They were the greatest and most influential act of the rock era, and introduced more innovations into popular music than any other rock band of the 20th century. Moreover, they were among the few artists of any discipline that were simultaneously the best at what they did, and the most popular at what they did. Relentlessly imaginative and experimental, the Beatles grabbed ahold of the international mass consciousness in 1964 and never let go for the next six years, always staying ahead of the pack in terms of creativity, but never losing their ability to communicate their increasingly sophisticated ideas to a mass audience. Their supremacy as rock icons remains unchallenged to this day.
They synthesized all that was good about early rock & roll, and changed it into something original and even more exciting. They established the prototype for the self-contained rock group that wrote and performed their own material. As composers, their craft and melodic inventiveness were second to none, and key to the evolution of rock from its blues/R&B-based forms. As singers, both John Lennon and Paul McCartney were among the best and most expressive vocalists in rock; the group's harmonies were intricate and exhilarating. As performers, they were (at least until touring had ground them down) exciting and photogenic; when they retreated into the studio, they were instrumental in pioneering advanced techniques and multi-layered arrangements. They were also the first British rock group to achieve worldwide prominence, launching a British Invasion that made rock truly an international phenomenon.
"The Beatles' success was very much a case of the sum being greater than the parts…", a unity due to the band's years of playing together before becoming successful. Lennon formed The Quarrymen in 1957 and McCartney and George Harrison later became members. They "changed their name to the Silver Beatles in 1960, quickly dropping the "Silver" to become just the Beatles." "Lennon's art college friend Stuart Sutcliffe joined on bass" and Pete Best joined in the summer of 1960."
They played "grueling sessions for hours on end in one of the most notorious red-light districts in the world" in Hamburg, Germany, in 1960; "consolidated their following in 1961…most often at the legendary Cavern Club, the incubator of the Merseybeat sound."
Sutcliffe dropped out in 1961 and "McCartney took over on bass. Harrison settled in as lead guitarist, and Lennon had rhythm guitar; everyone sang." The group made their first recordings backing Tony Sheridan, a "British rock guitarist-singer based in Hamburg."
By the end of that year, local record store manager Brian Epstein was managing the band. "Epstein's perseverance was finally rewarded with an audition for producer George Martin at Parlophone, an EMI subsidiary; Martin signed the Beatles in mid-1962."
In August 1962, drummer Pete Best was kicked out of the group…and Ringo Starr (born Richard Starkey) was recruited. Weeks later, The Beatles recorded first single, 'Love Me Do/P.S. I Love You.' Both sides were Lennon-McCartney originals, and the songwriting team would be credited with most of the group's material throughout the Beatles' career."
Beatlemania didn't really launch until follow-up single "Please Please Me," topped the British charts in early 1963. The debut album of the same name "topped the British charts for an astonishing 30 weeks."
"Subsequent albums and singles would show remarkable artistic progression (though never at the expense of a damn catchy tune)." The group's February 1964 television appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show turned The Beatles into a U.S. phenom as well, most notably when the group held down the "top five best-selling singles in the U.S. [and] the first two slots on the album charts" for the week ending April 5, 1964.
Between riotous international tours in 1964 and 1965, the Beatles continued to squeeze out more chart-topping albums and singles. (Until 1967, the group's British albums were often truncated for release in the States; when their catalog was transferred to CD, the albums were released worldwide in their British configurations.)
Along the way, The Beatles also released films A Hard Day's Night (1964) and Help! (1965), both of which were, of course, accompanied by soundtrack albums. Until 1967, though, the U.S. versions of the albums were bastardized versions of the U.K. albums, cutting out songs, adding singles, and even padding out albums with unnecessary George Martin instrumentals for the soundtrack albums.
By the time they released Revolver in 1966, the band was focused more on creating music in the studio than touring. They eventually gave up the latter, performing their final American concert in San Francisco on August 29, 1966.
Their next turn to more drug-inspired psychedelic music produced the 1967 single "Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever," which some call the "strongest double-A side ever," and 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which often lands atop all-time album lists.
That same year, their manager Brian Epstein died of a drug overdose, which left the band unfocused as they stumbled through a pair of critically-savaged film projects Magical Mystery Tour (1967) and Yellow Submarine (1968).
Their next efforts produced the brilliant 1968 double album, simply entitled The Beatles, but popularly known as The White Album, due to the plain white cover featuring just the words "The Beatles." The album masterfully covered a variety of musical genres, but also started to show the signs that the band was drifting toward more individual pursuits.
They tried a back-to-basics approach on their next project, eventually aborting it, but later releasing it as the final "official" Beatles album (Let It Be) in 1970. They turned instead to the creation of the Abbey Road album, which was also critically acclaimed, but saw the individual Beatles working even more as solo members.
The group officially broke up when, on April 10, 1970, McCartney announced his departure in a press release for his first solo album. By this time, the rest of the band were pursuing other interests as well. Along the way, individual work received praise, but nothing would equal the success the four lads from Liverpool found as a unit working through the sixties.