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Beatles Biography

Home > Music > B > Beatles > Biography

Birth Place: Liverpool, England
Years Active: 1960–1970
Genres: Rock, Pop

The Beatles was an English rock band, active throughout the 1960s and one of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed acts in the history of popular music. Formed in Liverpool, by 1962 the group consisted of John Lennon (rhythm guitar, vocals), Paul McCartney (bass guitar, vocals), George Harrison (lead guitar, vocals) and Ringo Starr (drums, vocals). Rooted in skiffle and 1950s rock and roll, the group later worked in many genres ranging from pop ballads to psychedelic rock, often incorporating classical and other elements in innovative ways. The nature of their enormous popularity, which first emerged as “Beatlemania,” transformed as their songwriting grew in sophistication. They came to be perceived as the embodiment of ideals of the social and cultural revolutions of the 1960s.

Initially a five-piece line-up of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe (bass) and Pete Best (drums), they built their reputation playing clubs in Liverpool and Hamburg over a three-year period from 1960. Sutcliffe left the group in 1961, and Best was replaced by Starr the following year.

Molded into a professional outfit by their manager, Brian Epstein, their musical potential was enhanced by the creativity of producer George Martin. They achieved mainstream success in the United Kingdom in late 1962, with their first single, “Love Me Do.” In 1963 they had their first U.K. #1 single, “From Me to You.” Other #1 hits during this time included “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “All My Loving.” Films such as 1964’s “A Hard Day’s Night” and 1965’s “Help!” solidified the band as a pop culture phenomenon. Gaining international popularity and acquiring the nickname “Fab Four” the following year, they toured extensively until 1966.

During their subsequent “studio years,” they produced what critics consider some of their finest material. “Rubber Soul,” their 1965 studio album, was described as a major artistic achievement, attaining widespread critical and commercial success, with reviewers taking note of The Beatles' developing musical vision. It went to #1 in the U.K. and United States and featured “Drive My Car,” “Nowhere Man” and “Michelle.”

“Revolver,” released in 1966, was marked by an electric guitar-rock sound, in contrast with their previous LP, the folk rock inspired “Rubber Soul.” The U.S. and U.K. #1 album featured the hit singles, “Yellow Submarine” and “Eleanor Rigby” and included other popular songs such as “Taxman,” “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Good Day Sunshine.”

Their next album, 1967’s “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band” is widely regarded as one of the greatest of all time, and has since been recognized as one of the most important albums in the history of popular music, including songs such as “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “A Day in the Life.” “Sgt. Pepper's” was a worldwide critical and commercial success, spending a total of 27 weeks at the top of the U.K. Albums chart and 15 weeks at #1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 Albums chart. A defining album in the emerging psychedelic rock style, the album was critically acclaimed upon release and won four Grammy awards in 1968. It is one of the world's best selling albums, having shipped 32 million copies.

Later in 1967 The Beatles released “Magical Mystery Tour” as a soundtrack to the film of the same name. The soundtrack was far more favorably received than the film based upon The Beatles and their music. It was nominated for a Grammy Award for best album in 1968 and reached #1 in the U.S. for eight weeks.

A double LP, “The Beatles,” was released in 1968. It is also commonly known as “The White Album” as it has no graphics or text other than the band's name embossed in grey letters (and, on the early LP and CD releases, a serial number) on its plain white album cover sleeve. The album was written and recorded during a period of turmoil for the group, after visiting the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India and having a particularly productive songwriting session in early 1968. The group returned to the studio for recording from May to October 1968, only to have conflict and dissent drive the group members apart. Ringo Starr quit the band for a brief time, leaving Paul McCartney to perform drums on some of the album's songs. Many of the songs were "solo" recordings, or at least by less than the full group, as each individual member began to explore his own talent. Upon release in November 1968, the album reached #1 on the charts in the U.K. and the U.S. The album is notable for the eclectic nature of its songs, among them “Revolution 1,” “Dear Prudence,” “Blackbird,” “Back in the U.S.S.R. ,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Helter Skelter” The album has sold over 30 million copies worldwide.

Issued as the soundtrack to the film of the same name, their 1969 album “Yellow Submarine” premiered in the U.K. seven months prior to the album's release. Only one side of the album contains songs performed by The Beatles; of the six, four were previously unissued. “Yellow Submarine” had been simultaneously issued in 1966 as a single and on the album “Revolver,” and “All You Need Is Love” had been issued as a single in 1967.

Also in 1969 The Beatles released “Abbey Road” featuring their last recorded material. “Abbey Road” is widely regarded as one of The Beatles' most tightly constructed albums, although the band was barely operating as a functioning unit at the time. It became one of the most successful Beatles albums ever. In the U.K. album debuted at #1 were it accumulated for 17 weeks at the top. Reaction in the U.S. was similar debuting at #178, moving to #4 and then to #1, spending 11 non-consecutive weeks at the top. “Abbey Road” was certified 12x platinum by the RIAA in 2001. “Something” and “Come Together” were released as singles and the album’s b-side featured a 16-minute medley consisting of several short songs, both finished and unfinished, blended into a suite by McCartney and Martin.

Though recorded prior to “Abbey Road,” The Beatles did not release their final studio album until “Let It Be” was issued in 1970. Going #1 in the U.K. and U.S., the album featured the title track, “Get Back,” “Across the Universe” and their final single, “The Long and Winding Road.”

Shortly after the release of “Let It Be” the band officially broke-up in 1970. After their break-up, the band members all found success in independent musical careers. Lennon was murdered outside his home in New York City in 1980, and Harrison died of cancer in 2001. McCartney and Starr remain active.

The Beatles are the best-selling band in the history of popular music, and over four decades after their break-up, their recordings are still in demand. They have had more #1 albums on the U.K. charts and have held the top spot longer than any other musical act. According to the RIAA, they have sold more albums in the United States than any other artist, and they headed Billboard magazine's list of all-time top Hot 100 artists in 2008. They have received 7 Grammy Awards from the American National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and 15 Ivor Novello Awards from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.