Rough Guide to The Beatles
Originally named The Quarrymen, the group of four Liverpudlian musicians first performed as The Beatles in 1960. The members were rhythm guitarist John Lennon, bassist Paul McCartney, lead guitarist George Harrison, and drummer Ringo Starr. Although Lennon was the lead singer, all four Beatles sang lead for at least one song on each album. The Beatles are regarded as the most influential band of all time, and the forefathers of modern music, with artists from Dave Grohl to Lady Gaga citing them as one of their major influences. The Beatles were integral to Swinging Sixties culture and to the development of psychedelic rock. John Lennon and Paul McCartney were
the primary song writers, and often worked together, ascribing these tracks to Lennon-McCartney.
Following several years playing pubs and clubs, and several stints in Hamburg in the early ‘60s, the band were signed in June 1962 to EMI’s Parlophone record label under producer George Martin. Martin worked with them until their breakup in 1970, producing almost the entirety of the band’s output. By early 1964, The Beatles had become international stars, spearheading the ‘British invasion’ of the US pop music market and breaking numerous sales records before they even arrived there for their first tour in February of that year. The term ‘Beatlemania’ was coined to describe the hysteria of their fans.
The Beatles enjoyed consistent commercial success throughout their career, and among their most noted albums are Rubber Soul (1965), Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) and Abbey Road (1969). The band also appeared in four films throughout their career, although they did not voice themselves in ‘Yellow Submarine’. In April 1970 it was announced that Paul McCartney would be leaving The Beatles, and that the band would break up as a result.
Now, over fifty years later, there is still massive demand for their music. There is not a song by The Beatles that I don’t like, but these are my favourites…
In 1965, The Beatles released their fifth album, Help!, on which ‘Yesterday’ features. Allegedly, McCartney came up with the melody for the song in his sleep and, for several days afterwards, went round asking friends and employees at EMI studios if they had heard the melody before. When he discovered that it was in fact original, he began to work on lyrics, at first using
‘Scrambled eggs / Oh my baby how I love your legs’ in place of ‘Yesterday / All my troubles seemed so far away’. Paul was the only Beatle to play on it, and the final mix sounded so different to anything that The Beatles had put out before that John, George and Ringo vetoed its release as a single on the UK version of the album. It was released as a US single and reached #1 in the charts.
Nowhere Man (1965)
Paul began to work on lyrics, at first singing ‘Scrambled eggs / Oh my baby how I love your legs’ in place of ‘Yesterday / All my troubles seemed so far away’.
Later that same year, John Lennon wrote ‘Nowhere Man’, once again crediting it to Lennon-McCartney. It appeared on the band’s December 1965 album, Rubber Soul. Despite not being a UK single, it was released as a single in the US and Canada, peaking at #3 in the US. The song is one of the first by The Beatles not about romance or love, and, critics have argued, is a good example of John Lennon’s philosophical song writing. Unusually, John and George performed the lead guitar solo in unison, and John, Paul and George sang in three-part harmony. Lennon wrote the song after racking his brain for several hours for a final song to add to Rubber Soul and being inspired by a particularly low point in his life. Of the song, Paul McCartney said, “That was John after a night out, with dawn coming up. I think at that point, he was... wondering where he was going, and to be truthful so was I. I was starting to worry about him.”
Strawberry Fields Forever (1967)
February 1967 saw the release of the double A-side ‘Strawberry Fields Forever / Penny Lane’. As with ‘Nowhere Man’, this track was classic John Lennon; it was based on his childhood memories of playing in the garden of the Salvation Army
Children’s Home in Liverpool, called Strawberry Field. The song was created over five weeks in the studio and three versions came out of the sessions. Two of these were subsequently combined, which was unusual because they were entirely different in tempo and mood, as well as musical key. ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ proved highly influential in the budding psychedelic rock subgenre, and the accompanying music video is also recognised as trailblazing within the medium. John Lennon viewed the song as his greatest work with the band, despite disliking the sound of his voice and, while recording, asking George Martin (the producer) to cover the sound of his
voice, asking “can’t you smother it with tomato ketchup or something?” In 2008, George Martin revealed that Lennon had told him before he had died in 1980 that he wished he could re-record everything that The Beatles did. Astonished, Martin asked “even Strawberry Fields?” To which Lennon answered: “especially Strawberry Fields.”
All You Need Is Love (1967)
Listening to The Beatles’ discography, it is strikingly easy to see which songs were inspired by Lennon and which by McCartney’s genius. Once again, a John Lennon non-album single was credited to Lennon-McCartney by way of July 1967’s ‘All You Need Is Love’, which became an anthem for hippie culture and the 1967 Summer of Love. The song was Britain’s contribution to Our World, the first live global television broadcast. The band were filmed performing the song at EMI Studios, surrounded by high profile guests such as Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, George Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd and Paul McCartney’s girlfriend, actress Jane Asher,
who join in at the chorus. During the recording, John Lennon was chewing gum while singing, which some music critics have claimed shows how talented he was, because it is not noticeable during the recording. The lyrics were purposely simplistic as the recording was getting broadcast in other countries and John did not want the message to be lost in translation.
Hey Jude (1968)
Following Lennon’s split from his first wife, the couple’s son Julian was going through a tough time. During a car journey to visit Julian and his mother, McCartney wrote ‘Hey Jules’ to comfort him. This developed into ‘Hey Jude’, which John Lennon initially thought was directed at him, rather than his son. The song was a #1 in many countries around the world and became the year’s top selling single in the UK, the US, Canada and Australia. Since then, it has sold approximately eight million copies. It was
the first Beatles song to be recorded on eight-track recording equipment as well and to be released under their own record label, Apple. Surprisingly, given the band’s problems at the time, the song is optimistic and promotes togetherness, featuring a studio audience singing along The Beatles in its coda. At over seven minutes long, ‘Hey Jude’ was the longest single ever to have topped the British charts.
Here Comes the Sun (1969)
Abbey Road was the last album The Beatles ever recorded together, but not their last to be released. ‘Here Comes the Sun’ was written by George Harrison and is one of the band’s best-known compositions. As of September 2019, it was the most streamed Beatles song on Spotify globally, with over 350 million plays. ‘Here Comes the Sun’ was written at Eric Clapton’s country house, a friend of Harrison’s. He was there playing truant for the day to avoid attending a meeting at The Beatles’ Apple Corps organisation. The lyrics reflect his relief at the arrival of spring as the previous winter had been one of the coldest on record. However, it has since taken on another meaning: look to the future. ‘Here Comes the Sun’ has been highly praised by music critics since its release in 1969, and, combined with his other contribution to Abbey Road, ‘Something’, it brought George Harrison to the level of recognition for his song writing which had previously reserved for Lennon and McCartney.
Octopus's Garden (1969)
‘Octopus’s Garden’, Ringo Starr’s contribution to Abbey Road, is regarded as a children’s song. He wrote it (with some help from Harrison) after being served squid and chips instead of fish and chips during a boat trip to Sardinia on Peter Sellers’ yacht. The captain of the boat told Starr about how octopi travel along the seabed picking up stones and shiny objects with which to build their gardens. George Harrison said of the song, “’Octopus's Garden' is Ringo's song.
George Harrison said of the song, “’Octopus's Garden' is Ringo's song. It's only the second song Ringo has ever written, mind you, and it's lovely."
It's only the second song Ringo has ever written, mind you, and it's lovely." He added that the song gets very deep into the listener's consciousness "because it's so peaceful. I suppose Ringo is writing cosmic songs these days without even realising it."
‘Something’ is the second track on Abbey Road, and perhaps my all-time favourite Beatles song, written by George Harrison. Frank Sinatra called it “the greatest love song of the last fifty years,” and sang it many times throughout his career. It was originally assumed that Harrison wrote the song for his first wife, Pattie Boyd, whom he had met on the set for the band’s debut film in 1964, however in late interviews following the breakup of their marriage, George claimed that his inspiration came from elsewhere, including spirituality. John Lennon said that the song was the best on the
album, and the promotional film for the single combined footage of each Beatle with his wife. It received two Ivor Novello awards for being the best song of 1969.
The Beatles’ music defined a generation and has gone on to be loved by many since. Following the breakup, all four members enjoyed successful solo careers. John Lennon was assassinated 8th December 1980 in New York, and George Harrison died of cancer on 24th November 2001. Sirs Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are musically active to this day.