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In the pantheon of the greatest musicians who have ever lived, The Beatles rightfully sit at the top table. They are without question the most famous, most popular and most influential band of all time.
Their rise to prominence and worldwide fame (eclipsing even Elvis Presley) in the early 60s was on a par with the birth of rock ‘n’ roll ten years previously and they absolutely and positively changed the course of music, not just then, but forever. Their body of work remains unrivalled for its quality, its reach and its longevity.
John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr (who replaced Pete ‘the fifth Beatle’ Best as drummer in 1962) started out playing Liverpool’s club scene, most notably a residency at the Cavern Club but it was their first single, Love Me Do in 1962 which gave the world clues to the mayhem that was to follow. With Svengali Brian Epstein on board, to say The Beatles were about to reach stratospheric fame is very much an understatement.
In the relatively short period of time they were together, the ‘Fab Four’ released worldwide hit after worldwide hit. Their albums A Hard Day’s Night, Help!, Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Yellow Submarine and Abbey Road were innovative and influential and the singles they released were just as popular, if not more so.
They were prolific live performers – in June and July 1964 they played 37 shows in 27 days in Denmark, Holland, Australia and New Zealand and a month later they embarked on a 30-date tour of 23 US cities – and they even found time to make five films – A Hard Day’s Night, Help!, Magical Mystery Tour, Yellow Submarine and Let It Be.
As a band, the Rubber Soul album (1965) was hailed as a significant step forward in their maturity although it was referred to by John as ‘the pot album’ referencing their use of cannabis. Further, the clean-cut boys embraced the ‘Flower Power’ counterculture and were experimenting with spirituality, free-love and naturally, drugs, evident with the release of psychedelic extravaganza Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Wherever they went, they left teenage girls in screaming fits of adoration only really seen during Elvis’s heyday, and perhaps not even to the same intensity. They were the beating heart of the developing ‘youth’ movement in the UK and in a time of rapid and dramatic social upheaval, the four lads from Liverpool were the welcome antidote to a rigid, formal, class-led society.
Beads and beards replaced the formal suits of the first few years and they were advocates of spiritual enlightenment (in its many forms, chemical and otherwise) but in July 1967 when Epstein was found dead in his flat in London, the cohesion the band started to unravel. Creative differences became evident in their music and they were heading in different directions. John had met and was pre-occupied with avant-garde artist Yoko Ono and their final live performance was on the roof of 3 Saville Row, London, the HQ of Apple Corps on 30th January 1969.
Abbey Road was released six days after John announced his departure from the band and in the years to follow, lawsuits were filed, won and lost and the four all got on with solo careers with contrasting successes.
We lost John to a nutter and George to a bastard of a disease but The Beatles will outlive us all. Their music transcends fifty years of changing fashions and sensibilities and while other music came and went, The Beatles stayed. The world wasn’t expecting The Beatles and for a while it didn’t know how to cope but their influence is immeasurable and their legacy unmatched as they continue to be an inspiration to millions.
The Beatles Trivia
Yesterday is Russian premier Vladimir Putin’s favourite song!
Strawberry Field was a Salvation Army children’s home in Liverpool with a garden John and Paul used to hide in as kids. There is also a 2.5 acre memorial to John in New York’s Central Park called Strawberry Fields.
Ringo Starr’s real name is Richard Starkey. He was first called ‘Rings’ due to his excessive wearing of jewellery and he later settled on ‘Ringo’ because it sounded more cowboy-ish!
The BBC banned I Am the Walrus because of its incendiary (for the BBC’s conservative 60s) lyrics ‘pornographic priestesses’ and ‘let your knickers down’!
Prior to the taking of the famous Abbey Road album cover photograph, there is a shot of an old lady (taken by Linda McCartney) talking to Ringo as the four get ready. She had no idea who they were!
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds isn’t, as most people think, a reference to psychedelic drug LSD. When he was a schoolboy, John’s son Julian drew a picture of the girl he sat next to in class – Lucy Vodden and said ‘she was in the sky with diamonds’.
There remains a heated debate over whether the ‘the’ in The Beatles should be capitalised. Handwritten letters from John Lennon suggest no, but the official website suggests yes! Unsurprisingly, McCartney and Starr refused to be drawn in!
Paul McCartney has hinted (and there are no definitive answers) that Eleanor Rigby was a scullery maid who worked at Liverpool’s City Hospital and was buried in St. Peter’s Church, the place that John and Paul first met.
Brian Epstein bought 10,000 copies of Love Me Do to boost its chart position!
When they famously played Shea Stadium in 1965, both Linda Eastman and Barbara Bach were in the crowd. Years later, Linda married Paul and Barbara married Ringo!
Paul wanted Abbey Road to be called Everest and suggested to the other three that they fly to the Himalayas for a photo shoot. They ended up going outside and crossing the road…
Bonnie Jo Mason, an early pseudonym of Cher, recorded a novelty song called Ringo I Love You in 1964!
Paul and John would meet at Penny Lane junction to get the bus into town in the late 50s and the street signs became fair game for memorabilia hunters. City councillors eventually gave up and started painting the name onto buildings!
When I’m Sixty-Four was written by Paul when he was 16 on his dad’s piano, years before The Beatles formed!
German radio stations were initially reluctant to play Day Tripper on the radio since ‘tripper’ is a German word for gonorrhoea!
John Lennon played background guitar and backup vocals on Elton John’s version of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and was credited as Dr Winston O’Boogie and his Reggae Guitars!
The first DJ to play a Beatles record on air in the US was James Carroll from WWDC in Washington DC who played I Want To Hold Your Hand on 17th December 1963. His girlfriend, a stewardess, gave it to him on returning from the UK and due to listener demand, it was played hourly.
John’s Aunt Mimi bought him his first guitar and said ‘the guitar’s alright as a hobby but it won’t earn you any money…’
The Beatles – Where Are They Now?
After The Beatles, John Lennon’s solo career produced unimaginably popular hits Imagine, Instant Karma and Give Peace a Chance but he removed himself from the industry to raise his son Sean. He released an album called Double Fantasy with his wife Yoko Ono in November 1980, just three short weeks before he was shot and killed by Mark David Chapman on the front steps on The Dakota building on 8th December 1980.
Sir Paul McCartney
When The Beatles broke up in 1970, he formed Wings with his first wife Linda. He is the most successful composer and recording artist of all time. More than 2,200 artists have covered his hit Yesterday and he has sold over 100m albums and 100m singles. Married three times with five children including fashion designer Stella, he is still performing but spends good portions of his time promoting charities involved with animal rights, landmines, vegetarianism, poverty and music education.
He famously mortgaged his home and office building to finance the Python’s Life of Brian as well as releasing a number of critically acclaimed singles and albums. He co-founded production company HandMade Films and in 1988 was a founder member of supergroup The Traveling Wilburys. He died in 2001 from lung cancer and his ashes were scattered in the Ganges and Yamuna rivers in India. He left £100m in his will.
The fifth greatest drummer of all time according to Rolling Stone magazine, he released the 1973 album Ringo but his solo career never really took off. He’s most famous to the younger generation as the narrator of the Thomas the Tank Engine kids’ shows and he has successfully toured with a number of incarnations of Ringo Starr & His All-Star Band.