When John Lennon was sixteen, in March of 1957, he formed a skiffle (a music genre combining jazz, blues, and folk influences usually using homemade or improvised instruments) group with some of his friends at the Quarry Bank school. They called themselves The Blackjacks and then changed their name to The Quarrymen after finding out another local group already had the other name.
Paul McCartney joined as a rhythm guitarist shortly after he met John Lennon in July. He was fifteen.
In February of 1958, Paul invited his friend George Harrison to watch the band. He was fourteen at the time. He then auditioned for John. At first John thought that George was too young to join them. George wouldn't give up. He soon joined them as lead guitarist.
By January of 1959, the Quarry Bank friends left the group as they enlisted at the Liverpool College of Art. That left John, Paul, and George. They called themselves Johnny and the Moondogs and played rock and roll whenever they could find a drummer to join them.
John had a friend at art school, Stuart Sutcliffe, who joined the band in January 1960 with his bass guitar. He suggested changing their name to Beatals as a tribute to Buddy Holly and the Crickets. They used the name until May when they became The Silver Beetles when they went on a brief tour of Scotland as the backup band for Johnny Gentle.
By July they changed their name to the Silver Beatles and then by the middle of August to just The Beatles.
Allan Williams, their unofficial manager, arranged a house for them in Hamburg and they hired Pete Best as drummer in mid-August 1960. They had a lot of drama in Hamburg. They played at the Indra Club that was then closed due to noise complaints. They were moved to the Kaiserkeller club. Then the manager of the club found out they had been performing at the rival Top Ten Club and gave the band one month's termination notice and reported that George was underage and had obtained permission to stay in Hamburg by lying to the German authorities about his age. The authorities arranged for George's deportation in late November. The club manager then had Paul and Pete arrested for arson and they were deported as well. John returned to Liverpool in early December while Stuart stayed behind until late February with his fiancee Astrid Kircherr. She cut his hair in the "existentialist" style, later adopted by the other Beatles.
Stuart decided to leave the band early that year and resume his art studies in Germany.
Paul took up the bass.
The four remaining members were signed with Polydor records for one year and used as Tony Sheridan's backing band releasing the single "My Bonnie", recorded in June 1961 under the name Tony Sheridan & the Beat Brothers.
They were enjoying increasing popularity in Liverpool. However they were also growing tired of the monotony of numerous appearances at the same clubs every night. In November of 1961, during a performance at the Cavern Club, they met Brian Epstein, a local record-store owner and music columnist.
He said, "I immediately liked what I heard. They were fresh, and they were honest, and they had what I thought was a sort of presence... a star quality."
He courted them over the next few months and they finally appointed him as their manager in January of 1962. He wanted to free them from their contract to Bert Kaempfert Productions. He eventually was able to release them one month early if they did one last recording session in Hamburg.
When they got to Germany in April, Astrid met them at the airport and told them that Stuart had died the day before. It was determined to be a brain hemorrhage.
Brian Epstein then began negotiations with record labels for a new recording contract. Decca Records rejected the band saying, " Guitar groups are on the way out, Mr. Epstein."
Three months later, George Martin signed the Beatles to EMI's Parlophone label.
Their first recording session took place at EMI's Abbey Road Studios in London on June 6, 1962.
George Martin complained about Pete Best's poor drumming and suggested they use a session drummer in his place. The Beatles were already thinking about getting rid of Pete so they replaced him in mid-August with Ringo Starr, who left Rory Storm and the Hurricanes to join them.
At a session on September 4th at EMI they recorded "Love Me Do" featuring Ringo on the drums. George Martin was still not pleased and hired drummer Andy White for the band's third session a week later when they recorded another version of "Love Me Do", "Please Please Me", and "P.S. I Love You". They released this version of "Love Me Do" with Ringo on tambourine in early October. It peaked at number seventeen on the Record Retailer chart.
They then made their television debut with a live performance on People and Places.
George Martin suggested that they go back to the studio and re-record "Please Please Me" with a faster tempo. After that recording, George Martin told them, "You've just made your first number one."
By 1963, the Beatles decided that all four band members would contribute vocals to the albums, including Ringo who had restricted vocal range. John and Paul had a songwriting partnership, and as the band's success grew, their dominant collaboration limited George Harrison's opportunities as a lead vocalist.
Brian Epstein wanted to maximise their commercial potential and told them, "Look, if you really want to get in these bigger places, you're going to have to change- stop eating on stage, stop swearing, stop smoking..." He told them that jeans were not smart and he wanted them to wear proper, more professional clothes. But he still wanted them to each have their own sense of individuality.
In February of 1963, The Beatles recorded ten songs during a single studio session to create their debut album, "Please Please Me". The single was released two months ahead of the album of the same name and it reached number one on every chart in London except Record Retailer, where it went to number two. The album itself reached number one as well. When the third single "From Me to You" came out and was also a hit, it started a string of seventeen British number one singles for the Beatles. The fourth single, "She Loves You", had the fastest sales of any record in the UK up to that time selling three quarters of a million copies in under four weeks. It became their first single to sell a million copies.
They toured the UK three times in the first half of the year.
Their popularity spread and the press called the phenomenon "Beatlemania".
EMI's American subsidiary, Capitol Records, declined issuing their music at first.
Their success in America began after Brian Epstein arranged for a marketing campaign and got the support of Carrol James, a disc jockey who first played the band's records in December of 1963. Later that month they were introduced in Virginia by Gene Loving of the radio station WGH. Within days, almost every other song played on the station was a Beatles recording.
It soon spread across the country causing an increase in demand and Capitol had to rush to release "I want to Hold Your Hand". It sold a million copies and became a number one hit in the US by mid January.
They gave their first live performance on American Television in February 1964 on The Ed Sullivan Show, watched by approximately 23 million households. The Nielsen rating service said that it was "the largest audience that had ever been recorded for an American television program". Beatlemania had hit the USA.
Capitol Records' had not gone unnoticed with their disinterest and their competitor United Artists Records encouraged their film division to offer the Beatles a three motion picture deal, primarily for the potential of the soundtracks.
The first film was a mock-documentary, A Hard Day's Night. It premiered in London and New York and was an international success.
Their popularity generated a huge interest in British music which led to other UK acts getting their own American debuts and tours over the next three years. It was termed the British Invasion.
In June 1965, Queen Elizabeth the Second appointed all four Beatles Members of the Order of the British Empire after the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, nominated them for the award. It created some controversy and and some MBE recipients even returned their own insignia in protest because at the time time the honor was primarily given to military veterans and civic leaders.
Capitol Records had complete control over the format of the albums releases in the US and it wasn't until "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" in 1967 that a Beatles album was released with identical tracks in both the UK and the US.
In 1964 the band had become bored with the routine of performing live and they felt that their shows were no longer about the music. They decided to make their August 1966 tour their last.
A week before the final tour they released "Revolver". It was identified as "the sound of a band growing into supreme confidence" and"redefining what was expected from popular music".
"Revolver" featured sophisticated songwriting, studio experimentation, and a larger grouping of musical styles ranging from classical string to 'psychedelic rock'.
In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked 'Revolver' as the third greatest album of all time.
The band's final concert at San Francisco's Candlestick Park on August 29 was their last commercial concert. It concluded four years of almost nonstop touring that included 1,400 concerts internationally.
Now that they were no longer touring, the Beatles approached "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" with an experimental approach. They insisted that everything on this album had to be different. They used microphones right down in the bells of brass instruments and headphones turned into microphones attached to violins. Parts of "A Day in the Life" featured a 40-piece orchestra.
It was written that" The overwhelming consensus is that the Beatles had created a popular 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 revolutionise 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 1967, two months after performing "All You Need Is Love" to an estimated 350 million viewers on Our World, they received news that their manager Brian Epstein had died.
John Lennon said, "We collapsed. I knew that we were in trouble then. I didn't really have any misconceptions about our ability to do anything other than play music, and I was scared. I thought, 'We've had it now'."
During recording sessions for the White album, from late May to mid-October 1968, the band began to have some problems. Ringo quit for two weeks and Paul took over the drums for "Back in the U.S.S.R" and "Dear Prudence". John lost interest in his collaboration with Paul. Tensions were being multiplied by John's girlfriend Yoko Ono, whom he brought to the studio sessions even though the band had an understanding that girlfriends were not allowed in the studio.
Later, John Lennon described the album, "Every track is an individual track; there isn't any Beatle music on it. It's John and the band, Paul and the band, George and the band".
Paul stated that the album, "wasn't a pleasant one to make."
Both John and Paul identify these sessions as the start of the band's break up.
Even with all of that, Rolling Stone ranked it as the tenth greatest album of all time in 2003.
"Let It Be" was the Beatles' final album release, but it was largely recorded before "Abbey Road".
Paul suggested they "record an album of new material and rehearse it, then perform it before a live audience for the very first time- on record and on film."
It was intended to be a one hour television program called, Beatles at Work.
John Lennon described the impromptu sessions as "hell... the most miserable.. on Earth."
George Harrison said it was "the low of all-time".
George became so irritated at John and Paul that he walked out for five days and threatened to leave the band unless they "abandoned all talk of live performance" and instead finished an album. The other band members agreed and the salvaged footage shot for the television program was used in a feature film.
At the end of the rehearsals, they could not agree on a location to film a concert. Eventually they decided to film it on the rooftop of the Apple Corps building in London. It would be their final live performance.
Without Epstein to manage their business affairs, each band member was pulling for a different manager. An agreement could not be reached between them. Finally Allen Klein was named the manager and they began recording sessions for Abbey Road on July 2, 1969. John Lennon wanted his and Paul's songs to occupy separate sides of the album. The eventual format, with individually composed songs on the first side and the second consisting largely of a medley was Paul McCartney's suggested compromise. The completion of "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" on August 20, 1969 was the last time all four Beatles were together in the same studio.
John Lennon announced that he was leaving the band to the other members on September 20th but agreed to not make it public right away to avoid hurting the sales of the forthcoming album. "Abbey Road" was released six days later and sold four million copies within three months, topping the UK charts for seventeen weeks.
Paul McCartney filed suit for the dissolution of the Beatles' contractual partnership on December 31, 1970. The legal disputes continued long after their break up and the dissolution was not formalized until December 29, 1974.
Although their last years as a band were filled with drama, former Rolling Stones associate editor Robert Greenfield compared the Beatles to Picasso as "artists who broke through the constraints of their time period to come up with something that was unique and original.. In the form of popular music, no one will ever be more revolutionary, more creative, and more distinctive..."
Many artists have said the the Beatles were their influence, the helped redefine the music album as something more than just a few hits with filler songs, and a had a global impact on fashion and style.
The Beatles changed the way the world saw and listened to music.