Four cheeky young lads from Liverpool with an eye for the big time who became the biggest band in the world.
Post-war Britain went through a slump, but four moptopped Scousers were determined to let nothing stop them. In just a couple of years from producing their first demo record in 1963 they became the most famous musical men on the planet.
Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr are still to this day part of a music legend that has transcended time and decades of changing fashions.
Forty years on from their first appearances at the now famous Cavern Club in Liverpool their collective music continues to play around the world. Where other trends of music from artistes from the 70’s and 80’s have now dropped off the radar, Beatles songs still remain classics.
The original line up included popular drummer Pete Best who was later replaced by Ringo after the rest of band decided Best wasn’t good enough. Years later Lennon admitted that getting manager Brian Epstein to sack him was ‘cowardly’
A young Stuart Sutcliffe, who also made up the original band, died tragically at the age of twenty-two from still unknown medical problems. His death, which had a profound effect on the boys, occurred the day before the group flew to Hamburg for a now famous two-month stint at The Star Club. During their first gig they shared sets with Little Richard and Gene Vincent.
When Svengali Brian Epstein first glimpsed The Beatles playing at the Cavern in 1961 he wasn’t overly impressed. The four members were dressed in black jeans and leather jackets and looked completely out of control.
“They were not very tidy and not very clean” he recalled. “They were the sort of lads I had always avoided at school, the trouble makers who didn’t give a damn about anyone”
But despite the crude manners of the group, eating, smoking while playing and pretending to hit each other, Epstein knew they had what we now commonly describe as the X Factor. They only played five songs, but what clinched it for Epstein was when John announced a song that both he and Paul had written. The track Hello Little Girl was enough to convince Epstein that the boys could write as well as play songs.
When Epstein signed the group, he immediately raised their wages for playing at the Cavern. He was an experienced manager fighting in a competitive industry. Liverpool alone had three hundred rock groups all vying for a record deal. But Epstein knew that in order to get record companies to take notice he’d have to get the lads to clean up their act.
Now that Brian was their full time manager the lads took notice, ditching their scruffy attire for suits, sharp haircuts and a more professional attitude towards their on-stage performance. Eventually, after countless auditions and having been turned down by every record producer in the country, they signed – in what became known as one of the stingiest deals in history – with Parlophone Records.
Beatlemania didn’t take long to grip the imagination of millions of young people. After leaving the Cavern Club they found themselves invited to play the Palladium, The Royal Albert Hall, The Royal Variety Show, appear with Morecombe & Wise, give a spare hit to The Rolling Stones, take the US by storm in 1964 on the Ed Sullivan Show and record the smash hit I Want To Hold Your Hand – all within one rollercoaster year!
The Beatles arrival in America was just as dramatic. Their movies A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and the zany Help (1965) had guaranteed them stateside exposure and they were met by thousands of screaming fans at every airport they landed at. They were the first band to perform at a baseball stadium (New York’s Shea Stadium) breaking record numbers.
The world was witnessing the kind of vicarious madness and displaying of unbridled emotions that had never been seen before. George Harrison was later to say how the world used them to go mad. Certainly in dull, post war Britain it was a much-needed panacea after years of rationing and austerity.
On June 12th, 1964, The Beatles were named Members of the British Empire and that October they went to Buckingham Palace to collect their awards from the Queen herself.
The years 1965-67 would see the band metamorphose from the clean cut image that even their fans’ parents appreciated, to something more flamboyant and out of the box.
The mop-top haircuts had become shaggier and the songs, now produced under the guiding hand of maestro George Martin, signalled a new transition into music with greater depth and longevity.
After 1966, the ‘Fab Four’ would embrace a more esoteric world of spiritual gurus, free love, drugs and peace-ins that was a world away from the sharp cut suits of their original squeaky clean ‘boy-next-door’ image.
‘Flower-power’ was sweeping the western world against a backdrop of materialistic harshness and war and it appeared that the Beatles were one of the major musical trailblazers of a social cult that gave parents and the authorities sleepless nights.
The Spirit of the Age had arrived with a generation of young people who wanted to cultivate a new world of peace, harmony and experimental drugs. Tea parties would never be the same.
A musical summation of this new vibe had to be the Beatles’ next album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, while its cinematic equivalent Yellow Submarine in 1968 was in itself a visual Technicolor trip combining the surreal with vivid LSD-inspired animation.
The early 70s heralded a new era in corporate mindedness and solo ambitions for the now impossibly famous foursome. Using their success and celebrity to encourage a new generation of creative artistes, Apple Corps was formed. This was a unique development that would have been beyond the imaginings of four Liverpudlian schoolboys back in the late 50s. Even today such enterprises are few and far between.
The band’s visit to the Himalayas, where they were introduced to the art of mediation and the philosophies of the Maharishi, produced a series of songs that would become known as The White Album. It was a mixture of uneven styles and content, but nevertheless jam packed with bewitching songs that punctuated a new chapter in the Beatles anthology.
The albums tracks including Hey Jude and Let It Be were to be a final emotional legacy to the world, played live at Abbey Rd studios culminating in a now famous gathering on the roof-top in 1971.
This was to be The Beatles farewell to the world as Paul, John, George and Ringo had by now developed solo interests, found partners and had reached that point where as individuals they had to move on. Paul met and married Linda and later formed Wings.
John found Yoko and went on to produce great work including the classic Imagine, while George moved onto spiritual planes while also spearheading a dynamic film company, Handmade Films.
Ringo eventually married model and Bond girl, Barbara Bach, and endeared himself to a younger generation with his Thomas The Tank Engine programme.
A recently unearthed taped interview with Lennon for the Rolling Stone magazine in 1970 revealed a sense of jaded cynicism that the singers had developed for the industry that surrounded the band.
"Everybody around you wants the image to carry on," Lennon said. "That's why some of them are clinging to it. Don't take away our portable Rome, where we can all have our houses and our cars, and our lovers and our wives and our office girls and parties and drink and drugs.'"
Like all great artistes and acts the inevitable artistic differences and feuds were just as prevalent within the Beatles outfit as they are in band members today. Lennon also indicated in the interview that he and McCartney didn’t always see eye to eye and that some of the best work in the 60s were written apart.
Lennon's use of heroin, he admitted, led to the treatment he and Ono received. "We were in real pain," he said. Nor did band member George Harrison escape attack from the singer. "He was working with two brilliant songwriters and he learnt a lot from us," says Lennon, who criticised Harrison's debut solo album.
But Lennon was also gracious enough to recognise his sparring partner’s talent. "He's capable of great work and he will do it," he said of McCartney.
Sadly since those heady days of Beatlemania we have lost John and George, but in February 2014, Paul and Ringo reunited on stage at the Grammys to mark the 50th anniversary of their Ed Sullivan Show appearance, the last remaining Beatles performing togther half a century after the word fell in love with them.