Inside the Music
The Beatles: A Quick Musical Overview
There are few superlatives that can not be applied to The Beatles. In the ten years they were together (from an early version in 1960 to the band’s break-up in 1970)
they revolutionized pop music like no other band before or since. The Beatles remain the best-selling band in history,
with more number-one albums on UK charts than any other artist or band. They have sold more albums in the USA than any other artist, with a total of over one billion units sold worldwide.
Time Magazine included The Beatles (collectively) among the 20th Century’s 100 most influential people.
The Beatles’ songs are recognized and loved the world over. Many of them, particularly ones written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, have found their way into the canon of classic standards: “Yesterday,” “Michelle,” “Blackbird,” “Norwegian Wood,” “All My Loving,” “In My Life,” and others have been covered and recorded by countless jazz players and vocalists. Googling ‘Beatles Song Covers’ results in dozens of pages of hundreds of lists of thousands of Beatles songs covered by an astonishingly wide range of artists. Here is one of the more interesting pages from that result, complete with video samples of the songs listed: 50 Best Beatles Covers »
As far as the group’s prodigious output goes, it is hard to quantify how much they wrote and recorded; albums in the UK were packaged differently in the US, often containing different song line-ups, or different versions of the songs on the original UK LPs. (For those who have grown up in the digital age of music, the term “LP” means “long-play,” a vinyl disc that had two sides and contained about 40 minutes of music.) Looking at the UK side of things, The Beatles released twelve albums: Please Please Me (1963), With the Beatles (1963), A Hard Day’s Night (1964), Beatles for Sale (1964), Help! (1965), Rubber Soul (1965), Revolver (1966), Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), The Beatles (aka The White Album) 1968, Yellow Submarine (1969), Abbey Road (1969) and Let it Be (1970). Many of these LPs have been reissued in different compilations and formats, some with different studio versions of the songs. For a complete listing of The Beatles’ output, (as well as countless musical, visual, and textual artifacts on the Fab Four) visit this richly resourced page: Beatles Discography »
In their musical encyclopedia Icons of Rock, authors Schott Schinder and Andy Schwartz encapsulate The Beatles’ appeal and impact:
“In their initial incarnation as cheerful, wisecracking moptops, the Fab Four revolutionized the sound, style, and attitude of popular music and opened rock and roll’s doors to a tidal wave of British rock acts. Their initial impact would have been enough to establish The Beatles as one of their era’s most influential cultural forces, but they didn’t stop there. Although their initial style was a highly original, irresistibly catchy synthesis of early American rock and roll and R&B, The Beatles spent the rest of the 1960s expanding rock’s stylistic frontiers, consistently staking out new musical territory on each release. The band’s increasingly sophisticated experimentation encompassed a variety of genres, including folk-rock, country, psychedelic, and baroque pop, without sacrificing the effortless mass appeal of their early work.”
Love them or hate them, it is impossible to ignore the impact these four Lads from Liverpool had on the face of popular music.
Meet the Beatles
Here are some various random factoids and tidbits about The Beatles.
- Birth name: James Paul McCartney
- Born: June 18, 1942, Liverpool, England
- Instruments: Bass guitar, vocals, acoustic guitar, piano, keyboards, drums
- Nickname: The Cute One
- Quote: “I’m really glad that most of our songs were about love, peace and understanding.”
- Birth name: John Winston Lennon
- Born: October 9, 1940, Liverpool England
- Died: December 8, 1980, New York, NY
- Instruments: Guitar, vocals, harmonica, piano, bass guitar
- Nickname: The Smart One
- Quote: “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue with that; I’m right and will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first — rock and roll or Christianity.”
- Birth name: Richard Starkey
- Born: July 7, 1940, Liverpool, England
- Instruments: Drums, vocals, percussion
- Nickname: The Funny One
- Quote: “We thought that if we lasted for two to three years that would be fantastic.”
- Birth name: George Harrison
- Born: February 25, 1940, Liverpool England
- Died: November 29, 2001, Beverly Hills, CA
- Instruments: Guitar, vocals, ukulele, sitar, piano
- Nickname: The Quiet One
- Quote: “The Beatles will exist without us.”
Quotes about The Beatles
“The Beatles are not merely awful. They are so unbelievably horrible, so appallingly unmusical, so dogmatically insensitive to the magic of the art, that they qualify as crowned heads of anti-music.”
— William F. Buckley Jr.
“George is mainly famous for being ‘the quiet one,’ which of course is a big joke because he never stops talking… ”
— Monty Python member Eric Idle
“You can’t be greater than Elvis, change things as much as The Beatles, or be as original as Led Zeppelin. All you can do is rip them off.”
— Smashing Pumpkins front-man Billy Corgan
The Beatles Trivia
Before The Beatles were The Beatles they were:
- The Quarrymen
(Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best)
- The Silver Beetles
- Johnny and the Moondogs
- The Beetles
- The Beatals
- The Silver Beetles
- And finally The Beatles
Ringo Starr replaced Pete Best as drummer in 1962, although session drummer Andy White played on The Beatles’ first single ‘Love Me Do’ (B side: ‘P.S. I Love You’)
In 1960 Lennon and McCartney played The Cavern Club in Liverpool as a duo called ‘The Nerk Twins.’
In 1962 a contest was held by the Mersyside Newspaper to see who was the most popular band in Liverpool. The Beatles won the contest by calling in repeatedly and posing as different people voting for themselves.
“Hey Jude” is The Beatles’ most commercially successful single.
The voices in the animated feature Yellow Submarine are not The Beatles, but actors representing them. The actual Beatles do make a live (ie: not animated) appearance at the end of the film.
The Beatles’ last (paid) concert was on August 29, 1966 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
The Beatles Discography (LP recordings)
- Please Please Me (Parlophone, 1963)
- With the Beatles (Parlophone, 1963)
- A Hard Day's Night (Parlophone, 1964)
- Beatles for Sale (Parlophone, 1964)
- Help! (Parlophone, 1965)
- Rubber Soul (Parlophone, 1965)
- Revolver (Parlophone, 1966)
- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Parlophone, 1967)
- Magical Mystery Tour (U.S. only. Released as a Double EP in the UK) (Capitol, 1967)
- The Beatles ("The White Album") (Apple, 1968)
- Yellow Submarine (Apple, 1969)
- Abbey Road (Apple, 1969)
- Let It Be (Apple, 1970)
Official Beatles Website — www.thebeatles.com
How Others Saw Them
It is nearly impossible to calculate the impact The Beatles had not only on popular music but popular culture as well. Their success (and dominance of the airwaves, both radio and television) started a tidal wave of change, including a shift from the United States’ global dominance of rock and roll acts to those from the UK. The Beatles also ushered in a new trend of group acts over soloists, as well as a trend for groups and soloists to sing songs they had written themselves. The Beatles ushered in a new era of ‘concept albums’ which still continues to this day. It has been said that the filming of The Beatles performing their songs paved the way for music video; indeed, Richard Lester — who directed “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!” was declared the “father of the modern pop video” by no other authority than MTV. Copycat groups followed fast on the heels of The Beatles’ success, the most notable (and obvious) being The Monkees. While The Beatles were nicknamed “The Fab Four” The Monkees were nicknamed “The Pre-fab Four.” From the alternatively-spelled animal name to the goofy videos (with a young, mop-topped English heartthrob very much front-and-center) The Monkees’ creators never pretended to be doing anything more than cashing in on a trend. While some pre-Beatles bands had been named after animals, it is hard to think that bands named after animals that followed The Beatles were not conscious of this coincidence. The Byrds, Turtles, The Animals, even Def Leppard have been accused of Beatle envy at various times.
Probably the best way to gauge The Beatles’ influence is from the things said about them by other notable people. Here is a collection of quotes
— both positive and negative — from a wide variety of well-known folks:
View quotes »
“You know, I was such a big Beatles fan, and when I’d buy a new album I’d invariably hate it the first time I heard it ‘cause it was a mixture of absolute joy and absolute frustration. I couldn’t grasp what they’d done, and I’d hate myself for that.”
— Andy Partridge of XTC
“We were driving through Colorado, we had the radio on, and eight of the Top 10 songs were Beatles songs… ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand,’ all those early ones. They were doing things nobody was doing. Their chords were outrageous, just outrageous, and their harmonies made it all valid… I knew they were pointing the direction of where music had to go.””
— Bob Dylan
“I like your advance guard. But don’t you think they need haircuts?””
— U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson,
to British Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home about The Beatles
“We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.””
— Decca Records, in 1962 when rejecting The Beatles
“I do remember actually learning chords to Beatles songs. I thought they were great songwriters.””
— Mick Taylor of the Rolling Stones
“Almost everything The Beatles did was great, and it’s hard to improve on. They were our Bach. The way to get around it may be to keep it as simple as possible.””
— T-Bone Burnett
“I say in speeches that a plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit. I am then asked if I know of any artists who pulled that off. I reply, ‘The Beatles did.’””
— Kurt Vonnegut
“I declare that the Beatles are mutants. Prototypes of evolutionary agents sent by God, endowed with a mysterious power to create a new human species, a young race of laughing freemen.””
— Timothy Leary
“Look guys, if you’re just going to stare at me, I’m going to bed!”
— Elvis Presley to The Beatles when they met August 27, 1965
“I don’t know about friends, but what time I spent with The Beatles they were very courteous to me.”
— Peter Tork of The Monkees
“I’ve never been a big Beatles fan. Of Ringo, yes, but not of the music.”
— Charlie Watts, Rolling Stones
“My dear girl, there are some things that just aren’t done, such as drinking Dom Perignon ‘53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s just as bad as listening to The Beatles without earmuffs.”
— Goldfinger (1964) - James Bond (Sean Connery)
And here is a smattering of quotes by the Liverpool Lads themselves, showing off their snappy wit in various press interviews:
View quotes »
Press: Can we look forward to any more Beatle movies?
John: Well, there’ll be many more but I don’t know whether you can look forward to them or not.
Press: Do you get much fan mail?
Ringo: We get 2,000 letters a day.
John: We answer every one of them personally.
Press: Do you plan to record any anti-war songs?
John: All our songs are anti-war.
Press: Don’t you ever get a haircut?
George: I had one yesterday.
Ringo: You should have seen him the day before.
Press: How come the Beatles, rather than 200 other groups, clicked?
Ringo: Sometimes I try to figure that out, too.
Press: How do you feel about teenagers imitating you with Beatle wigs?
John: They’re not imitating us because we don’t wear Beatle wigs.
Press: Recently there has been an article published in Rolling Stone magazine stating that Day Tripper was about a prostitute, and Norwegian Wood was about a lesbian. What was you’re intent when writing these songs?
Paul: We were just trying to write songs about prostitutes and lesbians.
Press: Some people have been calling your work “unamerican”. How do you respond to this?
John: Well, that's very observant of them.
Press: What about this campaign in Detroit to stamp out the Beatles?
Paul: We’re starting a campaign to stamp out Detroit.
Press: Who in the world would the Beatles like to meet more than anyone else?
Ringo: The real Santa Claus.
Press: How did you find America?
John: Turn left at Greenland.
A Few Choice Videos
Here are The Silver Beatles singing “Three Cool Cats.” This was the pre-Ringo group with Pete Best on the drums. View video »
A bootleg of an alternate recording of “Get Back” with John on vocals. View video »
“You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” music video (Is the lady in pink is a drag queen?):
View video »
The closing sequence from “Yellow Submarine:” View video »
Rare promotional video for The Beatles’ song “Something” View video »
Video of “I Am the Walrus” from the BBC film Magical Mystery Tour View video »
Video of “Hello, Goodbye” that shows The Beatles’ famous Sgt. Pepper outfits in an early performance View video »