The Beatles History
The History of the Beatles
The year was 1940. The UK was experiencing the atrocities of the Second World War. Liverpool, an economic colossus, was the control centre for the Battle of the Atlantic. On the night of the 9th of October 1940, the city was being bombarded when a force of nature became real. A man was born, one that would change the history of the world. A true legend. As thousands of Liverpudlians protected themselves, their families and homes from German bombs, John Lennon was born - or should we say debuted - on Oxford Street.
What happened in the following years redefined British and American cultures, with global consequences. Not with bombs and guns, but with lyrics and guitar riffs.
This is the history of all of us. This is the history of the Beatles.
1 1956-1960: Just some friends messing around
In November 1956, a Beatles embryo was created. John Lennon, a teenager who gained fame in the neighbourhood as a troublemaker, formed a skiffle called the Blackjacks. Less than one year later, Paul McCartney joined the group - now called the Quarrymen - as a rhythm guitarist.
In February 1958, McCartney brought a friend, George Harrison, to watch the band play. Harrison decided to show-off his skills and performed for the group. Lennon was impressed. However, the musician thought Harrison was too young to join the band. After all, John and Paul were very mature, displaying the self-confidence and wisdom that only teenagers aged 15 and 16 could display (irony alert!). Harrison was also 15, just like Paul. As a result of McCartney's insistence, Harrison joined the band as lead guitarist after playing the instrumental song "Raunchy" on the upper deck of a Liverpool bus.
In the following months, the group changed a lot. John's schoolmates, who first joined the Blackjacks, moved on, but John, Paul and George stuck together. The group renamed itself several times, starting with Johnny and the Moondogs. Later, they changed it to "Beatals", a tribute to Buddy Holly and the Crickets. After that, it was renamed to Silver Beetles, Silver Beatles and, by the middle of August 1960, simply the Beatles (spelt with a lowercase letter in "the").
"Beatals" was a suggestion by Stuart Sutcliffe, a friend of John who became known as the Beatles' first bass guitarist. His name will be forever engraved in the history of the Beatles.
2 1960-1962: The first international gig
In mid-August 1960, the Beatles were already making some noise in Liverpool and even had an informal manager, Allan Williams. Allan arranged the Beatles' first international presentation in Hamburg, Germany. What was supposed to be a 3-month residency lasted for two years. During this period, the group adopted their iconic "exi" haircut.
In 1961, Sutcliffe left the band to pursue a degree in art. Paul became the bassist.
At one performance at the Cavern Club, the band met the person who would give them the final push towards fame: Brian Epstein. One of his first pieces of advice to the group was: "stop eating on stage, stop swearing, stop smoking".
The following year, the Beatles signed with EMI's Parlophone label. Their first recording session occurred at EMI Recording Studios (later Abbey Road Studios) in London on the 6th of June 1962. Ringo Starr was hired as a drummer during the same period.
Everything was running smoothly for the gang, but the history of the Beatles also had controversies. Some quite awkward, by the way. Paul McCartney was arrested in Germany for setting a condom on fire, and George Harrison was deported for lying about his age.
Shortly after, they made their debut on a television show, with a live performance on the regional news programme People and Places.
3 1963: The first LP
On the 11th of February 1963, the band recorded ten songs for their debut LP, Please Please Me. The original plan was to record the album during a concert at the Cavern Club, but the building's acoustics were considered unsuited. Don't let it put you off, though. Cavern Club is an iconic Liverpool landmark, and gigs are always exciting.
The single "Please Please Me" was released in January 1963 and reached number one on almost every UK chart. Lennon said the album was ill-conceived and the lyrics were irrelevant.
Despite Lennon's opinion, Please Please Me was the first of the Beatles' eleven consecutive number-one albums released in the UK.
The term Beatlemania was coined by a national newspaper, referring to the frenzy the boy band caused among fans. After a short tour through Sweden, the group returned to the UK and was welcomed by hundreds of hysterical admirers. Dozens of journalists were also present at the airport.
Beatlemania got out of control in November of the same year when the police used high-pressure water hoses to control a crowd before a concert in Plymouth.
It didn't take long for Beatlemania to storm music's biggest market, the United States. A music critic from The Times wrote that Lennon and McCartney were "the greatest English composers of 1963", starting the "British Invasion of America".
4 1964: The invasion
On the 7th of February 1964, the Beatles departed from London with an estimated 4,000 fans roaring with excitement as the aircraft took off. At New York's John F. Kennedy Airport, a noisy crowd estimated at 3,000 welcomed them. The Beatles started making history in the USA.
Their first TV appearance, on The Ed Sullivan Show, attracted a record-breaking audience. Roughly 34% of the American population watched the band. The history of the Beatles is also the history of American television.
The group's concerts in the USA forever changed the way Americans - and the world - behaved and looked.
In the same year, the Fab Four also acted in their first movie, A Hard Day's Night. As always, the band faced some controversy. The Beatles Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band refused to play in a stadium in Florida after hearing that organisers were planning to create physical barriers between white and black people. The party also cancelled their bookings at a racist hotel.
5 1965: Something, something else and rock n' roll
In 1965, Queen Elizabeth II appointed all four Beatles Members of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), causing outrage. But the controversy was eclipsed by an even more consequential one. All members of the group started taking D-R-*-G-S, particularly LSD and marijuana. And they all loved it! What can we say? Part of the history of the Beatles is for adults only.
Lyrics and songs evolved and explored complex themes. Fans started discussing the more profound meanings underneath the verses.
The mix of drugs and personal conflicts within the band created Rubber Soul, one of the band's most acclaimed albums. It is considered by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the 500 best albums of all time.
6 1966: The Beatles x religion
During an interview, John Lennon criticised Christianity. He also said that the Beatles were more famous than Jesus. Oh, God! As a result, the band was banned from several radio stations worldwide, and even the Vatican issued a protest.
Paul, John, Ringo and George started showing signs of irritation with the sound quality of live performances, deciding that they would no longer participate in this type of event. The Beatles' final live concert occurred on the 29th of August 1966 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California. The group had played 1,400 shows over just four years.
7 1967: Changing pop culture forever
Back in the studio, the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, a highly experimental album that changed the way rock was done and consumed. The album's front cover, a complex collage, is one of the most imitated images in the world. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is also considered, by Rolling Stones, the greatest album of all time.
It was not by chance that The Beatles became an icon of the mop-top haircut. In 1967, the band hired Leslie Cavendish, a hairdresser living in London. After the concert at Candlestick Park in 1966, Paul met Leslie through his girlfriend Jane Asher, who was his client at the Vidal Sassoon salon. Leslie would go on to style the other Beatles, and he then opened a hair salon in Chelsea, London, financed by the Beatles.
8 1968: A landmark of animation
In July 1968, the Fab Four launched Yellow Submarine, an animated jukebox musical comedy adventure film. Yes, you got it right, everything at the same time. Many critics believe that the film broadened public interest in animation and turned this art form into a hit for children and adults. The Beatles made history once again! The animation, directed by George Dunning, featured several songs from the Beatles, including four unreleased tracks. The band members didn't voice their characters but did make a cameo appearance towards the end of the film.
Other non-music media that was released during this year include an authorised biography penned by author and journalist Hunter Davies. The book was supported by the Beatles and remains the band's only authorised biography ever to be released. Despite this, there are doubts from some quarters about the book's accuracy, and John Lennon himself is believed to have been critical of it, telling the Rolling Stone magazine that he would prefer a book that was 'real'. The biography has been described as 'brutally honest' and has been revised several times to recount later events up to 2009.
The Beatles released several non-album singles in 1968, including Lady Madonna, the Inner Light, and perhaps most famous of them all, Hey Jude. The band started recording their next album in London between May and October. The self-titled album, sometimes called the White Album, was released in November and is regarded as one of the band's best releases. As the band's only double album, there are a total of 30 songs, including classics like While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Blackbird and Helter Skelter.
9 1969: The farewell concert
Nobody knew it back then, but the group's last performance happened on the rooftop of the Apple Corps headquarters in London. It was magical.
10 1970: The break-up
As with most historical events, defining the end of the Beatles is difficult. After years of arguments and bitterness, the legendary partnership between John Lennon and Paul McCartney fell apart. Then, on the 10th of April 1970, the announcement everybody feared was made. Paul McCartney declared the group was breaking up due to personal and business differences. "I have a better time with my family," he said. The history of the Beatles doesn't end here, though. They still influence the world more than 50 years after the band's dissolution.
11 1980: A tragedy
Lennon was shot and killed outside his New York City apartment. A day we would like to forget but, paradoxically, we must remember.
12 2023: The release of the Beatles' last song
On 2 November 2023, despite not being together or having released a song in decades, the Beatles surprised fans by releasing a new track. Believed to be the band's final song, John Lennon wrote "Now and Then" in the late 1970s and created a demo before his death. The demo was one of a few songs on two cassette tapes labelled "For Paul" that Yoko Ono, Lennon's widow, handed to Paul McCartney in 1994. While some of those records were released, the band faced challenges with Now and Then and scrapped plans to finish it. Until now!
Surviving members McCartney and Ringo Starr came together to record new bits, while George Harrison features via guitar parts recorded in 1995. Lennon's original recordings were restored to crisp quality using AI technology created by WingNut Films, a production company by director Peter Jackson. AI didn't use the demo tape to produce a synthetic creation of Lennon's part but instead cleaned up the recording by isolating the vocals and instruments to improve the quality. It's fair to say this is a fitting end to the Beatles' incredible legacy.
13 A history that will never end
This timeline is not exhaustive and will never be. The history of the Beatles is the history of the post-war world. Fortunately, life allowed us to see and hear these myths in action. Some of us are even luckier and able to see the Beatles' legacy through the streets and venues that inspired them in Liverpool.
Are you ready to see the history of the Beatles unveiled before your eyes? Beatles Explorer allows you to witness the Beatles' and Liverpool's history with all your senses. From the city waterfront to Strawberry Fields, you'll understand how Liverpool influenced the work of the Fab Four and the world's culture. Click here to buy your ticket and submerge yourself in the Beatle's world.