Pop Music: The Messengers

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large homes in Weybridge, part of the suburban "stockbroker belt," 40 minutes from London. John, 26, his wife

Cynthia, a former art student, and their four-year-old son Julian, live in a Tudor mansion with a swimming pool. Like the other Beatles, John has a taste for outlandishly gaudy outfits custom-tailored in brocades, silks and the like, for gadgets (five TV sets, uncounted tape recorders and cameras), and eccentric collections (a huge altar cross, a suit of armor called Sidney).

Down the hill from John is Sunny Heights, the 15-room tile-and-stucco digs where Ringo, 27, wallows in domesticity with Wife Maureen, a former Liverpool hairdresser, and Sons Zak, 2, and month-old Jason. Ringo, who never practices drums between Beatle performances, has made his place the group's unofficial clubhouse; on the spacious grounds are a treehouse and an old air-raid shelter, and indoors an elaborate bar named The Flying Cow.

George, 24, the newest Beatle husband (he married London Model Patti Boyd early last year), lives near by in a big white bungalow. He and his friends are daubing the outside walls with colorful cartoons, flowers and abstract designs, some in fluorescent paint that shines in the daylight. Unlike Ringo, he practices a great deal, and his music room is strewn with 12 guitars.

Bachelor Paul, 25 (his favorite "bird" is 21-year-old Actress Jane Asher), is a movie addict, loves "the look of London," tools around town in a spiffy blue Aston Martin DB 5. He lives in a high-walled house in the city's prosperous St. John's Wood neighborhood —oddly furnished, for a Beatle, in a tastefully quaint style, including an old-fashioned lace tablecloth on the dining-room table—and has daily bouts of "bashing" at the piano, which he has never quite learned to play.

Victorian Shadows. The Beatles keep in touch constantly, bounding in and out of each other's homes like mem bers of a single large family—which, in a sense, they are. Their friendship is an extraordinarily intimate and empathetic bond. When all four are together, even close friends like Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones sense invisible barriers thrown up between themselves and outsiders. "We're still our own best friends," each says.

With good reason. Not only are they welded together by the sheer fact of being the Beatles, but they also share a common lower-middle-class background in the sooty, Victorian shadows of Liverpool. Paul, the son of a cotton salesman, and John, who was raised by an aunt after his father deserted the family, were playing together as early as 1955. George, whose father was a bus driver, joined them in 1958. Two years later they met Ringo (born Richard Starkey), a docker's son. Their families were dubious about musical careers.

"If Paul had listened to me," says Jim McCartney wryly, "he would have been a teacher." But the boys persisted. Besides the musical satisfaction, playing in a band was a way to be somebody —especially with the local girls—to make some money and exert their nonconformity. And after they linked up with Brian Epstein, the elegant would-be actor and son of a wealthy Liverpool furniture retailer, it was a way to get out of Liverpool. Epstein shrewdly piloted their career until his death last month at 32 (TIME, Sept. 8).*

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