The Beatles

The impact of the Beatles upon popular music cannot be overstated; they revolutionized the music industry and touched the lives of all who heard them in deep and fundamental ways. Landing on these shores on February 7, 1964, they literally stood the world of pop culture on its head, setting the musical agenda for the remainder of the decade. The Beatles’ buoyant melodies, playful personalities and mop-topped charisma were just the tonic needed by a nation left reeling by the senseless assassination of its young president, John F. Kennedy, barely two months earlier. Even adults typically given to scorning rock and roll as worthless “kid’s stuff” were forced to concede that there was substance in their music and quick-witted cleverness in their repartee. Without exaggeration, they transfixed and transformed the world as we knew it, ushering in a demographic shift in which youth culture assertively took over from its stodgy Eisenhower-era forbears.

The long journey resulting in the mob scene that greeted the Beatles’ arrival at Kennedy Airport began in Liverpool back in 1958. A series of groups, including the Quarrymen and the Johnny and the Moondogs, variously included Liverpool natives John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison. With a rhythm section consisting of bassist Stu Sutcliffe (an art student with great looks and scant musical ability) and drummer Pete Best, the group assumed the name “the Beatles.” The group became a fixture on the rough-and-tumble bar scene in Hamburg, Germany, where their five-set-a-night marathons helped mold them into a tight performing unit. Their early repertoire consisted of well-chosen rock and roll and rhythm & blues covers, running the gamut from Chuck Berry to Little Richard. In April 1961, Sutcliffe left and McCartney switched from guitar to bass. On the local scene in their hometown of Liverpool, the group landed a lunchtime residency at a club called the Cavern, where they were discovered by a local record merchant and entrepreneur, Brian Epstein, who became their manager in December 1961.

Epstein helped polish the group’s appearance, dressing them in dapper collarless gray suits and making them appear more friendly than menacing. After being rejected by Decca Records following a January 1962 audition, the Beatles signed with EMI-Parlophone that April, having impressed producer George Martin. In August, Ringo Starr (born Richard Starkey), who’d been drumming with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, was brought into replace Pete Best. The group’s first single, “Love Me Do/P.S. I Love You,” briefly dented the U.K. Top Twenty in October 1962, but their next 45, “Please Please Me,” formally ignited Beatlemania in their homeland, reaching the Number Two spot. It was followed by four consecutive chart-topping British singles, issued throughout 1963: “From Me to You,” “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Can’t Buy Me Love.” They conquered the U.K., even inducing a classical music critic from the London Sunday Times to declare them “the greatest composers since Beethoven.” The group’s success was based around the Lennon/McCartney songwriting partnership, Harrison’s guitar-playing prowess, and Starr’s amiable disposition and artful simplicity as a drummer.

The Beatles’ conquest of America early in 1964 launched the British Invasion, as a torrent of rock and roll bands from Britain overtook the pop charts. The Fab Four’s first Number One single in the U.S. was “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” released on Capitol Records, EMI’s American counterpart. This exuberant track was followed by 45 more Top Forty hits over the next half-dozen years. During the week of April 4, 1964, the Beatles set a record that is likely never to be broken when they occupied all five of the top positions on Billboard’s Top Pop Singles chart, with “Can’t Buy Me Love” ensconced at Number One. Their popularity soared still further with the release of their playfully anarchic documentary film, A Hard Day’s Night, in August 1964.

When all was said and done, the Beatles charted 20 Number One singles in the States - a number even greater than runner-up Elvis Presley’s 17 chart-toppers. For such feats of sales and airplay alone, the Beatles can unassailably be regarded as the top group in rock and roll history. Yet their significance as a band extends beyond numbers to encompass their innovations in the recording studio. The Beatles’ legacy as a concert attraction, during their harried passage from nightclubs to baseball stadiums, is distinguished primarily by the deafening screams of female fans overcome by the group’s very appearance. Consequently, the Beatles began to indulge their creative energies in the studio, layering sounds and crafting songs in a way no one had attempted before. The results included such musically expansive and lyrically sophisticated albums as Rubber Soul (1965) and Revolver (1966). For various reasons, ranging from safety concerns to frustration that no one could hear or was listening, the Beatles retired from touring after a San Francisco concert on August 29, 1966.

Ten months later, they released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, an album that has almost universally been cited as the creative apotheosis of rock and roll, a watershed event in which rock became “serious art” without losing its sense of humor (or sense of the absurd). Realizing the band members’ collective ambitions took four months and all the technical wiles of producer George Martin. A completely self-contained album meant to be played and experienced from start to finish, Sgt. Pepper broke the mold in that no singles were released from it. The album’s heady artistic reach further cemented the notion of a viable counterculture in the minds of youthful dropouts everywhere. Anyone who was alive in the summer of 1967 can remember the pleasant shock of hearing it and the reverberations it sent outward into the world of rock and roll and beyond.

In the wake of Sgt. Pepper, the Beatles began to splinter in ways that were, at first, subtle but that gradually grew more pronounced. Subsequent events included the death of manager Epstein due to an overdose of sleeping pills; the release of the TV film Magical Mystery Tour, which earned the Beatles some of their first negative reviews; a trip to India to meditate with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, about whom Lennon wrote the scabrous putdown “Sexy Sadie”; and the launching in January 1968 of Apple Corps, Ltd., a disastrously mismanaged entertainment empire that helped bring down the Beatles amid a tangled maze of money matters.

Through all the chaotic events of the late Sixties, the Beatles managed to retain their integrity and focus as recording artists. Released in August 1968, the single “Hey Jude"/"Revolution" became their most popular single. The Beatles (1968), a double-LP popularly referred to as “the White Album,” was like a prism that found the group refracting into four individual and highly estimable talents. The album and film Let It Be, recorded in 1969 but shelved until 1970, essentially documented the Beatles’ dissolution and breakup amid internal squabbles and the presence of John Lennon’s new mate, Yoko Ono. Yet the Beatles came together and exited on a high note, uniting in the summer of 1969 to record their swan song, Abbey Road.

On April 10, 1970, Paul McCartney announced his departure from the Beatles, and the group quietly came to an end. Throughout the Seventies, fans hoped for an eventual reunion, while the group members pursued solo careers with varying degrees of artistic and commercial success. Those hopes were forever dashed by the murder of John Lennon in New York City on December 8, 1980.


July 7, 1940: Ringo Starr was born.

October 9, 1940: John Lennon is born at Oxford Street Maternity Hospital in Liverpool, England, to Julia Stanley and Alfred Lennon.

June 18, 1942: James Paul McCartney is born in Liverpool, England.

February 25, 1943: George Harrison was born.

1956: Julia, John Lennon’s mother, bought him his first guitar through a mail order ad. His incessant playing prompts John’s Aunt Mimi to say, “The guitar’s all very well as a hobby, John, but you’ll never make a living out of it.” John forms his first group, the Quarrymen.

July 6, 1957: John Lennon meets Paul McCartney at the Woolton Parish Church in Liverpool during a performance by John’s group the Quarrymen. Impressed by Paul’s ability to tune a guitar and by his knowledge of song lyrics, John asks him to join the group.

February 1, 1958: Paul McCartney introduces George Harrison to the Quarrymen at a basement teen club called the Morgue. George joins the group.

August 1, 1960: The Beatles make their debut in Hamburg, West Germany, with Stu Sutcliffe on bass and Pete Best on drums.

January 1, 1961: The Beatles make their debut at the Cavern Club in Liverpool.

November 1, 1961: Local record store manager Brian Epstein is introduced to the Beatles. He soon signs a contract to manage them.

March 7, 1962: The Beatles make their radio debut performing three songs, including Roy Orbison’s “Dream Baby,” on the BBC.

April 10, 1962: Stu Sutcliffe dies of a brain hemorrhage.

June 1, 1962: The Beatles audition for George Martin at Parlophone/EMI Records. He agrees to sign the group, but insists that Pete Best be replaced. Within months, Richard “Ringo” Starkey joins the group.

September 4-11, 1962: The Beatles record their first sessions at EMI Studios in London, with George Martin as producer.

December 1, 1963: “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” the Beatles’ first American single, is released by Capitol Records.

January 26, 1964: I Want To Hold Your Hand (The Beatles) was a hit.

February 7, 1964: The Beatles arrive in America

February 9, 1964: The Beatles make their first appearance on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’.

February 11, 1964: The Beatles begin their first U.S. tour at the Coliseum in Washington, D.C.

March 15, 1964: She Loves You (The Beatles) was a hit.

March 29, 1964: Can’t Buy Me Love (The Beatles) was a hit.

April 4, 1964: The top five slots on the ‘Billboard’ chart are held by the Beatles, a feat never before or since matched.

May 24, 1964: Love Me Do (The Beatles) was a hit.

July 6, 1964: The world premiere of The Beatles’ ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ takes place in London.

July 26, 1964: A Hard Day’s Night (The Beatles) was a hit.

August 14, 1964: The Beatles cut Little Willie John’s “Leave My Kitten Alone” at EMI Studios in London. Intended for album ‘Beatles For Sale’ (’Beatles ‘65’ in the US), it was left off and remained unreleased until ‘Anthology 1’ in 1995.

1964: The Beatles release “This Boy” from their first American album ‘Meet the Beatles’.

December 20, 1964: I Feel Fine (The Beatles) was a hit.

March 7, 1965: Eight Days a Week (The Beatles) was a hit.

1965: The Beatles release “Yes It Is”.

April 1, 1965: John Lennon composes “Help!” the title song for the Beatles’ second film. He later confides that the lyrics are a cry for help and a clue to the confusion and despondency he feels.

May 16, 1965: Ticket to Ride (The Beatles) was a hit.

July 29, 1965: The Beatles release their second film, ‘Help!’.

August 15, 1965: The Beatles play in front of almost 60,000 fans at Shea Stadium in New York City.

August 27, 1965: The Beatles spend the evening talking and playing music with Elvis Presley at his Bel air home.

August 29, 1965: Help! (The Beatles) was a hit.

October 3, 1965: Yesterday (The Beatles) was a hit.

October 9, 1965: The Beatles reach #1 with “Yesterday”.

October 26, 1965: The Beatles are awarded England’s prestigious MBE (Members of the Order of the British Empire). John comments, “I thought you had to drive tanks and win wars to get the MBE.”

January 2, 1966: We Can Work It Out (The Beatles) was a hit.

March 1, 1966: London’s ‘Evening Standard’ publishes an interview with John Lennon in which he states that the Beatles are “more popular than Jesus now.” The comment provokes several protests, including the burning of Beatles records.

June 19, 1966: Paperback Writer (The Beatles) was a hit.

July 31, 1966: John Lennon’s comments on the state of Christianity – made in March, but only lately picked up in the U.S. - spark protests and record burnings on the eve of the Beatles’ 1966 American tour.

August 29, 1966: After their concert at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, the Beatles declare this to be their final concert tour.

September/October 1966: John Lennon makes his first appearance away from the Beatles in the role of Private Gripweed in Richard Lester’s film ‘How I Won the War’. He writes “Strawberry Fields Forever” during the filming.

March 12, 1967: Penny Lane (The Beatles) was a hit.

March 18, 1967: The Beatles reach #1 with “Penny Lane”.

June 1, 1967: ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ is released in Britain.

August 1, 1967: Beatle George Harrison and his wife, Patti, stroll through the streets of Haight-Ashbury, bringing more international attention to the scene.

August 13, 1967: All You Need Is Love (The Beatles) was a hit.

August 19, 1967: The Beatles reach #1 with “All You Need Is Love”.

September 1, 1967: John Lennon writes “I Am the Walrus” while under the influence of LSD. He also anonymously sponsors Yoko Ono’s Half a Wind Show (subtitled Yoko Plus Me) at London’s Lisson Gallery.

December 24, 1967: Hello Goodbye (The Beatles) was a hit.

December 30, 1967: The Beatles reach #1 with “Hello Goodbye”.

February 15, 1968: The Beatles depart for Rishikesh, India, for an advanced course in transcendental meditation.

May 1, 1968: Apple Corps, Ltd. begins operating in London. It is the Beatles’ attempt to take control of their own creative and economic destiny. Later that month, John invites Yoko to his house in Weybridge. They make experimental tapes all night.

September 22, 1968: Hey Jude (The Beatles) was a hit.

September 28, 1968: The Beatles reach #1 with “Hey Jude”.

January 30, 1969: The Beatles make their last performance as a group on the roof of the Apple building during the filming of ‘Let It Be’.

May 18, 1969: Get Back (The Beatles) was a hit.

May 24, 1969: The Beatles reach #1 with “Get Back”.

November 23, 1969: Come Together (The Beatles) was a hit.

November 29, 1969: The Beatles reach #1 with “Come Together”.

April 5, 1970: Let It Be (The Beatles) was a hit.

April 10, 1970: Paul McCartney announces that he is leaving the Beatles due to “personal, business and musical differences.”

June 7, 1970: The Long and Winding Road (The Beatles) was a hit.

January 2, 1975: John and Yoko are reunited. The Beatles’ final dissolution takes place in London.

December 8, 1980: John Lennon is shot by a deranged assailant as he and Yoko return to the Dakota after a recording session. He is pronounced dead at Roosevelt Hospital.

1988: The Beatles inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

November 19, 1995: “Free as a Bird,” the first new Beatles single in 25 years, is premiered on the televised Beatles Anthology. The song, a 1977 demo by John Lennon completed in 1995 by the three surviving Beatles, reaches #6 on the singles chart in early 1996.

March 23, 1996: “Real Love,” a 1979 John Lennon demo finished in 1995 by the other Beatles, becomes the second new Beatles single to chart in less than three months. Released as part of ‘The Beatles Anthology’ recordings and TV special, it reaches #11 – not bad for a band that broke up in 1970.

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