Precisely how, when and where The Beatles got so popular nobody can say for sure. In 1963, the year the group began selling millions of copies when the charts were filled with great records by Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Roy Orbison and Cliff Richard. What set The Beatles apart was their dazzling interpersonal chemistry, their novel sound and their enviable felicity for making hit records. Paul McCartney and John Lennon have gone down in history as the most prolific songwriting duo of their time. Even forty years later, their songs are everywhere ~ on the radio, TV and in the movies.
For millions the world over, the group truly changed everything ~ sexually, politically and musically. Fashion, culture, and attitudes were different after them. They pioneered the concept of a rock and roll concert, and have been emulated ever since. They sent popular music in all new directions, and then, at the height of their creativity, they broke up, leaving everyone hoping for a reunion that would never come.
This is their story.
How The Fab Four Came Together
In the beginning, there was seventeen-year-old John Lennon who performed around Liverpool for free with his band, The Quarrymen. In 1957, a friend invited Paul McCartney to see The Quarrymen play at the Woolton Parish Church. Paul remembers that day well. “John was obviously leading this thing,” he says. “He was staring around as he was playing, watching everybody. But he was good. He also looked like Elvis.” Afterward, McCartney met Lennon for the first time. “I picked up his guitar, which I had to play upside down because I am left-handed, so that was a little bit impressive,” he recalls. They hit it off right away and Lennon asked him to join the group.
A year later, McCartney introduced Lennon to his friend George Harrison. Fifteen-year-old George was so taken by John that he started to follow him around everywhere. John once said, “He was too young. I didn’t want to know him at first. He just seemed like a kid. He would follow me down the street. Me and my girlfriend would come of school, or be going to a coffee shop or a movie, and he would just be hovering around.” McCartney really wanted Harrison to be in the group as he played a mean guitar. So one day after a gig, George sneaked onto the bus and pulled out his guitar, and played for Lennon. Paul remembers, “Some days later I asked John, ‘Well what do you think about George?’” John answered, “He’d be great.”
Defining Moments in the Life of The Beatles
Arranged chronologically, we take a look back at Beatles history for events that shaped the band and popular culture with it.
1. The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show
What most people don’t know about The Beatles’ legendary appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show is that it happened by pure coincidence. Sullivan was getting off an airplane at London’s Heathrow Airport in 1963 at the same time The Beatles were arriving after a couple of concerts in Sweden. Hundreds of fans were waiting for the four lads to arrive. “What the hell are The Beatles?” Sullivan reportedly asked. When he learnt how popular they were in the country and all over Europe, he booked them for a slot on his TV show. The first live appearance of The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964, became the most-watched program in TV history to that point and still remains one of the most-watched TV shows of all time.
A congratulatory telegram from Elvis Presley was read at the beginning of the program, in what might have been seen as a gesture of passing the torch onto them, and John Lennon was so nervous, he taped song lyrics to the back of his guitar. More than 70 million viewers watched The Beatles’ live appearance that night. “I’ve heard that when we were on, there were no reported crimes, or very few,” George Harrison exclaimed years later. “When The Beatles were on Ed Sullivan, even the criminals took a rest!” It’s commonplace for pop-music historians to point out that this appearance was the place when Beatlemania actually began and changed the world forever. For a generation of rock and rollers like Billy Joel, it was the moment they knew they wanted to be stars.
2. The First Meeting with Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan might not have been as important an inspiration as Elvis, but Dylan's magic touched Lennon, for after listening to Dylan's first album, John wrote the autobiographical I'll Cry Instead for their soundtrack of A Hard Day's Night. The song never made it to the movie, but it could, very easily, have been written by Dylan about himself. The boys were keen to meet the upcoming performer, and while they were on a US tour, their manager arranged it. The Beatles met Dylan at the Hotel Delmonico in New York for the first time on August 28, 1964. That meeting would change The Beatles forever. He offered to roll them a joint, and the Fab Four had to admit to him they had never done marijuana before. “Until then we'd been scotch and Coke men,” McCartney would say later. “It sort of changed that evening.”
3. The Beatles and Elvis Presley
When the Fab Four made their second US tour in 1965, they were asked what they wanted to do first, and quickly replied, ‘We'd like to meet Elvis Presley.’ In the fifties, their love of Elvis, among other things, had drawn Lennon and McCartney together. Lennon in early interviews is known to have remarked, “Nothing really affected me until I heard Elvis. If there hadn't been Elvis, there wouldn't have been The Beatles.” When The Beatles first came to the US a year earlier, they had wanted to meet Elvis, but it never worked out. So when they came back again, Brian Epstein and Elvis’s manager Colonel Parker got together and talked about seeing if they could arrange a meeting. It took three days of planning to set it up, and The Beatles got their wish on August 27 when they met the king of rock and roll for the first and only time at his home in California.
THE BEATLES OFFICIAL DISCOGRAPHY
The Beatles discography is complicated due to the different releases worldwide, particularly in the early years. From 1963-1970, twelve studio albums were released in the UK, and that’s considered the band’s official discography. This is a listing of those official albums released while the Fab Four were together, and does not include compilations or later releases:
1. Please Please Me
Original Release Date: March 1963
Despite the success of their two previously issued singles (Love Me Do/P.S. I Love You and Please Please Me/Ask Me Why), EMI was far from convinced that The Beatles would last. Still, noting an overwhelming demand for their records, the record company asked the group to have an album ready as soon as possible and to call it Please Please Me so that it would be instantly recognizable to fans who bought the single. Producer George Martin initially planned for the boys to record a live album capturing the excitement of The Beatles performing at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, but it proved to be impractical and was quickly dropped in favour of recording in the studio.
On February 11 1963, The Beatles and Martin went to EMI’s Abbey Road studio to make a record. Thirteen hours, ten songs and 400 pounds later, The Beatles pounded out their debut in a day. Their first for Parlophone Records, it combined the first two singles with ten newly recorded songs. Only four of the new songs were Lennon/McCartney originals, the remaining six were Beatles versions of some of their favourite songs by other artists they had performed live long before their recording contract.
The release of the album a month later changed the music scene in Britain. Previously the charts were filled with film soundtrack albums, recordings of London and Broadway musicals, and with the exception of Elvis Presley and two or three other American artists, very little else. Prior to The Beatles reaching #1, the only other British pop artist who had any sort of success on the charts was Cliff Richard And The Shadows. In the US, the album was released on the little known Vee Jay record label and re-titled Introducing The Beatles. The record also didn’t include the tracks Please Please Me and Ask Me Why and failed to make the US charts.
2. With The Beatles
Original Release Date: November 1963
The Beatles had five years to prepare for their first album and just five months for the second. The Beatles had sessions spread over three months. After the huge success of the Please Please Me, EMI stressed that it was important for them to follow it with another equally good or better album. After years of meeting up at Paul’s house with hours of spare time, they were now forced to write and come up with new music in hotel bedrooms, tour buses and in dressing rooms ~ anywhere they could snatch a quiet moment. Such pressures cause many songwriters to freeze up, but it proved to be a positive stimulus to John and Paul.
The album featured 14 newly recorded songs ~ seven were written by Lennon/McCartney, one by George Harrison, and the remaining six a further selection of The Beatles personal favourites. Producer George Martin also contributed by playing the piano on three tracks. Believing that it was important for every girl in the audience to feel that they were personally singing to her, many of the songs were written with the word ‘you’ in their titles ~ for example Till There Was You and I’ll Get You. The album went to #1 in the UK shortly after its release and became the first pop album in history to sell over a million copies. To ensure that none of the tracks would be extracted for release as a single, The Beatles recorded two new tracks ~ I Want To Hold Your Hand and This Boy ~ separately to be released as singles. In the US, the disc was released in January 1964 as Meet The Beatles and gave the group their first US #1.
3. A Hard Day’s Night
Original Release Date: July 1964
In the early sixties, it was customary for pop stars to make a movie after a decent string of hits, just as Elvis had done in the fifties. The Young Ones (1961) and Summer Holiday (1962) starring Cliff Richard were big successes. The Beatles wanted to do something different and were fortunate in being introduced to director Dick Lester, whose imaginative camerawork and fast cuts had captured the excitement of the pop music listening public. The end result was a film depicting two days in the lives of The Beatles at the height of Beatlemania. Ringo came up with the title to the movie after quipping that the rigorous film schedule was like ‘a hard day’s night’.
What Your Beatles Swag is Worth!
The wide range of commercial Beatles merchandise made from the 1960s to the present reflects the group's phenomenal popularity. Almost any object is of interest to collectors and The Beatles remain the most collectable band in the world. Among the diverse Beatles objects that people collect are original records, dolls, scrapbooks, coins, wall plates and even autographs among many other things. Here’s a quick guide of what collectors sought after and pay big bucks for:
Autographs ~ The most sought after Beatle collectible are their autographs ~ both singly and as a group. A photo signed by the whole band can be worth thousands of dollars ~ a tour program signed by the whole band is worth even more.
What to look for: Items autographed by the band after 1963 are difficult enough to find, and, after 1969, extremely scarce.
Price It Can Fetch: £2000 ~ £20,000 (Rs 1.60 lakhs ~ Rs 2 Crore)
Indian Records ~ India was one of three countries known to have been pressing 78's when The Beatles came along ~ the Philippines and Argentina were the others. Of these three, India pressed them the longest, with 78 RPM singles being available practically throughout The Beatles' career. All of the 78's are scarce to rare, with their later year singles being the hardest to find.
What to look for: The record will say Made in India by The Gramophone Co. of India Ltd.
Price It Can Fetch: $1000 ~ $2000 (Rs50,000 to Rs 1 lakh)
The Beatles - All You Need Is… Love!
The Beatles officially split in February 1970, a few months before the release of Let It Be, and since then it has always been a big event when their management puts out a record. After giving Beatle fans innumerable reissues, rescued live recordings (Live At The BBC) and archival gleanings (Anthology), the band’s latest release from their record company is thankfully not just another retrospective: it’s a re-working of the band’s music. Titled Love, it’s actually the soundtrack to a new theatrical show of the same name on The Beatles, which plays now five times a week at a specially built theatre at The Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas. Entertainment giant Cirque du Soleil is behind the concept, which combines the re-imagined and re-produced music of The Beatles with an interpretive, circus-based artistic and athletic stage performance.
You can read the rest of our cover story on The Beatles in the January 2007 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.
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