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Beatles

Arguably the most successful rock-and-roll group in history and a major influence on popular culture of the 1960s. The musical origins of the Beatles were rooted in working-class Liverpool in the 1950s, which as a major Atlantic seaport offered a fast and cheap conduit for records by pioneering American rock-and-roll artists such as Bill Haley, Chuck Berry, and Elvis Presley. Among the local teenagers who eagerly devoured this new and exciting sound were John Winston Lennon and James Paul McCartney, who met in 1957 and were soon collaborating in writing and performing rock music. Their partnership eventually expanded into a foursome with the addition of George Harrison and Richard Starkey (Ringo Starr) under the keen management of Liverpool businessman Brian Epstein. The band eventually signed a recording contract with EMI's Parlophone label under the direction of George Martin, who subsequently became their producer.

The Beatles' first original recording, Love Me Do, was released on 5 October 1962, and the group's premier album, Please Please Me, was released in March 1963. The Beatles quickly achieved mass acclaim in Britain, and this success was transformed into international stardom on 9 February 1964 when they performed live in the United States for the first time on The Ed Sullivan Show television program. For the next six years, the Beatles were considered the vanguard of the so-called British invasion of the American music charts. The teenage hysteria that accompanied their every public engagement, appropriately named Beatlemania, puzzled the older generation, who had grown up on bland pop music and earlier swing music.

Stylistically the band went through two stages. Until 1966 it churned out catchy but largely anodyne boy-meets-girl love songs such as "She Loves You" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand," while the Beatles' reputation was that of a cheeky but essentially harmless group of scamps. The more sophisticated orchestrations of their album Revolver portended a shift in mood, however, and this was solidified in 1967 by the revolutionary conceptual work Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which signaled the Beatles' emergence as a major player in the youth-oriented anti–Vietnam War and counter-culture movements. Epstein's 1967 death and increasing friction among the band members took their toll, however, and after five more studio albums they split up, somewhat acrimoniously, in 1970.

Each former member went on to a solo recording career, but hopes for an eventual reunion ended on 8 December 1980 when Lennon was gunned down in New York City by a deranged fan. Harrison died in 2001 of cancer. To this day, the Beatles have career accomplishments unparalleled by any other musical group. In the United States alone they boasted twenty singles and nineteen albums that reached the top of the Billboard charts.

Alan Allport


Further Reading
MacDonald, Ian. Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties. London: Pimlico, 1998.; Trynka, Paul, ed. The Beatles: Ten Years That Shook the World. London: Dorling Kindersley, 2004.
 

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