DDV Music - Music Information and Education

The Beatles

The Beatles

The Beatles
John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr in 1964, during their first American tour.
John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr in 1964, during their first American tour.
Musical artist
Also known as The Quarrymen, the Silver Beetles
Origin Liverpool, England
Genre(s) Rock, Pop
Years active 1960 - 1970
Label(s) Parlophone
Current members
John Lennon
Paul McCartney
George Harrison
Ringo Starr
Former members
Pete Best
Stuart Sutcliffe

The Beatles were a pop and rock music group from Liverpool, England, who continue to be held in the very highest regard for their artistic achievements, their huge commercial success, and their ground-breaking role in the history of popular music. Consisting of John Lennon (1940-1980), Paul McCartney (1942-present), George Harrison (1943-2001) and Ringo Starr (1940-present), the group's innovative music and style helped define the 1960s.

The Beatles were, by most definitions, the biggest musical act of the twentieth century. In their homeland alone, they have had more than 40 different singles, albums and EPs reach Number One. This kind of success has been repeated in many more countries and EMI estimated that by 1985, the band had sold over one billion records worldwide. Their ballad Yesterday, written by McCartney, may well be the most-covered song in the history of recorded music.

The Beatles' achievements and contributions to popular music, and indeed international youth culture, were profound and wide-ranging. Their early original material fused elements of early American rock 'n roll, pop, and R&B into a new form of popular rock 'n roll, almost single-handedly kick-starting the British Invasion, laying the groundwork for the rock culture of the 1960s, and establishing the prototype for the self-contained rock group.

Throughout their career, The Beatles balanced their huge popularity with increasingly experimental and boundary-pushing music that took cues from eclectic sources like folk, R&B, soul, classical, electronic and Indian music while exploiting increasingly sophisticated technology and innovative recording techniques.

In this way, they helped pioneer more advanced, multi-layered arangements in both rock and pop and were instrumental in the development of some of 1960s rock's dominant styles, such as folk-rock and psychedelia. As songwriters, they were among the most influential and melodically sophisticated of the era, helping to push rock beyond its' early blues and R&B forms and into more expansive territory. Critical evaluation of The Beatles legacy demonstrates that they "introduced more innovations into popular music than any other rock band of the 20th century."

To a significant extent, however, the impact of The Beatles extended well beyond music. Their clothes, hairstyles, actions, and even choice of instruments made them trend-setters throughout the decade, while their growing social awareness, reflected in the development of their music, saw their influence extend into the social and cultural revolutions of the 1960s. Though the group disbanded in 1970 (amid much internal strife), they are still recognised as easily the most iconic performers of their era, and moreover one of the greatest popular music groups of the entire rock era.


Rhythm guitarist John Lennon became known for his political activism, as well as his love for guitar-centered rock and roll.
Rhythm guitarist John Lennon became known for his political activism, as well as his love for guitar-centered rock and roll.

Formation and early years

In March of 1957, John Lennon formed a skiffle group called The Quarrymen (fleetingly known as The Blackjacks). In July of that year, Lennon met Paul McCartney while playing at the St. Peter's Church Garden Fete. In February of 1958, the young guitarist George Harrison joined the group, which was then playing under a variety of names. A few primitive recordings of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison from that era have survived. During this period, members continually joined and left the line up. Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison were the only constant members.

The Quarrymen went through a progression of names: Johnny and The Moondogs, Long John and The Silver Beetles, The Silver Beetles, and eventually arriving at the name of The Beatles. The origin of the name "The Beatles" with its unusual spelling is usually credited to John Lennon, who said that the name was a combination word-play on the insect "beetles," a nod to Buddy Holly's band (The Crickets) and the word "beat". He also later said that it was a joke, meaning a pun on "Beat-less".

In 1960, their unofficial manager, Allan Williams, arranged for them to perform in clubs on the Reeperbahn in Hamburg, Germany. In August of 1960, McCartney invited Pete Best to become the group's drummer. Mona Best - Pete´s mother - ran The Casbah Club; a cellar club in Hayman's Green, where the Beatles had played.

While in Hamburg, The Beatles were recruited by singer Tony Sheridan to act as his backing band on a series of recordings for the German Polydor Records label, produced by famed bandleader Bert Kaempfert. Kaempfert signed the group to its own Polydor contract at the first session in June 1961. On 23 October, Polydor released the recording My Bonnie (Mein Herz ist bei dir nur), which made it into the German charts under the name "Tony Sheridan and The Beat Brothers".

Upon their return from Hamburg, the group was enthusiastically promoted by Sam Leach, who presented them over the next year and a half on various stages in Liverpool 49 times. Brian Epstein, manager of the record department at NEMS, his family's furniture store, took over as the group's manager in 1962 and led The Beatles' quest for a British recording contract. Epstein met with producer George Martin of EMI's Parlophone label. Martin, a well-known producer of comedy and novelty albums, expressed an interest in hearing them in the studio. On 6 June he invited the quartet to London's Abbey Road studios, and, after some consideration, decided to grant The Beatles a recording contract.

Their record contract was probably one of the worst at the time, as they were paid one farthing for every single sold. This was not one pence, or even half a pence, but a quarter of one penny. (Their royalties were considerably improved after Allen Klein took over the management of the band.) Their publishing contract with Dick James Music (DJM) was also terrible; they only got 50% of the money received, while James took the other 50%. Epstein also took a percentage of Lennon and McCartney´s share, meaning that they were both left with very little.

But... The Beatles' line-up was still changing. In the spring of 1962, the fifth member of The Beatles, bassist Stuart Sutcliffe, died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage. In August 1962, Pete Best was dismissed and replaced by Ringo Starr, whose real name is Richard Starkey. Starr had been the drummer for rival Liverpool band Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, and had played with The Beatles several times in Hamburg. Though Best had some popularity and was considered good-looking by many female fans, the three founding members had become increasingly unhappy with his drumming and his rather moody personality, and Epstein had become exasperated with his refusal to adopt the distinctive hairstyle as part of their unified look.

The Beatles' first recording sessions, in September of 1962, produced a UK hit, Love Me Do, which charted. (Love Me Do subsequently reached the top of the US singles chart over 18 months later in May 1964.) This was swiftly followed by the recording of their second single Please Please Me. Three months later they recorded their first album (also titled Please Please Me), a mix of original songs by Lennon and McCartney, along with some covers of their favourite songs. The band's first televised performance was on a program called People and Places transmitted live from Manchester by Granada Television on 17 October 1962.

Although the band experienced huge popularity in the record charts in Britain from early 1963, Parlophone's American counterpart, Capitol Records (owned by EMI), refused to issue the singles Love Me Do, Please Please Me and From Me To You in the United States, partly because no British act had ever yet had a sustained commercial impact on American audiences.

Vee-Jay Records, a small Chicago label, is said by some to have been pressured into issuing these singles as part of a deal for the rights to another performer's masters. Art Roberts, music director of Chicago powerhouse radio station WLS, placed Please Please Me into rotation in late February 1963, making it possibly the first time a Beatles' record was heard on American radio. Vee-Jay's rights to The Beatles were cancelled for non-payment of royalties.

In August 1963 the Philadelphia-based Swan label tried again with The Beatles' She Loves You, which also failed to receive airplay. A testing of the song on Dick Clark's TV show American Bandstand resulted only in laughter and scorn from American teenagers when they saw the group's Beatle haircuts. The famous radio DJ, Murray the K featured She Loves You on his 1010 WINS record revue in October, to an underwhelming response.


In early November 1963, Brian Epstein persuaded Ed Sullivan to commit to presenting The Beatles on three editions of his show in February, and parlayed this guaranteed exposure into a record deal with Capitol Records. Capitol committed to a mid-January release for I Want To Hold Your Hand, a series of unplanned circumstances triggered premature airplay of an imported copy of the single on a Washington DC radio station in mid-December. Capitol brought forward release of the record to December 26, 1963.

Several New York radio stations - first WMCA, then WINS and WABC - began playing I Want to Hold Your Hand on its release day, and the Beatlemania that had started in Washington was duplicated in New York and quickly spread to other markets. The record sold one million copies in just 10 days, and by January 16, Cashbox Magazine had certified The Beatles record #1 (in the edition published with the cover-date January 23).

This contributed to the hysterical fan reaction at JFK Airport on February 7, 1964. A record-breaking 73 million viewers - approximately 40% of the US population at the time - tuned in to the first Sullivan appearance on February 9. During the week of April 4, The Beatles held the top five places on the Billboard Hot 100, a feat that has never been repeated.

In mid-1964 the band undertook their first appearances outside of Europe and North America, touring Australia and New Zealand. When they arrived in Adelaide, The Beatles were greeted by what is reputed to be the largest crowd of their touring career, when over 300,000 people - about one-third of the population of the city - turned out to see them. In September of that year, baseball owner Charles O. Finley paid the band the unheard of sum of $150,000 to play in Kansas City, Missouri.

In 1965, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II bestowed upon them the MBE, a civic honour nominated by Prime Minister Harold Wilson. The award, at that time primarily given to military veterans and civic leaders, sparked some conservative MBE recipients to return their awards in protest.

On August 15 of that year, The Beatles performed the first stadium concert in modern rock, playing at Shea Stadium in New York to a crowd of 55,600. The band later admitted that they had been totally unable to hear themselves play or sing, due to the intense level of audience screaming and cheering. Indeed, they found the experience so creatively soul-destroying that this concert is often marked as the point at which their disenchantment with performing live began.

Backlash and breakup

In July 1966, an out-of-context comment from a serious interview caused a backlash against The Beatles from religious and social conservatives in the Bible Belt of the US. Lennon had offered his opinion that Christianity was dying and that the group was "more popular than Jesus" - something that he referred to as a topic that caused concern and consideration. The Beatles records were banned and burned in many cities and towns across America (primarily in the South) and from countries such as South Africa. Lennon apologised several times for his remarks.

The Beatles performed their last concert before paying fans in Candlestick Park in San Francisco on 29 August 1966. From then on, they concentrated on recording music. The Beatles' situation took a turn for the worse when manager Brian Epstein died in August 1967, at the age of 32, and the band's affairs began to unravel. Just two months earlier, on June 25, 1967, The Beatles became the first band globally transmitted on television, in front of an estimated 400 million people worldwide. The Beatles were a segment within the first-ever worldwide TV satellite hook-up - a show titled Our World. The Beatles' contribution was transmitted live from the EMI studios at Abbey Road in London, and their song All You Need Is Love was recorded live during the show. At the end of 1967, they received their first major press criticism in the UK with negative reviews of their surrealistic TV film Magical Mystery Tour.

In 1968, the group spent the early part of the year in Rishikesh, Uttar Pradesh, India studying transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Upon their return, Lennon and McCartney took a trip to New York in order to announce the formation of Apple Corps; an - initially - altruistic business venture which they described at the time as an attempt at "western communism." The latter part of 1968 saw the band busy recording the double album The Beatles, popularly known as The White Album due to its stark-white cover. These sessions saw deep divisions opening within the band.

Their final live performance was on the rooftop of the Apple building in Savile Row, London in January 1969, during the difficult Get Back sessions (later used as a basis for the Let It Be album). Largely due to McCartney's efforts, they recorded their final album, Abbey Road in the summer of 1969. The band officially broke up in April 1970, and one month later Let It Be followed as their last commercial album release.

After the breakup

Following the breakup, the only album to feature all four Beatles (although not on the same song) was Ringo, a 1973 Starr solo album. Any hopes of a reunion were dashed when Lennon was murdered by Mark David Chapman, a mentally ill fan, on December 8, 1980. However, in 1981 the three remaining Beatles (with Linda McCartney and Denny Laine doing backing vocals) recorded the song "All Those Years Ago", a tribute to John Lennon written by George Harrison and released on his album Somewhere in England. Another virtual reunion occurred in 1995 with the release of two original Lennon recordings which had the additional contributions of the remaining Beatles mixed in to create two hit singles, Free as a Bird and Real Love.

Three volumes (six CDs in total) of unreleased material and studio outtakes were also released, as well as a documentary and television miniseries, in a project known as The Beatles Anthology. On December 15, 2005, McCartney and Starr, along with the families of Lennon and Harrison (who died 29 November 2001) sued EMI in a royalties dispute in which Apple Corps claimed EMI owes The Beatles £30 million.

They remain enormously popular. In 1995 and 1996, three Anthology collections of CDs were released, each containing 2 CDs of never-before-released Beatles material, based on the Anthology documentary series. 450,000 copies of Anthology 1 were sold in its first day of release, the highest volume of single-day sales ever for an album. In 2000, a compilation album named 1 was released, containing almost every number 1 single released by the band from 1962 to 1970. The collection sold 3.6 million copies in its first week and more than 12 million in three weeks worldwide, becoming the fastest-selling album of all time and the biggest-selling album of the year 2000. The collection also premiered at #1 in the United States and other countries.

Studio style evolution

Bassist Paul McCartney, wrote the most frequently recorded song in history, the ballad Yesterday.
Bassist Paul McCartney, wrote the most frequently recorded song in history, the ballad Yesterday.

Many observers have said that understanding the success of The Beatles and their music begins with an appreciation for the ways in which they (especially Lennon and McCartney) blended their voices as instruments.

The role of producer George Martin is often cited as a crucial element in their success. He used his experience to bring out the potential in the group, recognising and nurturing their creativity rather than imposing his views.

Their demands to create new sounds with every recording, personal experiments with psychedelic drugs and the studio expertise of EMI staff engineers including Norman Smith, Ken Townshend and Geoff Emerick all played significant parts in the innovative qualities of the albums Rubber Soul (1965), Revolver (1966) and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967).

While most recording artists of the time were satisfied with using two, three or four tracks in the studio, The Beatles began to use linked pairs of four-track decks, and ping-ponging tracks two and three times became common. (EMI delayed the introduction of eight-track recording, already becoming common in American studios, until 1968 at Abbey Road.) Along with studio tricks such as sound effects, unconventional microphone placements, automatic double tracking and vari-speed recording, The Beatles began augmenting their recordings using instruments considered unconventional for pop music at the time, including string and brass ensembles, Indian instruments such as the sitar and the swarmandel, tape loops and early electronic instruments, including John Lennon's Mellotron.

The group gradually took greater charge of their own productions and McCartney's growing dominance in this role, especially after the death of Epstein, played a part in the eventual split of the group. Internal divisions within the band had been a small but growing problem during their earlier career; most notably, this was reflected in the difficulty that George Harrison experienced in getting his own songs onto Beatles' albums, and in the growing artistic and personal estrangement between Lennon and McCartney.

Drug use, personal factors and, above all, the unrelenting pressures and demands of their worldwide fame inevitably intensified these stresses. By the time of the sessions for The Beatles (The White Album), released in November 1968, the once close-knit members were clearly drifting apart both musically and personally. Several tracks were cut as de facto solo recordings by the principal composer, with the other band members more or less relegated to the role of session musician. This isolation is probably most notable on Revolution 9, a wildly experimental John Lennon/Yoko Ono concoction of tape loops, "found sounds," and other studio trickery that the other Beatles reportedly despised and tried to keep off the album. However, it was McCartney who had the strongest interest in the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen, whose Hymnen was heavily influential on Revolution 9. Early Beatles use of "tape loops" on Tomorrow Never Knows were assembled primarily by McCartney.

Harrison's While My Guitar Gently Weeps even featured an outside musician (his friend Eric Clapton) performing the guitar solo; Clapton was reportedly brought in as the result of a bitter dispute between Harrison and Lennon that drove Starr to take a two-week hiatus. During this time McCartney played drums on some of the tracks on the album, including Back in the USSR, on which he also overdubbed most of the lead guitar parts. McCartney had played lead guitar solos on selected songs as far as 1966's Taxman (ironically, a Harrison composition).

The rapidly deteriorating relationships marred the troubled Get Back sessions in January 1969 - Lennon later denounced them as being the worst recordings of their career - and the project was made even more stressful by the presence of a film crew hired to capture the proceedings for a planned movie (which eventually became the Let It Be documentary).

By this time another very significant factor had emerged - Lennon's passionate affair with Japanese artist Yoko Ono. The couple quickly became inseparable and Lennon further alienated the other Beatles by bringing Ono to almost every recording session, breaking the band's long-standing rule against outsiders at sessions. Ono came to be singled out as "the woman who broke up The Beatles" - although after Lennon's death, the surviving three Beatles denied Ono's presence had been a major influence in the breakup.

However, the band's differences were more or less put aside later in the year for the recording of what became their valedictory album, Abbey Road, which the group later recalled as being among the most enjoyable of their career.

While "The White Album" and the original "Get Back" sessions emphasised a return to basic pop-rock song structures, Abbey Road took a step back in the direction of glossy production, although this time primarily consisting of instrumental backing produced by the classically-trained George Martin to help mold together disparate song fragments into a unified, orchestral suite in the tradition of classical compositions.

Abbey Road featured considerable use of synthesisers, but usually in more conventional musical contexts rather than as a source for bizarre and unusual sound effects.

By the end of 1969 both Lennon and McCartney had effectively left the band and the only piece of unfinished business was the as-yet unreleased "Get Back" project. The Beatles had been very unhappy with the original tapes from the "Get Back" sessions (produced as usual by George Martin), and for some time it looked as if the material would be scrapped altogether. After a delay of several months, American producer Phil Spector was brought in to edit, remix and overdub the tapes, and his heavily-orchestrated "Wall of Sound" production characterised the eventual release of the Let It Be album, released in early 1970 nearly a year after the group had ceased to function on an active basis.

By this time, Lennon and Harrison had effectively decided to leave the band. McCartney made the move official at the start of 1970 when he began legal proceedings to dissolve the band's business partnership.

Each Beatle went on to a successful solo career.

In film

Lead guitarist George Harrison is known for introducing some exotic elements into the group's sound, including Indian instruments such as the sitar. (Photo by Richard Avedon, 1968)
Lead guitarist George Harrison is known for introducing some exotic elements into the group's sound, including Indian instruments such as the sitar. (Photo by Richard Avedon, 1968)

The Beatles had a largely successful film career, beginning with A Hard Day's Night (1964), a loosely scripted comic farce, sometimes compared to the Marx Brothers in style. It focused on Beatlemania and their hectic touring lifestyle, and was directed in a quasi-documentary style in black-and-white by an up-and-coming Richard Lester, who was known for having directed a television version of the successful BBC radio series The Goon Show as well as the offbeat short film The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film.

In 1965 came Help!, an Eastmancolor extravaganza, also directed by Lester, shot in exotic locations (such as Salisbury Plain, with Stonehenge visible in the background; the Bahamas; and Salzburg and the Tyrol region of the Austrian Alps) in the style of a James Bond spoof along with even more Marx Brothers-style zaniness: For example, the film is dedicated "to Elias Howe, who in 1846 invented the sewing machine."

In 1966, Lennon "went solo" as a supporting character in a film called How I Won the War, again directed by Lester, a satire of World War II movies. The dry, ironic British humour of this film may have been a bit over the heads of the American audience in pre-Monty Python times, as it was not well received.

The Magical Mystery Tour film was essentially Paul McCartney's idea, outlined as he returned from a trip to the US in the late spring of 1967 and loosely inspired by press coverage McCartney had read about Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters' LSD-fuelled American bus odyssey. McCartney envisaged taking this idea and blending it with the peculiarly English working class tradition of charabanc mystery tours. The film was critically panned when it aired on the BBC's premier television network, BBC-1, on Boxing Day - a day primarily for traditional cosy family entertainment. The film appeared radically avant-garde by those standards, and instead of showcasing the lovable moptops The Beatles had been up until recently, it showed them as part of the hippie counterculture of 1967 that was at odds with the British establishment of the era. Compounding this culture clash was the fact that BBC-1 at that time still only transmitted programmes in black & white, while Tour was in colour. The film was repeated a few days later on the BBC's secondary channel (BBC-2) in colour, receiving more appreciation, but the initial media reaction is what is most remembered.

The animated Yellow Submarine followed in 1968, but had little direct input from The Beatles, save for a live-action epilogue and the contribution of four new songs (including one holdover from the Sgt. Pepper sessions, Only A Northern Song). It was acclaimed for its boldly innovative graphic style and clever humour, along with the soundtrack. The Beatles are said to have been pleased with the result and attended its highly publicised London premiere.

In 1969 Ringo Starr took second billing to Peter Sellers in the satirical comedy The Magic Christian, in a part which had been written for him. Starr proved to be a reasonable comic actor and later embarked on an irregular career in comedy films through the early 1980's. His interest in the subject led him to be the most active of the group in the film division of Apple Corp.

Let It Be was an ill-fated documentary of the band shot over a four-week period in January 1969. The documentary - which was originally intended to be simply a chronicle of the evolution of an album and the band's possible return to live performance - instead captured the prevailing tensions between the band members. In this respect it unwittingly became a document of the beginning of their break-up. The band initially shelved both the film and the album, instead recording and issuing Abbey Road. But with so much money spent on the project, it was decided to finish and release the film and album (the latter with considerable post-production by Phil Spector) in the spring of 1970. When the film finally appeared, it was after the break-up had been announced, and it was viewed by disappointed fans through the prism of that recent news.

Influences and music

Drummer Ringo Starr did not compose many songs for The Beatles but customarily sang one song on each album, most famously Yellow Submarine and With a Little Help from My Friends.
Drummer Ringo Starr did not compose many songs for The Beatles but customarily sang one song on each album, most famously Yellow Submarine and With a Little Help from My Friends.

As youths, the members of The Beatles were enthusiastic followers of Elvis Presley. They recorded a number of Presley covers at "Abbey Road" studios, and although these were not released officially until after the group split, bootleg copies have existed since the late 1960s. In interviews over the years, one or the other of The Beatles has stated that if there had not been Elvis Presley, there probably would not have been The Beatles.

Many of the band's influences were American in origin, especially the music of Chuck Berry. They recorded covers of Berry songs Roll Over Beethoven and Rock and Roll Music on their early albums, and also performed many other of his classics in their live repertoire. Chuck Berry's influence is also heard (in altered form) on later recordings such as Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey (1968) and Come Together (1969). After Come Together was released, music publisher Morris Levy sued John Lennon for copyright infringement of his song You Can't Catch Me, ultimately resulting in Lennon agreeing to record covers of Levy's songs for his solo album Rock 'n' Roll so that Levy could receive royalties.

British rock-and-rollers, notably Cliff Richard and The Shadows, were an obvious early influence, especially the trend of adopting a band "look." In their early days as performers, the band took some cues from local Liverpool favourites Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, who Starr had played with prior to joining The Beatles.

George Harrison had a fondness for American rockabilly music, particularly that of Eddie Cochran and Carl Perkins. The band's early stage shows featured several Perkins tunes; some of these (notably Honey Don't, featuring an early Starr vocal) they eventually recorded for their albums. Harrison's guitar work remained highly influenced by rockabilly styles throughout the band's tenure.

The Beatles' distinctive vocal harmonies were also influenced by those of early Motown artists in America. Early Beatles staples included faithful versions of Barrett Strong's Motown recording of Money (That's What I Want) and The Marvelettes' hit Please Mr. Postman.

While many of these American influences drew from the blues music form, The Beatles, unlike their contemporaries The Rolling Stones, were seldom directly influenced by the blues. Drawing inspiration from an eclectic variety of sources, their home idiom was closer to pop music (during their early fame they were sometimes referred to as a "mod" band, a label they seem to have resisted).

The Beatles were also fond of Little Richard and some of their songs (especially in their early repertoire) featured falsetto calls similar to his, most notably on McCartney's rendition of his song Long Tall Sally. In 1962 Richard socialised with The Beatles around Hamburg and they performed together at the Star-Club. Long Tall Sally became a permanent fixture in The Beatles' concert performances.

Apart from the up-beat, optimistic rock and roll sound of Little Richard and others, McCartney's influences include ragtime and music hall, owing much to his father's musical interests. Their impact is apparent in songs like When I'm Sixty-Four (composed during The Quarrymen period), Honey Pie, and Maxwell's Silver Hammer. Of their early single, From Me to You, McCartney said, "It could be done as an old ragtime tune... especially the middle-eight. And so we're not writing the tunes in any particular idiom." His songwriting was also influenced in part by Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, who was in turn spurred on by The Beatles' work. Wilson acknowledged that the American version of Rubber Soul challenged him to make Pet Sounds, an album which then inspired McCartney's vision of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The Everly Brothers were another influence. Lennon and McCartney consciously copied Don and Phil Everly's distinctive two-part harmonies. Their vocals on Love Me Do and Please Please Me were inspired by the Everlys' powerful vocal innovation on Cathy's Clown (1960), the first recording to ever reach number one simultaneously in the USA and England. Two of Us, the opening track on Let It Be is overtly composed in the Everly style and McCartney acknowledges this in the recording with a spoken Take it Phil. McCartney later namechecked 'Phil and Don' in his solo track, Let Em In.

The song-writing of Gerry Goffin and Carole King was yet another influence. Some say that one of The Beatles' many achievements was to marry the relative sophistication of Goffin and King's songs (which used major-seventh chords, for example) with the straightforwardness of Buddy Holly, Berry and the early rock-and-roll performers.

John Lennon's early style has clear relationships to Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison (Misery from 1963 and Please Please Me from 1963). Holly's That'll Be the Day was the first song Lennon learned to play and sing accurately and the first song the proto-Beatles ever put to vinyl. The naming of The Beatles was Lennon's tribute to Buddy Holly's band, The Crickets. The Beatles covered Holly's Words of Love on their album Beatles for Sale.

With You've Got to Hide Your Love Away (Help!) and Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) (Rubber Soul) from 1965, Lennon began to show a heavy Bob Dylan influence. Lennon is said to have been stunned by Subterranean Homesick Blues, and wondered how he could ever outdo it. He started exploring more complex topics and lyrics and incorporated "folkier" musical styles in some of his songs. And perhaps as a sign of respect, Lennon stopped playing harmonica when Dylan became iconically associated with the instrument. The growing complexity of the group's lyrics after 1965 owe much to Dylan.

Lennon is conventionally portrayed as having played the major role in steering The Beatles towards psychedelia (Rain and Tomorrow Never Knows from 1966, and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Strawberry Fields Forever and I Am the Walrus from 1967). Again following the lead set by Bob Dylan, Lennon renewed his interest in rootsy forms towards the close of The Beatles' career (e.g. Yer Blues from 1968 and Don't Let Me Down from 1969).

Paul McCartney is usually cast as the group's romantic balladeer, and he displays a singular ear for melody and an arguably unrivalled facility for writing classic pop songs in a wide range of genres, ranking alongside Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and the Gershwin brothers as one of the greatest popular song writers of the 20th century. However, in recent years since the deaths of Lennon and Harrison, he has insisted in a number of media interviews that he was far more involved in the London avant garde scene than was Lennon, and that he was in some respects the more "experimental" of the two.

Beginning with his evocative but understated use of a string quartet on Yesterday (1965), McCartney pioneered a modern form of art song, exemplified by the double-quartet string arrangement on Eleanor Rigby (1966), Here, There and Everywhere (1966) and She's Leaving Home (1967). He also created many of the tape loops used on Tomorrow Never Knows and experimented with musique concrete techniques and electronic instruments, as well as creating many experimental audiovisual works. His interest in the music of Bach led him to use a piccolo trumpet in his arrangement of Penny Lane and, although the Mellotron at the start of Strawberry Fields Forever belonged to Lennon, it was McCartney who played it.

McCartney retained his affection for the driving R&B of Little Richard in a series of songs Lennon dubbed "potboilers", from I Saw Her Standing There (1963) to Lady Madonna (1968). Helter Skelter (1968), arguably an early heavy metal song, is also a McCartney composition. McCartney's lyrical style evolved a more detached, literary stance than in the increasingly personal and confessional work of Lennon, and Lennon was reported to have become more critical of McCartney's writing in the mid-Sixties.

The eye-popping psychedelic portraits of The Beatles created by Richard Avedon in 1967.
The eye-popping psychedelic portraits of The Beatles created by Richard Avedon in 1967.

George Harrison derived his early guitar style from 1950s rockabilly figures such as Carl Perkins, Scotty Moore (who worked with Elvis Presley) and Duane Eddy, but his single biggest influence as a guitarist came from country guitar legend Chet Atkins. All My Loving (1963) and She's a Woman (1964) are prime examples of Harrison's early rockabilly-influenced guitar work.

In 1965 Harrison broke new ground in pop by playing an Indian sitar on Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown). His long collaboration with Sri Ravi Shankar, a famous Hindustani Musician, influenced several of his compositions, some of which were based on Hindustani forms - most notably Love You To (1966), Within You Without You (1967) and The Inner Light (1968). Indian music and culture also influenced Lennon and McCartney, with the use of swirling tape loops, droning bass lines and mantra-like vocals on Tomorrow Never Knows (1966) and Dear Prudence (1968). Harrison's interest in Indian music was an important influence on the popularisation of the so-called world music genre in the years that followed.

Harrison retained Western musical forms in his later compositions, emerging as a significant pop composer in his own right, although occasionally reprising major themes indicating his relationship with Hindustani music and the Hindu god Krishna. His later guitar style, while not displaying the virtuosity of Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton, was distinctive with its use of clear melodic lines and subtle fills as in Something (1969) and Let It Be (1970), contrasting with the increasingly distorted riffs and rapid-fire guitar solo work of his contemporaries.

Ringo rarely wrote songs, but he possessed a gentle, somewhat comic baritone; his best-known vocal performances are Yellow Submarine (1966), With A Little Help From My Friends (1967) and Octopus's Garden (1969). In addition to his skilled (and arguably underrated) drumming and his comical everyman image, he was also a considerable influence on Lennon's songwriting due to his quirky and often amusing turns of phrase. Three of these were immortalised in the songs A Hard Day's Night, Eight Days A Week and Tomorrow Never Knows. As evidenced by his Beatles vocal performance on Help! (their cover of Buck Owens' Act Naturally), Starr was a dedicated country music fan and was largely responsible for the group's occasional forays into the genre in songs such as What Goes On (1965) and Don't Pass Me By (1968).

Later Beatles material shifted away from dance music and the pace of the songs is often more moderate, with interest tending to come from melody and harmonic texture rather than the rhythm (Penny Lane from 1967 is an example). Throughout their career The Beatles' songs were rarely riff (or ostinato)-driven; Day Tripper (1965) and Hey Bulldog (1969, recorded 1968) are among the notable exceptions.

The decision to stop touring in 1966 caused an abrupt change in musical direction. Reportedly stung by criticism of Paperback Writer, The Beatles poured their creative energies into the recording studio. They had already shown a clear trend towards progressively greater complexity in technique and style but this accelerated noticeably in their Revolver album. The subject matter of the post-touring songs branched out as well, as all manner of subjects were introduced, from home repair and circuses to nonsense songs and others defying description.

The extreme complexity of Sgt. Pepper's reached its height on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack album, parts of which (for example It's All Too Much and Only a Northern Song) were left over from 1967 and were apparently used because The Beatles themselves weren't much interested in the animated film as a project and weren't inclined to exert themselves by producing much new material for it.

The iconic Abbey Road album cover.
The iconic Abbey Road album cover.

After the Revolver/Sgt. Pepper's phase, came the double LP The Beatles, known to most as The White Album because of its plain white sleeve. Partly written in India, it involved some simpler subjects (for example "Birthday"), and some of the songs (for example "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?" and "Wild Honey Pie") were far less complex than their material of just a year or two before. In 1969, the band became less united during sessions for the aborted Get Back project (which eventually emerged in 1970, much altered, as Let It Be). This had been intended as a return to more basic songs and an avoidance of thorough editing or otherwise "artificial" influences on the final output. Ironically Let It Be was heavily overdubbed and edited by producer Phil Spector in his wall of sound technique. With Get Back behind them, George Martin was asked to produce the last album The Beatles recorded, Abbey Road, representing a mature attempt to integrate what they knew and use recording studio techniques to improve the songs rather than experiment to see what happened.

For many, the group's musical appeal lay in the interaction of Lennon and McCartney's voices and musical styles. It is sometimes said they not only supplied missing bits and pieces for each other's songs, but shared a competitive edge that brought out the best in both. Harrison's lead guitar and vocals along with Starr's understated and faithful drumming contributed their own chemistry. Finally, The Beatles' stage presence and charm as a group kindled their live shows, as well as relationships with key people in their careers. After the group dissolved some critics cited their solo releases as a demonstration of how important this group collaboration had been.


In 1993, a pair of paleontologists, Edgecombe & Chatterton, named a series of fossil trilobite species Avalanchurus lennoni, Avalanchurus starri, and Struszia mccartneyi.

There is an asteroid named after each member of The Beatles.


  • Rickenbacker, Gretsch, Epiphone, Gibson, and Fender guitars
  • Ludwig drums
  • Blüthner pianos
  • Höfner, Fender and Rickenbacker basses
  • Hammond electric organ

Song catalogue

In 1963 The Beatles gave their song publishing rights to Northern Songs, a company created by Brian Epstein and music publisher Dick James. Northern Songs went public in 1965 with Lennon and McCartney each holding 15% of the company's shares while Dick James and the company's chairman, Charles Silver, held a controlling 37.5%. In 1969, following a failed attempt by Lennon and McCartney to buy back the company, James and Silver sold Northern Songs to British TV company Associated TeleVision (ATV), in which Lennon and McCartney received stock.

In 1985 ATV's music catalogue was sold to Michael Jackson for a reported $47 million (beating McCartney's bid), including the publishing rights to over 200 Beatles songs. A decade later Jackson and Sony merged their music publishing businesses. Since 1995 Jackson and Sony/ATV Music Publishing have jointly owned most of The Beatles' songs. Sony later reported that Jackson had used his share of their co-owned Beatles' catalogue as collateral for a loan from the music company. Meanwhile Lennon's estate and McCartney still receive their standard songwriter shares of the royalties.

Although the Jackson-Sony catalogue includes most of The Beatles' greatest hits, a few of the early songs weren't included in the original ATV deal and McCartney later succeeded in personally acquiring the publishing rights to Love Me Do, Please Please Me, P.S. I Love You and Ask Me Why.

Harrison and Starr didn't renew their songwriting contracts with Northern Songs in 1968, signing with Apple Publishing instead. Harrison later created Harrisongs, his own company which still owns the rights to his classics such as While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Something. Ringo Starr also created his own company, called Startling Music. It holds the rights to his two Beatle-composed songs, "Don't Pass Me By" and "Octopus's Garden."


  • Beatles-discography.com. (various pages). URL accessed on January 26, 2006.
  • Bramwell, Tony (2005). Magical Mystery Tours. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0312330439.
  • Braun, Michael (1964 [1995 Reprint]). Love Me Do: The Beatles' Progress. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 0140022783.
  • Carr, Roy & Tyler, Tony (1975). The Beatles: An Illustrated Record. Harmony Books. ISBN 0517520451.
  • Davies, Hunter (1985). The Beatles [Second Revised Edition]. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 00070155267.
  • Goldsmith, Martin (2004). The Beatles Come To America. Turning Points. ISBN 0471469645.
  • Kubernik, Ken (October 16, 2005). Here, There & Everywhere. Variety Magazine's 100 Icons of the Century. Variety Magazine. URL accessed on January 28, 2006.
  • Lewis, Martin (October 16, 2005). The Apollonian Spirit of the Beatles. Variety Magazine's 100 Icons of the Century. Variety Magazine. URL accessed on January 28, 2006.
  • Lewisohn, Mark (1990). EMI's The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions: The Official Story of the Abbey Road Years. Hamlyn. ISBN 0681031891.
  • MacDonald, Ian (1995). Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties. Vintage. ISBN 0712666974.
  • Norman, Philip (1997). Shout: The Beatles in Their Generation. MJF Books. ISBN 1567310877.
  • Schaffner, Nicholas (1977). The Beatles Forever. Cameron House. ISBN 0811702251.
  • Spitz, Bob (2005). The Beatles. Little Brown. ISBN 0316803529.

Further reading

  • The Beatles, The Beatles Anthology. Chronicle Books, LLC, 2000. ISBN 0811826848
  • Turner, Steve, A Hard Day's Write. Harper Paperbacks, 3rd ed. 2005. ISBN 0060844094 (The inspiration or meaning for every Beatles song.)

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