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The Beatles: Biography, Members & Songs

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Easily the most recognizable and enduring act of British music in America of the past 100 years, the Beatles still enjoy massive popularity around the world. Learn about their music style and successes, and get some fun facts about each member.

Introduction

The Beatles remain among the most successful musical acts of all time. Drawing from earlier styles of the 1950s, such as beat music and early rock and roll, the Beatles also incorporated styles from the American South to South Asia to make their music truly unique. Also, they all contributed vocals. Originating in Liverpool, England, the band took the world by storm, combining a number of different musical styles to create something the world had never heard before.

Logo for the Beatles
Logo

Beatlemania

In fact, the band also became a phenomenon that the world had never before seen, either. Upon their arrival in the United States, screaming teenagers surrounded their plane. They became the first group to be so popular as to be able to sell-out sports stadiums during their shows. Fully a third of the population of the United States, more than 73 million people, watched the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. Everywhere they went they were hoarded by screaming fans, giving rise to a term for this obsession, Beatlemania.

Through the early days, the band maintained a youthful personality that included more than a little humor. When asked how he found the US, Ringo Starr replied 'turn at Greenland,' referring to the flight. Additionally, the members used cinema to promote their music, with some of the resulting films, such as A Hard Day's Night and Help!, considered to be masterpieces in their own right. In both, the Beatles poke fun at their new-found fame.

After Beatlemania

All of this popularity eventually proved too much to handle, as the crowds were often too loud for the comfort of the four musicians. Also by this point, the Beatles had realized the great cultural power for change they wielded, not only campaigning against the Vietnam War and raising awareness of non-Western spiritual traditions, but also through their music. While early hits like I Want to Hold Your Hand focused mainly on teenage themes, later work moved into a more philosophical realm, such as All You Need Is Love. The influence of different cultures, especially South Asian, became more pronounced in later work, with instruments like the sitar giving an especially psychedelic note to the music.

This newfound influence was not always used in ways that pleased the public, however. The reputation of the Beatles took a substantial hit when Lennon compared the group to Jesus. Ultimately, the inability to convince crowds to stop screaming long enough for them to perform, as well as differing desires among the bandmates, would be cause for the band's decision to stop touring in 1966, followed by its breakup in 1970. However, by this time the group had inspired others with a similar range of music, ranging from the Rolling Stones to James Taylor.

Members

While most immediately associate the Beatles with the 'Fab Four' of Ringo, George, John, and Paul, two other individuals once held roles with the band. For some time Pete Best was the drummer for the band, before being eased out in favor of Ringo Starr. Likewise, Stuart Sutcliffe spent time as the bassist before deciding to return to art school.

The Beatles
The Beatles

Ringo Starr, although a replacement drummer, soon found a home with the Beatles as one of the more popular band members. His distinctive voice meant that he rarely had a singing role in every song, but his voice took center in Yellow Submarine and With a Little Help From My Friends. Moreover, his unique turns of phrase would often create song titles, such as Hard Day's Night and Tomorrow Never Knows. After the band broke up, he continued performing with his own band, the All-Starrs Band.

Paul McCartney wrote many of the group's songs with John Lennon, and together the two were able to produce some of the most influential songs in history. The band's bass player, he was occasionally referred to in the press as the 'Cute Beatle.' McCartney hardly needed the praises of the press to have an active social life, and has remained an influential figure in pop culture today not only for his private life, but also for a variety of causes.

George Harrison, while not as prolific as McCartney and Lennon, also wrote songs for the group, specifically Here Comes the Sun. That said, he is more remembered as the band's lead guitarist. After the group broke up, Harrison became increasingly interested in Eastern philosophy, building on an interest in India that had led him to even incorporate the sitar, a traditional Indian instrument, into his work. After his death in 2001, his ashes were spread in the Ganges River in accordance to Hindu practice.

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