before john, paul, george and ringo became the beatles, they were just four teenagers from liverpool. Never would John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr have imagined that they would go on to form one of the most successful groups in modern history, influencing popular culture not only in music, but also in fashion, film, and television. global representation.
in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it was hard to imagine that a band hailing from the relatively poor port city of liverpool in the north west of england could land a gig on the thriving london music scene of the south, let alone export their eventual local success to a world eagerly opening up to the counterculture movement of the ’60s and the burgeoning phenomenon that came to be called rock ‘n’ roll.
lennon and mccartney met while playing in a skiffle band
A fateful encounter between two music-loving teenagers in 1957 is where it all began. Sixteen-year-old rhythm guitarist Lennon, the son of a merchant seaman, was playing with the Stonemasons, a skiffle (folk music mixed with jazz or blues) band booked to perform at events at a church party in Woolton, Liverpool. As they set up their instruments for the evening’s performance, the band’s bassist introduced Lennon to a classmate, 15-year-old McCartney, who would be joining in on a couple of tracks that night and would soon be offered a permanent spot. in the quarry.
Mccartney, the son of a former band member and a nurse, would play his first official event with the group in October, but things didn’t go exactly as planned. “For my first gig, they gave me a guitar solo on ‘guitar boogie. I could easily play it in rehearsal, so they chose to have me do it as my solo,” McCartney said in the anthology documentary. “Things were going well, but when it came time for the performance my fingers stuck together; I thought, ‘what am I doing here?’ he was too scared; it was too big a moment with everyone looking at the guitar player. I couldn’t do it so they brought George.”
Harrison, the son of a bus driver and store clerk, joined the Stonemasons as lead guitarist at age 15. influenced by rockabilly, his guitar licks would help shape the group’s early sound. though still acting as the stonemasons, lennon, mccartney and harrison would go on to form the nucleus of what would soon become the beatles.
During 1958 and 1959, the stonemasons performed whenever they could, including local festivals and family events, such as Harrison’s brother’s wedding reception. professional bookings included venues such as the casbah coffee club in liverpool and the racecourse in manchester.
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the band got its name by combining the words ‘beetles’ and ‘beat’
The name of the band changed during this period, which would see the group perform under the monikers Johnny and the Moon Dogs, as well as the Silver Beetles and the Silver Beats. An art school student and friend of Lennon’s, Stuart Sutcliffe, joined the band to play bass. Sutcliffe and Lennon are often credited with coining the Beatles’ name, though various stories about the actual origins abound. the name that would become synonymous with modern music was a combination of beetles and rhythm, hence the beatles.
Forging a friendship that would become the foundation of their future singer-songwriter partnership, Lennon and McCartney often hung out together, playing acoustic sets in small pubs. “John and I used to hitchhike together,” says McCartney in Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now by Barry Miles. “It was something we did a lot together; cementing our friendship, knowing our feelings, our dreams, our ambitions together. it was a wonderful period. I remember it fondly.”
they struggled to keep a drummer, eventually recruiting pete best for the role
In 1960 and the first half of 1961, the group performed at venues such as social clubs and dance halls in England and Scotland, but maintaining a regular drummer proved difficult.
“We had a flood of drummers,” harrison recalls in the anthology. “After about three of these guys, we ended up with almost a complete drum kit of the parts they had left behind, so Paul decided he would be the drummer. he was pretty good at it. at least he seemed okay; we were probably all pretty trash at the time. It only lasted for one concert, but I remember it very well. it was in upper parliament street where a guy named lord woodbine owned a strip club. it was in the afternoon, with a few perverts – about five men in coats – and a local stripper. they brought us as a band to accompany the stripper; paul on drums, me and john on guitar and stu on bass.”
When their residency at the notoriously rough Grosvenor Ballroom in Liscard, Wallasey, was canceled in part due to regular outbreaks of crowd violence, the Beatles sought work abroad. having success in germany with a different band, the beatles’ then manager/booking agent allan williams thought hamburg might be a successful destination as he had had success with other bands there. the only problem was that they were missing a drummer.
before long, they recruited pete best, who they had seen play at the casbah coffee club. Lennon, Harrison, McCartney, Sutcliffe and Best left England in August 1960. Playing regularly at the Indra Club, the biggest Kaiserkeller and Top Ten Club in Hamburg forged them as a group.
“It was Hamburg that did it,” recalls Lennon in the anthology. “That’s where we really developed. to get the Germans going and hold it for 12 hours straight, we really had to grind. we would never have developed as much if we had stayed at home. we had to try anything we could think of in hamburg. there was no one to copy. we played what we liked best and the Germans always liked it to be loud.”
his first musical contract was signed in January 1962
the beatles performed in hamburg on and off from 1960 to 1962 with engagements in liverpool interspersed. It was at a performance at his hometown venue, the Cavern Club, that Brian Epstein saw the group play for the first time. Epstein was curious after hearing mention of them in his family’s record shop and in the pages of Mersey Beat magazine. He returned to attend the show a few more times and on December 10, 1961, Epstein approached the band to manage them, and in January 1962 they signed a five-year contract.
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That year would be momentous for the Beatles. On April 10, Sutcliffe died of a brain hemorrhage. June 6th marked the first time the group would record at emi studios located at 3 abbey road, st. johnswood, london. Produced by George Martin, who would be heavily involved on their early albums, they recorded four songs: “Love Me Do”, “Kiss Me Much”, “Ask Me Why”, and “PS I Love You”. Martin was impressed with the group, but he believed that the best was not up to the job as a drummer. Epstein fired Best on August 16, replacing him with 21-year-old Starr, the son of local pastry chefs who had been playing with bands in the area. Starr made his debut with the Beatles two days later.
the beatles’ first single, ‘please, please,’ reached no. 1 in the UK
epstein saw the band’s potential, not just in his hometown but far beyond, especially now that all four core members were in place. he cleaned up the image of him and began to work in earnest to promote them. the first u.k. The band’s single, “Please Please Me”, was recorded in November and released in January 1963. It topped the UK. the pop charts and began a streak in which 11 of their 12 studio albums up to 1970 would reach no. 1 in the UK it would be Epstein who would eventually travel to the US and secure a booking for the band on The Ed Sullivan Show.
the beatles made their first appearance in the usa. variety show in February 1964, an event that was witnessed by a reported audience of over 70 million people. “It was very important,” McCartney recalls of the milestone. “We came out of nowhere with weird hair, like puppets or something. that was very influential. …it’s like, ‘where were you when kennedy got shot?’ I have people like dan aykroyd saying, ‘oh man, I remember that Saturday night; we didn’t know what hit us, just sitting there watching the ed sullivan show.’ up until then there were jugglers and comedians like jerry lewis, and then all of a sudden the beatles!”