Music in the late 1950’s in America tended to be of the lounge singer variety. Rock and Roll had started to develop but was still seen as the Devil’s music to many middle class Americans.
In the UK music was perhaps even more dire. A mixture of lounge singers and blues artists was what teenage Brits could listen to.
Skiffle music became a popular genre for some young teenagers in the UK. Consisting of simple tunes and rhythms played on a drum, a guitar and a tea chest with a string attached to make a bass sound, this was easily accessible to kids who didn’t have enough money to buy proper instruments.
Paul McCartney met John Lennon when they were both playing in different skiffle groups in Liverpool. Paul was looking to set up a band of dedicated musicians and he recognized a real talent in the slightly grumpy and enigmatic John. Paul introduced John to George Harrison, a younger kid that Paul knew through the local music scene. The three decided to start their own band with the addition of drummer Stu Sutcliffe who was a friend of John’s from Art School and a guitarist by the name of Pete Best.
Playing skiffle music but trying to find their own sound, the band headed over to Germany where they scraped a living by playing music in strip clubs and dingy bars. It was during this time that they developed a friendship with Ringo Starr who played with another band on the same circuit.
Life in Germany was good but frustrating for the young men. They had more than their fair share of women show interest in them and though they developed a following didn’t find the fame that they hoped they would.
Stu Sutcliffe was getting bored and wanted to return back to art rather than music. He met a German girl called Astrid and left the band. A few years later Stu died of a brain hemorrhage that some say was the result of damage sustained during a club fight years earlier.
John, Paul, George and Pete returned to Liverpool as The Silver Beatles where fame still eluded them. John by then had a pregnant girlfriend, Cynthia, who he married and they welcomed their son Julian in to the world.
Continuing to play dingy venues in Liverpool, the Silver Beatles were noticed by a young record storeowner, Brian Epstein. Brian thought that this band had definite talent, good looks and something that set them apart from all the other groups doing the rounds. He befriended the band and suggested that they change their rough image. He got them into suits instead of their leather jackets and smarten up their image a bit.
Brian truly believed in the talent of the band who by this time had shortened their name to just The Beatles and he went from record label to record label to try to get the band signed.
During this time Pete had gone from playing guitar to being the drummer for the band but John, Paul and George had never forgotten Ringo Starr and invited him to take Pete’s place in The Beatles.
Some local fans were disappointed that the good looking Pete had been ousted but they soon began to fall for Ringo’s hound-dog eyes and electric charisma.
The rest, as they say, is history.
The Beatles got quite a following in Liverpool, playing at the Cavern with other up and coming groups. The band was followed wherever they played and together with other bands from Liverpool became well known in the UK as part of ‘The Mersey Beat’.
‘The Mersey Beat’ group of bands and musicians had their music played on the radio and their fame quickly spread through the nation of teenagers who were desperate to just get out there and dance, to find an identity after the greyness and depression of the post war years that they had been born into.
Brian wanted to break the band into the States and when the ‘Fab Four’ as they had become known hit American shores at Kennedy Airport in February 1964, they were amazed at the reception they got.
Hundreds upon hundreds of screaming, crying and fainting girls waited at the airport to welcome the band and ‘Beatlemania’ was born.
The hype that surrounded the group was like nothing America had ever seen. The Beatles were blown away by the fact that when they played short gigs for their fans that their music couldn’t even be heard over the screaming.
Travelling on the road was hard and it was a huge culture shock for the young men – not only to be in the States but also because they were being chased and screamed at wherever they went!
It was difficult for the guys to maintain relationships in any shape or form and although they were close to each other, there was a lot of in fighting. This was particularly so between John and Paul who were arguably the most creative of the foursome.
The Beatles could do no wrong and even the older generation who at first had been against the new kind of music that the group were playing were eventually won over by the cheeky humour that John, Paul, George and Ringo displayed.
At the height of their popularity John gave an interview where he said that The Beatles had become more famous than Jesus Christ.
Of course John hadn’t meant that they were more important or were more famous – he was merely making a tongue in cheek comment that was misunderstood and misinterpreted.
The older generation was up in arms over the comment and soon Beatles records and memorabilia was being burned by outraged fans and their parents.
It was a hard time for the guys but it enabled them to lose some of their saccharine pop and move onto more meaningful music.
The drug culture and the band’s foray into Eastern religion saw a very different type of music come from the band but over time they gained more fans who loved their music and didn’t just want to scream at them.
It has been said that the in fighting got progressively worse when John met Yoko Ono and divorced his wife, Cynthia. Yoko seemed to have a strange hold over John and she started to comment on the band’s music and use her influence over John to dictate which direction she thought the band should take.
In 1970 the group decided to split. Millions of fans all over the world were distraught at the break-up but the band is as popular today as they were then.
Their music is widely recognized by both fans and critics and there aren’t many people in the world that wouldn’t be able to name at least one Beatles song.
The Fab Four had success as individual artists and all four had happy marriages (after initial break-ups) and families.
There was definite strain between John, Paul, George and Ringo after the split and fans were never able to see the four play together again.
John was tragically shot and killed outside his apartment by a crazed fan and George lost his life recently to cancer.
The music and memories of The Beatles live on today however, and parents pass their love and knowledge of the group to their children. And so it will continue for many, many years to come.
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