The Beatles and Moskva
Though the Beatles were never invited to perform in the Soviet Union, they left their mark on its capital all the same. In the mid- 1960s, as news of the Fab Four swept through Eastern Europe, the band found a devoted following among the privileged youth of Moscow, who had the greatest contact with the West (and the most access to their records). From a mythical airport performance to Paul McCartney’s real-life concert on Red Square, trace the history of Beatlemania on Moscow’s streets.
1. Tverskaya Ulitsa
Fans claimed to have seen Lennon picking up bread on Tverskaya Ul.
In the 1950s, Tverskaya was the central hangout of “stilyagi,” the swinging youth who listened to bootleg jazz and referred to the street as “Broadway.” In the next decade, Tverskaya (then named after writer Maxim Gorky) played host to long-haired Beatles fans, who hung out with guitars around Pushkin Square. According to a rumor passed among fans, someone once spotted John Lennon on Tverskaya buying bread. Another myth had Lennon staying at the nearby Hotel Rossiya. As Makarevich describes in “How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin,” a friend of his hid in the bushes by the hotel for two days, without food or water, in hopes of catching his idol.
2. Sheremetyevo Airport
One long-standing urban legend claims that the Beatles gave a secret 1966 concert for top chinovniki at Sheremetyevo Airport. The band supposedly played when their flight was delayed en route to Japan. Although McCartney has said that the gig never happened, the legend has persisted in various forms, including one in which the band performed for Central Committee members at the Palace of Soviets. The band everyone took for the Beatles was probably the Kinks, who really did pass through Sheremetyevo around the same time.
3. Moscow State University
After news of John Lennon’s death hit Moscow, students in Moscow State University’s journalism department posted flyers around campus urging a public meeting. On Dec. 21, 1980, a crowd of several hundred mourners gathered at the top of Vorobyovy Gory. They assembled around a portrait of Lennon, placed atop an American flag with the stars removed. “We moved as a one big crowd,” remembered then-student Sergei Andreitsev on the Russian fan site beatles.ru. “Among the participants were a few guys whom I encountered at Beatles gatherings. I found out later that they were informants.” The security services dispersed the crowd and arrested over 100 participants.
4. Beatles Fest
Beatles fans reunite with their heroes at the annual Beatles Fest, a concert organized by beatles.ru that brings top Russian and foreign tribute bands to Moscow. This year’s edition took place on April 21 at B2. The show brought together Andrei Makarevich and the remaining members of The Quarrymen, the Liverpool group started in 1956 by John Lennon. In 2010, Beatles Fest brought in Pete Best, the drummer who was infamously replaced by Ringo Starr just before the band hit it big.
5. Rhythm & Blues Cafe
The Beatles can be spotted on the mural at the Rhythm & Blues Cafe
The Fab Four can be found in living color on the mural adorning the Rhythm & Blues Cafe, located off Ul. Vozdvizhenka at 19 Starovagankovsky Per., bldg. 2. The musiccentric cafe was opened by rockers Stas Namin and Andrei Makarevich with crooner Valery Meladze in 1998. Its street art depicts the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and other classic rock groups. When visiting Moscow in 2011, Ringo Starr signed his autograph below his own image.
6. Red Square
The dreams of Russian Beatlemaniacs finally came true in 2003, when Paul McCartney played an open-air concert in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral. Unsurprisingly, McCartney began with “Back in the USSR.” “People cried rivers and waterfalls of tears,” recalled rock critic Artemy Troitsky in “How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin.” During perestroika, Sergei Mikhalkov, who wrote the words to the Russian national anthem, had labeled rock ’n’ roll “the moral equivalent of AIDS.” Less than 20 years later, Vladimir Putin, Mikhail Gorbachev and Yuri Luzhkov were among the heavy-hitters at McCartney’s concert, which was sponsored by Alpha Bank.