The Beatles are even today known as the greatest and most influential act of the rock era. They introduced more innovations into popular music than any other rock band of the 20th century. Moreover, they were among the few artists of any genre that were simultaneously the best at what they did, and the most popular at what they did. They were also the first British rock group to achieve worldwide prominence, launching a British Invasion that made rock truly an international phenomenon. Guitarist and teenage rebel John Lennon got hooked on rock & roll in the mid-’50s, and formed a band, the Quarrymen, at his high school.
Around mid-1957, the Quarrymen were joined by another guitarist, Paul McCartney. A bit later they were joined by another guitarist, George Harrison, a friend of McCartney’s. As the line up of the Quarrymen grew and depleted, the Quarrymen were eventually reduced to the trio of guitarists: Lennon, McCartney and Harrison. The Quarrymen changed their name to the Silver Beatles in 1960, quickly dropping the “Silver” to become just the Beatles. Lennon’s college friend Stuart Sutcliffe joined on bass, but finding a permanent drummer was a problem until Pete Best joined in 1960.
Although the Beatles had “artfully combin[ed] the best of American musical influences , the vocal style of black rhythm and blues groups from the 1950s, the primitive excitement of rock ‘n’ roll, the flair of Elvis, and the slickness of the American “hit parade”” (Assayas, 26) they hadn’t fully developed , and some of their early recordings were issued only after the band’s rise to fame. Near the end of 1961, the Beatles’ exploding local popularity caught the attention of local record store manager Brian Epstein, who was soon managing the band as well. He used his contacts to acquire a January 1, 1962, audition at Decca Records.
After weeks of deliberation, Decca turned them down, as did several other British labels. Epstein’s perseverance was finally rewarded with an audition for producer George Martin at Parlophone, an EMI subsidiary; Martin signed the Beatles in mid-1962. By this time, Epstein was grooming the band for national success by influencing them to get rid of their leather jackets and throw on a suit and tie. One more major change was kicking Pete Best out of the band. Best was replaced by Ringo Starr. As each of the groups singles sold over a million copies in the U. K.
After some celebrated national TV appearances, Beatlemania broke out in Britain. A major American label, Capitol, had declined to issue the group’s first few singles, which ended up appearing on small American independents. Capitol took up its option on “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” which stormed to the top of the U. S. charts within weeks of its release. The Beatles’ television appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show in February of 1964 launched Beatlemania in America. Between riotous international tours in 1964 and 1965, the Beatles continued to squeeze out more chart-topping albums and singles.
Althought everything seemed to be going their way and they were “on top of the world” “enthusiasm for the Beatles [was] not universal. When they land[ed] for the first time in the United States, in February 1964, the Beatles face[d] a campaign called “Stop the Beatles” spearheaded by a law student with a crew-cut who is horrified by their hairstlyes. ” (Assayas, 30) Personal interests were coming into play as well: Lennon’s devotion to romantic and artistic pursuits with his new girlfriend (and soon-to-be-wife) Yoko Ono was diverting his attentions from the Beatles.
Then, in 1967 the band’s manager and close friend, Brian Epstein was found dead in his hotel room. Autopsy reports showed that the cause of death was an overdose of sleeping pills. Epstein was vulnerable to suicide. The final blow, apparently, was the conflict between the release dates of the groups album, Let It Be and McCartney’s debut solo album. The rest of the group asked McCartney to delay his release until after Let It Be; McCartney refused.
Although McCartney received much of the blame for the split, it should be remembered that he had done more than any other member to keep the group going since Epstein’s death, and that each of the other Beatles had threatened to leave well before McCartney’s departure. With hindsight, the breakup seemed inevitable in view of their serious business disagreements and the growth of their individual interests. “So obviously dazzling was The Beatles’ achievement that few have questioned it. Agreement on them is all but universal: they were far and away the best-ever pop group and their music enriched the lives of millions. ” (Macdonald,1)