The Beatles were the most influential, and most successful, popular music group of the rock era, with global sales exceeding 1.3 billion records as of 2004 - more than any other artist or artists in history. Few artists of any sort, in any era, have achieved The Beatles' combination of popular success, critical acclaim and broad cultural influence.
The Beatles were John Lennon (rhythm guitar), Paul McCartney (bass), George Harrison (lead guitar), and Ringo Starr (drums), all from Liverpool, Merseyside, in England. Lennon and McCartney were the principal songwriters. For most of their career, their records were produced by George Martin.
The Beatles created a sensation in late 1963 in the UK (dubbed "Beatlemania" by the British press), notable for the hoardes of screaming and swooning young women the group inspired. Beatlemania came to North America in early 1964, and the band's popularity extended across much of the world. Within the space of five years, their music progressed from the apparent simplicity of their early hits (such as "She Loves You" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand") to artistically ambitious suites of songs (such as the albums Revolver, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road). By writing their own songs, exploring the possibilities of the recording studio, and striving for unprecedented quality in every recording they released, the Beatles had far reaching effects on popular music. The band made feature films, they were the subject of unprecedented press scrutiny, and they became symbolic leaders of the international youth counterculture of the 1960s, publically exploring Eastern mysticism, psychedelic drugs, and revolutionary politics. The group disbanded in 1970.
Rhythm Guitarist John Lennon
was known for his political activism, as well as his love for guitar-based rock and roll.
Main article: History of the Beatles
John Lennon formed a skiffle group, The Quarrymen, in the summer of 1956. On July 6 1957 he met Paul McCartney whilst playing at the Woolton Parish fete, and the two were soon playing music together. In 1958 the young guitarist George Harrison joined the group, which played under a variety of names. In 1960 they travelled to Hamburg, where they finally became the Beatles. Stuart Sutcliffe was part of the group in 1960-61 and influenced their appearance and sense of style. Allan Williams and Sam Leach acted on occasions as their manager until 1962 when Brian Epstein took over the role permanently.
In 1962 they joined the EMI's Parlophone label; their drummer for the past two years, Pete Best, was jettisoned in favor of the more experienced Ringo Starr.
Beatlemania began in Britain on 13 October 1963 with a televised appearance at the London Palladium, and then exploded in the United States following three appearances of the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, on 9 February, 16 February, and 23 February,1964. The pop-music band became a worldwide phenomenon with worshipful fans and angry denunciations by cultural commentators and established performers such as Frank Sinatra, sometimes on grounds of the music (which was thought crude and unmusical) or their appearance (their hair was scandalously long).
In 1964 they held the top five places on Billboard's Hot 100, a feat which has never been repeated.
In 1965 they were instated as Members of the Order of the British Empire. Lennon and Harrison also began experimenting with LSD in that year, and McCartney would do the same near the end of 1966. Lennon caused a backlash against the Beatles the following year when in an interview he claimed that Christianity was dying and he quipped that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus." Eventually he apologised at a press conference, after being slammed by many religious groups, including the Holy See, having Beatles' records banned or burned across the American South, and receiving threats from groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.
The Beatles performed their last concert before paying fans in Candlestick Park in San Francisco, on 29 August, 1966. They then concentrated on making recorded music, and their compositions and musical experiments raised their artistic reputations, while they retained their tremendous popularity. The Beatles' financial fortunes took a turn for the worse, however, when their manager, Brian Epstein, died in 1967 and the band's affairs began to unravel. The members began to drift apart. Their actual "last" concert is considered to be a live appearance on the roof at the Apple studios in London in January 1969, which was known as the "Get Back" sessions and featured on the "Let it Be" album. In 1969 they recorded their last album, Abbey Road (although in 1970 various songs recorded earlier were compiled into Let It Be). The band officially broke up in 1970, and any hopes of a reunion were crushed when Lennon was assassinated in 1980. However, a virtual reunion occurred in 1995 with the release of two original Lennon recordings which had the additional contributions of the remaining Beatles mixed in to create two hit singles: "Free as a Bird " and "Real Love". Three albums of unreleased material and studio outtakes were also released, as well as a documentary and television miniseries, in a project known as The Beatles Anthology.
Studio style evolution
The role of producer George Martin was one of the crucial elements in the success of the Beatles. He used his experience to bring out the potential in the group, where a lesser producer would have imposed his views and inhibited the creativity he recognised and nurtured. His earlier experience of producing recordings by acts ranging from Jimmy Shand to the Goons prepared him for the open-minded, experimental approach to the studio which the group began to develop as they became more experienced. Martin's connection with the Goons had been impressive to the group, who were fans.
At the height of their fame in the mid-sixties, bolstered by the two films Help! and A Hard Day's Night, the band discontinued touring. The difficulty of performing to thousands of screaming fans who typically made so much noise that the music could not be heard had led to the disillusion with touring, and the group retired from live performance in 1966, to concentrate on making records. Their final concert was in Candlestick Park, San Francisco. Their demands to create new sounds with every recording, the influence of psychedelic drugs and the studio techniques of recording engineer Geoff Emerick resulted in the albums Revolver (1966) and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), still widely regarded as classics. Particularly notable, along with the use of studio tricks such as sound processing, unconventional microphone placements, and vari-speed recording, was the Beatles' use of unconventional instruments for pop music, including string and brass elements, Indian instruments like the sitar, tape loops and early electronic instruments.
The group were increasingly taking charge of their own production, and Paul McCartney's increasing dominance in this role played its part in the tensions that eventually split the group.
The stress of their fame was beginning to tell and the band was on the verge of splitting at the time of the release of The Beatles ("The White Album"), with some tracks recorded by the band members individually, and Starr taking a two-week holiday — sometimes reported as a temporary break-up — in the middle of the recording session. By 1970, the band had split, with each of the members going on to solo careers with varying degrees of success.
Lead Guitarist George Harrison
truly emerged as a composer in his own right on Abbey Road
, the Beatles' last album to be produced.
The Beatles also had a limited film career, beginning with A Hard Day's Night (1964). It was a comic farce (often compared to the Marx Brothers) directed in a black-and-white documentary style by the up-and-coming Richard Lester, then known for directing the television version of the Goon Show. In 1965 came Help!, a Technicolor extravaganza shot in exotic locations in the style of a James Bond spoof. The Magical Mystery Tour (the concept of which was adapted from Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters LSD-oriented bus tour of the USA), was critically slammed when it aired on British television in 1967, but is now considered a cult classic.
The animated Yellow Submarine followed shortly after, but had little input from the Beatles themselves, save for a live-action epilogue, and the contribution of four new songs for the film, including a holdover from the Sgt. Pepper sessions, "Only A Northern Song". Nonetheless, it was acclaimed for its boldly innovative graphic style and clever humour as well as the soundtrack.
Finally, the documentary of a band in terminal decline, Let It Be was shot over an extended period in 1969; the music from this formed the album of the same name, which although recorded before Abbey Road, was (after much contractual to-ing and fro-ing and significant tinkering by producer Phil Spector) their final release.
Drummer Ringo Starr
did not compose many songs on his own. He did however customarily sing one song on each Beatles album.
Throughout their relatively short time recording and performing together, the Beatles set a number of world records — most of which have yet to be broken. The following is a partial list.
- The Beatles are the best-selling musical group of all time, estimated by EMI to have over one billion discs and tapes sold worldwide.
- The Beatles have notched up the most multi-platinum selling albums for any artist or musical group (thirteen in the U.S. alone).
- The Beatles have had more number one singles than any other musical group (23 in Australia, 23 in The Netherlands, 22 in Canada, 21 in Norway, 20 in the U.S., and 18 in Sweden). Ironically, the Beatles could easily have had even more number ones, because they were often competing with their own singles. For example, the Beatles' "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" were released as a "double A"-sided single, which caused sales and airplay to be divided between the two songs instead of being counted collectively. Even so, they reached number two with the singles. They even managed to hold separate releases by themselves off the top of the British chart in 1967 with Hello Goodbye at number 1 and Magical Mystery Tour E.P at number 2.
- The Beatles have had more number one albums than any other group (19 in the U.S. and 15 in the United Kingdom).
- The Beatles spent the highest number of weeks at number one in the albums chart (174 in the UK and 132 in the U.S.).
- The most successful first week of sales for a double album (The Beatles Anthology Volume 1, which sold 855,473 copies in the U.S. from 21 November to 28 November, 1995).
- In terms of charting positions, Lennon and McCartney are the most successful songwriters in history, with 32 number one singles in the U.S. for McCartney, and 26 for Lennon (23 of which were written together). Lennon was responsible for 29 Number One singles in the UK, and McCartney was responsible for 28 (25 of which were written together).
- During the week of 4 April, 1964, The Beatles held the top five positions on the Billboard singles chart. No one had ever done anything like this before, and it is doubtful that the conditions will ever exist for anyone to do it again. The songs were "Can't Buy Me Love", "Twist and Shout", "She Loves You", "I Want to Hold Your Hand", and "Please Please Me".
- The next week, 11 April, 1964, the Beatles held fourteen positions on the Billboard Hot 100. Before the Beatles, the highest number of concurrent singles by one artist on the Hot 100 was nine (by Elvis Presley, 19 December, 1956).
- The Beatles are the only artist to have 'back-to-back-to-back' number one singles on Billboard's Hot 100. Boyz II Men and Elvis Presley have succeeded themselves on the chart, but the Beatles are the only artist to 'three-peat'.
- The Beatles' "Yesterday" is the most covered song in history, appearing in the Guinness Book of Records with over three thousand recorded versions. It is also the most played song in the history of international radio.
- The Beatles had the fastest selling single of all time with "I Want To Hold Your Hand". The song sold 250,000 units within three days in the U.S., one million in 2 weeks. (Additionally, it sold 10,000 copies per hour in New York City alone for the first 20 days.)
- The Beatles have the fastest selling CD of all time with 1. It sold over 13 million copies in four weeks.
- The largest number of advance orders for a single, at 2.1 million copies in the U.S. for "Can't Buy Me Love" (it sold 940,225 copies on its first day of release in the U.S. alone).
- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is the best selling album of all time in the UK (over 4.5 million copies sold).
- With their performance at Shea Stadium in 1965, The Beatles set new world records for concert attendance (55,600+) and revenue. This was the first time in the history of popular music anyone had played in a proper stadium as opposed to a theatre or concert hall.
- The Beatles broke television ratings records in the U.S. with their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show with over 70 million people viewing. Crime reportedly fell by a third during the duration of the transmission, although this eventually turned out to be false.
- On 12 June, 1965, the Beatles were made Members of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) by the Queen.
- On 30 June, 1966, the Beatles became the first musical group to perform at the Nippon Budokan Hall in Tokyo. They performed five times in three days gathering audiences of about 10,000 per performance.
- The Beatles appear five times in the top 100 best-selling singles in the UK. No other group appears more than twice.
Unlike their contemporaries the Rolling Stones, the Beatles were seldom directly influenced by blues. Though they drew inspiration from an eclectic variety of sources, their home idiom was closer to pop music. Their distinctive vocal harmonies were influenced by early Motown artists in the U.S. Chuck Berry was perhaps the most fundamental progenitor of the Beatles' sound; the Beatles covered "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Rock And Roll Music" early in their careers on record (with most other Berry classics heard in their live repertoire). Chuck Berry's influence is also heard, in an altered form, in later songs such as "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me And My Monkey" (1968) and "Come Together" (1969) (when "Come Together" was released, the owner of Chuck Berry's copyrights sued John Lennon for copyright infringement of his song "You Can't Catch Me", after which the two reached an amicable settlement, the terms of which including that Lennon cover some Chuck Berry songs as a solo artist).
Some people claim The Beatles' biggest influence was Elvis Presley (). This is a matter of debate. Paul was quoted in an interview as saying that Elvis was the reason he picked up the guitar. John was also said to have loved Elvis' music. But others claim that, given that The Beatles sound little or nothing like Elvis, and little of his handprint can be seen in their catalog, and also given that they have so many other influences in chamber pop, R&B, soul, and early rock, Paul and John must have obviously gotten that feeling from a lot of other artists, and Paul would have surely picked up a guitar due to that feeling he got from any of the myriad other influences.
The Beatles were fond of Little Richard, and some of their songs — especially their early work — featured falsetto calls very similar to those Little Richard offered as punctuation in his own songs, notably Long Tall Sally. In 1962 he took the Beatles with him on a tour of Hamburg, and they performed together at the Star Club. Long Tall Sally was a permanent fixture on their concert performances and McCartney's effort on the album version is widely regarded as his all-time best rock vocal recording.
A significant and acknowledged musical composition influence on McCartney was Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, who was, in turn, spurred on by the work of the Beatles. Brian Wilson acknowledges that the American Version Rubber Soul challenged him to make Pet Sounds, the album which in turn inspired McCartney's vision of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Another example is the song "Back in the USSR", which, based on a suggestion by Mike Love to McCartney, contains overt allusions to the Beach Boys' "California Girls".
The Everly Brothers were another major influence on the Beatles, with Lennon and McCartney consciously trying to copy Don and Phil Everly's distinctive two-part harmonies. Their vocals on two 1962 recordings, "Love Me Do" and "Please Please Me" owed much to the Everly's powerful vocal innovation on "Cathy's Clown" (1960), the first recording to ever reach number one simultaneously in the USA and in England.
The song-writing of Gerry Goffin and Carole King was yet another influence upon the Beatles, and it could be said that one of the Beatles' many achievements was to marry the relative sophistication of Goffin and King's songs (which used major-seventh chords, for example) with the simplicity of Buddy Holly, Berry and the early rock-and-roll performers. Lennon and McCartney's songwriting partnership had initially been inspired by Goffin and King; Lennon and McCartney's goal when they started was to become the next Goffin and King.
John Lennon's early style owed a huge debt to Buddy Holly and to Roy Orbison ("Misery" from 1963 and "Please Please Me" from 1963). "That'll Be the Day" was the first song Lennon learned to play and sing accurately, not to mention the first song the proto-Beatles ever put to vinyl. McCartney admitted that "At least the first forty songs we wrote were Buddy Holly influenced". Lennon offered that Holly "made it okay to wear glasses. I WAS Buddy Holly." The naming of the Beatles was, of course, Lennon's way of paying tribute to, and recognizing the name of Buddy Holly's band, The Crickets. The Beatles covered Holly's 'Words of Love' in their 'Beatles 65' album.
After becoming acquainted with the work of Bob Dylan, Lennon became influenced heavily by folk music ("You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" and "Norwegian Wood" from 1965). Lennon played the major role in steering the group toward psychedelia ("Strawberry Fields Forever" Tomorrow Never Knows and "I Am the Walrus" from 1967), and renewed his interest in earlier rock forms at the close of the Beatles' career ("Don't Let Me Down" from 1969).
Paul McCartney is perhaps best known as the group's romantic balladeer: beginning with "Yesterday" (1965), he pioneered a modern form of art song, exemplified by "Eleanor Rigby" (1966) and "She's Leaving Home" (1967). Meanwhile, McCartney maintained an affection for the driving R&B of Little Richard in a series of songs which John Lennon dubbed "potboilers", from "I Saw Her Standing There" (1963) to "Lady Madonna" (1968). "Helter Skelter" (1968) — arguably an early heavy metal song — is a McCartney composition. McCartney's mastery of the piano and keyboards played huge roles both in his role as a composer and as a versatile musician/composer in the studio. Neither McCartney nor Lennon ever learned to read music.
George Harrison derived his early guitar style from 1950s rockabilly greats such as Carl Perkins, Scotty Moore (who worked with Elvis Presley), and Duane Eddy. "All My Loving" (1963) and "She's A Woman" (1964) are prime examples of Harrison's early rockabilly guitar work.
In 1965, George Harrison broke new ground in the West by recording with an Indian sitar on "Norwegian Wood". A result of his long and continued collaboration with Sri Ravi Shankar, a famous Hindustani musician, many of his following compositions were based on Hindustani forms, most notably "Love You To" (1966), "Within You, Without You" (1967), and "The Inner Light" (1968). Indian music and culture also influenced the band as a whole, with the use of swirling tape loops, droning bass lines, and mantra-like vocals on "Tomorrow Never Knows" (1966) and "Dear Prudence" (1968). Harrison retained Western musical forms in his later compositions, where he emerged as a significant pop composer in his own right, occasionally reprising major themes that indicated his new relationship with Hindustani music and the Hindu god Krishna. His later guitar style, while not displaying the virtuosity of Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, became distinctive with its use of clear melodic lines and subtle fills ("Something" , "Let It Be" ) in contrast to the increasingly distorted riffs and rapid-fire guitar solo work of his contemporaries.
Ringo Starr's contributions to The Beatles' sound are less known compared to the other Beatles, as Starr himself rarely actually wrote songs. While he is mostly appreciated for his gentle comic baritone ("Yellow Submarine" 1966, "Octopus's Garden" 1969), steady drumming, and everyman image, he was likely responsible for the group's occasional interest in surprisingly authentic country sounds ("What Goes On" 1965; "Don't Pass Me By" 1968) and his own performance on Buck Owens' "Act Naturally".
In the Beatles' later music, the pace of the songs tends to be moderate, with more of the interest usually (but not always) coming from the melody and the orchestration than the rhythm. "Penny Lane" (1967) is a good example of this style. Their earlier songs were often a bit faster paced. Throughout their career, their songs were rarely riff-driven. "Day Tripper" (1965) and "Hey Bulldog" (1969, recorded 1968) are among the exceptions.
There was an abrupt change in direction due to the Beatles' decision to stop touring in 1966. Reportedly stung by criticism of "Paperback Writer", the Beatles poured their creative energies into the recording studio in a determined attempt to produce material they could be proud of. There had already been a clear trend towards progressively greater complexity both in technique and style, but this now accelerated noticeably, as was evident on "Revolver". The subject matter of the post-touring songs was no longer you, I, love, boy meets girl, etc., and this took them very far from the days in 1963 when their material had shown some similarity with, say, the work of The Hollies. Now all manner of subjects were introduced, from home repair and circuses to nonsense songs and others that defied description.
The extreme complication evident on Sgt. Pepper's reached its height on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack album. Parts of this, specifically "It's All Too Much" and "Only A Northern Song", were left over from 1967 and ended up being used only on Yellow Submarine in January 1969 apparently because the Beatles themselves weren't much interested in this as a project and didn't feel inclined to greatly exert themselves producing a lot of new material for it.
After the Revolver/Sgt. Pepper's phase, the creative surge seemed to exhaust itself, and their self-titled double album, largely written in India, reverted to a much simpler style and sometimes to simpler subjects (for example "Birthday"). Some of it (for example "Why Don't We Do It In The Road" and "Wild Honey Pie") were far less complex than much of their material from just a year or two before, and in 1969, the band began to disintegrate during sessions for the abortive Get Back project (which eventually emerged in 1970, much altered, as Let It Be) which had been intended to be a return to more basic songs, avoiding massive editing or otherwise artificial influences on the final output (ironically Let It Be was heavily overdubbed and edited by producer Phil Spector's wall of sound technique). Not wanting to leave things like that, the last album the Beatles recorded, Abbey Road, represented a mature attempt to integrate what they knew, and use recording studio techniques only to improve the songs, rather than to experiment to see what happened. It represented one final effort, as McCartney once put it, to "leave 'em laughing".
Beatle music is still performed in public by tribute bands such as the Bootleg Beatles, and shows like Beatlemania!. They are also the basis for Eric Idle's parody band, The Rutles (1978).
To many their real musical power was in the contrasting styles of John and Paul. A whole album of just John's music would be seen as too sarcastic and schizophrenic to tolerate for 45 minutes, and a whole album of Paul would come off as too sappy. However, when intertwined, the balance is like nothing else. Throw in a little Harrison style to spice it up even more, and the whole is greater than the sum of their parts.
For a detailed discography, see: Beatles discography
In 1963, the Beatles gave their publishing rights to Northern Songs , a company created by Brian Epstein, and a music publisher, Dick James. Northern Songs went public in 1965, and Lennon and McCartney each held 15% of the company's shares, while Dick James and the company's chairman, Charles Silver , held a controlling 37.5% of shares. In 1969, James and Silver sold Northern Songs and its assets to a British TV company named Associated Television Corporation (ATV).
In 1985, ATV's music catalogue was sold, and Michael Jackson was the highest bidder beating Paul McCartney with a reported $47 million for the publishing rights to approximately 159 to 260 Beatles songs. A decade later, Jackson and Sony merged their music publishing businesses. Since 1995, Jackson and Sony/ATV Music Publishing have jointly owned most of the Beatles songs.
While the Jackson-Sony collection includes practically all of the Beatles' greatest hits, they do not own the rights to every song. Paul McCartney bought the rights to "Love Me Do," "Please, Please Me," "P.S. I Love You," and "Ask Me Why" as Northern Songs never owned these early tunes and they were not included in the ATV deal.
Sony reports that Jackson used his half of the Beatles' catalogue as collateral for a loan from the music company.
However, the estates of Lennon and McCartney still receive royalties as the singers and song writers.
George Harrison created his own company, 'Harrisongs', which own the rights to his classics such as 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' and 'Something'.
- Ringo Starr, Paul and Linda McCartney, and George Harrison all guest starred on The Simpsons although not at the same time. This makes The Simpsons the only non-variety show to feature all the surviving Beatles.
- George Harrison cooperated with Eric Idle and Neil Innes in authoring and filming (for television) the fictitious story of the Rutles, a "Rutlandbeat" group affectionately satirising the Beatles. Innes proved able to parody particular Beatles songs with lyrics and titles (e.g. "Ouch!") only marginally less believable than those of the Fab Four.
beatles-discography.com (various pages). Retrieved Dec. 15, 2004.
- Braun, Michael (1964), Love Me Do: The Beatles' Progress. London: Penguin Books, 1995 [Reprint]. ISBN 0140022783.
- Carr, Roy & Tyler, Tony (1975). The Beatles: An Illustrated Record. Harmony Books. ISBN 0517520451.
Davies, Hunter (1985). The Beatles (Second Revised Edition). McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0070155267.
- Goldsmith, Martin (2004). The Beatles Come To America. Turning Points. ISBN 0471469645.
- Lewisohn, Mark (1990). EMI's the Complete Beatles Recording Sessions: The Official Story of the Abbey Road Years. Hamlyn. ISBN 0681031891.
- MacDonald, Ian (1995). Revolution In The Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties. Vintage. ISBN 0712666974.
- Norman, Philip (1997). Shout: The Beatles in Their Generation. MJF Books. ISBN 1567310877.
- Schaffner, Nicholas (1977). The Beatles Forever. Cameron House. ISBN 0811702251.