Vinyl Rewind tells the story of how Ringo Starr and the other three dudes got their iconic logo and, oh boy, it’s a doozy.
Basically, for the band’s first few years, there was no Beatles logo. It was never featured in any of the band’s original albums recorded in the U.K.
The logo started its life on the bass drum of Starr’s Ludwig drum kit in April 1963, three years after John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Starr got together in Liverpool and formed the most influential music group of all time.
Starr got this Ludwig set from a shop, Drum City, on Shaftesbury Avenue in London. Founded by a guy called Ivor Arbiter in 1929, the shop was a popular destination for jazz drummers. Arbiter later recalled the encounter with a certain “Ringo, Schmingo, whatever his name was, at that time I certainly hadn’t heard of The Beatles.”
But when Starr entered the shop alongside the band’s manager, Brian Epstein, The Beatles were already quite popular, having released their debut studio album–Please Please Me–the month before. They weren’t known around the world yet, but the single that gave the album its name became No. 1 on the U.K. charts, and the album itself was No. 1 for 30 weeks, which was unprecedented at the time.
Perhaps that’s why, despite Arbiter’s later claims, he agreed to give Starr his last £238 Ludwig Downbeat kit in oyster black pearl finish for free as requested by Epstein, with the condition that the band keep the Ludwig brand on the front. Apparently, Arbiter had an exclusive distribution deal with the brand, and he wanted to give it some publicity.
Epstein agreed–as long as the band’s name also appeared prominently. Arbiter then proceeded to sketch a logo on a paper, making the “B” bigger than the rest of the letters, and extending the “T” in the way we all recognize today.
Then, for £5, Epstein paid Drum City to paint the logo on the bass drum. Arbiter gave the logo to a local sign painter, Eddie Stokes, who finalized the logo.
The logo stayed in that form until a performance at Paris’s Olympia Theater on February 4, 1964. Some people say that Starr has the original drum head, while others claim that McCartney has it.
The next logo, used for the first time in the drum kit at famous U.S. appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964, was slightly different and more powerful:
The logo, painted again by Stokes, occupied most of the drum’s face and used a bolder typeface. That logo was used for the band’s first U.S. tour.
After that, the logo evolved slightly seven times between 1963 and 1967. This was the final version of the logo in the last Ludwig black pearl drum kit that Starr used.
Later, during the filming of Let It Be, Starr got his last Beatles skin, set on a 22-inch Remo Weather Master with a Ludwig sticker on top.
The funny thing is that, having never appeared on any of the band’s original albums covers, a version of The Beatles’s logo that combined all the drum heads was only registered as a trademark by The Beatles company Apple Corps in the 1990s. This is about wringing profit out of every piece of Beatles-related property but, after learning that the logo was made virtually for free on top of a free drum kit, maybe they should have just, uh, let it be.