I don't want people to not know who I am. I don't want to be pigeonholed as the new George Michael, or the guy that won the reality TV show, or Mick Hucknall for the Noughties, or whatever nonsense gets said. It's just me and it's about having a bit of self-belief and turning up the volume a bit" – Will Young, in a café by the Thames, November 2005 Hold onto your trilby... In fact, take off ...
Inspired by the “skiffle boom”, a student at Quarry Bank School in Liverpool named John Lennon decided to form a group in 1957 which laid the foundation to what was to become the most famous rock band of all time. John’s original name was “The Blackjacks”. However, this name only lasted a week and John used the school name as inspiration for the later name “The Quarry Men” in March 1957. John sang and played guitar, Colin Hanton played drums, Eric Griffiths on guitar, Pete Shotton on washboard, Rod Davis on banjo and Bill Smith on tea-chest bass. Bill was soon replaced by Ivan Vaughan.
John was inspired by “Heartbreak Hotel” and became a fan of American rock ‘n’ roll music. He introduced songs by Buddy Holly , Carl Perkins, The Coasters, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Vincent into their repertoire. On July 6, 1957, Ivan Vaughan invited Paul McCartney to see their gig at The Woolton Parish Church Fete. The fifteen-year-old McCartney was introduce to sixteen-year-old Lennon and a unique song writing partnership began.
The line-up of The Quarry Men increased to seven with Paul on guitar and vocals, John Lowe on piano and George Harrison on guitar and vocals. Soon Griffiths and another member would leave, leaving a five-piece band. The group appeared at several local talent contests but had very few gigs. By January 1959, the group wasn’t operating. Although John and Paul kept in touch, George had joined the Les Stewart Quartet.
That might have been the end of The Quarry Men but they had a stroke of luck. The Les Stewart Quartet had been booked as a resident band at a new club called “The Casbah”. It was run by Mrs. Mona Best to support her son’s Pete and Rory. Stewart, upset because his guitarist Ken Brown help decorate the club, refused to play there. Ken and George walked out of the group and George contacted John and Paul, and The Quarry Men were reunited as a quartet. After about seven gigs at the club, Ken Brown left over a disagreement about money. From October 1959 to January 1960 John, Paul and George continued as a trio with Paul on drums. They called themselves “Johnny & the Moondogs”.
By this time John was enrolled in The Liverpool College of Art. John knew that they needed a bass player so he asked two students if they would like the position. The two were Stuart Sutcliffe and Rod Murray. Both could not afford a guitar, so Rod started to make one by hand. However, Stuart was able to sell one of his paintings to a John Moores Exhibition and was able to buy a Hofner bass guitar and join the group in January, 1960. At this time the group had changed its name to “Silver Beetles”. They also began shifting drummers around, the first was Tommy Moore who toured with them through Scotland and then left. The next was Norman Chapman but he left after only a few weeks. Finally, George suggested that Pete Best, the son of club owner Mrs. Mona Best, become the group’s drummer.
Paul contacted Pete and offered him the drummer seat, he took it. The group had finally settled on “The Beatles” just before their first trip to Hamburg in August, 1960. Now John, Paul, George, Stuart and Pete would head off for Hamburg. At that time The Beatles weren’t considered to be the leading group in Liverpool and in most cases were looked down upon. In Hamburg they pulled their act together musically. This was caused by the fact that they had to play such long hours and were bullied by the club owner Bruno Koschimider to “make a show”. It wasn’t just Hamburg that made them special. The fact that Liverpool had so many venues for local acts to play at, coupled with the rivalry between more than 300 Merseyside groups, continued to forge The Beatles until they were to be regarded as Liverpool’s top band.
At the time, Pete Best was regarded as the most potent symbol in the band. After Hamburg, Stuart Sutcliffe had left and now The Beatles were a four-piece band and Paul took over as bass guitarist. John, Paul and George were the three front-line guitarists and they alternated as lead singers and also performed vocal harmony with either John and Paul or all three. Pete Best played drums and occasionally sang one song but he had developed a distinctive drum sound called “the atom beat” which many other drummers tried to copy.
By this time, The Beatles had hired Brian Epstein as their manager and he signed them up for an audition with Decca Records. The head of Decca Records told The Beatles manager, “Guitar groups are on their way out Mr. Epstein.”. The Beatles were devastated by their failed audition but Epstien secured them a contract with Parlophone Records. George Martin became their A&R; Man. In August of 1962, Pete Best was replaced by Ringo Starr.
Their first single “Love Me Do” was issued on October 5, 1962, and was a modest hit. 1963 and 1964 proved to be the most important years in their careers. In 1963 the “Beatlemania” craze had started in Britain and The Beatles were no longer support acts at concerts. Now they were starring in the Royal Variety Show and the highest rating TV show “Sunday Night At The London Palladium”.
Their biggest year was 1964 when they conquered the biggest record market in the world – America. The group became symbols. America was mourning the death of President John F. Kennedy and The Beatles appeared on the scene to bring them fun and excitement and end their mourning. They also brought back rock ‘n’ roll to America. After Elvis had join the army, he lost much of his early rebelliousness. Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry were rocked by scandals and their careers suffered. Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens had been killed in an plane crash. The American media was promoting what The Beatles called “One-Hit-Wonders” such as Frankie Avalon, Tab Hunter, James Darren, etc.
Ed Sullivan had been at London airport when The Beatles return from Sweden and saw all the girls screaming, the boys cheering and the media taking pictures. He knew they were something special and he booked them on his TV show “The Ed Sullivan Show”. That show received the highest ratings in the history of television up to then. That same year The Beatles toured America for the first time and starred in their first motion picture “A Hard Day’s Night”. In 1965, The Beatles second motion picture “HELP!” premiered. Later that year, The Beatles performed at Shea Stadium in New York to a crowd of 55,000 screaming fans. The largest live audience in history. Their tours did have their darker moments. The first being in Tokyo, Japan where The Beatles were locked up in their hotel and were not allowed to come out until show time. The next was in the Philippines when, on a day off, Madam Marcos asked them to attend a Royal dinner. The Beatles politely turned down the invitation and the public was furious. The Bea
tles quickly left.
In 1966, The Beatles were under heavy pressure from the press after John made a remark that The Beatles were more popular than Jesus. John had to apologize and explain himself several times. Not only that but their tour of America was plagued with mishaps. On August 19, 1966 they receive a death threat in Memphis and a firecracker went off during the show terrifying The Beatles. The next day in Cincinnati a concert promoter failed to provide a stage canopy and can’t understand why The Beatles were unwilling to play electric guitars in a rainstorm. Paul becomes so agitated he becomes ill. On August 28, 1966 at Dodger Stadium, L.A. cops are seen beating teenage girls. Dozens are trampled in the chaos.
During the sixties, The Beatles not only became a musical phenomenon, they affected the styles and fashions of the decade. They transformed the record industry as well. They brought about royalties for artists and producers, revolutionized music tours, and started the Pop promo film or what we know today as “The Music Video”. Everyone of their albums, from Please Please Me to Abbey Road were all popular and unique in their own way. But after the death of their long time manager Brian Epstein, things would start to fall apart for The Beatles.
Due to outside interests the group focused less and less and the band. In late 1964 they were introduced to marijuana and would experiment with more drugs such as LSD which they were first introduced to in late 1965. The Beatles played their last concert at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on August 29, 1966. In 1967, their manager Brian Epstein died of a accidental drug overdose. Some friction was caused between John and Paul because Paul was trying to become the leader of the group after Brian’s death. Ties were still strong at this point between the band members despite Ringo leaving the band for a short time during The White Album because he felt left out. When Ringo decided to return he found his drum kit decked with flowers and the others tried to include him more.
After The White Album they embarked on the “Let It Be” project. The idea was to see The Beatles jam, rehearse and record a whole new album of songs. At the end they would give a concert from some spectacular place. Tensions were high between Paul and George as they started recording at Twickenham Film Studios. John was off in his land of love with Yoko and Ringo was left in the background. One day George walked out on a session after a disagreement with Paul. George came back to finish up the album but as John would later explain, “We couldn’t play the game anymore, we just couldn’t do it”.
The Beatles gave their last public appearance on top of the Apple building on January 30, 1969. However their “Let It Be” album was deemed un-releasable. It was handed over to Phil Spector who added lush orchestrations to such songs as “The Long and Winding Road”, infuriating Paul. Despite all of this, The Beatles decided to get together to make one final album “Abbey Road” which would go on to become their biggest selling record in history. It was mainly Paul who kept the group together this long, encouraging them to make Magical Mystery Tour back in 1967 after Brian’s death and trying to get them all excited about recording and performing. Recording yes, performing no. From Sgt. Pepper’s through Abbey Road these were considered to be their “studio years” where they rarely got together except to record. The Let It Be album was finally released on May 8, 1970 less than a month after Paul publicly announced he was no longer a member of the group.
In the end, The Beatles became true legends. Their music touched all our lives. The Beatles wanted more than just to “Be Beatles”, they wanted happiness. A happiness that they once had back when they first became successful. John found happiness with his one true love Yoko, his Plastic Ono Band, and son Sean; Paul found happiness with Linda, his children, and Wings; George found happiness with his solo career, Olivia, and his son Dhani; and Ringo found happiness with his solo career, acting career, Barbara, and his sons. They will always be the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in history.