How do you begin a biography of the Beatles? I mean honestly, what can you say that can summarize such a spectacular revolution, not only in music but in world consciousness? Their scope of influence stretches from music to film and even dabbles in politics and the art of friendship. Their story is inspiring, sparking many to get up out of their chairs and try something new. The Beatles pioneered so much in their short time together, changing the world for generations to come.
It all began in 1957, Liverpool England, the second most unlikely place in the world to give birth to stardom (the first being Demorest, Georgia). John Lennon had learned the banjo at a young age, moving quickly to the guitar and then starting his own band. Dubbed “The Quarry Men”, this high school skiffle group played around Liverpool, changing members more frequently than they changed socks. Soon, a young Mr. Paul McCartney sauntered up to John in between concerts. After hearing him play the guitar, John said “Hey. Join me band, we?ll become the most popular group in the world.” Not wanting to appear anxious, Paul waited a day before saying “Alright, sure.” The famous Lennon-McCartney duo was born.
Eight months later Paul had a suggestion for a new recruit. Three years their junior, George Harrison was nonetheless a wizard on the guitar. John was hesitant to allow such a young person into the band, but George won him over. Two weeks before his 15th birthday, George officially became a member of the band. I don’t know about you, but my fifteenth birthday wasn’t nearly as productive as his…
The Quarry Men continued to play in and around Liverpool. Their name went through several changes over the coming months. After using and discarding the Quarry Men label, Johnny and the Moondogs enjoyed a brief stint, followed by The Nerk Twins. Finally, John hit upon something when he conjured “The Beatals” as their new official title, wanting an insect reference similar to Buddy Holly’s “The Crickets”, the whole beetle theme continued through their next five names: The Silver Beetles, The Silver Beats, The Beatles, The Silver Beatles. At last, after going through more metamorphoses than a caterpillar, the ‘silver’ was dropped (again), leaving the short and sweet, ultra catchy and very rememberable, The Beatles.
Some phenomenal changes were in the air as the universe began to stitch together the group that would spark so much change throughout the world. Though they didn’t know it at the time, but this group of young men were setting their foundation for their climb to the top of the world. All they needed was a big break.
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The Ride to the Top
The Beatles did not immediately jump out to stardom. In fact, their climb was somewhat like a roller coaster, a slow clanking to the top, the suspense building and waiting for that first plunge over the hill. For months they toured Liverpool and the surrounding towns trying to build a fan base. Eventually they made their way Hamburg, playing to a particularly rowdy crowd. The boys were forced to rev-up their performance for the demanding audience, teaching them how to become true showmen. Upon returning to Liverpool, they discovered some of their fame had preceded them.
Brian Epstein, a record store owner in Liverpool, got wind of the Beatles about this time. His interest was piqued, so he went to watch them perform one night. At first glance, they appeared like most young Liverpudlians at the time: uncouth hair, leather jackets and dark trousers. But when they played, their synthesis created something marvelous. Something about their energy when together inspired Brian to become their manager. He pulled some strings and got the boys a few auditions. Sadly, they were unfruitful. This didn’t dampen their resolve, however, and Epstein continued lobbying for the band until he finally secured an audition with George Martin at Parlophone records.
Martin, as it turns out, loved their sound. He, too, was an early victim of the Beatles’ undeniable charm and catchy beats, succumbing to their charismatic energy like Bugs Bunny to a carrot. He cleaned them up, put them in tailored suits and gave them a resounding thumbs-up (It was Brian Epstein who suggested they wear suits). The only part of the package he didn’t seem to like was their drummer, Pete Best. In a move that still raises eyebrows to this day, Epstein was asked to replace Pete before the deal would be complete. Richard Starkey, our beloved Ringo Starr, would take his place, completing the rock and roll quartet. The Beatles were complete.
Being the superstar producer like he was, Martin decided these lanky Liverpudlians should take over the world. After consulting history books and noting that marching over mountains with elephants was not successful, he decided to take the musical route. After several mildly-successful singles released in the UK, the album Please Please Me was recorded in a 12-hour studio session and released in March of 1963. It was a hit, topping the charts for over 6 months. Not too shabby for one day’s worth of work; much nicer than minimum wage.
I Want To Hold Your Hand hit the enterprising shores of America at the end of 1963, floating to number one like a rubber ducky. Their new look was also a big hit. Teens loved their off-kilter appearance, collarless suits, mop-top hair and quirky personalities. The Beatles quickly became known for their plucky sense of humor and constant silliness. In an interview conducted in February 1964, a reporter informed the Beatles that Detroit University had a ‘Stamp out the Beatles’ movement. The boys nodded, and Paul replied with his characteristic head bob “We’ve got a Stamp out Detroit movement!” After laughing, the interviewer continued. “They think your haircuts are un-American.” John retorted, “Well, it was very observant of them because we aren’t American, actually.” Such flippant and unrestrained joy in life was infectious, only increasing their charm and lovability.
The Beatles then hopped on a boat and sailed over to the U.S. (via jet plane) for their famous appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. In what was the highest rated program to that date, the famous words “Ladies and gentlemen, the Beatles!” introduced the rag-tag bunch to the television world. They hopped, they sang, they played, they laughed. People loved it. The souls of the world were opening up to a new era of thought, instigated by the quartet of young clowns from Liverpool. Their songs were simple but touching, the tunes catchy and enjoyable. America fell for the Beatles’, and their success was only beginning.
I Can See My House from Here (or “being on the top)
A sure-sign of being “on the top” would be having a lunchbox with your image on the front. Or a pencil sharpener. Or a pair of socks. Or bubblegum. Or all of the above and much more. Beatlemania settled upon the world, nestling us in the warm winged comfort of the four boys from Liverpool. Their timing couldn’t have been better to start their ascent up the pedestal of stardom. The world was on the verge of an enormous change, and the Beatles, with their budding creativity, would foster the revolution.
As any comic book teaches us, good never comes without evil. Critics reared their ugly heads and had their say, proclaiming the Beatles were nothing but a fad that would die as soon as the next group of cute guys with guitars came along. Shortly after being proved embarrassingly wrong, the same critics tucked their tails and ran, beginning lives of insurance salesmen to retain a shred of their dignity.
The Beatles’ answer to the critics: make a movie. Nothing short of borrowing Santa’s magic sleigh could allow the group to tour every city on earth, so, A Hard Day’s Night was created, sending their images to even the smallest towns and earning them a world-wide reputation for being the happy-go-lucky fab-four they were. Accompanying the movie was an album of the same name, a soundtrack of sorts, launching their career even higher into orbit as thousands of teenage girls watched the movie and swooned.
On the personal side, the band members were molding together in an even tighter knit than before. They were growing up and growing together, stepping into their own personalities more deeply than before. A Hard Day’s Night was the first Beatles album written entirely by the band, showcasing their creativity and ingenuity even this early in their career. John and Paul flexed their lyric-writing muscles in preparation for the records to come.
Since becoming household names, John, Paul, George and Ringo had unwittingly become workaholics. Touring schedules were hectic, hopping the boys across cities, states and countries in a matter of months. And being stars comes with its fair share of responsibility; now they had fans to attend to, those loyal people who could never get enough Beatlemania. The first few years of their success gave them little time to relax and enjoy the fruits of their labors. Beatles for Sale was released in early December 1964, but contained only a handful of original songs. By the end of 1964, the consensus was clear–-slow down and concentrate on the music.
With a bigger budget and more explorative souls, the Beatles produced another movie/album combo six months later. Help! was released to glowing fans, featuring Ringo as the “Starr” of the show. (Yes, that was a bad joke, but I had to!) The album featured more original hits by the Lennon-McCartney duo, including the most-covered song in the history of music, Yesterday. This record also showed off John’s vocal abilities and range, his heart rising and falling with his voice to enchant everyone.
The Beatles were only getting better. They established a pattern of constantly pushing the limits of both society and themselves (and the music industry) and setting ever-higher standards for their work. Each successive album built upon the last as they continued to mesh as a group, their personalities growing more integrated by the day. The universe had stitched them together as if they were destined to be, now they just had to grow as a group to become a whole. Much like a ball of yarn becomes a sock, actually.
Rubber Soul has been called the first true Beatles album, symbolizing their break from traditional love songs and moving into a more eclectic form of songwriting. Every tune was an original, and a few were more original than others. In My Life has been called the greatest song ever written, giving haunting memories of that ruggedly familiar feeling of nostalgia explicated so poetically by John. Norwegian Wood featured an instrument unfamiliar to most western ears, the sitar, played by George Harrison. Such a blending of cultures and sounds was indicative of the group’s collective charm and charisma as well as the budding movement of non-violence and love growing throughout the world.
Never satisfied with milking old formulas, the experiments continued. After Rubber Soul came Revolver, a veritable fruit smoothie of melody, harmony, love, traditional style and something very new. If Rubber Soul was a single step into originality, Revolver was a full game of hopscotch. Songs such as Eleanor Rigby, Yellow Submarine and Tomorrow Never Knows showcased the talent waking up from a long winter’s nap within the group. Fully comfortable with themselves, with each other, and with their music, the Beatles had shoved their sticks in the ground and were preparing to pole vault across the lines of normality even farther.
The renaissance of culture and consciousness was in full-swing at this point. Hippies, those free-willed 15-25 year olds with a penchant for peace, were leaving their homes and striking out on their own, rejecting the old and forging into the new. The Beatles were doing similar things at this time, releasing the traditional styles of music and breaking into their own style. Were the Beatles a catalyst for this movement of change or did they just ride the universal waves? The answer is, undoubtedly, a little bit of both.
After turning up the creativity in exponential notches for their previous albums, the Beatles did their most creative work to date with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The brainchild of Paul, the name was a nom de plume of sorts for the Beatles, giving them an excuse to wear crazy outfits. The album features many musical firsts, as per the usual Beatles’ style. Each song blends smoothly into the next, creating the impression that the whole album is one grand concert, complete with applause and screaming fans.
Sgt. Pepper was also the “coming-out” album for the Beatles. Although they had been innovative on their previous recordings, Sgt. Pepper proved they were never out of fresh ideas to experiment with. Their voices can really be heard on this album; they sound more aware, more grown up and more settled in their roles as world musicians. At this time, psychedelic drugs were in full swing in many countries around the world, and the Beatles experimented with their effects as well. While many say this was the source of their creativity in the later years, at best it only contributed to their inherent innovation. Still, Sgt. Pepper was inventive and fresh, becoming an instant hit and long-term inspiration for many.
The Beatles’ were about to embark upon a gauntlet of changes beginning in 1967. Paul sketched out a plan for a new movie, this one completely unscripted. The idea was that a group of actors would be placed on a bus with the Beatles and taken for a ride through their imagination. A “magical mystery tour” of sorts. Work began on the album and movie in the spring of ’67, but was interrupted by several major events. Their manager since the beginning, the man who discovered the Beatles, Brian Epstein, passed away. This was not only an emotional blow to the group, having lost a trusted companion and friend, but a work-related strain as well. Without a manager to handle the business details of the band, the work fell onto the members. Paul had a very proactive attitude toward the process, immediately taking responsibility and encouraging the others to do so as well. John and George had very different opinions, and Ringo didn’t seem to mind either way. The first internal strain had begun to form, one that would, in combination with many other factors, lead to the eventual breakup of the Beatles.
The Beatles also visited Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the man becoming famous in America for bringing an ancient Indian technique of meditation to the world. Seeking spiritual knowledge just as we all were, the Beatles traveled to India with the hopes of gaining enlightenment. Each band member had a different experience there, creating a larger rift between them. They came back unfulfilled on one level but full of creativity on another. Magical Mystery Tour was finished shortly after, releasing both the movie and the album before the end of the year.
The tension created by the loss of their manager and by the varied experiences in India was taking its toll. This combined with John’s insistence on having his new love interest Yoko Ono present at the studio (despite his band-mate’s wishes) made the situation more harrowing. At one point, Ringo actually left the group. The Beatles were far from through with their creative streak, however, as their very next album would show.
In stark contrast to their previous two works, the The Beatles (The White Album) featured a simple white cover with “The Beatles” inconspicuously written on the front. Its simplicity was a foil to the complex music found within. Over two dozen songs filled the inside of this plain white wrapper, each more different than the last. From crazy psychedelic songs such as Wild Honey Pie to somber melodies in Julia, Blackbird and I Will, the White Album would become famous for containing more musical styles than many artists had dabbled with in their entire careers. Such was the nature of the Beatles’ free spirit and inventiveness, the four personalities melding together to allow the freedom and ingenuity for the various styles to come forward.
The band owed United Artists another movie (thanks to those fun things called ‘contracts’), so it was decided to make an animated movie based on the song Yellow Submarine (Songtrack) previously released on Revolver. The soundtrack by the same name featured only four new songs by the Beatles, George Martin creating the orchestral pieces and arranging the other songs.
Unfortunately, the band felt they were running out of steam. Tensions had grown and the overall feeling was that the Beatles were near their end. A final album was planned, but even the details of it could not be agreed upon. The producer favored Paul’s ideas, causing John to withdraw from many sessions in resentment. George and Ringo felt unneeded and refused to show up at many rehearsals. Though the band’s problems were increasing, their music did not seem to suffer the same fate. Abbey Road, planned as a farewell album, featured tight vocals, haunting harmonies and the famous You Never Give Me Your Money medley, pulling many songs together in one long enjoyable ride. Abbey Road was released in the fall of 1969, but the Beatles still were not done with the world, or so it seemed.
Lennon McCartney Harrison Starr
Paul tried to convince the others to do a handful of concerts to re-establish their core group of fans. John and George were against the idea. What resulted was the famous rooftop concert staged in London. At its conclusion, John said the famous line “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition!”. They still had their magic. Songs recorded here were combined with other Beatles material and mixed by Phil Spector. Let It Be (recorded before Abbet Rd) was pieced together and released to the world, an unintended finale to the Beatles’ tromp through the world.
Their end officially came on December 29, 1970. The Beatles, the world’s most influential group of musicians, had been through it all. From rising from obscurity to a serendipitous beginning, they floated on the waves of fame and rode them all the way to America. There they delighted fans and critics alike, awing them with their playful sense of life and harmonious music. They had merchandise, millions of fans, and even a mass album burning in the mid 60’s when John stated they were “more popular than Jesus”. Up and down, side to side, the Beatles traversed it all. It was the symbolic end of an era the Beatles had helped create. The world was changed because of them, and it would never be the same. As John said at the conclusion of the rooftop concert, “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition!”
The four men went their separate directions. John became known for his political activism and his own music career, often combining efforts with wife Yoko Ono. His most famous post-Beatles song, Imagine (from the album of the same name), encouraged unity and peace between nations. It was a ballad for world harmony, encouraging everyone to imagine a world free from war, united as one.
Though his career after the Beatles was successful, it did not reach the height of what he had accomplished in the band. His final album was released in late 1980, rising straight to number one almost everywhere in the world. In December of the same year, John Lennon was tragically murdered by a gunman outside his Manhattan apartment. The world cried collectively when they heard the news, as one of the greatest revolutionary songwriters had moved on from this world and to the next. His work would live on, affecting the lives of billions of people throughout time.
George Harrison, often referred to as the “quiet Beatle”, slowly came into his own after the breakup of the band. He released several albums and singles sporadically, including rock’s first triple album, All Things Must Pass. He had a growing interest in Hinduism and eastern meditation techniques spurred by his meetings with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Throughout the 90’s he fought a battle with lung cancer, one that would eventually take his life in November of 2001. This gentle soul, one who was forever advocating love and spirituality, was cremated, his ashes rumored having been spread on the holy river Ganges in India.
Paul enjoyed a successful solo career after the splitting of the Beatles, continuing to produce albums to this day. Ringo released an album that topped the charts in the late 80’s but was otherwise not very active in the music industry. In the mid 1990’s, coming together for the closest thing to a Beatles’ reunion possible, Paul, George and Ringo agreed to allow a three volume six CD Beatles’ Anthology 1, Anthology 2, Anthology 3 (with accompanying television shows) to be produced, containing unreleased recordings, demos, and two new songs. Free as a Bird and Real Love, originally written by John but re-recorded from his demo tapes. It was both a tribute and a retrospection for the Beatles, reminding the world and a new generation that they were the most influential band ever to grace our globe.
John Lennon once said in reference to the Beatles’ popularity, “We were just a band that made it very very big, that’s all.” In some ways he’s correct. The Beatles was a band, four men from Liverpool, that rose to fame as any band would. When they made it to the top, the world was ready for change. The combined energies of these four created something spectacular, something undeniably unique. This allowed for unmatched creativity and ingenuity, the pinnacle of human potential expressed in their group. Their message is timeless, their songs unique and dear to everyone’s heart. They are sure to delight and inspire listeners for the rest of time.
~by John Bardinelli © 2004 Beatlesnumber9
A SHORT BEATLES HISTORY
Founded in Liverpool during the late ’50s by guitarists John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison, with drummer Pete Best and Stu Sutcliffe on bass,the Beatles were initially a skiffle band, playing a British variation of American folk music. The band — which went under several names before arriving at the Beatles — incorporated numerous American rock & roll, rhythm & blues, and pop music influences in their playing and songwriting, most notably the sounds of Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Arthur Alexander. By the early ’60s, they had developed significant popularity in Hamburg, Germany, where dozens of Liverpool bands were booked into local clubs, and this soon translated into success in their hometown, where the band’s mixture of solid American rock & roll and careful music articulation made them stand out from the rest of the city’s music scene. Sutcliffe left the band in 1961 and McCartney took over on bass. After finding their manager Brian Epstein — who got them an audition with George Martin, the head of EMI Records’ tiny Parlophone label — the band was signed to a recording contract in 1962. Ringo Starr replaced Best on drums soon thereafter, and the group’s lineup was set.
By the spring of 1963, the Beatles’ singles and albums were breaking sales records in England, and they were officially introduced to America in February 1964 with an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show followed by a whirlwind tour. The group had been signed the year before to do a movie, and, through a stroke of good luck, they were turned over to producer Walter Shenson, director Richard Lester, and screenwriter Alun Owen, who together created A Hard Day’s Night, probably the best rock & roll movie ever made. This film, a black-and-white, documentary-style, fictionalized account of the fishbowl lives that the Beatles were leading during the first wave of Beatlemania, was popular with parents as well as their teenage children, and critics loved it, too. (Andrew Sarris called it “the Citizen Kane of jukebox movies.”) The mix of the four personalities — Starr’s honest, earthy, clownish presence; Harrison’s cutting, funny personality; McCartney’s pleasant, engaging presence; and Lennon’s snide, sarcastic wit — won over audiences around the world.
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The band’s follow-up movie, Help! was made on a much bigger budget and in color, but it failed to repeat A Hard Day’s Night’s success, suffering from an unfocused script and a good, but not great, selection of songs. The group was generally as unhappy with the results as everyone else, although the film did make money and have some entertaining moments. The Beatles tried directing and producing their own television film, 1967’s Magical Mystery Tour, but the result — outside of a couple of scenes and a handful of good songs — were amateurish. In 1968, they provided the songs for the psychedelic animated feature Yellow Submarine, and made a brief onscreen appearance at the movie’s conclusion. The divisions that would eventually lead to the group’s break-up were chronicled in the 1969 documentary Let It Be, directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, with impressive results.
The Beatles’ exposure to movie-making whetted their appetites for filmmaking on a variety of levels. Lennon had an acting role in Richard Lester’s anti-war satire How I Won the War, while McCartney wrote the score for the John and Roy Boulting comedy The Family Way. Meanwhile, Starr acted in the film Candy, while Harrison produced the soundtrack to the Indian movie Wonderwall. During the late ’60s and early ’70s, the Beatles’ corporate entity, Apple, acquired the distribution rights to various movies, including El Topo and La Grande Bouffe, and made a number of films, most notably Born to Boogie, directed and produced by Starr, and The Concert for Bangladesh, co-produced by Harrison. Starr also took an occasional acting role, most notably in the David Puttnam-produced period drama That’ll Be the Day. McCartney also composed and performed the title song for the 1973 James Bond movie Live and Let Die, but it was ultimately Harrison who became the most active of the Beatles in filmmaking. Through his company Handmade Films, he helped produce such hit pictures as Monty Python’s Life of Brian – Criterion Collection and the fantasy Time Bandits (Special Edition). The end of the ’70s also saw the lingering mystique of the Beatles parodied by Monty Python alumnus Eric Idle and Bonzo Dog Band-founder Neil Innes in the film The Rutles – All You Need Is Cash, in which Harrison made a cameo. ~ Bruce Eder.
Original UK LPs
- Please Please Me (1963)
- With the Beatles (1963)
- A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
- Beatles for Sale (1964)
- Help! (1965)
- Rubber Soul (1965)
- Revolver (1966)
- Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
- The Beatles (White Album) (1968)
- Yellow Submarine (1969)
- Abbey Road (1969)
- Let It Be (1970)
Compiled from many sources