Encyclopaedia now available on CD-ROM

UK pop group formed '59 Liverpool, all born there: John Winston Lennon (b 9 Oct. '40; d 8 Dec. '80, NYC), rhythm guitar; James Paul McCartney (b 18 June '42), rhythm guitar, then bass; George Harrison (b 24 Feb. '43), lead guitar; Ringo Starr (b Richard Starkey, 7 July '40), drums. Lennon had started skiffle group the Quarrymen (after Quarrybank school) '56; asked McCartney to join summer '57; Harrison added late '57; close friend art student Stuart Sutcliffe (b 23 June '40, Edinburgh; d 10 April '62) joined '58 on bass: he couldn't play at first but had money from sale of painting, needed to upgrade the group's equipment. The name changed to Johnny and the Moondogs, then Silver Beetles (after Buddy Holly's Crickets), then the Beatles; they lacked a steady drummer until joined '60 by Pete Best (b 24 Nov. '41, Madras, India); they had played some of their first gigs at the Casbah Club in the Best family's basement. They played four tours in tough Hamburg clubs beginning that year, perfecting covers of Chuck Berry, Little Richard etc; Lennon was infl. by the harmony and the softer style of the Everly Brothers, and also by Holly because (unlike Elvis Presley) Holly played guitar and wrote his own songs; Lennon and McCartney wrote songs together from the beginning. From Jan. '61 they played hundreds of dates at Liverpool's Cavern Club between Hamburg trips. Sutcliffe left the group to paint and settle with photographer Astrid Kirchherr in Hamburg '61 (he died in Astrid's arms of a brain haemorrhage, possibly caused by a hooligan's kick in the head '60 after an English gig). Astrid inspired much of Beatle style in dress and haircuts which left a deep imprint on the period; their haircuts were not English 'pudding-basin' haircuts, but modelled after what upper-class German schoolboys wore. They recorded back-up as the Beat Boys for pop singer Tony Sheridan on Polydor; fans in Liverpool sought out the record and Brian Epstein (b 19 Sep. '34; d 26--7 August '67), who managed the record department in his parents' furniture store, went to see them at the Cavern, was enchanted and became their manager. They were turned down by several labels (Decca famously chose Brian Poole and the Tremeloes instead), then got an audition with George Martin at Parlophone, then an EMI catch-all label for Scottish dance bands, comedy records etc. Best played at the audition, but Martin advised Epstein to replace him; Ringo was drafted in from Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. (Best had never cut his hair in the Beatle style; his brooding good looks made him the band's heart-throb and his sacking was controversial in Liverpool. He had a desultory career in music, quit '68 and while the Beatles were the most famous people in the world he wrapped bread in a factory; but he survived, later became a civil servant, served as consultant on US TV movie Birth Of The Beatles '79, pub- lished autobiography Beatle! '85.) A lot of people think Ringo wasn't a very good drummer either, but 'Love Me Do' was re-recorded with him on 11 Sep. '62 for a UK top 20; second single 'Please Please Me' was no. 2 early '63 and a UK LP of that name completed in a marathon session; third single 'From Me To You' was no. 1, succeeded by 'She Loves You', the biggest single in UK history till then and the first time an act had bumped itself out of the top spot, all '63. Beatlemania began and the group could not appear in public without police protection; the press coined the term 'Merseybeat' to describe the phenomenon (incl. other groups from Liverpool, on the river Mersey: the Searchers, Gerry and the Pacemakers, etc). They toured Europe; at a Royal Command Performance in London Lennon told the royals to rattle their jewellery instead of applauding. Their candour, unforced style and insouciant humour were evident in interviews, and something new had happened: they were real, not a press agent's creation; at the end of a too-long period of post-war austerity in Britain a generation of artists, photographers, playwrights and musicians had been nursed by the welfare state and educated thanks to the 1944 Education Act, and found themselves in a new era of rising prosperity; Britain seemed to have recovered from two world wars, a terrible economic depression and the loss of Empire and was ready to smile again, and Lennon and McCartney became one of the most successful song-writing teams in history. Next came the British Invasion of the USA. EMI's USA outlet Capitol had turned down the records; the first USA issues were on Swan and Vee-Jay. The fourth single 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' and second UK LP With The Beatles (Meet The Beatles in the USA) were issued by Capitol none too soon as the group landed in NYC to mob scenes 7 Feb. '64; millions saw two appearances on the Ed Sullivan TV show (but nobody heard the music for the screaming); in April 'Can't Buy Me Love' became the first single to top USA and UK charts simultaneously. First film A Hard Day's Night opened in USA in August and made $1.3 million the first week: dir. by Richard Lester in monochrome and realistic style, good actors in support (Wilfrid Brambell as the lecherous grandfather), it received two Oscar noms and is still probably the best pop film ever made. Help! '65 co-starred Victor Spinetti, was dir. by Lester and well received but (prophetically) more self-indulgent. They received MBE (Member of the British Empire) honours at Buckingham Palace from HM Queen Elizabeth II 26 Oct. '65 (and confessed later that they were so nervous they smoked dope in a rest room there): the 'gongs' are recommended by politicians, in this case Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who wanted credit for 'Swinging London'. The songs improved in craftsmanship and lyrics became more adventurous; 'Day Tripper' and 'Paperback Writer' '65--6 broke new ground: some were puzzled, esp. in USA, by UK idioms, but the records sold automatically. With soundtrack LPs and Beatles For Sale '64 they had five straight no. 1 LPs UK, five slightly different no. 1 USA issues; Help! incl. McCartney's lovely 'Yesterday' accompanied by a string quartet (covered since about 2,000 times) and Lennon's Bob Dylan-infl. 'You've Got To Hide Your Love Away'. They no longer wrote together (though by mutual agreement songs published under both names), so that John's acerbity and Paul's prettiness no longer complemented each other. Rubber Soul '65 made full use of four-track studio techniques, polished layer by layer by Martin, who was called 'the fifth Beatle'. Rubber Soul incl. John's boredom ('Nowhere Man'), the sadness of anonymous lust ('Norwegian Wood', with Harrison on sitar), Paul's too-pretty 'Michelle'. Revolver '66 plunged further afield and is regarded by many now as their masterpiece; Harrison was allowed three songs: 'Taxman' (mentioned rapacious interchangeable UK politicians Wilson and Heath by name), 'Love You To' with sitars, 'I Want To Tell You'; there was also the upbeat 'Good Day Sunshine' as well as Paul's 'Eleanor Rigby' (sung alone with a string octet); stunningly simple 'Here, There, And Everywhere'; powerful, brassy 'Got To Get You Into My Life'; title song from Yellow Submarine, '68 animated film by Heinz Edelman, still delighting children today; John's quirky 'I'm Only Sleeping', 'And Your Bird Can Sing', 'Doctor Robert' and the mysterious 'Tomorrow Never Knows'. The single 'Penny Lane'/'Strawberry Fields Forever' was first not to be no. 1 UK (no. 2 '67); snapshots of Liverpool childhood were too good: 'Penny Lane' was Paul's, 'Fields' had John's surreal lyrics. Their boldest work to date had been intended for a new LP but released because they took so long to make and a new single was due. UK LPs had seven songs on each side; because of the way royalties were paid and the price structure in American market, American LPs had only six (hard-core fans bought the imported editions), but the Beatles changed all that, too: Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band '67 was identical everywhere (it cost $1 more in USA than previous Beatles sets). As a concept album it was a carnival of pure entertainment, with an overture, a mixture of music hall, old theatre posters ('Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite'), engaging nonsense ('Lovely Rita'), psychedelia ('Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds', LSD mnemonic), Paul's sentimentality ('When I'm Sixty-Four'), Ringo's jolly singing on '(With) A Little Help From My Friends', all strained Martin's then state-of-the-art equipment to its limits: the hurdy-gurdy effect in 'Mr Kite' was obtained by mixing taped bits of steam-organ music at random; the last track 'A Day In The Life' began with leftover lyrics and ended with a 40-piece orch. playing a long improvised chord like a coffin lid, followed by a 20,000 Hz sound only dogs could hear. The collage on sleeve artwork also set fashions, featured marijuana plants (unknown to EMI) amid jungle/jumble. Twenty years later people remembered where they were when they first heard the album, which worked partly because drug-induced bonhomie brought the Fab Four closer together than they had been for a long time or would be again: they had conquered the world but not seen it, prisoners in hotel rooms. In a world-wide satellite broadcast '67 200 million people saw them sing 'All You Need Is Love' two weeks after an Arab--Israeli war. They now extended interest in Eastern music to philosophy, following Maharishi Mahesh Yogi; at a retreat with him in Wales they heard about Epstein's death (probably drug-induced by accident, but enormous fortunes being made had begun to haunt them all, and Epstein, a good manager in the early days, had made a serious mistake in selling Beatles merchandise permissions for practically nothing). Lennon acknowledged that they might never have made it without Epstein. They decided to make an improvised film, leaving London on a bus Sep. '67 without Epstein to organize everything for them, followed by crowds and snarled traffic; they forgot to book studio time and had to shoot interiors in a disused aircraft hangar: Magical Mystery Tour was like a sequence of early experimental pop videos, shown on the BBC 26 Dec. '67 and trounced by critics: a USA TV deal was cancelled; it was the first Beatle failure. Two-disc 7]im[ 45 EP soundtrack album reached no. 2 on the UK singles chart; in USA it filled one LP side, recent singles the other. Meanwhile tax/financial problems were to be sorted out by investment in company which became Apple Corps Ltd, to be operated in hippie 'peace and love' fashion, creativity unstifled by businesslike methods: Dutch design team the Fool commissioned to run Apple boutique in Baker Street (a shoplifters' heaven); Apple Electronics run by incompetent 'Magic Alex', who never invented anything; also Apple Music, Retail, Foundation for the Arts, record label: a few long- time friends worked hard for little reward, hangers-on and people off the street helped themselves with no one in charge: a fortune was saved from taxman by throwing it away. As this disaster was getting under way, the Beatles went to India with Maharishi, but the Liverpudlians were still hardheaded enough quickly to tire of trying to levitate and used the time to write songs. Sessions for The Beatles '68 were marred by John's romance with Yoko Ono, who was constantly present and carelessly in the way, but the group was disintegrating anyway. The two-disc set was called 'The White Album', with no sleeve artwork at all; it incl. scribbles and scraps among flashes of the old brilliance: Lennon's 'Julia' to his long-dead mother, rocker 'Back In The USSR', charming market-place romance 'Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da'. Martin begged them to edit it to a single album but the only thing they agreed on was not to do that. The first batch bore serial numbers: a 'limited edition' of two million. The Apple label was nearly successful: single 'Hey Jude' sold three million; the label signed Mary Hopkin ('Those Were The Days' no. 1 UK, no. 2 USA), James Taylor, Jackie Lomax, the Modern Jazz Quartet; but the Apple empire was collapsing. The Beatles wanted industry shark Allen Klein to sort it out, except Paul, who wanted NYC lawyer John Eastman, soon to be his father-in-law; Klein won and a sweep-out of Apple Corps began. The Yellow Submarine soundtrack album '69 was very short weight. Abbey Road '69 had a famous sleeve photo of the four crossing road to the EMI studio; an absurd rumour started, still peddled today, that Paul was dead, a lookalike replacement hired. The album contrasted Paul's nursery- rhymish 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer' (which John hated), Ringo's vocal on 'Octopus's Garden' with 'Come Together', 'She Came In Through The Bathroom Window' (hit for Joe Cocker '70). Their last album Let It Be was released '70 after the final split; the sessions saw a great many songs recorded, some going back to the Quarrymen ('One After 909'); 'Get Back' was best thing on it. Lennon wanted it done 'live' in the studio rather than edited together, and didn't want Martin to work his usual magic; when everybody got tired of doing take after take, Lennon wanted to release the chaos: 'It'll tell people, This is us with our trousers off, so will you please end the game now?' But he handed the tapes over to Phil Spector; when Paul could not stop what Spector had done to his 'Long And Winding Road' (dubbed strings, etc) he too knew the group was finished, and Martin was still disgusted decades later. A film for the album was completed Jan. '69 with a rooftop concert at Apple's Savile Row headquarters and the sound in the sky was enough for the neighbours, who called police: the decade and the Beatles ended with John saying, 'I'd like to say thank you very much on behalf of the group and myself and I hope we passed the audition.' The self-contained group creating its own material had turned the music business upside down, giving popular music back to the people who made it; the huge amounts of money in post-Beatles pop meant that accountants and lawyers took over record companies and took the music back again, yet Britpop a quarter of a century later was nothing but an echo of the Beatles' uniqueness. Their lyrics were clever and often contained puns, but critics and public looked too hard for secrets: when lines from Shakespeare were thrown into Lennon's sound-collage 'I Am The Walrus' (from Magical Mystery Tour), critic Rex Reed (in Stereo Review) thought they were mocking a priest in the confessional; when psychopathic murderer Charles Manson claimed to be inspired by 'Helter Skelter' (a McCartney scribble on 'The White Album') everybody rushed to listen. The excitement was overdone '66 when Lennon said, 'We're more popular than Jesus now', a banal piece of social comment which some clergymen admitted might be true; and Lennon may have meant it with some regret, or at least puzzlement. He wanted a sleeve illustration on a USA compilation album that year featuring chopped-up dolls and fake blood in a butcher shop, describing it as 'as relevant as Vietnam', but the Beatles weren't allowed to be serious. The issues of Beatles CDs early '87 were revealing: the first was recorded all in one day in mono; Martin had only a two-track machine to work with, putting instruments on one track, voices on the other; mixing down a mono master was a breeze. David Sinclair in The Times wrote of the second LP, revealed by digital technology in all its strangeness: 'Did George intend the guitar intro to ''Roll Over Beethoven'' to sound like a rubber band? Did Paul forget to plug in his bass during ''Hold Me Tight''? And were the Beatles really such a barber shop vocal unit as the ... versatile harmonies, so prominently mixed, suggest?' They were, and unlike other 'beat' groups, they went on from there to get better. They spent four months and $75,000 making Sgt Pepper; less talented groups later spent far more making flops and the Beatles were blamed. William Mann wrote in The Times that Lennon and McCartney were 'the greatest songwriters since Schubert'; Fritz Spiegl described them in The Listener as doing more damage than anyone in the history of music; the American composer Ned Rorem thought that the Beatles had come to slay the wicked serialists; Wilfred Mellers sought subtexts by examining inaccurately arranged sheet music of songs by people who could not read or write music. The Beatles combined Tin Pan Alley chord patterns, a rhythm and blues framework and folk harmonies; later they experimented with electronics and sound-collage, which Cage and Stockhausen had done before them; they invented nothing, but absorbed and reflected with a delightful childlike curiosity; the media contributed to a lot of nonsense, while the Beatles were no more or less than a deeply loved pop group who made people feel good, and whose original, essentially English tunes contained a large element of seaside postcard and music hall: among their many saving graces was that they knew and cheerfully acknowledged that the mystery of their popularity was greater than the sum of their parts. The long-suffering and self-effacing Derek Taylor (b 7 May '32, Liverpool; d 7 Sep. '97), a former reporter on the Daily Express, had gone to work as Epstein's assistant, worked at Apple and was still looking after the Beatles' interests 30 years later. In Dec. '94 a two-CD set Live At The BBC compiled recordings and dialogue from radio programmes; the three surviving Beatles got together '95 to record backing for a tape of Lennon singing 'Free As A Bird', the 'new' Beatles single incl. in Anthology, a three-CD set of scraps and out-takes, and there was an exhaustive TV profile at last making good use of archive film and interviews. Another three-CD set Anthology 2 early '96 was much more interesting, revealing how some of their most famous work was built up in the studio; Anthology 3 late '96 was more of the same, '68--70 near-misses and takes from Let It Be without Spector's mischief, as well as George Harrison doing some of the most focused work of the four. A set of eight videos was released as Anthology, almost double the length of the TV series. Shout! '81 by Philip Norman told their story in detail, but astonishingly has no index; the best book on the music is probably Allan Kozinn's The Beatles '95, and even he falls into the trap of trying to turn pop music into higher culture. Ian MacDonald's Revolution In The Head '94 is very good on the songs. See also entries for individuals.