Quick History of the Beatles
A Quick History of the The Beatles
A Colorful Essay by Happy Om
Written for History of Rock and Roll
Sierra College Summer 2017
Its 1963, and the United States is in an uproar. The threat of communism and nuclear war have the majority of population walking on eggshells of politeness, while the youth and radical voices crescendo in their rally behind MLK for rights while celebrating the wild joy spreading across the country through the rockin sounds and wild movements of Elvis and Little Richard. The beloved President Kennedy, perhaps the most adored of any who had sat in the oval office in modern times, was assassinated November 22nd of 1963, and even with all the comic relief coming out of the fancy new 10 inch televisions across the country, America was a potent field of feelings and new possibilities, rich with heaviness, inspiration, and fervor all wrapped up together. The world at large shared some of these ups and downs, but in northern England, in the funky colloquial town of Liverpool, a new Beat was playing.
Sounds from America were coming across the water, inspiring young musicians. The big name sounds of Elvis and Bill Haley were Rockin Around the Clock, while other less heard inspiring voices like Big Bill Broonzy were adding soulful color to the pallet as well. And on one fine day, July 6th, 1957, “Fete” brought two inspired youths together as Paul McCartney was introduced to John Lennon and the Quarrymen. The two had an instant connection, Paul displayed potent musical ability, and it seemed there would be a future for them; Paul should join the band.
John Lennon was born in Liverpool on October 9th, 1940, and was taught to play music by his mother Julia. Julia was talented in multiple instruments, a lover of the Ukulele, and trained John on a banjo. John was so inspired by the music of the times, American Rock and Roll, blues, and british Skiffle; he was destined to become a musician. Paul McCartney was born in Liverpool as well on June 18th, 1942. He loved music as a child, and when his dad bought him a trumpet, he thought it was cool, but soon realized he couldn’t sing while he played it. (Bonner) He traded his trumpet in for a guitar, and began following in the footsteps of his hero Buddy Holly who was out there writing his own songs and singing rock and roll. John and Paul were so excited to meet, and Paul had this friend George he wanted John to meet. George Harrison was also born in Liverpool, on February 25th, 1943, and as a youth was so inspired when he heard Elvis’s Heartbreak Hotel that he knew he had to play music. He charged into guitar at age 14, just a year or so before Paul brought him to meet John. “He can play Raunchy!” Sure enough, George showed up and played the popular song Raunchy note for note and John let him into The Quarryman. (Paul McCartney Project)
And thus, the most iconic group of all time began. With a man name Pete Best on drumset, and a friend of John’s, Stuart Sutcliffe, who was half decent at playing bass guitar, the Quarryman evolved to the Silverbeatles. The Crickets were popular at the time, so bugs were cool for a band name, and this group really had the BEAT. Soon, “The Beatles” were touring through clubs in Hamburg, Germany, along with Stu’s girlfriend the photographer Astrid Kircherr. They were causing quite a raucous, playing two and three chord rock and roll hits along with a few songs written by John and Paul; these young rockers were making quite a name for themselves. But George was underage, and soon, thrown out of Hamburg, they found themselves back in Liverpool.
Liverpool was filling with pride in their awesome local band, and The Cavern Club was their main joint. They would play often, especially these unique noontime concerts. One day the next piece of the puzzle came together when Brian Epstein saw them play there and knew they would be a hit. They accepted his offer to manage them, and even though turned down multiple times by record producers, like the fool of fools Dick Rowe, Eptein brought them to EMI Parlophone and George Martin eventually signed the boys a contract. This was a bit of new territory for Martin; he had been mostly producing classical music and comedy records for acts such as Peter Sellers and the Goons.
“On 13 February 1962... Martin listened to a tape recorded at Decca [who had turned the group down], and thought that Epstein's group was "rather unpromising", but liked the sound of Lennon's and McCartney's vocals.” (Spitz, 297) Martin agreed to sign them, even without having ever met them or hearing them play, but it actually took a number of sessions and jokes, and a discussion about Pete Best’s drumming to finally seal the deal. On the day they finally met Martin:
“The control room door opened and in walked George Martin himself. And I thought to myself, 'This must be some kind of special artist test for him to show up.' Because producers didn't normally attend artist’s test. It was always their assistants. And, of course, up to that time, George was not involved at all with any guitar groups.” -- Norman Smith. [...] Martin [...] took over the rest of the session. Afterwards he invited them to the control room to talk and listen to the playback. (Beatles Bible)
Stu Sutcliffe had already left the band, and at this point it was clear that the weak link was Pete Best. The Beatles knew another drummer, who had even sat in with them once and played other percussion with them for a recording, and soon Richard Starkey was on his way to Beatles stardom as Ringo Starr. Ringo was also born in Liverpool, on July 7th, 1940. His dad was a very talented musician, and although having music in his life as a kid, didn’t settle into drums until the age of 17. He had gone through many significant health problems as a child, and never was a shining example of wellness, but was vital enough when he met the others around 1960 (a couple years before replacing Pete Best.) He had been playing with other bands in the same scene, was older and admired by the young Beatles, and finally by the end of ‘62 was made the drummer. He was never the best drummer, “he’s not even the best drummer in The Beatles”, but he had the skills and the energy and charisma to join them joyfully on the journey. (Bonner)
In some ways, the rest is history. “Love Me Do” was their first single, and it was simple Rock and Roll with only 2 chords. (Pre-Ringo) “Please Please Me” was their first number one on 1/11/1963, and with it the group had already shown big growth with many chords, three part harmony, and a new drummer. Britain got the first album release “Beatlemania! With the Beatles” in 1963, a record that “took 9 hours and 45 minutes in the studio” and by the end of the sessions, John had blown his voice out so much that it gave twist and shout the special raw blaring sound that took it to the top of the charts. (Bonner). This first release was followed by American releases of the same tracks in 1964 “Introducing... The Beatles” and “Meet the Beatles!” “I Wanna hold your Hand” had been number one for seven weeks when the group arrived in the US for the first time 2/1/64, greeted by uncountable thousands of fans at the airport and similarly swarmed from then on out. On 2/9/64, The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan for the first time, and according to Bonner, there were no crimes reported in the whole US while the Beatles were on the air. 70,000,000 people had been reported to be watching, which was 40.5% of America. (Spizer)
Many books have been written about the Beatles, as they proved themselves to be the biggest band in the 20th century. They pioneered in so many ways, writing their own songs, changing the rules of rock and roll chord progressions, mixing genres, making allusions to drugs in ways that no other band had… they broke the mold. On the song “I Feel Fine,” they were the first to use recorded feedback on purpose in a song. (Bonner) They constantly grew and changed, from sharp looking youths to wild long haired rainbow psychedelic hippies, they not only progressed before the eyes of the world, but took the audience on the journey with them, releasing so many records year by year that each season you could open up more and more and blossom from innocent youthful romance to full Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds All You Need is Love life. Little bits of help along the way from Bob Dylan sharing some weed and dentist Doctor Robert secretly giving them their first LSD certainly helped blow open the full colorful potential of the boys, but between their talents and the times, it was all destined to bloom a brilliant rainbow paisley.
Their journey took them all over the world. The sound of Ravi Shankar brought George the idea of a Sitar that found its way onto “Rubber Soul” and stayed with Harrison throughout his career. Thoughts of India lead them to the Maharishi Mahesh and T.M., as well as to Bhakti Yoga and Hare Krishna. Meanwhile, Martin let them do whatever they wanted, as no other record company had ever let any artist do. But Martin never knew the full depth of their journey, as the Beatles kept a very tight inner circle that not even their wives were brought into. (Bonner) Only Mal Evans and Neil Asphinal, their dear buds and roadies really saw the wonders and dramas of the journey. The world didn’t see the problems, they didn’t see the inner conflict, didn’t see Northern Songs LTD screwing them on record sales, or how things changed when Epstein overdosed at 32 years old.
The world saw the hits: 20 number one singles, 19 number one albums, 4 of which remain on the Rolling Stone Top 500 of all time, including the revolutionary Revolver and number one of all time, “Sergeant. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” The world saw the movies and music videos, Hard Day’s Night, Help, Yellow Submarine, numerous pioneering new “Music Videos” and the strange flop of an album/movie Magical Mystery Tour. The world saw the last big concert on August 29th, 1966 in Candlestick park, and then saw the first band go into the studio and spend years making impossible unperformable psychedelic music, only to come back from India and make rock and roll the old way just a bit more before making a final performance from the rooftop January 30th of 1969 (with the help of their friend Billy Preston, who, along with Eric Clapton, had sat in and helped keep the band going during some of the roughest quarreling at the end of their 8 years together.) The Beatles had come to an end, but all four of the men ended up making such strong musical impact on the world that every Beatle made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on their own, in addition to the band’s induction in 1988. The Beatles exemplify the journey and blossoming of Rock and Roll, and no other band will ever make as big an impact or scratch the shine of their legend.
Bonner, Robert. “History of Rock and Roll.” Sierra College, July 2017.
Joe. "Recording: Besame Mucho, Love Me Do, PS I Love You, Ask Me Why – The Beatles’ First Abbey Road Recording
Session." The Beatles Bible. N.p., 05 June 2017. Web. 24 July 2017.
"Raunchy (song)." The Paul McCartney Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 July 2017.
Spitz, Bob (2005). “The Beatles – The Biography.” Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 978-0-316-80352-6.
Spizer, Bruce (2004). “The Beatles Are Coming! The Birth of Beatlemania in America.” New Orleans: 498 Productions.