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The Beatles History


Formation and early years (1957–1962)

Aged sixteen, John Lennon formed the skiffle group The Quarrymen with some Liverpool schoolfriends in March 1957. Fifteen-year-old Paul McCartney joined as a guitarist after he and Lennon met that July. When McCartney in turn invited George Harrison to watch the group the following February, the fourteen-year-old joined as lead guitarist.  By 1960 Lennon’s schoolfriends had left the group, he had begun studies at the Liverpool College of Art and the three guitarists were playing rock and roll whenever they could get a drummer.  Joining on bass in January, Lennon’s fellow student Stuart Sutcliffe suggested changing the band name to “The Beetles” as a tribute to Buddy Holly and The Crickets, and they became “The Beatals” for the first few months of the year.  After trying other names including “Johnny and the Moondogs”, “Long John and The Beetles” and “The Silver Beatles”, the band finally became “The Beatles” in August.  The lack of a permanent drummer posed a problem when the group’s unofficial manager, Allan Williams, booked them to perform as resident band for a period in Hamburg, Germany.   Before the end of August they auditioned and hired drummer Pete Best,   and the five-piece band left for Hamburg four days later, contracted to fairground showman Bruno Koschmider for a 48-night residency. “Hamburg in those days did not have rock’n’roll music clubs. It had strip clubs,” says biographer Philip Norman;

Bruno had the idea of bringing in rock groups to play in various clubs. They had this formula. It was a huge nonstop show, hour after hour, with a lot of people lurching in and the other lot lurching out. And the bands would play all the time to catch the passing traffic. In an American red-light district, they would call it nonstop striptease.Many of the bands that played in Hamburg were from Liverpool…It was an accident. Bruno went to London to look for bands. But he happened to meet a Liverpool entrepreneur in Soho, who was down in London by pure chance, and he arranged to send some bands over.

Initially placing The Beatles at the Indra Club in August 1960, Koschmider moved them to the Kaiserkeller in October after the Indra was closed down because of complaints about the noise.  When they violated their contract by performing at the rival Top Ten Club, Koschmider reported the under-age Harrison to the German authorities, leading to his deportation in November. McCartney and Best were arrested for arson a week later when they set fire to a condom hung on a nail in their room; they too were deported. Lennon returned to Liverpool in mid-December, while Sutcliffe remained in Hamburg with his new German fiancée Astrid Kirchherr.  During 1961 and 1962 the group were resident for further periods in Hamburg. At the same time they became increasingly popular in Liverpool, making frequent appearances at The Cavern Club, where Brian Epstein eventually encountered them before becoming their manager.   During one stretch at Hamburg’s Top Ten club, Bert Kaempfert contracted them to act as Tony Sheridan’s backing band on a series of recordings.  Credited to “Tony Sheridan and The Beat Brothers”, the 1961 single “My Bonnie” reached number 32 in the Musikmarkt chart.  Sutcliffe continued to stay in Hamburg with Kirchherr, so McCartney took up bass.  When the band appointed Epstein manager in January 1962, Kaempfert agreed to release them from their Polydor contract, and after Decca Records rejected the band with the comment “Guitar groups are on the way out, Mr. Epstein”, George Martin signed the group to EMI’s Parlophone label.  News of a tragedy greeted them on their return to Hamburg in April.  Meeting them at the airport, a stricken Kirchherr told them of Sutcliffe’s death from a brain haemorrhage.

After the first session at Abbey Road Studios, Martin complained to Epstein about Best’s drumming and suggested the band use a session drummer in the studio.   Instead, Best was dismissed, replaced by

Abbey Road Studios main entrance

Abbey Road Studios main entrance

Ringo Starr. Starr, who left Rory Storm and the Hurricanes to join The Beatles, had already performed with them occasionally when Best was ill.  Martin still hired session drummer Andy White for one session,  and White played on “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You”. Released in October 1962, “Love Me Do” gave the group their first UK top twenty hit, peaking at number seventeen on the chart.  After a November studio session yielded their second single, “Please Please Me”, they made their TV debut with a live performance on the regional news programme People and Places.  As their popularity spread in the UK, a frenzied adulation of the group took hold, dubbed “Beatlemania”. The last two Hamburg stints, in November and December 1962, involved another 90 hours of performing. All told, they appeared on 270 nights in just over a year and a half, playing live an estimated 1,200 times.

Beatlemania and touring years (1963–1966)

UK popularity, Please Please Me and With The Beatles

The "drop-T" logo

The "drop-T" logo

Released in the wake of the moderate UK success of “Love Me Do”, “Please Please Me” met with a more emphatic reception, reaching number two in the UK singles chart. The follow-up, “From Me to You”, began an almost unbroken run of seventeen UK number one singles, including all but one of those released for the next six years. 1963 also saw the band’s first two studio albums, and the start of an equally emphatic UK album chart run from 1963 to 1970 during which eleven of their total of thirteen studio albums achieved the UK number one position. Originally intending to record Please Please Me (1963) live at The Cavern Club, but finding “the acoustic ambience of an oil tank”, Martin elected to create a “live” album in one session at Abbey Road Studios. Ten songs exemplifying the band’s current repertoire were recorded, accompanied on the album by the four tracks already released on the two singles. Allmusic, recalling how the band “rushed to deliver a debut album, bashing out Please Please Me in a day”, comments, “Decades after its release, the album still sounds fresh, precisely because of its intense origins.” Lennon said little thought went into composition at the time; he and McCartney were “just writing songs à la Everly Brothers, à la Buddy Holly, pop songs with no more thought of them than that—to create a sound. And the words were almost irrelevant.”

Please Please Me stayed at number one for thirty weeks, only to be displaced by With The Beatles (1963) which itself remained at the top of the album chart for twenty-one weeks. Comprising a similar mix of new recordings and singles tracks, but seeing significantly greater use of studio production techniques than its “live” predecessor, With The Beatles, recorded in stages from July to November 1963, is described by the same reviewer as “a sequel of the highest order—one that betters the original by developing its own tone and adding depth.” In a reversal of what had until then been standard practice, the album was released ahead of the imminent single “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, with the song excluded from its track listing in order to maximize the single’s sales.  With The Beatles caught the attention of Times music critic William Mann, who went as far as to suggest that Lennon and McCartney were “the outstanding English composers of 1963”. Starting with “Till There Was You”, and continuing with tracks from the albums that followed, the newspaper published a series of Mann’s articles giving his detailed analysis of Beatles music, lending it respectability in the eyes of his readers.  With The Beatles became the second album in UK chart history to sell a million copies, a figure only previously achieved over a decade earlier by the 1950 South Pacific soundrack.

The Beatles’ iconic “drop-T” logo made its appearance in 1963. Based on an impromptu design sketched by Ivor Arbiter, the logo was first used on the front of Starr’s bass drum, which Epstein and Starr purchased from Arbiter’s London shop.  The band toured the UK four times during the year, February’s four-week tour preceding three-week tours in March and May and a six-week tour in November. Although not billed as tour leaders, they overshadowed other acts including Tommy Roe, Chris Montez and Roy Orbison, US artists who had established great popularity in the UK. Performances everywhere, both on tour and at the many one-off shows across the UK throughout the year, were greeted with riotous enthusiasm by screaming fans.  Police found it necessary to use high-pressure water hoses to control the crowds, and there were debates in Parliament over the thousands of police officers putting themselves at risk to protect the group.

The British Invasion

Beatles releases in the United States were initially delayed for nearly a year when Capitol Records, though owned by EMI, declined to issue either “Please Please Me” or “From Me to You”.  Negotiations with independent US labels produced some single releases, but commercial success was hampered by other obstacles including issues with royalties and derision of the Beatle haircut. US chart success came suddenly after a news broadcast about Beatlemania in the UK triggered great demand, leading Capitol to rush-release “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in December 1963. The band’s US debut was already scheduled to take place a few weeks later.

The Beatles arrive at John F. Kennedy International Airport, 7 February 1964

The Beatles arrive at John F. Kennedy International Airport, 7 February 1964

When they left the UK on 7 February 1964, an estimated four thousand fans gathered at Heathrow Airport, waving and screaming as the aircraft took off.  “I Want to Hold Your Hand” had sold 2.6 million copies in the US over the previous two weeks, but the group were still nervous about how they would be received.  At John F. Kennedy Airport they were greeted by another vociferous crowd, estimated at about three thousand in number.  They gave their first live US television performance two days later on The Ed Sullivan Show, watched by approximately seventy-four million viewers—about half the population at the time. The next morning one newspaper wrote that The Beatles “could not carry a tune across the Atlantic” but a day later their first concert saw US Beatlemania begin at Washington Coliseum.   After another strong reception at Carnegie Hall the following day, the band appeared on the weekly Ed Sullivan Show a second time, returning to the UK on 22 February 1964.   During the week of 4 April 1964, The Beatles held twelve positions on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, including the top five positions.  The band’s popularity generated unprecedented interest in British music, and a number of other UK acts subsequently made their own US debuts, successfully touring over the next three years in what was termed the British Invasion.

The Beatles toured internationally in June. Staging thirty-two concerts during a nineteen-day tour taking in Denmark, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand, they were given an ardent reception at all venues. In August they returned to the United States, building on February’s short visit with a thirty-concert tour of twenty-three cities.  Generating intense interest once again, the month-long tour attracted between ten and twenty thousand fans to a thirty-minute performance in cities from San Francisco to New York, although for the band it was becoming a repetitive routine and their music could hardly be heard.

Before returning to the UK they were introduced to Bob Dylan at the instigation of New York journalist Al Aronowitz. Biographer Jonathan Gould points out the musical and cultural significance of this meeting, before which “their respective musical constituencies were indeed perceived as inhabiting two separate subcultural worlds”: Dylan’s core audience of “college kids with artistic or intellectual leanings, a dawning political and social idealism, and a mildly bohemian style” contrasted with The Beatles’ core audience of “veritable ‘teenyboppers’—kids in high school or grade school whose lives were totally wrapped up in the commercialized popular culture of television, radio, pop records, fan magazines, and teen fashion. They were seen as idolaters, not idealists.” Within six months of the meeting, “Lennon would be making records on which he openly imitated Dylan’s nasal drone, brittle strum, and introspective vocal persona.” Within a year, Dylan would “proceed, with the help of a five-piece group and a Fender Stratocaster electric guitar, to shake the monkey of folk authenticity permanently off his back”, “the distinction between the folk and rock audiences would have nearly evaporated” and The Beatles’ audience would be “showing signs of growing up”.

A Hard Day’s Night, Beatles for Sale, Help! and Rubber Soul

Capitol’s lack of interest throughout 1963 did not go unnoticed, and a competitor, United Artists Records, encouraged United Artists’ film division to offer The Beatles a motion picture deal in the hope that it would lead to a record deal.  The first film, A Hard Day’s Night, premiered in London and New York in July and August 1964 and was an international success. Directed by Richard Lester, the film had the group’s involvement for six weeks as they played themselves in a mock-documentary of the Beatles phenomenon. Its soundtrack album, A Hard Day’s Night (1964), was the group’s third studio album and according to Allmusic “found the Beatles truly coming into their own as a band. All of the disparate influences on their first two albums had coalesced into a bright, joyous, original sound, filled with ringing guitars.”

Initially a prototype given him by the manufacturer, Harrison’s Rickenbacker 12-string electric guitar made its debut on A Hard Day’s Night. The sound Harrison created with the instrument aroused the interest of Roger McGuinn, who obtained one himself, formed The Byrds, and used it to craft what would become his band’s trademark sound.  From 1965 until 1969, The Beatles were the subject of their own Saturday morning cartoon series, which loosely continued the kind of slapstick antics of A Hard Day’s Night. Two Beatles songs were played in each half-hour show, with The Beatles’ cartoon counterparts lip-synching the singing, while voice artists Paul Frees and Lance Percival supplied the characters’ regular speaking voices. Beatles for Sale (1964), the fourth studio album, saw the beginnings of what would become a growing conflict between commercialism and creativity.  Unlike the first two albums, A Hard Day’s Night had not contained cover versions, and Beatles for Sale was intended to continue this format. Acknowledging the challenge to songwriting constant international touring now posed, Lennon admitted, “Material’s becoming a hell of a problem”, and six covers were eventually included on the album.  Recorded over a period of six months from January to June 1964, its eight self-penned numbers nevertheless stood out alongside the covers as a demonstration of growing maturity in the material the partnership was producing.

Controversy erupted when Queen Elizabeth II appointed the four Beatles “Members of the Order of the British Empire”, MBE,

The Beatles used small Vox amplifiers for their concerts

The Beatles used small Vox amplifiers for their concerts

in June 1965 after the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, nominated them for the award.  In protest at the appointment—at that time primarily bestowed upon military veterans and civic leaders—some conservative MBE recipients returned their own insignia. In August, The Beatles’ third US visit opened with the first major stadium concert in history when they performed before a crowd of 55,600 at Shea Stadium, New York. A further nine successful concerts followed in other US cities. Towards the end of the tour the group were introduced to Elvis Presley, a fundamental musical influence on the band from their earliest days, when he invited them to meet him at his home.  During the evening they set up guitars in Presley’s living room and the gathering played music, discussed the music business and exchanged anecdotes.

On-stage amplification in the early 1960s was modest compared to modern day equipment. The Beatles used only small Vox amplifiers which struggled to compete with the volume of sound generated by screaming fans. By 1965 the band, forced to accept that neither they nor their audiences could hear the details of their performance, were experiencing boredom during concerts.  While boredom was not a problem during the making of their second film, Help!, both the group and their critics were ultimately left with mixed feelings about what has been described as “mainly a relentless spoof of Bond”.  McCartney said, “Help! was great but it wasn’t our film—we were sort of guest stars. It was fun, but basically, as an idea for a film, it was a bit wrong.”  The soundtrack and fifth studio album, Help! (1965), again contained a mix of original material and covers, but with more emphasis than before on Lennon as a lead singer and songwriter.  The album’s production saw the band making increased use of vocal overdubs and beginning to incorporate flutes and classical strings into their music, notably the string quartet on “Yesterday”.[88] The closing track, “Dizzy Miss Lizzy”, became the last cover they would use as an album track. With the exception of Let It Be’s brief rendition of the traditional Liverpool folk song “Maggie Mae”, all subsequent albums would contain only self-penned material.

Rubber Soul (1965), released in early December, was critically hailed as a major leap forward in the maturity and complexity of the band’s music.  After Help!’s foray into the world of classical music with flutes and strings, Rubber Soul’s introduction of a sitar on “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” marked a further progression outside the traditional boundaries of rock music. The album also saw the Lennon/McCartney songwriting partnership beginning to be supplemented by distinct compositions from each of them, and themes beginning to move beyond romance with “Nowhere Man”.   In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine’s “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” ranked Rubber Soul at number five,  and the album is today described by Allmusic as “one of the classic folk rock records”.  According to both Lennon and McCartney, however, it was “just another album”. Recording engineer Norman Smith witnessed clear signs of increasing conflict within the group during the Rubber Soul sessions, later saying, “the clash between John and Paul was becoming obvious” and “as far as Paul was concerned, George could do no right.”

Controversy, studio years and breakup (1966–1970)

Events leading up to final tour

There was uproar in June 1966 when shocking cover art adorned Yesterday and Today, Capitol’s US compilation of singles and tracks from the UK versions of Help!, Rubber Soul and the upcoming Revolver (1966). The cover portrayed the smiling group dressed in butcher’s overalls, with raw meat and mutilated plastic dolls. A popular, though apocryphal, rumour was that this was meant as a response to the way Capitol had “butchered” their albums. Thousands of copies of the album had a new cover pasted over the original; an uncensored copy fetched $10,500 at a December 2005 auction.  During a tour of the Philippines the month after the Yesterday and Today furore, The Beatles unintentionally snubbed the nation’s first lady, Imelda Marcos, who had expected the group to attend a breakfast reception at the Presidential Palace.  When presented with the invitation, Epstein politely declined on behalf of the group, as it had never been his policy to accept such official invitations.  The group soon found that the Marcos regime was unaccustomed to accepting “no” for an answer. The resulting riots endangered the group and they escaped the country with difficulty.

Almost as soon as they arrived back in the UK, they faced a wave of antipathy from US religious and social conservatives over a comment made by Lennon earlier in the year. In a March interview with British reporter Maureen Cleave,  Lennon had offered his opinion that Christianity was dying and that The Beatles were “more popular than Jesus now”.  When US teenage fan magazine Datebook quoted his comment five months later in August, on the eve of the group’s final US tour, a backlash developed in the American South’s “Bible belt”  and South Africa banned airplay of Beatles records in a prohibition that would last until 1971.   Epstein publicly criticised Datebook, saying they had taken Lennon’s words out of context,  and at a press conference Lennon pointed out, “If I’d said television was more popular than Jesus, I might have got away with it.” Lennon said he had only been referring to how other people saw The Beatles, but “if you want me to apologise, if that will make you happy, then okay, I’m sorry.”

Revolver and Sgt. Pepper

Rubber Soul had marked a major leap forward; Revolver, released in August 1966 a week before the band’s final tour, marked a quantum leap.  An album “woven with motifs of circularity, reversal, and inversion”, Revolver demonstrated a growing songwriting maturity, and an expanding repertoire of musical styles ranging from innovative classical string arrangements to psychedelic rock.   Abandoning the group photograph that had become the norm, its cover—designed by Klaus Voorman, known by the band from their Hamburg days and by now bassist with Manfred Mann—was a “stark, arty, black-and-white collage that caricatured the Beatles in a pen-and-ink style beholden to Aubrey Beardsley.”

“Eleanor Rigby” made use of an octet, with violins, violas and cellos prominent throughout, and has been described as “a true hybrid, conforming to no recognizable style or genre of song.” Revolver also saw Harrison developing as a songwriter, and as many as three of his compositions earned a place on the album. Lennon meanwhile drew from Timothy Leary’s book The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead for the lyrics of “Tomorrow Never Knows”, a song whose creation also involved eight tape decks distributed about the building, each manned by an engineer or one of the band, who randomly varied the movement of a tape loop while Martin created a composite recording by sampling the incoming data.   In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine’s The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time would rank Revolver at number three.  The month it was released, The Beatles performed their final commercial concert.  Staged at Candlestick Park, San Francisco at the close of the 1966 US tour, the performance marked the end of a four-year period dominated by touring and concerts including nearly sixty US appearances and over one thousand four hundred internationally.  Moving into the phase of their career that would later be known as their studio years, they began recording in earnest.

Freed from the burden of touring, the band’s creativity and desire to experiment increased as they recorded Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967). Emerick recalled, “The Beatles insisted that everything on Sgt. Pepper had to be different. We had microphones right down in the bells of brass instruments and headphones turned into microphones attached to violins. We used giant primitive oscillators to vary the speed of instruments and vocals and we had tapes chopped to pieces and stuck together upside down and the wrong way round.”  Parts of “A Day in the Life” required a forty-piece orchestra. Sgt. Pepper was released in June following February’s double A-side single “Strawberry Fields Forever”/”Penny Lane” recorded during the same sessions. Nearly seven hundred hours of studio time had been devoted to the album. The elaborate musical complexity of the result, created using only four-track recording technology, astounded contemporary artists seeking to outdo The Beatles.  After hearing “Strawberry Fields Forever”, Beach Boys’ leader Brian Wilson abandoned all attempts to compete with the band.  Sgt. Pepper received great critical acclaim and was widely regarded as a masterpiece;

a rich, sustained, and overflowing work of collaborative genius whose bold ambition and startling originality dramatically enlarged the possibilities and raised the expectations of what the experience of listening to popular music on record could be. On the basis of this perception, Sgt. Pepper became the catalyst for an explosion of mass enthusiasm for album-formatted rock that would revolutionize both the aesthetics and the economics of the record business in ways that far outstripped the earlier pop explosions triggered by the Elvis phenomenon of 1956 and the Beatlemania phenomenon of 1963.

In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine’s The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time ranked Sgt. Pepper at number one. Within a month of its release the band performed “All You Need Is Love” to TV viewers worldwide on Our World, the first live global television link.  Within another two months the group were to suffer a loss that threw their career into turmoil. After being introduced to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, they travelled to Bangor for his Transcendental Meditation retreat. During the retreat, Epstein’s assistant Peter Brown called to tell them Epstein had died.  The coroner ruled Epstein’s death an accidental overdose, but the press speculated it was a suicide at least in part because of a rumour that a suicide note was discovered among Epstein’s possessions.  Lennon said that Epstein’s death marked the beginning of the end for the group: “I knew that we were in trouble then … I thought, We’ve fuckin’ had it now.”  Epstein had been in a fragile emotional state due to issues surrounding his personal life, and stress related to his business relationship with The Beatles, as his management contract with them was due to expire in October 1967.  He worried that The Beatles might not renew his contract based on their discontent with his handling of business matters, including Seltaeb, the company that handled Beatles merchandising rights in the United States. Epstein’s death left the group disoriented and fearful about the future.  Lennon said later, “I didn’t have any misconceptions about our ability to do anything other than play music and I was scared.”

Magical Mystery Tour, Yellow Submarine and White Album

The Beatles received their first major negative UK press in early 1968 when there were disparaging reviews of the Magical Mystery Tour film. It fared so dismally that it was withheld from the US at the time, although its soundtrack album, Magical Mystery Tour (1967), set a new US record in its first three weeks for highest initial sales of any Capitol album. Combining songs from the film with the band’s recent singles, Magical Mystery Tour had made an earlier and partial UK appearance in the form of a six-track extended play disc (EP) because the band wanted it to be received as a film soundtrack rather than “the next Beatles album after Sgt. Pepper“.  Allmusic says of the US Magical Mystery Tour, now adopted in the worldwide discography, “The psychedelic sound is very much in the vein of Sgt. Pepper, and even spacier in parts (especially the sound collages of ‘I Am the Walrus’)”, calling the band’s five 1967 singles present on the album “huge, glorious, and innovative”.  A cartoon version of the band appeared in the animated film Yellow Submarine, released in 1968 with little involvement from the group beyond a cameo in the closing scene. The film was well received for its innovative visual style and humour in addition to its music. In contrast with previous soundtrack albums, however, Yellow Submarine (1969) contained only four new songs, along with a fifth previously released on Revolver, a sixth from Magical Mystery Tour, and seven instrumental pieces composed by Martin. Because of the small number of new songs, Allmusic suggest the album might be “inessential” but for Harrison’s “It’s All Too Much”, “the jewel of the new songs… resplendent in swirling Mellotron, larger-than-life percussion, and tidal waves of feedback guitar… a virtuoso excursion into otherwise hazy psychedelia”.

Creative inspiration for The Beatles (1968), popularly known as The White Album, came from an unexpected quarter when, having relied on Epstein’s guiding presence since the start of their success, the group turned to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi as their guru.  At his ashram in Rishikesh, India, a three-month “Guide Course” became one of their most creative periods, yielding a large number of songs including most of the thirty recorded for the album.  Starr left after ten days, likening it to Butlins, and McCartney eventually grew bored with the procedure and departed a month later. For Lennon and Harrison, creativity turned to questioning when Yanni Alexis Mardas, the electronics technician dubbed Magic Alex, expressed the view that the Maharishi was attempting to manipulate the group.  After Mardas alleged that the Maharishi had made sexual advances to women attendees, Lennon was persuaded and left abruptly, taking the unconvinced Harrison and the remainder of the group’s entourage with him. In his anger Lennon wrote a song called “Maharishi” to make his opinion known, but later modified it to avoid a legal suit, resulting in “Sexy Sadie”.  McCartney said, “We made a mistake. We thought there was more to him than there was.”

During recording sessions for the album, divisions and dissent started to drive the group apart, and Starr quit the band for a period, leaving McCartney to perform drums on several tracks.  Lennon’s new preoccupation with Yoko Ono contributed to tension within the band and he lost interest in co-writing with McCartney.  Flouting the group’s well-established understanding that they would not take partners into the studio, Lennon insisted on bringing Ono, anyway disliked by Harrison, to all White Album sessions.  Increasingly contemptuous of McCartney’s creative input, he began to identify the latter’s compositions as “granny music”, dismissing “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” as “granny shit”.  Recalling the White Album sessions, Lennon gave a curiously foreshortened summing-up of the band’s history from that point on, saying, “It’s like if you took each track off it and made it all mine and all Paul’s… just me and a backing group, Paul and a backing group, and I enjoyed it. We broke up then.”  McCartney too recalled that the White Album sessions marked the start of the breakup, saying, “Up to that point, the world was a problem, but we weren’t” which had always been “the best thing about The Beatles”.  The White Album became the band’s first Apple Records album release from Apple Corps, newly formed by the group on their return from India to create a tax-effective company structure as Epstein had been planning to do.  It attracted more than two million advance orders, selling nearly four million copies in the US in little over a month, and its tracks dominated the playlists of US radio stations. Despite its popularity and commercial success, it did not receive flattering reviews at the time:

The critical response… ranged from mixed to flat. In marked contrast to Sgt. Pepper, which had helped to establish an entire genre of literate rock criticism, the White Album inspired no critical writing of any note. Even the most sympathetic reviewers… clearly didn’t know what to make of this shapeless outpouring of songs. Newsweek’s Hubert Saal, citing the high proportion of parodies, accused the group of getting their tongues caught in their cheeks.

Allmusic calls it a “sprawling” album on which each song “is an entity to itself… This makes for a frustratingly scattershot record or a singularly gripping musical experience, depending on your view… Clearly, the Beatles’ two main songwriting forces were no longer on the same page, but neither were George and Ringo”; yet “Lennon turns in two of his best ballads”, McCartney’s songs are “stunning”, Harrison is seen to have become “a songwriter who deserved wider exposure” and Starr’s composition is “a delight”.

Abbey Road, Let It Be and breakup

Apple Building at 3 Savile Row, site of the Let It Be rooftop concert.

Apple Building at 3 Savile Row, site of the Let It Be rooftop concert.

Although Let It Be (1970) was the band’s final album release, most of it was recorded before Abbey Road (1969). Initially titled Get Back, Let It Be originated from an idea Martin attributes to McCartney: to prepare new material and “perform it before a live audience for the very first time—on record and on film. In other words make a live album of new material, which no one had ever done before.”  Martin said the project, begun in January 1969, was “not at all a happy recording experience. It was a time when relations between the Beatles were at their lowest ebb.”  Unable to produce any real commitment to attending studio sessions or agree on a film location, after rejecting a boat at sea, the Tunisian desert and the Colosseum, the band’s final live performance was eventually filmed on the rooftop of the Apple building at 3 Savile Row, London, on 30 January 1969.

The Get Back project was put aside, later to be mixed and orchestrated as Let It Be by the American producer Phil Spector after he produced Lennon’s pre-breakup solo single “Instant Karma!”. Conflict arose within the band regarding the appointment of a financial adviser, the need for which had become evident without Epstein to manage business affairs. Lennon favoured Allen Klein, who had negotiated contracts for The Rolling Stones and other UK bands during the British Invasion, but McCartney’s choice was John Eastman.  Agreement could not be reached, so both were appointed, but further conflict ensued and financial opportunities were lost.

Abbey Road was recorded in sessions between February and August 1969. Martin was surprised when McCartney contacted him and asked him to produce another album, as the Get Back sessions had been “a miserable experience” and he had “thought it was the end of the road for all of us… they were becoming unpleasant people—to themselves as well as to other people.” Lennon rejected Martin’s proposed format of “a continuously moving piece of music”, and wanted his own and McCartney’s songs to occupy separate sides of the album.  The eventual format, with individually composed songs on the first side and the second largely comprising a medley, was McCartney’s suggested compromise.  The completion of the track “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” on 20 August was the last time all four Beatles were together in the same studio. Lennon announced his departure to the rest of the group on 20 September, but agreed that no public announcement would be made until a number of legal matters were resolved.

Abbey Road received mixed reviews, although the medley met with general acclaim.  The album occupied the number one position on the UK chart for more than four months, selling four million copies internationally in around half that time. Allmusic considers the “tightly constructed” album “a fitting swan song for the group, echoing some of the faux-conceptual forms of Sgt. Pepper, but featuring stronger compositions and more rock-oriented ensemble work” as well as “some of the greatest harmonies to be heard on any rock record (especially on ‘Because’) and “furious guitar-heavy rock”. Ian MacDonald criticised the content as “erratic and often hollow”, noting, “Had it not been for McCartney’s input as designer of the Long Medley… Abbey Road would lack the semblance of unity and coherence that makes it appear better than it is.”  Martin singled out Abbey Road as his personal favourite of all the band’s albums; Lennon said it was “competent” but had “no life in it”, calling “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” “more of Paul’s granny music”.

The final new song, Harrison’s “I Me Mine”, was recorded on 3 January 1970 and released on Let It Be. It was recorded without Lennon, who was in Denmark at the time.  To complete the Let It Be album, Klein gave the Get Back session tapes to Spector in March 1970, resulting in a Wall of Sound production that McCartney disagreed with. McCartney was deeply dissatisfied with Spector’s addition of fifty musicians to “The Long and Winding Road”, and attempted to halt the release of Spector’s version, but was unable to do so.  He gave this as one of the three reasons he left the group.  McCartney publicly announced his departure on 10 April 1970, a week before releasing his first solo album, McCartney. Pre-release copies of McCartney’s album included a press release with a self-written interview, explaining the end of his involvement with The Beatles and his hopes for the future.

On 8 May 1970, the Spector-produced Let It Be was released. The documentary film of the same name, which would go on to win the 1971 Academy Award for Best Original Song Score, followed on 20 May.  The Sunday Telegraph called it “a very bad film and a touching one … about the breaking apart of this reassuring, geometrically perfect, once apparently ageless family of siblings.”  More than one reviewer commented that some of the Let It Be tracks sounded better in the film than on the album. Allmusic say the album is “The only Beatles album to occasion negative, even hostile reviews”, but is “on the whole underrated… McCartney in particular offers several gems: the gospel-ish ‘Let It Be’, which has some of his best lyrics; ‘Get Back’, one of his hardest rockers; and the melodic ‘The Long and Winding Road’, ruined by Spector’s heavy-handed overdubs.”  McCartney filed a suit for the dissolution of The Beatles on 31 December 1970.  Legal disputes continued long after the band’s breakup, and the dissolution of the partnership finally took effect in 1975.

Post-breakup (1970–present)

1970s

Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr all released solo albums in 1970, and further albums followed from each—sometimes with the involvement of one or more of the others—as their individual careers developed. Starr’s “Ringo” (1973) was the only album to include compositions and performances by all four, albeit on separate songs. With Starr’s collaboration, but not that of Lennon or McCartney, Harrison staged The Concert for Bangladesh in New York City in August 1971 with sitar maestro Ravi Shankar. Other than an unreleased jam session in 1974 (later bootlegged as A Toot and a Snore in ’74), Lennon and McCartney never recorded together again.

In the wake of the 1975 expiration of The Beatles’ contract with EMI-Capitol, the American Capitol label, rushing to cash in on its vast Beatles holdings and freed from the group’s creative control, released five LPs: Rock ‘n’ Roll Music (a compilation of their more up-tempo numbers) The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl (containing previously unreleased portions of two shows at the Hollywood Bowl during their 1964 and 1965 US tours), Love Songs (a compilation of their slower numbers) Rarities (a compilation of tracks that either had never been released in the US or had gone out of print) and Reel Music (a compilation of songs from their films). There was also a non-Capitol-EMI release entitled Live! at the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany; 1962, a compilation of recordings made during the group’s Hamburg residency, taped on a basic recording machine with one microphone. Of all these post-breakup LPs, only the Hollywood Bowl LP had the approval of the group members. Upon the American release of the original British CDs in 1986, Capitol deleted the post-breakup American compilation LPs from its catalogue.

1980s

Lennon was shot and killed on 8 December 1980, in New York City. In a personal tribute Harrison wrote new lyrics for “All Those Years Ago”, a song about his time with The Beatles recorded the month before Lennon’s death. With McCartney and his wife Linda contributing backing vocals, and Starr on drums, the song was overdubbed with the new lyrics before being released as a single in May 1981.  McCartney’s own tribute, “Here Today”, appeared on his Tug of War album in April 1982.

The Beatles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, their first year of eligibility.  Harrison and Starr attended the ceremony along with Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, and his two sons, Julian and Sean. McCartney declined to attend, issuing a press release saying, “After 20 years, the Beatles still have some business differences which I had hoped would have been settled by now. Unfortunately, they haven’t been, so I would feel like a complete hypocrite waving and smiling with them at a fake reunion.”[162][163] The following year, EMI-Capitol settled a decade-long lawsuit by The Beatles concerning royalties, clearing the way to commercially package previously unreleased material and thereby leading to the Live at the BBC album and the Anthology project.

1990s

In 1994 McCartney, Harrison and Starr reunited for the Anthology project, the culmination of a work begun in the late 1960s by Neil Aspinall. Initially The Beatles’ road manager, and then their personal assistant, Aspinall began to gather material for a documentary after he became director of Apple Corps in 1968. The Long and Winding Road, as Aspinall provisionally titled his Beatles history, was shelved, but as executive producer for the Anthology project Aspinall was able to complete his work. Documenting the history of The Beatles in the band’s own words, the project saw the issue of previously unreleased Beatles recordings, and McCartney, Harrison and Starr also added new instrumental and vocal parts to two demo songs recorded by Lennon in the late 1970s.  During 1995 and 1996 the project yielded a five-part television series, an eight-volume video set, three two-CD box sets and two singles. The CD box sets featured artwork by Klaus Voorman, known by The Beatles since their Hamburg days and creator of the Revolver album cover in 1966. The releases were commercially successful and the television series was viewed by an estimated 400 million people worldwide.

2000s

1, a compilation album of virtually every Beatles number one British and American hit, was released on 13 November 2000. Its reception surpassed all critical and commercial expectations. It broke a considerable number of sales and chart records. It sold 3.6 million units in its first week and more than 12 million in three weeks worldwide,  reaching number one in over 35 countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom. It became the fastest-selling album of all time and the highest-selling of 2000 and of the decade so far.[168]

Harrison died from lung cancer on 29 November 2001.

Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr all released solo albums in 1970, and further albums followed from each—sometimes with the involvement of one or more of the others—as their individual careers developed. Starr’s “Ringo” (1973) was the only album to include compositions and performances by all four, albeit on separate songs. With Starr’s collaboration, but not that of Lennon or McCartney, Harrison staged The Concert for Bangladesh in New York City in August 1971 with sitar maestro Ravi Shankar. Other than an unreleased jam session in 1974 (later bootlegged as A Toot and a Snore in ’74), Lennon and McCartney never recorded together again.

In the wake of the 1975 expiration of The Beatles’ contract with EMI-Capitol, the American Capitol label, rushing to cash in on its vast Beatles holdings and freed from the group’s creative control, released five LPs: Rock ‘n’ Roll Music (a compilation of their more up-tempo numbers) The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl (containing previously unreleased portions of two shows at the Hollywood Bowl during their 1964 and 1965 US tours), Love Songs (a compilation of their slower numbers) Rarities (a compilation of tracks that either had never been released in the US or had gone out of print) and Reel Music (a compilation of songs from their films). There was also a non-Capitol-EMI release entitled Live! at the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany; 1962, a compilation of recordings made during the group’s Hamburg residency, taped on a basic recording machine with one microphone.  Of all these post-breakup LPs, only the Hollywood Bowl LP had the approval of the group members. Upon the American release of the original British CDs in 1986, Capitol deleted the post-breakup American compilation LPs from its catalogue.

1980s

Lennon was shot and killed on 8 December 1980, in New York City. In a personal tribute Harrison wrote new lyrics for “All Those Years Ago”, a song about his time with The Beatles recorded the month before Lennon’s death. With McCartney and his wife Linda contributing backing vocals, and Starr on drums, the song was overdubbed with the new lyrics before being released as a single in May 1981.  McCartney’s own tribute, “Here Today”, appeared on his Tug of War album in April 1982.

The Beatles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, their first year of eligibility.  Harrison and Starr attended the ceremony along with Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, and his two sons, Julian and Sean. McCartney declined to attend, issuing a press release saying, “After 20 years, the Beatles still have some business differences which I had hoped would have been settled by now. Unfortunately, they haven’t been, so I would feel like a complete hypocrite waving and smiling with them at a fake reunion.” The following year, EMI-Capitol settled a decade-long lawsuit by The Beatles concerning royalties, clearing the way to commercially package previously unreleased material and thereby leading to the Live at the BBC album and the Anthology project.

1990s
See also: The Beatles Anthology

In 1994 McCartney, Harrison and Starr reunited for the Anthology project, the culmination of a work begun in the late 1960s by Neil Aspinall. Initially The Beatles’ road manager, and then their personal assistant, Aspinall began to gather material for a documentary after he became director of Apple Corps in 1968. The Long and Winding Road, as Aspinall provisionally titled his Beatles history, was shelved, but as executive producer for the Anthology project Aspinall was able to complete his work. Documenting the history of The Beatles in the band’s own words, the project saw the issue of previously unreleased Beatles recordings, and McCartney, Harrison and Starr also added new instrumental and vocal parts to two demo songs recorded by Lennon in the late 1970s. During 1995 and 1996 the project yielded a five-part television series, an eight-volume video set, three two-CD box sets and two singles.  The CD box sets featured artwork by Klaus Voorman, known by The Beatles since their Hamburg days and creator of the Revolver album cover in 1966. The releases were commercially successful and the television series was viewed by an estimated 400 million people worldwide.

2000s

1, a compilation album of virtually every Beatles number one British and American hit, was released on 13 November 2000. Its reception surpassed all critical and commercial expectations. It broke a considerable number of sales and chart records. It sold 3.6 million units in its first week and more than 12 million in three weeks worldwide, reaching number one in over 35 countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom. It became the fastest-selling album of all time and the highest-selling of 2000 and of the decade so far.

Harrison died from lung cancer on 29 November 2001.

Between 2004 and 2006, Martin and his son Giles Martin remixed 130 original Beatles recordings to create “a way of re-living

The Beatles were the subject of a video game dedicated to their career, The Beatles: Rock Band. Famous scenes and concerts from their history, such as their performance on The Ed Sullivan Show, are depicted in the game.

The Beatles were the subject of a video game dedicated to their career, The Beatles: Rock Band. Famous scenes and concerts from their history, such as their performance on The Ed Sullivan Show, are depicted in the game.

the whole Beatles musical lifespan in a very condensed period” as a soundtrack for Cirque du Soleil’s theatrical production Love. The soundtrack was released as the album Love in 2006. McCartney and Starr gave their thoughts on the show in a 2007 interview on Larry King Live.  and Beatle widows Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison appeared with McCartney and Starr in Las Vegas for the one-year anniversary of Love. Also in 2007, reports circulated that McCartney was hoping to complete “Now and Then”, a third Lennon track worked on during the Anthology sessions, which would be credited as a “Lennon/McCartney composition” by writing new verses, and reworked by laying down a new drum track recorded by Starr and utilising archival recordings of Harrison’s guitar work.

Lawyers for The Beatles sued on 21 March 2008 to prevent the distribution of unreleased recordings purportedly made during Starr’s first performance with the group in 1962. The dispute between Apple Corps Ltd. and Fuego Entertainment Inc. of Miami Lakes stemmed from recordings apparently made during a performance at the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany.  In November 2008, McCartney revealed the existence of a 14-minute experimental recording The Beatles made at Abbey Road Studios in 1967 called “Carnival of Light”, saying he would like to see it released but it would require approval from Starr, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison.  McCartney headlined a charity concert on 4 April 2009 at Radio City Music Hall for the David Lynch Foundation with special guest performers including Starr. Harrison’s Hollywood Walk of Fame star dedication in Los Angeles on 14 April 2009 saw Harrison’s widow, Olivia, and his son, Dhani, joined by Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Eric Idle, Jim Keltner, McCartney, and Joe Walsh.  The Beatles: Rock Band, a music video game in the style of the Rock Band series and based solely on The Beatles, was released on 9 September 2009. On the same day, remastered CDs of the twelve original albums (from Please Please Me to Abbey Road) plus Magical Mystery Tour and Past Masters were issued. Stereo versions were made available both individually and as a box set, while a second collection contained all mono titles along with the original stereo mixes of Help! and Rubber Soul.

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