is an exhaustive look at the savage young Beatles. The group began as a quintet on their first trip to Hamburg with a different bassist (Stu Sutcliffe, an art school friend of Lennon who left the band amicably and died of an aneurysm in April 1962) and drummer (Pete Best, fired for Ringo Starr that same year). The book, available in a regular 961-page version or a 1,728-page special edition, details just how much the Beatles used prellies -- and copious amounts of alcohol -- during their early career.

George Harrison and Sutcliffe were regular users of prellies, but John Lennon was the heaviest in the group. "Two pills a night were more than enough for most," Lewisohn writes, "but John frequently took four or five, and in conjunction with hour after hour of booze he became wired, a high-speed gabbing blur of talent, torment and hilarity." He even tormented Paul McCartney into taking the drugs, like in an after-school PSA. Even after he started taking them -- "maybe I'd have one to last the night," McCartney said -- Lennon continued to torment him for not taking enough drugs.



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29 comments
villagevoicepost
villagevoicepost

It was Preludin, not Predulin. My family doctor put me on them when I was 10 years old to lose weight. That was fun and it worked! It wasn't fun when he took me off them after 3 months! My first clinical depression. O the good old days!

prettypantymodel
prettypantymodel

Man, what I wouldn't give to try phenmetrazine.  Can't imagine anything better than meth, which obviously has its downsides but is incredibly smooth and euphoric.

The Beatles definitely lived in the Golden Age of prescription drugs:  Dexamyl, Miltown, Quaaludes, Placidyl, Diconal, and all the amphetamines you could get your grubby hands on. 

Greg Owens
Greg Owens

Finally, 8 Days a Week explained.

Binkconn
Binkconn

The Beatles were an overrated live band circa Hamburg. Playing alot of rock n' roll really fast doesn't make it the greatest; the Stones a year into their residency at the Richmond Hotel would;ve chewed them up.

George Trebych
George Trebych

I agree Merrilea Shields. When it comes to the Beatles it was a once in a lifetime collaboration of talent. Ringo excluded of coarse.

Merrilea Shields
Merrilea Shields

Lots of bands use stimulants drugs whatever and they are still a lousy band..

Joe Feeney
Joe Feeney

This is common knowledge to any Beatles fan. They've talked about it their whole careers and in numerous books written about them.

Ari B.
Ari B.

I'm not sure why the author believes that this story is expositional. I think one would probably have an easier time documenting the number of musical acts over the last ~60 years that did not use drugs in one form another and for one or more reasons (be it to enhance creativity, calm nerves and stage fright, increase alertness, etc.) than those that did.

Douglas Cooke
Douglas Cooke

It has been known for years that the Beatles used amphetamines in their early days. Old news, Rolling Stone!!!

Richard Pilkington
Richard Pilkington

It is well-known that Bob Dylan fully turned The Beatles on to cannabis. On 28 August 1964-- "Paul McCartney was struck by the profundity of the occasion, telling anyone who would listen that he was "thinking for the first time, really thinking." http://www.beatlesbible.com/features/drugs/2/

Richard Pilkington
Richard Pilkington

Uppers? So they could keep playing? Don't be silly. Everybody knows it was the "famous Beatles experiments" -mostly pot- that "helped turn the Beatles into the World's Greatest Band."

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Curtis Mayfree
Curtis Mayfree

Who are the beetles? Are they worth checking out? I haven't heard of them until seeing this, any advice? Whats a good album to start with?

Mitchell Sternbach
Mitchell Sternbach

No surprise. This is a well-known fact, admitted in countless interviews and every bio since the 60's. Don't insult our intelligence. Oh, I forgot- there are kids in the room... Yes, they ate it like candy to play all night at those Hamburg gigs.

Dan Halecki
Dan Halecki

if anybody is surprised the beatles used a variety of drugs than I don't have much interest in having a conversation with you

epac666
epac666 topcommenter

They're just a fad, I doubt they'll last long. Their only good song is "Sie Liebt Dich".

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