The Beatles were a highly influential English rock 'n' roll band from Liverpool. They are the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful pop music band in music history. The innovative music and style of John Lennon (1940-1980), Paul McCartney (b. 1942), George Harrison (1943-2001), and Ringo Starr (b. 1940) helped to define the 1960s, and they continue to be well regarded for their artistic achievements, their huge commercial success, their role in the history of popular music, and their contributions to popular culture.
The Beatles popularity led the "British Invasion" of United Kingdom based bands into the United States in the mid-1960s. Their impact on society and popular culture continues to the present day through their attitude, appearance, and statements. The rising social consciousness of the mid twentieth century was, in part, moved along by The Beatles' relevance and social awareness, reflected in their music. In large measure, as a group, they influenced the multitude social and cultural revolutions of the 1960s.
Formation and early years
In March of 1957, John Lennon formed a "skiffle" group called The Quarrymen. On July 6 of that year, Lennon met Paul McCartney while playing at the Woolton Parish church fete. On February 6, 1958, the young guitarist George Harrison was invited to watch the group perform at Wilson Hall, Garston, Liverpool, and he was soon a regular player. During this period, members continually joined and left the lineup. Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Stuart Sutcliffe, (a classmate of Lennon at Liverpool Art College) emerged as the only constant members. The Quarrymen eventually decided, on August 17, 1960, on the name, "The Beatles."
Their unofficial manager, Allan Williams, arranged for them to perform in clubs on the Reeperbahn in Hamburg, Germany. On August 16, 1960, McCartney invited Pete Best to become the group's permanent drummer after watching Best playing with The Blackjacks in the Casbah Club. This was a cellar club operated by Best's mother Mona, in West Derby, Liverpool, where The Beatles had played and often used to visit. They started in Hamburg by playing in the Indra and Kaiserkeller bars and a club called the Top Ten. Harrison, who was seventeen years old at the time, had lied about his age and when discovered, was deported by the German authorities. McCartney and Best started a small fire in their living quarters while vacating it for more luxurious rooms. Arrested and charged for arson, they were both subsequently deported. Lennon and Sutcliffe followed suit and returned to Liverpool in December.
They went back a second time and played the Top Ten club for three months (April-June 1961). During this time period, Stuart Sutcliffe decided to remain in Germany to concentrate on painting and left the group. Sutcliffe's departure led McCartney to switch from playing rhythm guitar to bass guitar. While they were playing at the Top Ten, they were recruited by singer Tony Sheridan to act as his "backing band" on a series of recordings for the German Polydor Records label, produced by famed bandleader Bert Kaempfert. Kaempfert signed the group to its own Polydor contract at the first session on June 22, 1961. On October 31, Polydor released the recording, My Bonnie (Mein Herz ist bei dir nur), which made it into the German charts under the name, Tony Sheridan and The Beat Brothers. Around the turn of 1962, My Bonnie was mentioned in Cashbox as the debut of a "new rock and roll team, Tony Sheridan and the Beatles," and a few copies were also pressed for U.S. disc jockeys. Their third stay in Hamburg was from April 13-May 31, 1962, when they opened The Star Club. That stay was dampened when they were informed upon their arrival of Sutcliffe's death from a brain hemorrhage.
Upon their return from Hamburg, the group was enthusiastically promoted by Sam Leach, who presented them for the next year and a half on various stages in Liverpool forty-nine times. Brian Epstein, manager of the record department at NEMS, his family's furniture store, took over as the group's manager in 1962, and led The Beatles' quest for a British recording contract. In one now-famous exchange, a senior Decca Records A&R executive named Dick Rowe turned Epstein down flat and informed him that "The Decca audition for guitar groups are on the way out, Mr. Epstein."1
Epstein eventually met with producer George Martin of EMI's Parlophone label. Martin expressed an interest in hearing the band in the studio. He invited the quartet to London's Abbey Road studios for an audition on June 6.2 Martin had not been particularly impressed by the band's demo recordings, but he instantly liked them when he met them. He concluded that they had raw musical talent, but said (in later interviews) that what made the difference for him that day was their wit and humor in the studio.
Martin privately suggested to Brian Epstein that the band use another drummer in the studio. Best had some popularity and was considered good-looking by many fans, but the three founding members had become increasingly unhappy with his popularity and his personality, and Epstein had become exasperated with his refusal to adopt the distinctive hairstyle as part of their unified look. Epstein sacked Best on August 16, 1962. Lennon and McCartney immediately asked Ringo Starr (aka Richard Starkey), the drummer for one of the top Merseybeat groups, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, to join the band. Reluctantly, Rory Storm let Starkey out of his contract.
The Beatles' first EMI session on June 6 did not yield any releasable recordings, but the September sessions produced a minor UK hit, "Love Me Do," which peaked on the charts at number 17.3 The single reached the top of the United States singles chart more than 18 months later in May 1964. This was swiftly followed by their second single, "Please Please Me." Three months later they recorded their first album (also titled Please Please Me). The band's first televised performance was on a program called People and Places transmitted live from Manchester by Granada Television on October 17, 1962.4
AmericaThe Beatles, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr (Richard Starkey) responding to the welcome from fans at Kennedy Airport in New York City in February 1964.
Although the band experienced huge popularity in the record charts in the UK from early 1963, Parlophone's American counterpart, Capitol Records (owned by EMI), refused to issue the singles "Love Me Do," "Please Please Me," and "From Me to You"5 in the United States, partly because no British act had ever yet had a sustained commercial impact on American audiences.
Vee-Jay Records, a small Chicago label, is said by some to have been pressured into issuing these singles as part of a deal for the rights to another performer's masters. Art Roberts, music director of Chicago powerhouse radio station WLS, placed "Please Please Me" into radio rotation in late February 1963, making it possibly the first time a Beatles record was heard on American radio. In August 1963, the Philadelphia based Swan Records tried again with The Beatles' "She Loves You," which also failed to receive airplay.
After The Beatles' huge success in 1964, Vee-Jay Records and Swan Records took advantage of their previously secured rights to The Beatles' early recordings and reissued the songs that they had rights to, which all reached the top ten of the charts the second time around. Vee-Jay ended up issuing some odd LP repackagings of the limited Beatles' material they had as well as Introducing… The Beatles, which was essentially The Beatles' debut British album with some minor alterations.
BeatlemaniaPaul McCartney, George Harrison, and John Lennon during a performance for Dutch television on June 5, 1964.
Beatlemania is a term that originated during the 1960s to describe the intense fan frenzy directed toward The Beatles during the early years of their success. The word is a portmanteau of "Beatle" and "mania", similar to the much earlier term Lisztomania used to describe fan reaction to the concerts of pianist Franz Liszt.
Andi Lothian, a former Scottish music promoter, laid claim to the term in that he coined 'Beatlemania" while speaking to a reporter on October 7, 1963 at the Caird Hall in Dundee at a Beatles concert which took place during The Beatles' 1963 Mini-Tour of Scotland,6
In early November 1963, Brian Epstein persuaded Ed Sullivan to commit to presenting The Beatles on three editions of his show in February, and parlayed this guaranteed exposure into a record deal with Capitol Records. Capitol committed to a mid-January 1964 release for "I Want to Hold Your Hand,"6 but a series of unplanned circumstances triggered premature airplay of an imported copy of the single on a Washington D.C. radio station in mid-December. Capitol brought forward the release of the record on December 26, 1963.7
Several New York City radio stations-first WMCA, then WINS, and finally WABC (AM) began playing "I Want to Hold Your Hand" on its release day. The Beatlemania that had started in Washington was duplicated in New York and quickly spread to other markets. The record sold one million copies in just ten days, and by January 16, Cashbox Magazine had certified The Beatles record as number one in the edition published with the cover-date January 23, 1964.
This contributed to the near hysterical fan reaction on February 7, 1964 at John F. Kennedy International Airport (which had been renamed in December 1963 from Idlewild Airport). A record-breaking seventy-three million viewers, approximately 40 percent of the U.S. population at the time, tuned into the first Ed Sullivan Show appearance two days later on February 9. During the week of April 4, The Beatles held the top five places on the Billboard Hot 100, a feat that has never been repeated. They had an additional 7 songs at lower positions. Of all the music acts on the charts, 12 percent of the entries consisted of Beatles songs.8 They were so unaware of their popularity in America that, on their arrival, they initially thought the crowds were there to greet someone else.
In the summer of 1964, the band undertook their first appearances outside of Europe and North America, touring Australia and New Zealand, notably without Ringo Starr who was ill and was temporarily replaced by session drummer Jimmy Nicol. When they arrived in Adelaide, The Beatles were greeted by what is reputed to be the largest crowd of their touring career, when over 300,000 people turned out to see them at the Adelaide Town Hall.9 At that time, Adelaide's population was roughly 200,000. In September of that year, baseball owner Charles O. Finley paid the band the then unheard of sum of $150,000 to play in Kansas City, Missouri.
In 1965, Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom bestowed upon them the Member of the Order of the British Empire or MBE, a civil honor nominated by Prime Minister Harold Wilson.
On August 15, of that year, The Beatles performed in the first stadium rock concert in the history of rock, playing at Shea Stadium in New York to a crowd of 55,600.10 The band later admitted that they had been largely unable to hear themselves play or sing, due to the screaming and cheering. This concert is generally considered the point at which their disenchantment with performing live began.
Backlash and controversy
In July 1966, when The Beatles toured the Philippines, they unintentionally snubbed the nation's first lady, Imelda Marcos, who had expected the group to attend a breakfast reception at the Presidential Palace. Manager Brian Epstein was forced to give back all the money that the band had earned while they were there before being allowed to leave the country.11
Almost as soon as they returned from the Philippines, an earlier comment by John back in March of that year launched a backlash against The Beatles. In an interview with British reporter Maureen Cleave, Lennon had offered his opinion that Christianity was dying and that The Beatles were "more popular than Jesus now."12
There was an immediate response, starting with an announcement by two radio stations in Alabama and Texas that they had banned Beatles' music from their playlists. WAQY DJ, Tommy Charles: "We just felt it was so absurd and sacrilegious that something ought to be done to show them that they can't get away with this sort of thing".13 Around two dozen other stations followed suit with similar announcements. Some stations in the South went further, organizing demonstrations with bonfires, drawing hordes of teenagers to publicly burn their Beatles' records and other memorabilia. Many people affiliated with churches in the American South took the suggestion seriously.14
The Memphis city council, aware that a Beatles' concert was scheduled at the Mid-South Coliseum during the group's imminent US tour, voted to cancel it rather than have "municipal facilities be used as a forum to ridicule anyone's religion", and also saying, "The Beatles are not welcome in Memphis".15 The Ku Klux Klan nailed a Beatles' album to a wooden cross, vowing "vengeance", with conservative groups staging further public burnings of Beatles' records.
Young people across the United States and South Africa burned Beatles records in protest. Under tremendous pressure from the American media, Lennon apologized for his remarks at a press conference in Chicago on August 11, the eve of the first performance of what turned out to be their final tour.
The studio years
The Beatles performed their last concert before paying fans at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on August 29, 1966. From then they concentrated on recording music, in the process pioneering more advanced, multi-layered arrangements in popular and pop music. After three months away from each other, they returned to Abbey Road Studios on November 24, 1966, to begin a 129-day recording period in making their eighth album: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, released on June 1, 1967.16
On June 25, 1967, the Beatles became the first band globally transmitted on television, in front of an estimated 400 million people worldwide. The band appeared in a segment within the first-ever worldwide TV satellite hook-up, a show entitled Our World. The Beatles were transmitted live from Abbey Road Studios, and their new song "All You Need Is Love" was recorded live during the show.
Following the triumphs of the Sgt. Pepper album and the global broadcast, The Beatles' situation worsened. First, their manager Brian Epstein died of an overdose of sleeping pills on August 27, 1967, at the age of 32, and the band's business affairs began to unravel. Next, at the end of 1967, they received their first major negative press criticism in the UK, with disparaging reviews of their surrealistic TV film Magical Mystery Tour.17 The film was also panned by the public.
The group spent the early part of 1968 in Rishikesh, Uttar Pradesh, India, studying transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Upon their return, Lennon and McCartney formed Apple Corps, initially an altruistic business venture which they described as an attempt at "western communism." The middle part of 1968 saw the band busy recording the double album, The Beatles, popularly known as "The White Album" due to its stark white cover. These sessions saw deep divisions opening within the band, some of which included Lennon's new girlfriend, Yoko Ono, being at his side through much of the sessions and the feeling that McCartney was becoming too dominating.18John Lennon and Yoko Ono, photograph by Jack Mitchell.
McCartney gradually took greater charge of the group. Internal divisions within the band had been a small but growing problem during their earlier career. Most notably, this was reflected in the difficulty that George Harrison experienced in getting his songs onto Beatles' albums, and in the growing artistic and personal estrangement between Lennon and McCartney.
On the business side, McCartney wanted Lee Eastman, the father of his wife, Linda Eastman, to manage The Beatles, but the other Beatles wanted New York manager Allen Klein to represent them. All Beatles decisions in the past were unanimous but this time the four could not agree on a manager. Lennon, Harrison, and Starr felt the Eastmans would look after McCartney's well-being before that of the group. Paul was quoted years later during the Anthology interviews, saying that "Looking back, I can understand why they would feel that was biased against them." The group later repented on the Klein decision, as Klein embezzled millions from their earnings.
Their final live performance was on the rooftop of the Apple building in Savile Row, London, on January 30, 1969, the next-to-last day of the difficult Get Back sessions. Largely due to McCartney's efforts, they recorded their final album, Abbey Road, in the summer of 1969.
John Lennon announced his departure to the rest of the group on September 20, 1969, but was talked out of saying anything publicly. In March 1970, the Get Back session tapes were given to American producer Phil Spector, whose "Wall of Sound" production was in direct opposition to the original intent that the record appear as a stripped-down live studio performance. McCartney publicly announced the break-up on April 10, 1970, a week before releasing his first solo album, McCartney. On May 8, 1970, the Spector-produced version of Get Back was released as the album Let It Be, followed by the documentary film of the same name. The Beatles' partnership was legally dissolved after McCartney filed a lawsuit on December 31, 1970.
After the break-upGeorge Harrison at the Oval Office during the Ford administration in 1974
Following the dissolution of the group, the BBC marketed a large collection of Beatles recordings, mostly comprising original studio sessions from 1963 to 1968. Much of this material formed the basis for a 1988 radio documentary series, The Beeb's Lost Beatles Tapes. Later, in 1994, the best of these sessions were given an official EMI release on Live at the BBC.
In February 1994, the then-three surviving Beatles reunited to produce and record additional music for a few of Lennon's old unfinished demos, almost as if reuniting the Beatles. "Free As A Bird" premiered as part of The Beatles Anthology which was a series of television documentaries and was released as a single in December 1995, with "Real Love" following in March 1996. These songs were also included in the three Anthology collections of CDs released in 1995 and 1996, each of which consisted of two CDs of never-before-released Beatles material.Paul McCartney during a Wings concert in 1976. Photograph by Jim Summaria.
The Beatles continued to absorb influences throughout their career, long after their initial success, often finding new musical and lyrical avenues to explore from listening to the work of some of their contemporaries. Among those influences were Bob Dylan, on songs such as "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," "Help!," "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)," and "Rubber Soul." Dylan introduced The Beatles to the cannabis drug (1964) in a New York hotel room. He offered the "Fab Four" marijuana as a consequence of his misconception that the lyrics in their hit song "I Want to Hold Your Hand" from Meet the Beatles! were "I get high" instead of "I can't hide." This initial partaking in drugs grew into heavier experimentation with LSD and various other substances whose psychedelic effects were commonly thought to have manifested themselves in the band's music. The Beatles, in turn, would influence Dylan's move into an electrified rock sound in his music.
In 1965, having recently become interested in Indian music, George Harrison purchased a sitar, which he played in the song Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown), the first instance of such an instrument being used on a rock record. He later took sitar lessons from maestro Ravi Shankar, and implemented further elements of Eastern music and spirituality into his songs, notably Love You To and Within You Without You. These musical decisions greatly increased the influence of Indian music on popular culture in the late 1960s.
Along with studio tricks such as sound effects, unconventional microphone placements, automatic double tracking, and vari-speed recording, The Beatles began to augment their recordings with instruments that were unconventional for rock music at the time. These instruments included string and brass ensembles, Indian instruments such as the sitar and the "swarmandel," tape loops, and early electronic instruments including the "Mellotron," which was used with flute voices on the intro to "Strawberry Fields Forever." McCartney once asked Martin what a guitar would sound like if it was played underwater, and was serious about trying it. Lennon also wondered what his vocals would sound like if he was hanging upside down from the ceiling. Clearly their ideas were out-stripping the technology that was available at the time.
Lennon is portrayed as having played the major role in steering The Beatles towards psychedelic music in Rain and Tomorrow Never Knows from 1966, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Strawberry Fields Forever, and I Am the Walrus, from 1967. Additionally, McCartney was also influential, being involved in the London avant garde scene, which was itself moving towards psychedelia during the same period.
Beginning with the use of a string quartet (arranged by George Martin) on Yesterday in 1965, The Beatles pioneered a modern form of art rock and art song, exemplified by the double-quartet string arrangement on "Eleanor Rigby" (1966), "Here, There and Everywhere" (1966), and "She's Leaving Home" (1967). Lennon and McCartney's interest in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach led them to use a piccolo trumpet on the arrangement of "Penny Lane" and a Mellotron at the start of "Strawberry Fields Forever."
InfluenceRingo Starr in 2007. Photograph by Tina 63.
The Beatles were the best-selling popular musical act of the twentieth century. In the United Kingdom alone, they released more than 40 different The Beatles discography of singles, and The Beatles discography of albums, as well as The Beatles discography of Extended plays (EPs) that reached UK Singles Chart as number one. This commercial success was repeated in many other countries. EMI estimated that by 1985, the band had sold over one billion discs or tapes worldwide. The Recording Industry Association of America has certified The Beatles as the top selling artists of all time in the United States based on U.S. sales of singles and albums.19
Anthology 1 sold 450,000 copies on its first day of release, reaching the highest volume of single-day sales ever for an album. In 2000, a compilation album named 1 was released, containing almost every number-one single released by the band from 1962 to 1970. The collection sold 3.6 million copies in its first week and more than 12 million in three weeks worldwide, becoming the fastest-selling album of all time and the biggest-selling album of the year 2000. The collection also reached number one in the United States and 33 other countries. In 1988, every member of the Beatles (including Pete Best and Stuart Sutcliffe) were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The group's influence on Rock and roll, rock music and popular culture was and remains immense. Their commercial success started an almost immediate wave of changes-including a move from United States global dominance of rock and roll to UK acts, from soloists to groups, through professional songwriters to self-penned songs and to changes in fashion.
The group is typically ranked very high on many "best ever" music lists. Below are examples of The Beatles recognition.
On Rolling Stone Magazine's "500 greatest albums of all time list," The Beatles had a total of 11 albums on the list with 4 of them in the top 10 (far more than any other artist on the list). They were: Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band at #1, Revolver at #3, Rubber Soul at #5, The Beatles (The White Album) at #10, Abbey Road at #14, Please Please Me at #39, Meet The Beatles! at #59, Let It Be at #86, Help! at #332, A Hard Day's Night at #388, and With The Beatles at #420.
On VH1's "100 Greatest Albums" list The Beatles had 5 albums on the list, 4 in the top 10 and one in the top 20. They were: Revolver at #1, Rubber Soul at #6, Abbey Road at #8, Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band at #10, and The Beatles (The White Album) at #11.
In 2004, The Beatles came in at the very top of Rolling Stone Magazine's 100 Greatest Artists of All Time list.20
The Beatles were ranked #1 on VH1's "100 greatest artists of Rock N' Roll" (they were also ranked #1 on the net's corresponding poll).
VH1's "100 Greatest Rock Songs" included: Hey Jude at #8, Yesterday at #12, A Day In The Life at #20, I Want To Hold Your Hand at #23, Let It Be at #32, Twist And Shout at #57, She Loves You at #59, Strawberry Fields Forever at #61, and A Hard Day's Night at #79.
Rolling Stone and MTV's "100 Greatest Pop Songs" included: Yesterday at #1, I Want To Hold Your Hand at #6, and In My Life at #63.
The Beatles' many achievements included being the first British rock group to achieve worldwide prominence, launching a British invasion that made rock a truly international phenomenon. Even after their breakup in 1970, the Beatles continued to be heard on radio in heavy rotation, continued to sell records in massive quantities, and continued to be quoted by countless pop and rock artists to this day. In January 2007, the British Post Office released stamps with images of six Beatles album covers.21
The Beatles appeared in several films, most of which were very well received. The exception was the (mostly unscripted) television movie Magical Mystery Tour which was panned by critics and the public alike. All of their films had the same name as their associated soundtrack albums and a song on that album.
A Hard Day's Night
The Beatles had a successful film career, beginning with A Hard Day's Night released in 1964, a loosely scripted comic farce, favorably compared to the Marx Brothers in style. It focused on Beatlemania and their hectic touring lifestyle. The movie was directed in a quasi-documentary style in black-and-white by the up-and-coming Richard Lester, who was known for having directed a television version of the successful BBC radio series, The Goon Show, as well as the off-beat short film, The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film, with Spike Milligan.
In 1965 came Help! an Eastmancolour extravaganza, which was also directed by Lester. The film was shot in exotic locations (such as Salisbury Plain, with Stonehenge visible in the background; the Bahamas; and Salzburg and the Tyrol region of the Austrian Alps) in the style of a James Bond spoof along with even more Marx Brothers-style zaniness. For example, the film is dedicated "to Elias Howe, who, in 1846, invented the sewing machine."
In late 1966, John Lennon took time off to play a supporting character, Gripweed, in the film called How I Won the War, again directed by Lester. It was a satire of World War II films, and its dry, ironic British humor was not well received by American audiences.
Magical Mystery Tour
The Magical Mystery Tour film was essentially McCartney's idea, loosely inspired by McCartney's knowledge of Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters, an LSD-fueled American bus odyssey.22 McCartney felt inspired to take this idea and blend it with the peculiarly English working class tradition of "charabanc" mystery tours, in which children took chaperoned bus rides through the English countryside, destination unknown. The film was critically dismissed when it was aired on the BBC's premier television network, BBC-1. While the film has historical importance as an early advance into the music video age, many viewers found it lacking a plot and, thus, confusing.
The animated film, Yellow Submarine, followed in 1968, but had little direct input from The Beatles, save for a live-action epilogue and the contribution of four new songs (including Only a Northern Song, an unreleased track from the Sgt. Pepper sessions). It was acclaimed for its boldly innovative graphic style and especially stinging pangs of heartbreak, along with the soundtrack. The Beatles are said to have been pleased with the result and attended its highly publicized London premiere. Every one of The Beatles thought their own voices (narrated by actors) were not quite right, while saying that the other three were perfect.
In 1969, Ringo Starr took second billing to Peter Sellers in the satirical film comed,y The Magic Christian, in a part which had been written especially for him. In 1971, Starr played the part of Frank Zappa in Zappa's epic cult film about a rock and roll band touring, entitled 200 Motels. Starr later embarked on an irregular career in comedy films through the early 1980s, and his interest in the subject led him to be the most active of the group in the film division of Apple Corps, although it was George Harrison who would achieve the most success as a film producer.
Let It Be
Let It Be was an ill-fated documentary of the band that was shot over a four-week period in January 1969. The documentary, which was originally intended to be simply a chronicle of the evolution of an album and the band's possible return to live performances, captured the prevailing tensions between the band members, and in this respect it unwittingly became a document of the beginning of their break-up.
The band initially rejected both the film and the album, instead recording and issuing the Abbey Road album. But with so much money having been spent on the project, it was decided to finish, and release, the film and album (the latter with considerable post-production by Phil Spector) in the spring of 1970. When the film finally appeared, it was after the break-up had been announced.
Approximately coinciding with the release of the Free as a Bird single and Anthology 1 album (the first of thre