Though their reign atop the world of pop music continues to
slowly slip into the distant past, the legacy of The Beatles
continues to overshadow the history of music in the twentieth
century. There's a simple reason why: no catalog of tunes from any
other recording artist is as rich or as diverse as the one left
behind by the four lads from Liverpool.
Inauspiciously launched in the late 1950s, The Beatles settled
on their name in 1960 -- their roster sporting legends John Lennon,
Paul McCartney and George Harrison alongside bassist Stu Sutcliffe
and drummer Pete Best. The band famously cut their teeth in the
early 1960s regularly playing live between their hometown and
Hamburg, Germany. By the time they had released their first LP in
England via EMI in 1963, the quintet had shed both Sutcliffe and
Best, shifted McCartney to bass, and planted Ringo Starr on the
drumstool. Throughout 1963, the band won over the United Kingdom
and tarried in England until EMI's operation in America, manned by
Capitol Records, could set the table for their first visit to
February 7, 1964 marks the greatest one-day turning point in the
history of American music. The Beatles arrived in New York City to
a genuine mob of adoring fans, and proceeded to assault American
recording charts like no other artist not named Elvis Presley
had before, or has since. Despite their early material leaning
heavily toward a teenybopper / pop sensibility, McCartney's "aw,
shucks" nice-guy persona and Lennon's edgy intensity were clearly
evident from the get-go in their respective compositions.
Fittingly, the band's first Number One hit (in the UK) was the
Lennon-McCartney co-lead "Love Me Do." The early Lennon-led tunes
that became AM radio classics were "She Loves You", "I Want To Hold
Your Hand", "Please Please Me", "Twist And Shout", "A Hard Day's
Night", "I Feel Fine", "Eight Days A Week." McCartney fronted "I
Saw Her Standing There", "Can't Buy Me Love" and "And I Love Her",
while Harrison scored with "Do You Want To Know A Secret."
By 1965, The Beatles had discovered marijuana (courtesy of Bob Dylan), which
seemingly contributed the expansion of both their minds and the
landscapes and direction of their musical ideas. Lennon's "Help!"
and "Ticket To Ride" -- and McCartney's "Yesterday" and "We Can
Work It Out" -- all scored giant chart-topping performances.
Another Lennon track, "Day Tripper", rounded out the group's second
consecutive year of dominating the singles chart.
In 1966 The Fab Four's evolution away from its self-perceived
role as somewhat vapid purveyors of uber-commercialistic disposable
pop had steered the band toward a greater focus on the composition
and critical consideration of its albums. Starting with
Rubber Soul, released just before the start of the
year, the quartet signalled its sympathies for the hard-charging
counterculture with an increasingly diverse and edgy approach to
its writing and recording processes. Harrison introduced an Indian
sitar on Lennon's shockingly brazen (for the era) college-dorm poem
"Norwegian Wood". Soul's ballads were more
poignant and the record's character was more personal, with plenty
of warmth derived from a distinctly acoustic vibe. The trend
continued with the summer 1966 release of
Revolver, which further revealed a creeping
influence of psychedelia and drugs. Daring ideas like "Eleanor
Rigby" and "Taxman" had the band exploring tactics employing
strings and heavier rock. Starr's "Yellow Submarine" was a
chart-topper, and Lennon's non-album singles "Nowhere Man" and
"Paperback Writer" did so as well.
The Beatles joined the 1960s revolution full-tilt in 1967. Amid
the explosion of art and music during the halcyon Summer Of Love,
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band charged into
the forefront of the movement. Virtually every track on the record
became an all-time classic, and among them, "With A Little Help
From My Friends", "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds" and the epic "A
Day In The Life" rose in stature above the rest. Apart from the LP,
McCartney's "Penny Lane" and "Hello, Goodbye", and the entire
band's simple singalong "All You Need Is Love" further elevated The
Beatles above every other pop act of the day.
The door to unfettered experimentation was now flung wide open
for the band, who went bonkers tinkering with novel production
ideas on their next two releases (Magical Mystery
Tour (1967) and The Beatles (White Album)
(1968)). The former featured the oom-pah title track and the
downright odd pastiche-piece "I Am The Walrus", while the latter
double-decker was chock-full of classics contributed by all four
members. For each, McCartney's "Back In The U.S.S.R.", Lennon's
"Dear Prudence", Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and
Starr's "Don't Pass Me By" were the individual highlights.
Non-album ballad "Hey Jude" was Number One for more than two months
-- a record for the era, and Lennon's flip-side "Revolution"
captured the chaos of the period brilliantly.
After having delved into Indian religion and withdrawing from
live performance in their latter years, the quartet began to
fracture in earnest in 1968 -- with Lennon and McCartney growing
farther apart by the day. Yet the band managed to persevere through
its internal turbulence to produce one final majestic effort, the
great Abbey Road (1969). Side Two, produced as one
long flowing musical statement, is widely regarded as the greatest
album side of all time, from any band. The year's smash singles
were Lennon's "Come Together" and "The Ballad Of John And Yoko",
McCartney's "Get Back" and Harrison's ballad "Something".
To the immense sadness of the entire planet, The Beatles
publicly announced their de facto dissolution in April 1970, and
posthumously released Let It Be -- their final
studio album (which had incidentally been recorded before
Abbey Road) -- a month later. Fittingly titled,
McCartney's melancholy and stoic-sounding "Let It Be" and "The Long
And Winding Road" each topped the US charts and propelled the four
members on their separate ways into the new decade.
The world's greatest band never reunited before the murder of
John Lennon in 1980, and the music alone bears the immense legacy
of The Beatles to all future generations.
There just isn't any other band that can touch The Beatles for what they achieved during their career and as solo artists.
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