History of the Beatles

The Beatles were a hugely successful band in the 1960s, consisting of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr (Richard Starkey), with global sales exceeding 1.3 billion albums (as of 2004). This article covers The Beatles' extensive history from their earliest beginnings in the 1950s until their breakup and beyond.


Early beginnings

Lennon met McCartney on July 6, 1957 at the annual St. Peter's Woolton Parish Church garden fete. Lennon was in a skiffle group called The Quarry Men who were performing at the event. Lennon was impressed by McCartney as he knew the words to several rock 'n' roll songs (Lennon would just make his own words up), and because he taught him some guitar chords (Lennon only knew the banjo chords taught to him by his mother Julia). McCartney subsequently joined the band, and brought Harrison along soon after, on February 6, 1958. In 1958, The Quarry Men recorded a demo of two songs; the first was an original Harrison/McCartney tune called "In Spite Of All The Danger"; the other was a cover of Buddy Holly's "That'll Be The Day". A number of songs that were later recorded for Beatles records, were originally written at this time including "I'll Follow The Sun" (which McCartney had written independently), "When I'm Sixty-Four" (reportedly the age his father was at the time), and "One After 909".

After a brief split, the Quarry Men regrouped in 1960 as The Fabulous Silver Beatles, later shortened to The Beatles. The name was a tribute to Buddy Holly's band, The Crickets, combined with beat music, a common British term for rock and roll at the time. In another tribute, they had sometimes called themselves the Foreverly Brothers.

The reformed band consisted of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison, plus Stuart Sutcliffe on bass. Allan Williams served as their first manager. They were offered a gig in Hamburg, West Germany, but they had no drummer. Pete Best, who had played occasionally with the Quarry Men, was auditioned on August 12th, 1960. Four days later, the group (with new member Pete Best) left for Hamburg. Hamburg was a wild place for the young men. They were featured at a small club and were playing to Germans who often didn't understand English. They were uninhibited on stage, drinking alcohol, sometimes goading the crowd and acting unruly, but such was the club's atmosphere. The Beatles playing together in Hamburg had the group becoming more tight-knit, better musicians and better showmen. When Harrison was deported for being underage, they returned to Liverpool.

In March 1961, the Beatles played their first gig at Liverpool's 'Cavern Club' before returning to the lucrative Hamburg scene with a now legal Harrison. During their stay in Germany they were hired by Bert Kaempfert to record backing for the singer Tony Sheridan. A single, "My Bonnie", was released in Germany on the Polydor label in August 1961, credited to Tony Sheridan and the Beat Boys. It was the Beatles' first commercial release.

In the Spring of 1961, whilst still in Hamburg, Sutcliffe decided to leave the band in order to concentrate on his art studies. While Sutcliffe had had little musical impact on the group, he had influenced their appearance and sense of style. McCartney, who had been playing guitar, replaced him on bass.

In their early days, the Beatles composed and rehearsed their songs at 20 Forthlin Road, Liverpool, the home of Paul McCartney, and now a National Trust property open to the public.

The Beatles, as individuals and as a group, soaked up influences from performers enjoying popularity in the 1950s and early 1960s. Besides the previously mentioned Buddy Holly and Everly Brothers, both John Lennon and Paul McCartney were enamored with early Elvis Presley recordings. George Harrison liked American “rockabilly” guitar styles. The Beatles were also directly influenced by Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Carl Perkins, the Isley Brothers, and the Motown stars and groups. The Beatles were an opening act for Roy Orbison during one of Orbison’s overseas tours, and his influence can be heard in some of McCartney’s early melodies. Ringo Starr had a fondness for straght-ahead country & western music. Guitar-based American blues had little influence on them until the late ‘60s, although they recorded the old Blind Lemon Jefferson song “Matchbox Blues” (but in a country & western style). By the mid sixties, Bob Dylan’s “folk rock” was an influence on John Lennon’s lyrical attitudes and content. Still later, American mainstream amplified-guitar blues had an influence on the Beatles, but probably more by way of Eric Clapton and Cream, and other British bands that had been steeped in that influence for years, by this point.

On December 10, 1961, Brian Epstein agreed to become the band's full-time manager, after receiving requests for the band's music two months earlier in his record store ("My Bonnie by The Beatles" - Epstein couldn't find it) and watching them perform at the Cavern Club on November 9, 1961. Epstein arranged for the Beatles to audition for Decca Records on January 1, 1962. This one was of at least 22 auditions with different companies that Epstein managed to obtain. Decca, in one of the most embarrassing business decisions in music history, rejected the band, on the grounds that guitar music was "on the way out".

The Beatles auditioned for EMI's Parlophone label on June 6, 1962. George Martin, who was at first unimpressed by the band's demos, liked them as people when he met them, and they were signed. Not only did he feel that they had musical talent, but he also felt that their wit and humor made them extremely "likeable." When he asked them if there was anything they wanted to change, Harrison said, "I don't like your tie". Martin informed the Beatles that he was signing them in late July.

Martin did have a problem with Best however, whom he criticized for not being able to keep time. For this and other reasons, the Beatles let Best go on August 16, 1962, although it was left to Brian Epstein to tell him. They immediately asked Starr, whom they had met and even performed with previously, to join the band permanently. Starr had been the drummer for Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, at a time when they seemed a bigger group than the Beatles were. Martin, unaware of this personnel change, hired session drummer Andy White to play drums on the Beatles' first studio session on September 4, 1962. Andy would be the session drummer during their 3rd EMI session on September 11, 1962.

The Beatlemania years

The Beatles' first single, "Love Me Do", was released on October 5, 1962 and became a minor hit. The Beatles recorded their first full length album, often "live" in the studio, on February 11, 1963 in one 12 hour session; it was released as Please, Please Me in March. On February 22, 1963 the Beatles' second single, "Please Please Me" went straight to No. 2 in the U.K. "From Me to You" and "She Loves You" (with its instantly memorable "Yeah, yeah, yeah" refrain) followed to the top of the U.K. charts.

Beatlemania as a chaotic cultural phenomenon began in Britain on October 13, 1963 with a televised appearance at the London Palladium.

Meet the Beatles, the first Beatles album in the United States, was released on January 20, 1964. On February 7, 1964 The Beatles travelled to New York for a number of U.S. television appearances and performances. Upon arriving at JFK airport, The Beatles noticed thousands of kids screaming and awaiting the plane's arrival. They assumed that there must have been someone important on the plane with them and were a bit shocked to learn that the crowds were actually there for them.

On February 9, 1964 The Beatles performed on The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time. To this day it remains one of the highest rated television programs of all time, with 73 million people tuning in. The Beatles made four more live appearances on the show in months to come. Two days later, on February 11 in the Washington, DC Coliseum, The Beatles made their first live stage appearance in the United States.

On April 4, 1964, The Beatles set a record that has yet to be broken when they occupied all five top positions on Billboard's Hot 100 (they first appeared on Billboard on January 18th that year). Their single "Can't Buy Me Love" was at number one. In August of that year, The Beatles' first motion picture was released, A Hard Day's Night. They started filming their second film, Help! on February 23, 1965 in the Bahamas.

The psychedelic years

Since mid 1964 all the band members had been habitual smokers of marijuana allegedly introduced to them by Bob Dylan. In mid 1965, Lennon and Harrison claimed that they were dosed with LSD by their dentist. (The dentist, however, never admitted that he had put anything unusual in Lennon's or Harrison's tea). Nevertheless, in the ensuing years, the Beatles met with psychedelic counterculture icon Timothy Leary, and began experimenting with the psychedelic drug - though McCartney claims today he only took the drug once. Two albums released during this period, Revolver and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band were both clearly influenced by the band's experimentation with LSD. Around this same time, Geoff Emerick was hired as the new recording engineer at the beginning of the Revolver sessions. With Emerick's help, the group incorporated a new sound into these two groundbreaking albums, one which represented a radical alteration compared to their previous studio work. In 1966 McCartney had worked with George Martin on the film score for "The Family Way" that allowed him to use orchestration, another element that featured in the following albums.

On June 12, 1965, HRH Queen Elizabeth II awarded each Beatle Members of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). This appointment is bestowed the Queen for important services rendered to the Crown. Many opposed the Queen's decision, and some recipients of the Order returned their own honours in protest, claiming that the honorary title had been "devalued." It should be remembered that at the time, many were veterans of World War II. Lennon would return his own in 1969 with the note:

"Your Majesty, I am returning my MBE in protest against Britain's involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam and against 'Cold Turkey' slipping down in the Charts.
"With love,
"John Lennon"

On August 15, 1965, The Beatles started their second North American tour at Shea Stadium, which was the first rock concert to be held in a venue of that size. The concert also set two new world records, one for attendance (55,600+) and one for revenue.

On March 4, 1966, in an interview for the London Evening Standard with Maureen Cleave, John Lennon made the following statement:

"Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue with that; I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first? rock 'n' roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me."

The statement was part of a two page interview and went virtually unnoticed in Britain. In July of that year, Lennon's words were reprinted in the United States fan magazine Datebook, leading to a backlash by conservative religious groups mainly in the rural South and Midwestern states. Radio stations banned the group's recordings, and their albums and other products were burned and destroyed. Spain and the Vatican denounced Lennon's words and South Africa banned Beatles music from the radio. On August 11, 1966 Lennon held a press conference in Chicago in order to address the growing furor. He told reporters:

"I suppose if I had said television was more popular than Jesus, I would have gotten away with it. I'm sorry I opened my mouth. I'm not anti-God, anti-Christ, or anti-religion. I was not knocking it. I was not saying we are greater or better."

On June 5, 1966, The Beatles returned to The Ed Sullivan Show, this time with a taped appearance, where they introduced their two new music videos, "Rain" and "Paperback Writer". In later years, The Beatles would appear on the show to introduce more music videos for the songs "Hello Goodbye", "Penny Lane", "Strawberry Fields Forever", "Two Of Us", and "Let It Be".

On July 2, 1966, The Beatles became the first musical group to perform at the Nippon Budokan Hall in Tokyo. The performance ignited a lot of protest from local citizens who felt that it was inappropriate for a rock-and-roll band to play at Budokan.

By the end of July, the band headed to the Philippines for a series of shows. The Beatles, while relaxing in their hotel room, read in the newspaper that they would visit the Malacanang Palace of President Ferdinand Marcos. This came as news to the Beatles, who were tired from the tour and didn't plan on using their one day off to visit the President. They spent a relaxing evening in the hotel, and awoke the next morning to death threats and newspaper headlines like "Imelda stood up!" and "The Beatles snub the First Lady!". Epstein attempted to make a televised apology for the incident, but none of the local stations would air it. The following day, armed guards attempted to keep the band from leaving the country until they paid a fee of some kind. The Beatles, who hadn't been paid for their shows in the country, paid out of their own pockets. The Beatles literally had to fight their way to the airplane. Decades later with the fall of the Marcos regime, the members of the band took some pride that they stood up to the Marcos' in some small way.

Events like those in the Philippines, in addition to the fact that the fans screamed so loud at their concerts that they couldn't even hear themselves perform, led to the band deciding to quit touring altogether. The band performed their last concert (at least on a large scale) at San Francisco's Candlestick Park on August 29, 1966.

The studio years

With the distractions of touring behind them, The Beatles began recording Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on November 24, 1966. The album took so much time to record (for a Beatles record anyway) that the press started to suggest that the Beatles had "lost it" and had run out of creativity. Three early tracks, "Strawberry Fields Forever", "Penny Lane", and "Only A Northern Song", were left out of Sgt. Pepper as it was not then customary to include singles releases on albums. Some were saved for later albums: the latter song becoming part of the "Yellow Submarine" film, but George Martin still refers to the omission of "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" from Sgt. Pepper as the greatest regret of his career. Ironically, the "Penny Lane" / "Strawberry Fields Forever" double A side was the first Beatles single not to make UK number 1 since their first release. It was kept from the top spot by Engelbert Humperdinck's "Release Me".

Nonetheless, Sgt. Pepper's release on June 2, 1967, was a high point both for the band and for all of rock music, for it was the first-ever widely-popular concept album (built around a particular theme) and helped to launch what we know today as the "Classic Rock" format.

On June 25, 1967 The Beatles performed "All You Need Is Love" for the Our World television special. It was the first television special to air worldwide. Singing backup for the Beatles were a number of artists including Eric Clapton, and members of the Rolling Stones and The Who.

Manager Brian Epstein died of a drug overdose on August 27, 1967, while the Beatles were in Bangor, Wales, attending a weekend conference given by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The death was officially ruled accidental, although it has often been speculated that it was a suicide. Epstein had managed every aspect of the Beatles' career, and his absence was immediately noticeable. The Beatles' business affairs began to unravel.

In January 1968, The Beatles launched Apple Corps, a disastrously mismanaged entertainment company that included a recording studio, a record label (Apple Records), a film division and clothing store. In addition to Beatles records, Apple released albums by James Taylor, Mary Hopkin, Billy Preston, Badfinger, Ravi Shankar and other artists.

Towards the end of the 1960s, members of the band began to pursue their own musical interests and were writing together less and less. This became more and more obvious on releases like 1968's The Beatles (a.k.a. "The White Album"), and Let It Be. The Beatles was largely written during the band's visit to India, where they stayed at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's retreat. With the exception of Harrison, the Beatles eventually rejected the Maharishi, particularly after he was publicly disgraced. Lennon, disillusioned, wrote the song "Sexy Sadie" (originally titled "Maharishi") about their former teacher. A number of unreleased songs from the Let It Be sessions also make reference to the Maharishi. The Beatles went on to become their biggest selling LP in the United States and one of the US top ten selling albums of all time. The double album has often been criticised for its varying quality and including too many tracks on what should have been a single LP release. The Beatles released two albums in order to be free of their EMI contract which stipulated a total number of recorded songs. However, in the words of McCartney: "It sold, it was the bloody Beatles' White Album, shut up!"

It was during sessions for The Beatles that the band recorded "Hey Jude", a seven-minute magnum opus which turned out to be the biggest-selling single of the group's entire career.

In January of 1969, The Beatles began rehearsals for a new album project (at the time entitled Get Back). The rehearsals at Twickenham Film Studios made it the first album the group had made away from Abbey Road and without the guidance of George Martin. The recording sessions at Apple Studios were filmed for what would eventually become the Let It Be movie. Many ideas had been thrown around for the Get Back album, including the idea of recording it live during a surprise concert performance on top of a submarine, in an amphitheatre, or in a dance hall. None of these happened, but they did end the project with a live performance on top of the Apple Corps building in London, which was cut short when a local bank manager called the police to complain about the noise. This impromptu concert, held on January 30, 1969, was to be the Beatles' last public performance. Eventually the band gave up on the project. After the release of "Abbey Road", Lennon turned the Get Back sessions over to producer Phil Spector, with controversial results. Spector's signature "Wall of Sound" production was in direct opposition to the original intent of the record, which had been to bring the band full circle, and record a stripped-down live studio performance just as their first album had been. McCartney in particular was critical of the results, particularly on tracks like "The Long and Winding Road".

The Beatles began recording their final album in July of 1969, entitled Abbey Road, returning to the EMI studios in West London and the production team led by George Martin. It proved to be a relatively smooth and peaceful production and a highly acclaimed album. Lennon announced to the other Beatles that he was leaving the band just before that album's release but was persuaded to remain quiet in public.

In September of 1969, Russell Gibb, a radio DJ in Detroit, Michigan, announced that Paul McCartney was dead. Other DJs, television news reporters, newspapers and magazines picked up on the story and began to look for clues. This snowballed into what is commonly referred to today as the Paul Is Dead hoax. People that believed the rumors, claimed that McCartney had died in a car accident and was replaced by a look-alike named William Campbell. Numerous clues were supposedly hidden in album artwork, lyrics, and recordings themselves (fans even went so far as to play Beatles records backwards, for instance the words "number nine, number nine" on the song "Revolution #9" on The Beatles (a.k.a. "The White Album") became "turn me on, dead man, turn me on, dead man" when played counterclockwise). Another key clue apparently was the cover of the album Abbey Road in which Paul held a cigarette with his right hand, indicating his becoming reduced to ashes. Paul is left-handed. The legendary hoax has been the subject of several books.

The band officially broke up in 1970. The last Beatles studio session that included all four band members took place on August 20, 1969. The song they had worked on two days earlier had a fitting title: "The End". The final Beatles session was on January 4, 1970.

EMI released Let It Be, the result of the Spector rework of the Get Back sessions, in May of 1970, and the film of the same name shortly after (for the main purpose of fulfilling the group's contract with United Artists).

After the breakup

A jam session between John Lennon and Paul McCartney was recorded on March 31, 1974, when McCartney visited Lennon in Los Angeles, California. They played with a number of other musicians, including Stevie Wonder. Believed to be the last time the pair recorded together, this tape has been released on bootleg as A Toot and a Snore in '74.

On December 8, 1980, John Lennon was murdered in front of his New York City apartment by a mentally deranged fan, Mark David Chapman, thus forever crushing any hope of a Beatles reunion. His death was mourned by millions of fans around the world.

In February of 1981, the then-three surviving Beatles reunited for the first time since the break-up for George Harrison's tribute to fallen Beatle John Lennon, "All Those Years Ago". It was expressly a Harrison single off his album, Somewhere In England, but in a series of recording sessions McCartney contributed bass guitar and vocals [wife Linda also contributed vocals], and Starr played the drums, all of which was mixed into the final recording.

Singer Michael Jackson bought the publishing rights for most of the Beatles' music, on August 10, 1985, for $47 million. McCartney, who had been attempting to purchase the rights himself, had told Jackson that he should get into publishing. McCartney did not expect Jackson to purchase the Beatles' music. "I wrote a couple of letters and I said, Michael, don't you think that even if I was just a writer on the payroll after 30 years of being reasonably successful to this company that you now own, don't you think I could have a raise?" said McCartney. "And he said 'Oh Paul, that's just business'. He won't even answer my letters, so we haven't talked and we don't have that great a relationship. The trouble is I wrote those songs for nothing and buying them back at these phenomenal sums... I just can't do it." This is an example of how future royalties of an entertainment work are difficult to value and how creators should be cautious in making business decisions. However, McCartney is not short of a few bucks: He is a dollar billionaire and by far the richest musician in UK history.

In 1988, The Beatles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison were also inducted separately in later years (1994, 1999, and 2004, respectively).

On November 30, 1994, Apple Records released a 2 CD collection of early Beatles performances on the BBC, entitled Live At The BBC.

In February of 1994, the then-three surviving Beatles reunited again (since the recording of "All Those Years Ago") to produce and record additional music to a few of Lennon's old unfinished demos, with Jeff Lynne co-producing. The first new song, "Free As A Bird", premiered November 19, 1995 as part of The Beatles Anthology series of television specials on the ABC network in the US and ITV in the UK. The song was also included on a CD with the same title, which was released on November 21, 1995. The following year, a second "new" track was released, entitled "Real Love", on March 4, 1996. That song was also included on the second Anthology collection which was released on March 18, 1996. A third Anthology collection followed on October 12, 1996, but did not include any new material. At least one other song, entitled "Now And Then", was worked on during these sessions, but remains unreleased.

In 2000, The Beatles released a best of collection, entitled 1. The CD included 27 number one hits by the band and, within five weeks, became the best selling album of the year. Later that year, The Beatles released the Anthology book, which included interviews with all four band members and others involved, plus rare photos. The book went straight to the top of the New York Times bestsellers list.

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, radio conglomerate Clear Channel Communications reportedly sent out of a list of 150 songs that were recommended to be pulled from airplay. Four Beatles songs were on the list: "A Day in the Life", "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", "Ticket To Ride", and "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da". John Lennon's "Imagine" was also listed. However, this turned out to be an urban legend and was disproved by Snopes.com. [1] (http://www.snopes.com/rumors/radio.htm)

George Harrison fought a long battle with lung and brain cancer throughout the 1990s, finally succumbing and passing away on November 29, 2001.

In 2002, the Let It Be film was being restored and prepared for release on DVD probably sometime in 2005. It is expected that the DVD will include additional footage, not seen in the original film. The album Let It Be... Naked, featuring stripped-down (but intended) versions of the original album, was released in November, 2003.

In January, 2003, following an investigation by The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry and London detectives, police raids in England and the Netherlands recovered nearly 500 original Beatles studio tapes, recorded during the Let It Be sessions. Five people were arrested. The tapes have been used for bootleg releases for years.

In March, 2003, the Anthology television series was released on DVD with additional bonus material.

Several individuals who played an important role in the history or promotion of the band have at various times been called, or called themselves, the "fifth Beatle".


The following were regular members of the band between the time McCartney joined it and the final breakup in 1970:

Original drummer Pete Best was asked to leave the group in August 1962 just before it started recording, and was replaced by Starr. Earlier, in June 1961, original bass player Stu Sutcliffe had decided to leave the band and remain in Hamburg, Germany with his girlfriend, Astrid Kirchherr where the Beatles had played several long engagements; McCartney took over the bass role. Sutcliffe would later die of a brain hemorrhage. His life, and his friendship with John Lennon, was fictionalized in the 1993 movie Backbeat.

Only primary instruments are listed; at one time or another, each of the four Beatles played other instruments on record as well.

The following individuals were irregular members of the band before the Beatles achieved international success:

  • Chas Newby - Temporary bassist in Liverpool, after band returned from Hamburg in December 1960. Left the band to return to college, replaced on bass by McCartney January 1961.
  • Tommy Moore - drummer for the Silver Beetles for one month in 1960. Quit the band, claiming to have had "just about enough of Lennon".
  • Norman Chapman - drummer for the Silver Beetles for a few weeks in 1960. Left when conscripted into the Army for two years service in Kenya and Kuwait.

The following individuals have played a role in the studio when Beatles records were recorded:

Others have been associated with the Beatles in several ways. These include:


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