The Beatles rock and roll band is considered to have been one of the most influential bands of the 1960s. Their worldwide popularity has never been equaled or achieved by any other band. The four Beatles were: John Lennon (1940–1980) on rhythm guitar, Paul McCartney (born 1942) on bass guitar, George Harrison (1943–2001) on lead guitar, and Ringo Starr (Richard Starkey, born 1940) on drums.
The group began as the Quarry Men, John Lennon’s skiffle band (British jug band), named after his school, Quarry Bank High. In 1957, Lennon heard Paul McCartney perform at a church fair and was so impressed that he invited him to join the group on guitar and piano. At that time, Pete Best was the drummer and Stu Sutcliffe was the bass guitarist. A year later, McCartney brought in his younger friend George Harrison to play lead guitar.
In 1960, after a number of name changes, the group became the Beatles. They played in local Liverpool clubs, particularly the Cavern, and got some playing jobs, or "gigs," in Hamburg, Germany. In 1961, Sutcliffe (who was more of a painter than a musician) left the Beatles and McCartney replaced him on bass guitar.
In 1961, Brian Epstein, a very successful music store owner in Liverpool, became the Beatles’ manager. He succeeded in securing an audition for the band with George Martin, a producer at Parlophone, a division of EMI Records. Martin liked the Beatles, but insisted on replacing the drummer, Pete Best. Ringo Starr was a well-known drummer in Liverpool and had played with the Beatles a few times. Harrison liked him and pushed to get him as the Beatles’ new drummer. Epstein had the difficult task of telling Pete Best that he was being replaced. Then, with John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, the "Fab Four" that swept the world of rock and roll was born. By 1963, European teenagers were buying millions of the Beatles’ records, dressing like the Beatles, and wearing their hair like the Beatles. At concerts, girls often screamed and fainted. All this excitement was known as "Beatlemania."
Beatlemania came to America on February 9, 1964, when the Beatles made their first American television appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Due to an amazing amount of pre-show publicity, seventy-three million people across the United States watched the show that night. That event has been voted the top moment for rock and roll in television history.
After The Ed Sullivan Show, the Beatles began performing all over the world. They became so popular that fans followed them everywhere, and they couldn’t go out in public without being mobbed. Finally, they stopped performing concerts in public. Instead, they spent more time recording songs in the studio. They experimented with their songs, sometimes using different electronic effects, instruments from different cultures, or orchestral instruments, and made some of the most complex and interesting popular music ever recorded.
Brian Epstein died suddenly in the summer of 1967, at age thirty-two. After that, the Beatles, especially Lennon and McCartney, often disagreed on how the band should be run. Epstein had been their center and guiding force. The group tried to work together, but in 1970, the Beatles broke up.
For years, until John Lennon’s death in 1980, fans wondered if the Beatles would ever reunite. In real time, they never did, but in 1995, the Beatles had an electronic reunion. Harrison, McCartney, and Starr added their voices to two songs John Lennon had recorded as "demos" (demonstration or publicity recordings) in 1979. One was "Free As a Bird" and the other was "Real Love." In 1996, a six-hour TV special on the Beatles coincided with a "new" Beatles album called Anthology, allowing a whole new generation of teenagers to discover the Beatles.
Well-Known Beatles Hits
• "I Want to Hold Your Hand" (1963)
• "Can’t Buy Me Love" (1964)
• "Yesterday" (1965)
• "Penny Lane" (1966)
• "All You Need Is Love" (1967)
• "Hello Goodbye" (1967)
• "Hey Jude" (1968)
• "Get Back" (1969)
Facts About the Beatles
• The Beatles’ first million-selling record was "She Loves You."
• "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was the Beatles’ first American hit.
• The Beatles made several movies—A Hard Day’s Night in 1964, Help! in 1965, Magical Mystery Tour in 1967, Yellow Submarine in 1969, and Let It Be in 1970.
• The Beatles’ final public concert was at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California, on August 29, 1966.
• None of the Beatles could read music.
Books About the Beatles
The Beatles Anthology by the Beatles (Chronicle Books, 2000). For serious Beatles fans, this 368-page book is full of Beatles’ history and photos.
John Lennon and Paul McCartney: Their Magic and Their Music by Bruce S. Glassman (Blackbirch Press, 1995). This is a book about the collaboration of the two Beatles who wrote most of the group’s greatest hits.
The Beatles (Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Composers) by Mike Venezia (Children’s Press, 1997). This short, easy-to-read biography of the Beatles has plenty of photos and cartoon-like illustrations.