The Beatles were in the global spotlight for only seven years; the band broke up more than four decades ago, and two of its four members have long been dead. Yet the band's popularity and influence never wane. Beatles music continues to be heard on radio, TV and iPods. Their albums sell and stir excitement whenever and in whatever format they are reissued. Many post-Beatles musicians credit the band with being an inspiration.
John Lennon was a 16-year-old with an attitude and a guitar in 1957 when he invited 15-year-old Paul McCartney (a lefty with his own guitar) to join his skiffle and rock 'n' roll band, the Quarrymen. In their final incarnation, the Beatles were John, Paul, George and Ringo. The clean-cut, "long"-haired rockers' pop sound had English girls in tears long before the group from Liverpool famously stormed America by appearing on "The Ed Sullivan Show" on Feb. 9, 1964. They played "She Loves You" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand," and the rest, as they say, is history.
The famed Fab Four are guitarist John Lennon, bassist Paul McCartney, lead guitarist George Harrison and drummer Ringo Starr (Richard Starkey), who replaced Pete Best in 1962. Each Beatle sang vocals, but Lennon and McCartney did most of the lead singing. Lennon and McCartney wrote most of the band's songs. By agreement, the credit typically read Lennon-McCartney regardless of who wrote the actual song; in the early days, they did write many songs together. The term "fifth Beatle" is alternately used to describe the group's manager, Brian Epstein, producer George Martin and bassist Stuart Sutcliffe, who left the group pre-megafame in Hamburg, Germany, leaving the Beatles a foursome.
The Beatles officially were together from 1960 to 1970. In less than a decade, the boys became men, in some cases fathers, and the biggest celebrities the world had ever seen. Beatlemania defined an era and influenced a generation, from Cuban heels to mop tops. In the U.S., the band had 20 No. 1 songs from 1964 to 1970; many albums -- including "Meet the Beatles," "A Hard Day's Night," "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and "Abbey Road" -- were million sellers. The band's evolution reflected the social changes of a tumultuous decade. The early recordings were mostly love songs and covers of American rockers, but the band pushed forward with instrument and recording techniques, including strings ("Yesterday" and "Eleanor Rigby"), the sitar ("Norwegian Wood"), the Mellotron ("Strawberry Fields Forever") and backward-recorded instruments ("Rain" and "Tomorrow Never Knows"). They also made well-received movies such as "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!"
The Beatles ceased performing live concerts after their 1966 American tour to concentrate on recording, but they gave an unscheduled concert on the roof of London's Apple Records building on Jan. 30, 1969. They produced studio albums such as "The Beatles" (better known as the White Album) and "Let It Be" amid squabbling and infighting over credits, direction, jealousies, burnout, and even girlfriends and wives. They broke up in 1970, but the band's popularity has never disappeared, and new fans have been won with remastered albums and projects such as the 1995 documentary "The Beatles Anthology," the 2000 album "1" and the 2006 Cirque du Soleil show "The Beatles' Love" in Las Vegas, as well as the Xbox "Rock Band" game and iTunes launch. John Lennon was shot to death at age 40 by a deranged fan in December 1980. George Harrison died at 58 from lung cancer in November 2001. Paul McCartney (born 1942) and Ringo Starr (born 1940) continue to record and perform around the world.
- "The Complete Beatles Chronicle"; Mark Lewisohn; 1992
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