The 16-Year-Old Girl Who Sang With The Beatles

“Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup, / They slither while they pass, they slip away across the universe.” —The Beatles, “Across the Universe”

In A Nutshell

When Lizzie Bravo moved to England in 1967, she couldn’t wait to see The Beatles. In fact, she became one of the band’s biggest fans, following the Fab Four at every turn. Eventually, her obsession paid off when Paul McCartney asked Lizzie to sing in “Across the Universe.”

The Whole Bushel

Saying Lizzie Bravo liked The Beatles is an understatement. She loved them. Sure, lots of teenage girls were crazy about John, Paul, George, and Ringo, but Lizzie was a special brand of fan. She was no mere Beatlemaniac. Lizzie Bravo was an Apple Scruff.

The Apple Scruffs were the most die-hard devotees who ever stalked celebrities. Nicknamed for their big thick coats, the Scruffs would lurk around EMI Studios (today known as Abbey Road Studios), hoping, wishing, praying for a chance to spot the Fab Four. They printed their own fan magazine, made up cards for members, and followed The Beatles wherever they went.

While most of the Scruffs were British girls in their twenties, there was quite a bit of diversity in the group, from a 63-year-old woman to a gay New Yorker. Lizzie Bravo was a 16-year-old Brazilian who’d been living in England for nearly a year. Her parents bought her a plane ticket for her 15th birthday, but after she arrived in the UK in 1967, she decided she was going to stay.

Lizzie made her living as an au pair, but really, she specialized in the study of Beatles. Her favorite was John Lennon; she hounded him relentlessly. Lizzie was actually photographed standing next to the singer and was lucky enough to have all four musicians sign her copy of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. As the world’s biggest Beatles fan, Lizzie probably thought things couldn’t get any better.

She was wrong.

One evening in 1967, John Lennon was lying in bed next to his first wife, Cynthia, and things weren’t going well. According to John, she was nagging him, and he was getting ticked off. She wouldn’t shut up. He thought her words were “flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup,” and that’s when he jumped out of bed and began writing.

The result was “Across the Universe,” a song Lennon considered one of his best. What had started off as a diatribe against his wife had evolved into something more “cosmic.” “It’s one of the best lyrics I’ve written,” he later said. “In fact, it could be the best.”

The band began recording the song in February 1968, and as they played inside their studio, the Apple Scruffs waited outside. That’s when Paul McCartney walked out the door and asked a shocking question. He wanted to know if any of the girls could sing.

Lizzie quickly raised her hand. After all, she’d been a soprano in her school choir. She wasn’t the only volunteer either. A 17-year-old named Gayleen Pease, a girl who traveled 14 kilometers (9 mi) to London each way to follow the Fab Four, also threw up her hand. Paul invited them inside, explaining they were working on a new song and needed a few female voices.

They were escorted into Studio Two, and according to the balance engineer, the girls were super excited. “They couldn’t believe they’d actually been invited by Paul,” he said, “not just inside the building but into the studio itself, to sing with the Beatles.” After learning her lines, Lizzie shared a mic with Paul and John. When the song started, Bravo and Pease came in on the chorus, chanting along with Lennon, “Nothing’s gonna change my world.”

After a two-hour session, the girls left the studio, totally and completely star-struck. They’d just lived out one of their wildest fantasies. But instead of going home to rest, Lizzie stayed outside the building, hoping to see her heroes again.

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Of course, there was a lot going on behind the scenes that the girls weren’t aware of. John had asked Paul to round up some singers, thinking he’d hire professionals. When McCartney showed up with two Apple Scruffs, Lennon wasn’t amused. “They came in and were singing all off-key,” he complained. John believed Paul was “subconsciously trying to destroy a great song,” and Lennon later said the track was garbage.

Still, when John ran into Lizzie a few days later, he wasn’t angry. Instead, he gave her an autograph that read, “To Liz, thanks for a great year. Love, John Lennon X.” Only the thrill didn’t last very long. In October 1969, Bravo decided it was time to return to Brazil. She could see the Beatles were falling apart. The longest cocktail party was finally over, so Lizzie flew back to Rio de Janeiro.

As for “Across the Universe,” it was released in December 1969 on Spike Milligan’s World Wildlife Fund charity album No One’s Gonna Change Our World. This version was sped up, and in addition to the girls’ voices, there were recordings of animal noises. However, when producer Phil Spector showed up for the Let It Be album, he slowed the track down and deleted the girls’ voices. After all, they weren’t exactly opera stars.

Lennon was quite pleased.

Nevertheless, Lizzie and Gayleen made history. They were the first women to sing on a Beatles song. Sure, Yoko Ono showed up first on “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill,” but technically, “Across the Universe” was recorded first. After her Apple Scruff days, Lizzie worked as a backup singer for several Brazilian stars, and today she’s a grandmother who plans on publishing a memoir about her Abbey Road days. Even more amazing, NASA sent her voice into space in 2008 when they beamed her version of “Across the Universe” toward the North Star, Polaris.

But Lizzie was probably happier when she attended a Paul McCartney press conference in 1990. After announcing his plans to tour Brazil, the pop star walked around the room, shaking hands and saying hello. And when he finally approached Lizzie Bravo in the back of the room, the former Beatle just had to ask, “Why do I think I know you?”

Show Me The Proof

Featured photo via Wikipedia
Neatorama: Lizzie Bravo: The Girl Who Sang with the Beatles
The Beatles Bible: Recording: Across the Universe
Fab Four FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the Beatles . . . and More!, by Stuart Shea, Robert Rodriguez Day-By-Day Song-By-Song Record-By-Record, by Craig Cross
Rolling Stone: ‘Across the Universe’
BBC News: Brazilian Beatles fan Lizzie Bravo on singing with the Fab Four

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