Monday, January 12, 2009

Beatles Biography

John Lennon formed a skiffle group called The Quarrymen in 1957. In July of that year, he met Paul McCartney and invited him to join the band. Paul’s friend George Harrison joined the group as lead guitarist in March of 1958. In 1960, Stuart Sutcliffe joined as bassist, and later Pete Best was added as drummer. The group was temporarily known as Johnny and the Moondogs but changed its name to the Beatles after touring Scotland.

In 1960 and 1961, the Beatles performed in Hamburg, Germany at such clubs as the Indra Club, the Kaiserkeller, and the Top Ten Club. While in Hamburg in 1961, Tony Sheridan recruited the Beatles as his backing band. Paul began playing bass after Sutcliffe, not very accomplished on the instrument, remained in Germany in 1960 to be with his fiancé, Astrid Kerchherr.

On February 21, 1961, the Beatles appeared at Liverpool’s Cavern Club for the first time. It was at the Cavern that Brian Epstein first saw the group, which he thought had promise even though they were rough around the edges both musically and in the matter of attire. He offered to manage the group, which signed a five-year contract with him. Decca Records declined to sign the group to a recording contract after their January 1, 1962 audition, and several of EMI’s staff also turned down the group. Epstein eventually met George Martin, trained in classical music, who signed the band to a one-year contract with EMI’s Parlophone Records. Because of Martin’s dissatisfaction with Pete Best, the Beatles’ drummer was replaced with Richard Starkey (aka Ringo Starr), a drummer with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Ringo and his group were as established part of the musical movement in Liverpool and surrounding areas, a movement known as the Mersey Beat.

Beatlemania began in Europe when the Beatles had success with singles such as “Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me.” When the latter hit number one in Great Britain, the Beatles recorded their first album, Please Please Me, in one session on February 11, 1963. Although the Beatles continued to record such songs as “She Loves You” and “From Me to You,” Capital Records refused to release the band’s singles in the United States. This changed after Ed Sullivan invited the group to appear on his television program three times in January of 1964. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was therefore rush-released in late 1963 and quickly rose on the charts. After seventy-four million people viewed the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, Beatlemania took root in America.

Later in 1964, the Beatles began a world tour and filmed their first feature film, A Hard Day’s Night, directed by Richard Lester. By the end of 1964, the Beatles had recorded additional LPs: With the Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night, and Beatles for Sale. (See the Beatles Discography on this site for the Capital LP releases, which differed from the UK LPs.) After receiving MBEs from Queen Elizabeth in 1965, the Beatles second film, Help!, was released. In August, 1966, the Beatles performed at Shea stadium to a crowd estimated to be between 55,000 and 70,000 screaming fans. At the time, it was the largest rock concert ever to be held.

1966 was a difficult and controversial year for the Beatles. They barely escaped with their lives after declining a dinner invitation from Emelda Marcos, wife of the Philippines’ dictator, because it conflicted with one of their coveted days off. The group was treated roughly at the airport as they tried to depart, and their roadies were punched several times. Shortly afterwards, John made his infamous comment that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, a comment that, in the United States, resulted in Beatles boycotts and record burnings. Under pressure from Brian Epstein and the American media, Lennon gave a begrudging and somewhat sarcastic apology for his remark, saying that he had not meant to “knock” religion. The Beatles’ U.S. tour continued, but the group, unable to hear themselves and tired of their grueling touring schedule, gave their last concert at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on August 29, 1966.

What followed was dubbed the Beatles “studio years.” They recorded Sgt. Pepper’s Lonelely Hearts Club Band over a period of four months. The album was released to rave reviews on June 1, 1967, although many hardcore Beatles fans had mixed reactions to the band’s new style, clearly influenced by the psychedelic movement. The album had been Paul’s idea, one that was formed after listening to the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, which made innovative use of new instruments and harmonies.

The Beatles next embraced transcendental meditation while visiting Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh, India in 1968 after receiving scathing reviews for their 1967 surrealistic film, Magical Mystery Tour, which did not air in the United States as planned (although it would later be shown underground and finally on ABC.) While in India, Lennon and McCartney composed many songs for their LP, which came to be called The White Album. It was also in 1968 that Brian Epstein died from an apparent drug and alcohol overdose, after which the Beatles formed Apple Corps, Ltd., a company that would supposedly allow ordinary people to publish art of all kinds without having to endure usual corporate auditions (or standards). Tensions were mounting within the group, however, and Ringo temporarily left during The White Album, leaving McCartney to perform or overdub many of the drum tracks. Lennon, Harrison and Starr wished Allen Klein to manage the group in Epstein’s absence, although McCartney favored Lee Eastman, the father of his future wife Linda. The other three Beatles felt that Eastman might favor McCartney’s interests over theirs, and Klein became the Beatles manager.

In January of 1969, the Beatles began a film documenting the recording of their next album, to be called Get Back. Tensions ran even higher when the Beatles’ egos clashed and Yoko Ono also continued to sit in on what had always been closed recording sessions. After an impromptu rooftop concert at Apple headquarters at Saville Row, the project was suspended, although the group re-assembled in the summer of that year to record their final album together, Abbey Road. The Get Back tapes were given to Phil Spector in 1970, who mixed the tapes, which were released under the title Let It Be in May, 1970. The Beatles, especially McCartney (who had pioneered and supervised the Get Back project), were unhappy with Spector’s mix, which was re-released many years later as Let It Be … Naked.

McCartney had announced the breakup of the group (and the release of his first solo album, McCartney) in April of 1970. In December of 1970, he sued to dissolve the group, although the final legal dissolution did not come until 1975. From 1970 to the present, the individual Beatles began recording solo albums. The Beatles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.

The group reunited, after a fashion, when Paul, George, and Ringo added their vocals and instruments to two Lennon tapes in the possession of Yoko Ono, “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love.” The two songs were released in conjunction with The Beatles Anthology ABC TV series (and accompanying CD issues by Apple) in 1995.

John Lennon was assassinated on December 8, 1980, and George Harrison died of lung cancer on November 29, 2001. The legacy of the Beatles continues with CDs such as Love, a re-mixing of various Beatles songs by George and Giles Martin. The CD is also the basis of Love, a performance by Cirque du Soleil. Both McCartney and Starr have continued to release CDs from 2001 to 2009and are still active in the recording and performing careers.

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