The Beatles The origin of the phenomenon that became the Beatles can be traced to 1957 when Paul McCartney (b. 18 June 1942, Liverpool, England) successfully auditioned at a church fte in Woolton, Liverpool, for the guitarist’s position in the Quarrymen, a skiffle group led by John Lennon (b. 9 October 1940, Liverpool, England, d.
8 December 1980, New York, USA). Within a year, two more musicians had been brought in, the 15-year-old guitarist George Harrison (b. 25 February 1943, Liverpool, England) and an art school friend of Lennon’s, Stuart Sutcliffe (b. 23 June 1940, Edinburgh, Scotland, d.
10 April 1962, Hamburg, Germany). After a brief spell as Johnny And The Moondogs, the band rechristened themselves the Silver Beetles, and, in April 1960, played before impresario Larry Parnes, winning the dubious distinction of a support slot on an arduous tour of Scotland with autumnal idol Johnny Gentle. By the summer of 1960 the group had a new name, the Beatles, dreamed up by Lennon who said ‘a man in a flaming pie appeared and said you shall be Beetles with an a’. A full-time drummer, Pete Best (b. 1941, Liverpool, England), was recruited and they secured a residency at Bruno Koschminder’s Indra Club in Hamburg. It was during this period that they honed their repertoire of R and rock ‘n’ roll favourites, and during exhausting six-hour sets performed virtually every song they could remember.
Already, the musical/lyrical partnership of Lennon/McCartney was bearing fruit, anticipating a body of work unparalleled in modern popular music. The image of the group was changing, most noticeably with their fringed haircuts or, as they were later known, the ‘mop-tops’, the creation of Sutcliffe’s German fiance Astrid Kirchherr. The first German trip ended when the under-age Harrison was deported in December 1960 and the others lost their work permits. During this turbulent period, they also parted company with manager Allan Williams, who had arranged many of their early gigs.
Following a couple of months’ recuperation, the group reassembled for regular performances at the Cavern Club in Liverpool and briefly returned to Germany where they performed at the Top Ten club and backed Tony Sheridan on the single ‘My Bonnie’. Meanwhile, Sutcliffe decided to leave the group and stay in Germany as a painter. The more accomplished McCartney then took up the bass guitar. This part of their career is well documented in the 1994 feature film Backbeat. In November 1961, Brian Epstein, the manager of North End Music Store, a record shop in Liverpool, became interested in the group after he received dozens of requests from customers for the Tony Sheridan record, ‘My Bonnie’. He went to see the Beatles play at the Cavern and soon afterwards became their manager.
Despite Epstein’s enthusiasm, several major record companies passed on the Beatles, although the group were granted an audition with Decca on New Year’s Day 1962. After some prevarication, the A department, headed by Dick Rowe, rejected the group in favour of Brian Poole And The Tremeloes. Other companies were even less enthusiastic than Decca, which had at least taken the group seriously enough to finance a recording session. On 10 April, further bad news was forthcoming when the group heard that Stuart Sutcliffe had died in Hamburg of a brain haemorrhage.
The following day, the Beatles flew to Germany and opened a seven-week engagement at Hamburg’s Star Club. By May, Epstein had at last found a Beatles convert in EMI producer George Martin, who signed the group to the Parlophone label. Three months later, drummer Pete Best was sacked; although he had looked the part, his drumming was poor. An initial protest was made by his considerable army of fans back in Liverpool.
His replacement was Ringo Starr (b. Richard Starkey, 7 July 1940, Dingle, Liverpool, England), the extrovert and locally popular drummer from Rory Storm And The Hurricanes. Towards the end of 1962, the Beatles broke through to the UK charts with their debut single, ‘Love Me Do’, and played the Star Club for the final time. The debut was important, as it was far removed from the traditional ‘beat combo’ sound, and Lennon’s use of a harmonica made the song stand out. At this time, Epstein signed a contract with the music publisher Dick James, which led to the formation of Northern Songs.
On 13 February 1963 the Beatles appeared on UK television’s Thank Your Lucky Stars to promote their new single, ‘Please Please Me’, and were seen by six million viewers. It was a pivotal moment in their career, at the start of a year in which they would spearhead a working-class assault on music, fashion and the peripheral arts. ‘Please Please Me’, with its distinctive harmonies and infectious group beat, soon topped the UK charts. It signalled the imminent overthrow of the solo singer in favour of an irresistible wave of Mersey talent. From this point, the Beatles progressed artistically and commercially with each successive record. After seven weeks at the top with ‘From Me To You’, they released the strident, wailing ‘She Loves You’, a rocker with the catchphrase ‘Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’ that was echoed in ever more frequent newspaper headlines.
‘She Loves You’ hit number 1, dropped down, then returned to the top seven weeks later as Beatlemania gripped the nation. It was at this point that the Beatles became a household name. ‘She Loves You’ was replaced by ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, which had UK advance sales of over one million and entered the charts at number 1. Until 1964 America had proven a barren ground for aspiring British pop artists, with only the occasional record such as the Tornados’ ‘Telstar’ making any impression. The Beatles changed that abruptly and decisively. ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ was helped by the band’s television appearance on the top-rated Ed Sullivan Show and soon surpassed UK sales.
The Beatles had reached a level of popularity that even outshone their pre-eminence in Britain. By April, they held the first five places in the Billboard Hot 100, while in Canada they boasted nine records in the Top 10. Although the Beatles’ chart statistics were fascinating in themselves, they barely reflected the group’s importance. They had established Liverpool as the pop music capital of the world and the beat boom soon spread from the UK across to the USA.
In common with Bob Dylan, the Beatles had taught the world that pop music could be intelligent and was worthy of serious consideration beyond the screaming hordes of teendom. Beatles badges, dolls, chewing gum and even cans of Beatle breath showed the huge rewards that could be earned with the sale of merchandising goods. Perhaps most importantly of all, however, they broke the Tin Pan Alley monopoly of songwriting by steadfastly composing their own material. From the moment they rejected Mitch Murray’s ‘How Do You Do It?’ in favour of their own ‘Please Please Me’, Lennon and McCartney set in motion revolutionary changes in the music publishing industry. They even had sufficient surplus material to provide hits for fellow artists such as Billy J. Kramer, Cilla Black, the Fourmost and Peter And Gordon.
As well as providing the Rolling Stones with their second single, ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’, the Beatles encouraged the Stones to start writing their own songs in order to earn themselves composers’ royalties. By 1965, Lennon and McCartney’s writing had matured to a startling degree and their albums were relying less on outside material. Previously, they had recorded compositions by Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly , Carl Perkins, Bacharach And David, Leiber And Stoller and Goffin And King, but with each successive release the group were leaving behind their earlier influences and moving towards uncharted pop territory. They carried their audience with them, and even while following traditional pop routes they always invested their work with originality. Their first two films, A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, were not the usual pop celluloid cash-ins but were witty and inventive, and achieved critical acclaim as well as box office success. The national affection bestowed upon the lovable mop-tops was best exemplified in 1965, when they were awarded MBEs for services to British industry.
The year ended with the release of their first double-sided number 1 single, ‘We Can Work It Out’/’Day Tripper’, the coupling indicating how difficult it had become to choose between a- and b-sides. At Christmas 1965 the Beatles released Rubber Soul, an album that was not a collection of would-be hits or favourite cover versions, as the previous releases had been, but a startingly diverse collection, ranging from the pointed satire of ‘Nowhere Man’ to the intensely reflective ‘In My Life’. As ever with the Beatles, there were some pointers to their future styles, including Harrison’s use of sitar on the punningly titled tale of Lennon’s infidelity, ‘Norwegian Wood’. That same year, the Byrds, Yardbirds and Rolling Stones incorporated Eastern-influenced sounds into their work, and the music press tentatively mentioned the decidedly unpoplike Ravi Shankar. Significantly, Shankar’s champion, George Harrison, was allowed two writing credits on Rubber Soul, ‘Think For Yourself’ and ‘If I Needed Someone’ (also a hit for the Hollies ).
During 1966, the Beatles continued performing their increasingly complex arrangements before scarcely controllable screaming fans, but the novelty of fandom was wearing frustratingly thin. In Tokyo, the group incurred the wrath of militant students who objected to their performance at Budokan. Several death threats followed and the group left Japan in poor spirits, unaware that worse was to follow. A visit to Manila ended in a near riot when the Beatles did not attend a party thrown by President Ferdinand Marcos, and before leaving the country they were set upon by angry patriots. A few weeks later Beatles records were being burned in the redneck southern states of America because of Lennon’s flippant remark that: ‘We are more popular than Jesus now’.
Although his words passed unnoticed in Britain, their reproduction in an American magazine instigated assassination threats and a massed campaign by members of the Ku Klux Klan to stamp out the Beatle menace. By the summer of 1966, the group were exhausted and defeated and played their last official performance at Candlestick Park, San Francisco, USA, on 29 August. The controversy surrounding their live performances did not detract from the quality of their recorded output. ‘Paperback Writer’ was another step forward, with its gloriously elaborate harmonies and charmingly prosaic theme.
It was soon followed by a double-sided chart-topper, ‘Yellow Submarine’/’Eleanor Rigby’, the former a self-created nursery rhyme sung by Starr, complete with mechanical sounds, and the latter a brilliantly orchestrated narrative of loneliness, untainted by mawkishness. The attendant album, Revolver, was equally varied, with Harrison’s caustic ‘Taxman’, McCartney’s plaintive ‘For No One’ and ‘Here, There And Everywhere’, and Lennon’s drug-influenced ‘I’m Only Sleeping’, ‘She Said She Said’ and the mantric ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’. The latter has been described as the most effective evocation of a LSD experience ever recorded. After 1966, the Beatles retreated into the studio, no longer bound by the restriction of having to perform live. Their image as pin-up pop stars was also undergoing a metamorphosis and when they next appeared in photographs, all four had moustaches, and Lennon even boasted glasses, his short-sightedness previously concealed by contact lenses. Their first recording to be released in over six months was ‘Penny Lane’/’Strawberry Fields Forever’, which broke their long run of consecutive UK number 1 hits, as it was kept off the top by Engelbert Humperdinck ‘s schmaltzy ‘Release Me’.
Nevertheless, this landmark single brilliantly captured the talents of Lennon and McCartney and is seen as their greate …