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WORLD OF MUSIC SPECIALS

 

 

THE BEATLES

The Beatles Story

Probably the most popular, influential and enduring rock group of all time, the Beatles 
almost single-handedly reshaped rock 'n' roll from a genre of throwaway singles by faceless stars to an artistic medium with recognizable images and idols. The Beatles placed the emphasis on a group, rather than a single individual (like Frank Sinatra or Elvis). They also set an example for all rock acts to follow with their strong sense of self-determination, going against their record company and management on many issues, even refusing to tour at the height of their popularity. Their countless hit singles have become modern-day folk songs, covered by hundreds of individuals and groups and inspiring countless more, and have sold more copies than those of any other band in history. 
The roots of the Beatles date back to Liverpool, England in the late 1950s. Inspired by the growing British skiffle craze, John Lennon bought a guitar in March 1957 and formed a skiffle group called 
the Quarrymen, named after his high school, Quarry Bank. The lineup changed frequently, but by October 1959 it consisted of Lennon, his younger classmate Paul McCartney, George Harrison and drummer Colin Hanton. By March of 1960, Lennon's art school classmate Stuart Sutcliffe joined the band on bass and suggested the name the Beetles, a response to Buddy Holly's group the Crickets. By that summer they were the Silver Beatles, settling 
on the Beatles in August. That month the Beatles departed for Hamburg, West Germany, with their new drummer Pete Best, to try to establish themselves in Europe. The band became a popular local act, performing at various clubs until they were expelled from the country in November because George Harrison was underage. The Beatles returned to Germany in early 1961 to record as a backup band for singer Tony Sheridan; these sessions were later released during the mid-'60s as "new" Beatles material, taking advantage of unsuspecting fans. Meanwhile Sutcliffe had left the band to pursue his art career, with McCartney taking over on bass. Sutcliffe died of a brain hemorrhage the following year. Throughout 1961 the Beatles played clubs in Britain, becoming an underground sensation; they were particularly famous at the Cavern Club in their native city of Liverpool. Though they played 
mostly covers, Lennon and McCartney began writing original songs together, agreeing to forever share songwriting credits, even though they only co-wrote a handful of tunes during their entire 
career as the Beatles. By the end the year, Liverpool record store owner Brian Epstein had become the band's manager, and quickly began trying to find them a record contract. On January 1, 1962 the Beatles auditioned for Decca Records, performing 12 covers and three originals for A&R assistant Mike Smith. The group was rejected, however, and told that "guitar groups are on the way out." Undaunted, Epstein got the group an audition at Parlophone, an EMI subsidiary, with producer George Martin, who signed the Beatles on May 9, 1962. After one recording session, Martin suggested that drummer Pete Best be replaced, and the Beatles brought in Ringo Starr (born Richard Starkey), a well-known local drummer, as his replacement. By October 1962 their first single, 
"Love Me Do" b/w "P.S. I Love You," was a U.K. Top 20 hit, allegedly because Epstein bought 10,000 copies himself to ensure that it would chart. The band began regular guest spots on the BBC, performing over fifty times between 1962 and 1964. 

In February of 1963 the Beatles returned to the studio to record 10 songs (in one day!) for their first album, Please Please Please Me, which was released the following month. It became an instant 
hit, staying at No. 1 in Britain for 30 weeks and by October, female fans were screaming at their performances -- the start of "Beatlemania." 
Following an early November performance before the royal family, Parlophone released a second Beatles album, With The Beatles. By the end of the year the group had sold over 2.5 million albums in Britain, and had a string of million-selling singles. 
Naturally, word about this amazing new act soon spread to America. Yet, ignoring the British success of the Fab Four, EMI's U.S. partner, Capitol, declined to issue the first few Beatles 
singles, which were instead picked up by the Chicago-based indie label Vee Jay Records. Vee Jay packaged the early singles as Introducing the Beatles, their first U.S. LP. During the second 
half of 1963 it was the only Beatles material available in America, and sold incredibly well; by 1964 a court awarded the rights to all Beatles recordings to EMI/Capitol, and the record went out 
of print, only to become one of the most counterfeited albums in music history. In January of 1964 Capitol released their first 
U.S. Beatles LP, Meet the Beatles, containing remixed material from their two British albums. Following a landmark three- weekend stint on the Ed Sullivan show in February of 1964 (viewed by over 73 million people), the Beatles were the biggest band in America -- "Beatlemania" had taken hold of the U.S., also paving the way for other "British Invasion" groups. To capitalize on their 
incredible popularity, the Fab Four were made the stars of a comedy film, A Hard Days Night, which, surprisingly, earned good reviews and, not surprisingly, spawned a hit soundtrack album. 
Following the release of the movie in July, the band embarked on their first North American tour, performing 25 stadium dates in the U.S. and Canada. By the end of the year Beatles For Sale was in British stores, part of EMI's plan to have a new Beatles album out every six months, while their previous albums and singles still clogged the U.S. and U.K Top 10. In 1965 the band appeared 
in a second movie, the James Bond spoof Help!,which also spawned a soundtrack album. Another huge U.S. tour followed. 
Not content with their unprecedented commercial success, the Beatles began to take their music more seriously, shifting from covers and upbeat pop love songs to more introspective, experimental material, highlighted on December 1965's Rubber 
Soul. The next U.S. Beatles album, Yesterday...And Today, was released on June 15, 1966 and featured a shocking cover featuring the handsome Fab Four surrounded by raw meat and butchered baby dolls, a protest against Capitol's "butchery" of their 
albums in the U.S. market. Complaints from retailers immediately rolled in, and the album was withdrawn, reissued the following week with a new, mundane cover of a steamer trunk. (Today copies of the album with the original cover are worth thousands of dollars.) Further controversy plagued the group when John Lennon claimed in a newspaper interview that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus." Many radio stations stopped playing their 
songs, and protesters appeared outside their concerts. Meanwhile the group was increasingly under the influence of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, an Indian guru; this flirtation with Eastern religion soon became common among '60s rock stars, and, more interestingly, lead the Beatles to experiment with Indian sitar music on their next few albums. The band also began using copious amounts of psychedelic drugs, foreshadowing the 
"flower children" of the next few years. Following the release of Revolver, their most mature effort to date, in August 1966, the Beatles embarked on their final U.S. tour, playing their 
last live show at San Francisco's Candlestick Park on August 29th. Henceforth, the band announced, they were going to eschew live performances to concentrate on more elaborate studio recordings. Rumors of a breakup were spread in the media as 
the band disappeared from the public. The Beatles spent much of early 1967 in the studio, recording their magnum opus, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. This groundbreaking concept album completely changed the way rock albums created: it 
used numerous studio effects, placed the emphasis on the album as a whole rather than on singles, and rewrote the standard for cover art with its famous mannequin-based photo collage.Sgt. Pepper's later won four Grammys, including Best Album. 
On August 27, 1967 Beatles manger Brian Epstein was found dead of a drug overdose, possibly intentional. The band was shaken, but decided not to hire a new manager, assuming complete control over their own career. Their first project without 
Epstein's guidance, the concept album and BBC TV special Magical Mystery Tour, was attacked by critics, and perhaps was the beginning of the end for the Beatles. By 1968 the group had formed its own record label, Apple, and was recording tracks 
for a new double album. Sessions were filled with tension as members of the group stormed out periodically and often failed to record together, turning in tracks recorded independently. The 
often bizarre result, popularly referred to as The White Album but officially called The Beatles, was released in November of 1968, and featured a guest appearance by Eric Clapton on the single "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." That same month John Lennon 
released a solo album recorded with his controversial new lover, Japanese-American artist Yoko Ono, entitled Unfinished Music No. 1 - Two Virgins. Late in 1968 an animated film inspired by 
the song "Yellow Submarine" was released in theaters. Despite the cheery tone of the film, created with little band involvement, the real Beatles were hardly speaking, spending more time 
on their personal lives and own musical projects than on the group. 

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