Beatles Biography

The Beatles came from Liverpool, England, and were originally inspired by the simple guitar-and-washboard style "skiffle" music. Skiffle was a lively type of acoustic (nonelectric) music that used songs from British and American folk and popular music. Later such U.S. pop artists as Elvis Presley (1935–1977), Buddy Holly (1936–1959), and Little Richard (1932–) influenced them. All four members of the Beatles had an early interest in music.

The Beatles started when John Lennon formed his own group, called the Quarrymen, in 1956. Paul McCartney joined the group as a guitarist in 1957. Fourteen-yearold George Harrison, though a skilled guitarist, did not initially impress seventeen-year-old Lennon, but eventually won a permanent spot in the developing group. The

The Beatles. Reproduced by permission of the Corbis Corporation.

When the Beatles' bass player, Stu Sutcliffe, decided to leave, McCartney took over that instrument. Upon their return to England, a record shop manager named Brian Epstein approached the band about becoming their manager. Within a year of signing Epstein on as manager, the Beatles gained a recording contract from EMI Records producer George Martin. Drummer Pete Best left the group and a sad-eyed drummer named Richard Starkey, better known as Ringo Starr, joined.

Despite initial doubts, George Martin agreed to use Lennon and McCartney originals on both sides of the Beatles' first single. "Love Me Do," released on October 5, 1962, convinced Martin that, with the right material, the Beatles could achieve a number one record. He was proven correct.

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.

John Lennon also played guitar in the group, and was considered by the other members of the band to be their natural leader. Controversially, he compared the Beatles to Jesus, which severely damaged the group’s reputation in the United States. This reaction also edged the band towards the decision to stop performing. After the band broke up, he had married Yoko Ono, disappearing from public view until 1980, just weeks before his murder.

Studio style evolution

The role of producer George Martin was one of the crucial elements in the success of the Beatles. He used his experience to bring out the potential in the group, where a lesser producer would have imposed his views and inhibited the creativity he recognised and nurtured. His earlier experience of producing recordings by acts ranging from Jimmy Shand to the Goons prepared him for the open-minded, experimental approach to the studio which the group began to develop as they became more experienced. Martin’s connection with the Goons had been impressive to the group, who were fans.

At the height of their fame in the mid-sixties, bolstered by the two films Help! and A Hard Day’s Night, the band discontinued touring. The difficulty of performing to thousands of screaming fans who typically made so much noise that the music could not be heard had led to the disillusion with touring, and the group retired from live performance in 1966, to concentrate on making records. Their demands to create new sounds with every recording, the influence of psychedelic drugs and the studio techniques of recording engineer Geoff Emerick resulted in the albums Revolver (1966) and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), still widely regarded as classics. Particularly notable, along with the use of studio tricks such as sound processing, unconventional microphone placements, and vari-speed recording, was the Beatles’ use of unconventional instruments for pop music, including string and brass elements, Indian instruments like the sitar, tape loops and early electronic instruments.

The group were increasingly taking charge of their own production, and Paul McCartney’s increasing dominance in this role played its part in the tensions that eventually split the group.

The stress of their fame was beginning to tell and the band was on the verge of splitting at the time of the release of The Beatles (‘The White Album’), with some tracks recorded by the band members individually, and Starr taking a two-week holiday — sometimes reported as a temporary break-up — in the middle of the recording session. By 1970, the band had split, with each of the members going on to solo careers with varying degrees of success.

Community Reviews

The Bob Spitz biography of The Beatles was the first musical biography that I read a few years back. Not sure that I would be all that interested and yet having read some very positive reviews, I picked up this one and had a really hard time putting it down. The story is absolutely fascinating – from their humble beginnings, the sad and shameful way they disposed of Pete Best for Ringo Starr, the song writing teamwork of Paul and John and the charm and genius of George. it is just amazing the r The Bob Spitz biography of The Beatles was the first musical biography that I read a few years back. Not sure that I would be all that interested and yet having read some very positive reviews, I picked up this one and had a really hard time putting it down. The story is absolutely fascinating – from their humble beginnings, the sad and shameful way they disposed of Pete Best for Ringo Starr, the song writing teamwork of Paul and John and the charm and genius of George. it is just amazing the revolutions and evolutions of music that these four musicians achieved in such a relatively short recording career. One thing I found particularly interesting was the tension between the romantic Paul McCartney who was always looking for the big commercial hit or love song and John Lennon who – if he had had the choice – would have made The Beatles into the first punk band like the Sex Pistols. It was also a bit shocking that both love song Paul and sleep/love-in John were so incredibly abusive of their women early in their careers. Of course, we also learn of how their original and ill-fated manager Brian Epstein screwed them over forever on the rights to their music but also how the production by George Martin gave them the freedom to experiment and create masterpieces like Rubber Soul, Revolver, and Sgt Peppers. The book is a page-turner and the reader learns something on nearly every page. My first musical biography became my favorite musical biography in this case!

Still several years after reading this, Spitz’ bio of the Fab Four still reigns over the other rock n roll biographies I have read. The anecdotes, the disastrous tour, the recordings (one of which a deceased aunt of mine was actually in the studio for, it os all vivid in my memory and has incredibly enhanced my listening experience of this, the greatest band of the 60s and probably most influential of all time. A must! . more

Holy crap is this book long. And informative. Also fun to read, so yay. Here's some fun stuff I learned:

1. They all had gonorrhea when they recorded "Love Me Do."
2. John was a huge asshole.
3. Brian Epstein would invite really rough dudes back to his house to beat the crap out of him.
4. Yoko was even worse than John.
5. Paul was kind of a dick, too.
6. But Ringo was a nice guy.
7. During early Beatles concerts, theater owners or whoever would wheel retards into the front row until John started makin Holy crap is this book long. And informative. Also fun to read, so yay. Here’s some fun stuff I learned:

1. They all had gonorrhea when they recorded “Love Me Do.”
2. John was a huge asshole.
3. Brian Epstein would invite really rough dudes back to his house to beat the crap out of him.
4. Yoko was even worse than John.
5. Paul was kind of a dick, too.
6. But Ringo was a nice guy.
7. During early Beatles concerts, theater owners or whoever would wheel retards into the front row until John started making fun of them by putting a plastic bag on his foot and limping around like a spaz. Also, sometimes the parents of said retards would like, bring their kids backstage and then leave them alone. With the Beatles. . more

The opening chord of A Hard Day's Night. George, on a twelve string, plays a Gsus chord. From bass to treble that's G,C,F,A,C,G. On a twelve string guitar, the bottom four notes get doubled at the octave, while the top two are doubled in unison. Underneath, Paul plays a D. And John strums a Dsus chord, ADADG, leaving out the bottom string. So from bass to treble we get the following: D, G, A, C, D, F, G, AA, CCC, DD, F, GG, A. The result is a perfect collaboration, and a beautiful example of the The opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night. George, on a twelve string, plays a Gsus chord. From bass to treble that’s G,C,F,A,C,G. On a twelve string guitar, the bottom four notes get doubled at the octave, while the top two are doubled in unison. Underneath, Paul plays a D. And John strums a Dsus chord, ADADG, leaving out the bottom string. So from bass to treble we get the following: D, G, A, C, D, F, G, AA, CCC, DD, F, GG, A. The result is a perfect collaboration, and a beautiful example of the Beatles ability to come up with something that is both chaotic and suberbly balanced all at once. If you’ve heard it, you remember it, and you know what I mean. If not, then why are you reading this far?

Spitz describes this chord in some detail, and quite differently. He says George plays a G7 chord with an added ninth, and a suspended fourth, and leaves it at that. I bring this up for two reasons. First, if Spitz gets this wrong, then it casts into doubt the accuracy of much of his “definitive” biography. This example is important for me, because I have always cared most about the Beatle’s music, and much less about all the surrounding stuff.

Second, Spitz attributes this chord to George, instead of highlighting what a brilliant group effort it was. That’s about the only time in the book that George gets put in the forefront, and on this rare occurrence, Spitz gets it wrong. This book is mostly about John, then Brian Epstein. Paul is still a large figure, but not as much as the first two. George is a strong supporting character, and Ringo hardly gets much attention at all. The amazing thing about this is that the amount of attention a person gets is inversely proportional to his likability.

John is a dick. Spitz tries to attribute much of this to his various drug addictions. But he was being a dick to his audiences even before the drugs became an issue. It’s pretty amazing that such an inconsiderate asshole could write and perform such brilliant, sensitive music. Well maybe not so much. I have a whole list of artists whose work I adore, but who I would never want to meet, and Lennon doesn’t even get close to the top of this list.

Epstein didn’t interest me back then, and he doesn’t interest me all that much now. I guess its worth seeing how he screwed up so many deals for the Beatles. But his character seems almost stereotypical. If someone made him up for a novel, I think most people would roll their eyes at the cliches. And that’s pretty sad for him.

Paul comes across as controlling, a perfectionist, self-centered, terrible to women, but mostly a decent mate to his buddies. Except then there is the point where the new manager has Paul’s longstanding assistant fired. The guy worked for Paul basically all the way back when they played in the Cavern in Liverpool, for over seven years. And when the manager had him fired, Paul refused to even return the guy’s phone calls. So, in the end, Paul showed no loyalty at all. But his music, when not corny (does anyone actually like “Someone’s Knocking at the Door”?), can be glorious.

George is painted as insecure, but growing and spiritual. By the end, he is at least acknowledged as a good song writer. But as the Beatles retreated into the studio, John and Paul treated him more and more as a hired hand. And Ringo is barely seen here as a full Beatle. He doesn’t enter the scene until the book is half done, and he doesn’t fit. He treats his wife well, and cares about her. And he seems like a nice and stable person. What Spitz does show about Ringo, is how important he was for their live sound. He wasn’t the most technically accomplished drummer, but he had an uncanny musical sense and the ability to fit himself in perfectly.

The book inevitably tries to answer two questions: First, why the meteoric rise? Here, I don’t think the book comes up with any good explanation. In Outliers, Gadwell attributes the rise to the Beatle’s time in Hamburg, where they put in the 10,000 hours needed for mastery. That certainly helped them, but there were lots of other groups with their own 10,000 hours. In the end, I think the Beatle’s were just a black swan. There really isn’t any explaining the sudden mass hysteria that surrounded them. If it had not happened to them, it probably would have been someone else. But I have to admit that its awfully difficult for me to imagine some others in the same role.

The second question is why the break-up. The book mostly blames John’s envy of Paul, and Paul’s need to control things. Add to this the drugs, and their seclusion, and the break-up becomes almost inevitable. The book also lays out another scenario. The Beatles became a truly great live band with all of their experience in Hamburg and at the Cavern and on tour through England. Once they hit the big time, their shows topped out at 35 minutes or so, instead of several hours a night. They played in huge venues to girls who threw jelly bellies at them, and screamed over the music. No-one listened, and the Beatles couldn’t even hear themselves. The shows were unsatisfying and became more and more dangerous to them. So they quit.

But the energy, and their first love, came from the live playng. Once they retreated into the studio, George and Ringo were no longer as much a cohesive part of the group. And Paul and John could go more and more their seperate ways. So they lost their energizing source, and they lost the feeling of being a band. And that led to them breaking up. Spitz doesn’t put it in so many words, but that’s what I was left with. In the end, the fans broke up the Beatles. . more

Leave a Comment

Pin It on Pinterest