Roll up for the Magical Mystery Tour, step right this way.
From Quarrymen to Beatles
You tell me that it's evolution
John Lennon became interested in music when he was 10. He was given his first guitar by his aunt Mimi, when he was about 16, and he soon formed his first band. The Quarrymen were named after his high school, the Quarry Bank High School in Liverpool. In 1957, Paul McCartney attended a performance, and was introduced to John. John was impressed by Paul's musicality (the story goes that he was impressed that Paul could tune a guitar, or that Paul knew all the chords and lyrics to an Eddie Cochran song), and Paul was impressed by John's personality . Soon, Paul joined the Quarrymen. Paul had a young friend named George Harrison, who filled in the gigs for a while and eventually joined full time. In 1959, the band consisted of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and drummer Colin Hanton. Drummers changed, as did the band's name. Bassist Stuart Sutcliffe, who couldn't really play, joined the band. He was an artist who had made some money from selling a painting, and his friend John convinced him to buy a bass guitar with the money and join the band. They changed their name to The Moondogs. Stuart suggested the name The Beetles, in response to Buddy Holly's The Crickets. Allen Williams, their manager at the time, didn't like it, and chose the name Long John and the Silver Beetles. Then it got shortened to The Silver Beetles. Then they got offered a gig in Hamburg. Before they left for Hamburg, they got a new drummer, Pete Best. They changed their name, for the last time, to The Beatles.
Sie liebt dich, ja, ja, ja
In Hamburg, the Beatles played in "The Indra Club" first. They sometimes played set after set, up to 8 hours a night. It was grueling, and they sometimes used 'uppers' just to stay awake. They began to become popular because of their energetic music, and started to play like professionals. They met a drummer named Richard Starkey, who went under the stage name 'Ringo Starr', and he sometimes played with them. Then they got deported from West Germany because the police found out that Harrison was underage. A year later they returned to Hamburg, and recorded their first record, as a backup band for Tony Sheridan. Stu wanted to stay in Hamburg to study art again and to be with his fiancèe, so Paul took over as bass player. They left Hamburg, and Stu died of a brain hemorrhage the following year.
When The Beatles returned to England, they played in local pubs, and gained some popularity, especially in the Cavern Club in Liverpool. They were playing mostly covers, but also played several original songs by John and Paul. John and Paul had decided that they would share the credit of their songwriting, and any song, which either of them wrote, would be released under the name Lennon/McCartney. At first, they wrote several songs together, but as the years progressed, they wrote less and less together. However, all Beatles songs written by either were still released as Lennon/McCartney.
The Beatles Hit the Charts
Love, love me do. You know I love you
Brian Epstein, a record-shop owner, went to see The Beatles perform in 1961, and immediately offered to become their manager. They accepted, and he got them an audition at Decca records. Decca rejected them, as did several more labels, until Epstein got them an audition with Parlophone, an EMI subsidiary. Producer George Martin signed them. After their first recording session, George Martin decided they should change their drummer, and they replaced Pete Best with Ringo Starr.
They released their first single 'Love Me Do', which reached number 17 on the charts. Allegedly, this was because Epstein bought 10,000 copies of it. They began to perform on the BBC. In February 1963, they recorded the album 'Please Please Me' in one day. The first single, 'Please Please Me', topped the chart the day after it was released. The album also reached number one. They continued to release chart-topping hits, like She Loves You and From Me To You.
Baby, can't you see? I wanna be famous
The Beatles continued to play at small pubs, but their fan base grew rapidly. In October, 1963, they performed at the London Palladium. 15,000,000 viewers watched them perform that night. Female fans were screaming at their concerts. Thus began Beatlemania. The Beatles played before the Queen.
At the end of that year, they released their second album, With The Beatles. It had songs like It Won't Be Long and All My Loving, all of which went to number one. By the end of the year, they had sold over 2.5 million albums, as well as millions of singles.
The Conquest of America
Now she's hit the big time, in the USA
No other foreign group had been popular in the United States, until the Beatles. Before they had even arrived, they were a hit. I Wanna Hold Your Hand was number one in the American charts, and when they landed at Kennedy airport in 1964, they were greeted by screaming teenagers who wanted to meet them. (Despite their success in Britain, EMI's American counterpart, Capitol didn't release the Beatles singles, so they were picked up by an independent label, Vee Jay Records, which compiled them in an album called Introducing the Beatles. In 1964, Capitol realized their mistake, and a court awarded all rights to the Beatles music to Capitol/EMI). Capitol released Meet The Beatles , which contained songs from their first two British albums, in 1964. They held press conferences, and played at the Ed Sullivan Show 3 times, when over 70 million people watched them. At one point, they held the top 5 positions in the charts. They returned to England bigger stars than they left.
The Silver Screen
And all I gotta do is act naturally
The Beatles returned to England in 1964, and released their first movie, A Hard Day's Night, with a soundtrack. The movie featured the Beatles playing themselves, in comic situations, and received surprisingly good reviews. They went on a long tour, performing in the US and Canada. At the end of the year, their fourth (British) album, Beatles For Sale was released, as EMI had decided to release an album every 6 months. This album included many covers, and the strain from their hectic schedule was beginning to show. In 1965, after receiving MBE's from the British Crown, they released their second movie, Help!, this time in colour, along with a soundtrack (of course).
In August, The Beatles played at Shea Stadium in New York. This concert was attended by over 55,000 fans, a world record. In most of the Beatles' live performances, the band were virtually drowned out by the screaming audience, and it was no different at Shea Stadium. John said, "There were times when your voice was so bad (through losing your voice) you virtually wouldn't be singing at all, and nobody would notice because there'd be so much noise going on. You could never hear what we were doing. It would just become a sort of happening - like Shea Stadium was a happening. You couldn't hear any music at all." A fan said, "...when we finally got to Shea we hardly saw them... they were so far away... and we couldn't hear them above the screams of the fans but we loved it anyway... I screamed so much I nearly passed out."
They had some unfortunate incidents while on tour. In the Philippines, for example, Imelda Marcos asked them to a dinner, and they refused. They quickly left, as the public was furious.
The way things are going, they're gonna crucify me
Yesterday was perhaps a turning point in the Beatles' music. George Martin suggested adding strings, and this was different from anything they had previously done. Yesterday was released on Help!. With Rubber Soul, their next album, came their first big change. Their individual musical personalities began to show, with John writing introspective songs like In My Life, Paul experimenting with Michelle, and Ringo getting some writing credit, writing the lyrics to What Goes On. Also, there were no covers on this album.
In 1966, Yesterday And Today was released in the States. On the cover were the Beatles, surrounded by butchered dolls and raw meat. This was as a protest of Capitol's 'butchering' their American albums. However, store owners complained, and the album was withdrawn, to be replaced by one with a steamer trunk.
The Beatles' bad rep continued. John made a comment about the Beatles being more popular than Jesus, which got them many haters. Several radio stations stopped playing their songs, and many protested in front of their performances. They got a death threat in the United States, and a sniper was caught at one of their concerts.
Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream
The Beatles began experimenting with LSD. They returned to Abbey Road to record their 7th British album, Revolver. This was much darker than Rubber Soul, and was very well received by critics. Many people consider this to be the turning point in their career. It included sitar music, which George had been playing around with, and Tomorrow Never Knows and She Said She Said, two LSD-inspired songs written by John. They experimented with new sounds, and made deeper music than ever before. In August 1966, they performed at Candlestick Park in San Francisco . This would be their last performance.
So may I introduce to you the act you've known for all these years
The Beatles started changing the way they looked. They shed their famous 'mop-top' haircuts in favour of long hair and beards. The public thought this meant that a break up was imminent. They released Strawberry Fields For Ever and Penny Lane, which failed to top the charts!
In 1967, the Beatles recorded Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. This album has been called the most influential album ever by many a critic. The Beatles simply broke every rule and did everything that had never been done before. It was a concept album , the cover was unique, they faded in a song. They used sounds that had never been thought of before. The songs were brilliant. It went on to win 4 Grammy's, and become one of the most famous albums ever. Also, Sgt. Pepper was the first album to be released in the same format in both Britain and the United States. Until then, Capitol had released the American versions with fewer songs, so that the remaining songs could be released on compilation albums.
They met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and began training with him. George went with Yogi to India, and the group followed, in order to find inner peace. That year, Brian Epstein died from an overdose. It was rumored that it was suicide, as he was becoming depressed over his diminishing influence over the Beatles, and because of his struggle to keep his homosexuality a secret. Their first project without Epstein, Magical Mystery Tour, the film and album, were a critical failure. They returned to India, but a few months later announced their break with Mahesh Yogi..
See the people standing there who disagree
In 1967, Paul wrote Hey Jude, which topped the charts and became their greatest selling single. In 1968, they decided to set up their own label, Apple. Tensions began to rise within the group. They had over 30 written unrecorded songs, so they sat down to record The Beatles, a double album often referred to as The White Album. They would often storm out of recording sessions. Some songs were recorded by some Beatles without the others. Blackbird was recorded by Paul alone - just him singing, playing the guitar and tapping his foot. The others didn't even know about it. John recorded Revolution 9 by himself (with a little assistance from George and Yoko Ono). Paul threatened to quit the Beatles if they released it. Ringo left in the middle and Paul had to record some of the drum parts. The White Album included songs of just about every possible genre - from 'heavy metal' (Helter Skelter) to 'country' (Rocky Raccoon), to 'showtunes' (Honey Pie) to 'what the hell is going on here?' (Why Don't We Do It In The Road?) to 'is this really a song?' (Revolution 9). The album was released in November, and that same month, John released an album with Yoko Ono, titled Unfinished Music No. 1 - Two Virgins. Yoko Ono reputedly added a lot to the tension.
At the end of 1968, the movie Yellow Submarine was released. The Beatles had little to do with the making of the animated film, but it was an instant success.
Let It Be
And now it's time to say goodnight
The Beatles got back together to make an album called Get Back, along with a documentary about how the album was made. They played together on roof of Apple Records for the film, but a crowd gathered, and the police broke it up. This was their last public performance together. The movie was released under the name Let It Be, and all it showed was the tension within the group. Although the album was supposed to be released together with the movie, it was not, as there was too much tape to go through (a big change from having recorded an album in one day in 1963!) Paul married Linda Eastman in March, and John married Yoko Ono a few days later. The Beatles were close to a break up. Money was being wasted by Apple. Paul wanted to bring his in laws to sort out the mess, but the rest of the group decided against it, and they appointed Alan Klein, the former manager of the Rolling Stones as their new manager. Paul and George Martin got the group back together to record their final album, which was arguably their best, Abbey Road. Abbey Road was released in 1969, and Let It Be, which was recorded before it, was released after it, because of all the post-production work. In 1970, the Beatles were not working together any more, but had not officially broken up. They all worked on solo albums independently. Just before the release of Let It Be, Paul released his solo album, McCartney, despite requests by Klein not to do so. The Beatles were officially over on April, 1970, when Paul announced he quit the group. In December, Paul filed suit to break up the Beatles, which upset the other three, as they had considered periodically getting back together. Unfortunately, this was not to be. The Beatles were officially history.
After The Breakup
Some are dead and some are living. In my life I loved them all
None of the Beatles achieved the same success as solo artists or with other groups.
John recorded some brilliant songs, like Imagine and Power To The People, and had radical views which he was not afraid to flaunt. He recorded alone and with Yoko Ono. He was shot and killed in 1980 by a deranged fan.
Paul went on to relative success, with Wings, and later on to a solo career.
George recorded semi-successful solo albums, toured, and achieved some success with The Traveling Wilburys. He died of cancer in 2001.
Ringo also released solo albums, and performed, most notably with his All Star Band.
In the early 90's, Paul, George, Ringo and Yoko Ono settled their differences, and permitted the release of previously unreleased recordings. In 1994, Capitol released Live at the BBC, a two CD set of songs and parts of interviews from their BBC days. In 1995 Paul, George and Ringo got together for a documentary on the Beatles, and later on laid down the music for two songs by John Lennon, Real Love and Free As A Bird, which were released on the Beatles Anthology 1,2 and 3, which sold over 15 million copies.
Some Beatles Trivia
Now they know how many holes in takes to fill the Albert Hall
- The longest Beatles song is Revolution 9. It runs for 8 minutes and 15 seconds. Their shortest song is Her Majesty, which is only 23 seconds long. Their longest unreleased song is Helter Skelter - take 3, which runs for over 27 minutes!
- Eric Clapton played the guitar solos on While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Incidentally, Patti Boyd, Harrison's first wife, left him for Clapton.
- Hey Jude was written (by Paul) for Julian Lennon. Dear Prudence was written (by John) for Prudence Farrow, Mia's shy little sister. Julia was written by John for his mother.
- The Beatles say Yeah 24 times in She Loves You.
- Over 2,900 artists have done cover versions of Yesterday.
- Help! (the movie) was supposed to be titled Eight Arms To Hold You; The White Album was supposed to be titled A Doll's House.
- Ravi Shankar taught George to play the sitar.
- On In My Life, George Martin played the electric piano solo. It was too fast for him to play, so he played it at half speed, and they speeded it up for the mix.
- Martha My Dear was written for Paul's dog.
- On A Day In The Life, the orchestra was told to go from their lowest 'E' to their highest 'E' at their own pace, as long as they all start and end together. Hence the cacophony between John's part (I read..) and Paul's part (Woke up...). At the end, the long chord was made by striking three pianos simultaneously and letting the sound fade away naturally.
Song quotes are from (top to bottom): Magical Mystery Tour, Revolution, Sie Liebt Dich, Love Me Do, Drive My Car, Honey Pie, Act Naturally, The Ballad Of John And Yoko, Tomorrow Never Knows, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Fixing A Hole, Goodnight, In My Life, A Day In The Life.
- The Beatles Anthology (thanks Tlogmer)