The history of The Beatles is one that is hard to reduce down to mere words. The impact they had on not only music, but culture as a whole still reverberates today. Below is a brief overview of their history, from the birth of The Beatles, to becoming “more popular than Jesus”.
The early days
A 15-year-old Paul McCartney met a 16-year-old John Lennon in the most unassuming of settings – at a local church fete where John’s band The Quarrymen were performing (also the site of Eleanor Rigby’s grave). Paul was soon invited to join, with George Harrison later becoming part of the group and Stuart Sutcliffe on bass. Although the line-up was not complete, it signified the early birth of The Beatles.
The Quarrymen played a number of local concerts and picked up their first manager, Allan Williams. Soon enough they were out in Hamburg playing a long-term residency, with drummer Pete Best also joining the band. Sutcliffe left in 1961 and McCartney took over his role on bass. Lennon was heavily critical of Best’s drumming ability and a year later Ringo Starr was drafted in to take his place.
Back home in the UK, they were beginning to take centre stage in the emerging Merseybeat scene. They quickly developed a following at The Cavern Club, which is where they were spotted by Brian Epstein and by 1962 he had become their manager. They tried to get a deal with Decca Records (who must regret it to this day), before they were signed by EMI’s Parlophone label.
In October of the same year, their second single, Love Me Do, reached number 17 in the UK charts. They went over to Hamburg for a fifth and final time, before coming back home with a new style and dedication to their music – and over the next 8 years they were definitely true to their word.
The rise of Beatlemania was fast and unexpected, with their first album, Please Please Me, reaching number 1 in 1963. They went on huge tours around Europe, usually besieged by thousands of eager fans wanting to get close to their idols. It was a period when ‘teenage culture’ was born, and The Beatles were at the forefront of this important social change.
In 1964 a movement labelled the ‘British Invasion’ began (involving other groups like The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Hollies etc.) and the appearance of The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show (their second TV appearance in the US) was watched by an massive 73 million TV viewers in America.
The popularity of The Beatles was so big that at one point they held the top five places in the Billboard charts. Along with the huge sales and tours, they also recorded A Hard Day’s Night (which also became a film) and Beatles for Sale in late-1964.
All of the constant touring finally took its toll on the band (over 1,400 shows in 4 years), with their last ‘official’ concert taking place at Candlestick Park, San Francisco in August 1966. Famously they only ever appeared on Top of the Pops once, which was in 1966, where they sung Paperback Writer, only weeks before they stopped touring for good.
The final years
Being off the road gave The Beatles the chance to take more chances with their music and experiment – which led to a period that many believe to be the best of their time together as a band.
A further six albums were released between 1966 and 1970, with the now classic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band being the first. Brian Epstein tragically died a year later and the once unbreakable unity of the band slowly started to show signs of breaking.
This never once stopped their output, creativity or success, with nearly all of the six albums released in this period reaching number one on both sides of the Atlantic. With tensions continuing to rise within the group, they gave their now iconic final live appearance on the rooftop of their Apple Corps record label in January 1969.
Abbey Road was released later that year, with The Beatles ‘officially’ breaking up in April 1970 when McCartney said he was leaving the group (although John already had the previous year).
There was still one more album to be released, with their 12th studio album, Let It Be, hitting stores on 8th May 1970. It felt like the perfect send off from a group that shook the world and has left behind a legacy unlike any other band in history.