A student from Quarry Bank School in Liverpool, England planted the seed in 1957, which would grow to become the most influential and famous rock band in history. The student's name was John Lennon, who was born in 1940, and the seed was the band he formed called The Quarrymen.
John Lennon was an art student who attended The Liverpool College of Art and who was inspired by the "skiffle boom" in Liverpool and the growth of rock and roll in America. His group, "The Quarrymen" went through many personnel changes in the beginning but eventually settled down to include Paul McCartney (1942) on guitar and vocals, George Harrison (1943) on guitar and vocals, Stuart Sutcliffe (Lennon's fellow art classmate) on bass, and Pete Best on drums. At this time, the group changed their name to the "Silver Beetles" as a tribute to Buddy Holly and The Crickets.
As the group was about to embark on their first trip to Hamburg, Germany, the group decided to respell Beetles and to chop off the "Silver" in their name. They became The Beatles in August, 1960.
The five young musicians played long hours in Hamburg and were required to put on a good show which led them to take uppers to stay awake. Their time in Hamburg, though grueling, proved to develop the artists musically and earn them a small following of fans.
The group was forced to leave Hamburg because George Harrison was deported for still being a minor. At this time, Stuart Sutcliffe decided to leave the band to pursue his art career and to live with his love, Astrid Kirscher, a photographer. One year later, Sutcliffe died from a massive brain hemorrhage at the age of 21.
The Beatles returned to Liverpool in 1961 and hired Brian Epstein as their manager. In 1962, their first attempt to sign onto a record label failed when Decca Records turned them down. Epstein, keeping his optimism, secured a contract for the group with Parlophone Records. Beginning their recording sessions 2 days later, their producer, George Martin was not impressed with Pete Best and encouraged the band to fire him. Ringo Starr (1940), whose real last name is Starkey, replaced Pete Best in August 1962. On October 5, 1962, the Beatles released their first single "Love Me Do" which climbed modestly to #17 on the British charts.
That February they recorded their first album called "Please Please Me". The title single was released one month later, reaching the #1 spot on the British charts followed by the entire album. The Beatles continued to release #1 hits such as "She Loves You", "From Me To You", and "I Want To Hold Your Hand". The Beatlemania craze was born after they appeared on top rated television shows such as "Sunday Night at the London Palladium". By the end of 1963, the Beatles released their 2nd album, "With The Beatles". Beatlemania came to the U.S. with the song "I Want to Hold Your Hand" in December 1963.
In 1964, the Beatles invaded the American record market. The group became a symbol of fun and laughter during a sad period for the U.S. after John F. Kennedy was assassinated. In February of 1964 Ed Sullivan booked the group on his television show after witnessing the hysteria of Beatlemania at a London airport. This show proved to have the largest viewing audience in television history at that point in time. That appearance was followed by their first US tour. In April of 1964, records by the Beatles held the top 5 places in the Cashbox singles chart, a feat that has never been equaled.
After touring America, the Beatles returned home to begin filming their first motion picture "A Hard Day's Night" followed by the release of their third album, the soundtrack which included the title track #1 hit.
In July 1965, The Beatles released their second film "Help" and its soundtrack album which reached #1 along with it's title track single. The following month, the group performed at Shea Stadium in New York to 55,600 fans, a record attendance for a rock concert.
By the end of 1965, the style of the group began to transform into a more eloquent fashion with increasing depth and meaning to their songs. The release of the album, "Rubber Soul" marked their transformation with the beginning of world music experimentation (Indian sitar), use of poetry, and personal experiences in lyrics. An example of this style can be heard with the song "Norwegian Wood", written by Lennon and McCartney. This album, sometimes referred to by John Lennon as the "pot" album, was a breakthrough in terms of experimentation.
In 1966, the Beatles performed their last concert in Candlestick Park, San Francisco because their music was becoming increasingly complex, making it difficult to perform live. Their next album, "Revolver", included expanding musical influence and sophistication such as the incorporation of a classical string quartet in the song, "Eleanor Rigby". The album received high critical acclaim and the group continued to keep their audience despite their absence from the touring scene. John liked to call this the "acid" album. Finally in that year, the Beatles made another innovative move in the production of their film, Yellow Submarine. This was an important early developement of a full-length musical drama by a Rock band, which would evolve into what became known as Rock Operas, by The Who and Pink Floyd, to name two.
The next album, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", is thought of by many as their masterpiece because it was both groundbreaking and extremely influential. This album was the first concept album to become popular. The idea of a concept album is that all the songs are developed to explore and deliver a central large idea, rather than of an album being a collection of singles with little or no relationship to each other. Sgt. Pepper's was released in June of 1967 to tremendous popular and critical acclaim. Conceived as an unbroken series of songs, the album covered new territory and officially announced the Beatle's involvement with drugs.
The album cover was by Peter Blake, a prominent English pop artist. It consisted of a photomontage of a crowd gathered around a grave with the name of the Beatles spelt out in flowers, which were bordered with marijuana leaves. The crowd included, among others, Marilyn Monroe, Karl Marx, Edgar Allen Poe, Albert Einstein, Lawrence of Arabia, Mae West, and 8 Beatles (4 were wax dummies- the old Beatles), and 4 were alive, hippy looking young men in bright band uniforms. The standard interpretation of the cover is that it was an announcement that the old Beatles had been put to rest and that a new band had taken their place.
That same year the Beatles performed on a globally televised special representing Britain and sang the song, "All You Need is Love" for an estimated audience of 350 million. As the Beatles moved to higher artistic ground, they met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at a lecture on transcendental meditation and increased their experimentation with marijuana and LSD. Their manager, Brian Epstein, feeling left out of the entire picture, overdosed on sleeping pills and died.
At this time John Lennon began to date Yoko Ono, who was a Japanese conceptual artist associated with the New York avant-garde, which of course included John Cage. This contact may have influenced the TV movie "Magical Mystery Tour" along with the soundtrack album. The album was released in November of 1967, just a few months after Pepper's, and had a psychedelic sound very much like Pepper's, but even more extreme in parts, especially the collage of sounds in "I am the Walrus." The last minute of this song, with more or less random sounds, appears to have been influenced by John Cage. The album did not make sense to many fans and bewildered some critics, although the popularity of the Beatles continued.
In 1968, the album "The Beatles" or more popularly known as "The White Album" was released. There was a great deal of tension within the group at this time as the members began to go off in different artistic directions. The album, although filled with innovative work, makes it clear that the Beatles were on the verge of breaking up because of the almost total lack of unity that had characterized the earlier albums. Here again, the influence of John Cage can be felt, particularly in the long and difficult song called "Revolution #9. During the recording, Ringo Starr had left during some sessions and Paul McCartney had to fill in on the drums for a couple songs.
In 1969, the band came back together to record the "Get Back" project, which would ultimately be a jam session. The tensions were at their highest and the sessions ended in their last appearance together on the rooftop of Apple Saville Row Studios. The final record "Abbey Road" was recorded at the end of 1969 and was actually released prior to the "Get Back" album. The delay for the "Get Back" was due to Phil Spector, the new manager, who added a more elaborate production sound to it and renamed it "Let It Be".
This infuriated Paul McCartney who announced his departure from the group one month prior to the release of the album "Let It Be". The Beatles were officially finished on April 10, 1970. After the breakup, all four members continued to taste success as they pursued their solo careers.
Tragically, John Lennon's career and life was cut short when he was shot by a deranged fan outside his Manhattan home in 1980. George Harrison died in December 2001, after a long battle with cancer.
So why are the Beatles so important? Unlike no other rock group before them, and very few since, they engaged in their musical career with a level of creativity that was nothing short of astounding. Constantly experimenting, they opened rock to musical influences far broader than the rock genre, and with a rich and unyielding imagination developed rock from what was essentially a form of entertainment to an art form. Despite the fact that their work pushed the boundaries of rock, they also had the charm and unique ability to take their audience along with them, and from 1964 until 1970, they explored the avant-garde in rock without ever losing their popular base and mass audience. Regardless of how sophisticated their music became, their audience grew with them, and rock would never be the same.
Page author: L.C.