The Beatles were the most influential, groundbreaking and successful popular music group of the rock era. No artists of any sort, with the arguable exception of Elvis Presley, have achieved the Beatles’ combination of popular success, critical acclaim and broad cultural influence.
One further reason for rock’n’roll’s fading into entertainment had been that British listeners had no means of recognizing, let alone comprehending, the context within American culture from which it sprang, and therefore heard it in a vacuum.
By the early sixties, however, skiffle had led many to an interest in black rhythm& blues, often via records brought over by sailors and American servicemen. From this they began to form a sense of the depth, significance and vitality of Afro-American musical culture, and of the unexplored potential within rock `n’ roll.
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.
The surge of British “beat” music which followed the meteoric rise of the Beatles (from number 19 in the charts in December 1962 to unchallenged supremacy by the late summer of 1963) was greeted with much national wonderment on all sides; the grassroots activity which lay behind it had passed unobserved. This outbreak of energy and creativity from overlooked people in ignored regions – notably Liverpool and Newcastle – suggested that the country might still be alive after all.
The new music overwhelmed the British teenagers. As well as transforming the British Top 20, it engendered a spate of hysterical enthusiasm from the public – musicians such as the Beatles were greeted by screaming teenage girls every time they were seen in public. “Beatlemania” may, in part, have been generated by the popular press. But its chief importance lies in the fact that for the first time girls took a leading role in the formation of popular culture.
British girls had not enjoyed the same opportunities as their American counterparts to participate in creating and enjoying the stardom of their heroes. For them, “the sounds of pop were deeply associated with a largely `bedroom culture’ of pin-ups and a Dansette record-player”. Beatlemania not only permitted this adulation to come into the open, it aslo provided girls with the chance to impose themselves in some way upon events around them.
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.
In the wake of the Beatles, pop music held center stage in fashionable culture for the first time. But as it did so other groups were emerging from deeper explorations of rhythm&blues with a more profoundly unsettling music. The Rolling Stones, the Animals and others appealed to a wide section of the youth audience who felt that society’s cuddly adoption of the Beatles and “beat” had undermined the element of opposition which was fundamental to the music.
On the other side, sentinels ever on watch for moral degeneration began to clear their throats at the Stones’ way of mixing middle-class bohemianism with a troubling and arrogant display of very un-British eroticism. 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.
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