After a little audition consisting of "Twenty Flight Rock" and "Long Tall Sally," McCartney was asked to join the band. The next year, George Harrison, a friend of Paul, joined the group. In 1960, John's art school friend, Stu Sutcliffe became the band's bass player and Pete Best joined as the drummer. Over the course of three years, the Quarry Men went through a number of name changes, but in 1960, the group finally settled on a name
- the Beatles. The name was a tribute to Buddy Holly's Cricketts. The Beatles then headed to Hamburg, West Germany, where they played all-night sets in a number of seedy clubs. For three months, the group began to form an energetic stage performances of American rock and roll covers (with the help of amphetamines). Harrison, McCartney and Best were soon deported - George for being underage and Paul and Pete for setting fire to their apartment. John followed the band home, but Stu stayed behind with his German girlfriend Astrid Kirschherr, who helped created the famous Beatles haircut. Stu died of a brain hemorrhage in 1962. The style the Beatles picked up in Germany became a big hit back home in Liverpool. The group soon became a leader in the city's "beat" music scene. Once George came of legal age, the Beatles returned to Hamburg for another stint. It was during this time that they served as the back-up group for singer Tony Sheridan.
As the Beat Brothers, the Beatles recorded six songs with Sheridan, including "My Bonnie." In November 1961, a young Liverpudlian walked into Brian Epstein's NEMS record shop and asked for a copy of "My Bonnie" by the Beatles. Not having the record, Epstein visited the Cavern Club where the Beatles played regularly. He offered to manage the band and got them an audition with Decca Records soon afterwards. Their audition failed to win the Beatles a contract with Decca. Epstein decided to clean up the Beatles image from leather jackets to suits. After sending more demos out, the band auditioned for George Martin, finally got a contract with EMI's Parlophone Records. Unimpressed with Pete Best's drumming, Martin, Lennon, McCartney and Harrison decided to fire him. Best was replaced by Ringo Starr (although another drummer was used for the Beatles' two recordings, "Love Me Do" and "P.S. I Love You"). The Beatles' first single, "Love Me Do," released in October 1962, reached #17 on the British charts. (Rumor has it that Epstein bought 10,000 copies to insure that the single would reach the Top 20.) Their second single, "Please Please Me," went straight to number one. This was the beginning of Beatlemania. The band's first album, Please Please Me stayed atop the charts for 30 weeks, and fell off the top position only when the band's second album, With The Beatles was released. While 1963 was a banner year for the group in Britain, they failed to make the U.S. charts until the release of "I Want To Hold Your Hand" in January 1964.
The single sold one million copies in two weeks. In February, the band made its historic American debut on the "Ed Sullivan Show." It was watched by 73 million people, a record for the time. By March, the Beatles had the top five singles on the Billboard charts and three albums on the charts. Thanks to the songwriting partnership of Lennon-McCartney, during the next two years, the band would have 26 singles on the Top 40 chart (10 number ones) and seven number one albums. Beatlemania was in full effect world wide. In 1965, the Beatles began experimenting musically. Rubber Soul demonstrated the band's influence by the folk-rock scene led by Bob Dylan. The album contained such introspective songs as "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" and "In My Life." By 1966, the band grew tired of their non-stop combination of touring and recording.
After death threats from Lennon's controversial "We're more popular than Jesus" statement, the group stopped touring altogether. They continued to experiment with their music in the studio. Having already recorded Revolver, the band entered into their Sgt. Pepper era. They recorded two songs, "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane," two nostalgic songs about their childhood in Liverpool. The band then recorded what became their most critically acclaimed album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Released in 1967, it coincided with the psychedelic era and held the top spot on the Billboard album chart for a record breaking 15 weeks. The Sgt. Pepper era also marked the beginning of the end for the Beatles. Brian Epstein, who had managed the group so successfully, died of a drug overdose. Without a unifying source, the Fab Four began to branch out on their own ventures within the group both financially and musically. Magical Mystery Tour, a one hour television film, was a critical failure despite the good music. In 1968, the band released The Beatles, which became known as The White Album. The two record set, returned the Beatles to more straight forward rock material; however, it was clear that the album was really a collection of four solo artists instead of a collective group. Tensions were evident throughout the recording of the album, especially with John's new girlfriend (soon to be wife), Yoko Ono, being a constant presence. Ringo Starr even quit the band for a few days. Their attempt to simultaneously record a new album and film a documentary, tentatively entitled Get Back, was marred with bickering. The project was temporarily put on hold. With Paul marrying Linda Eastman in 1969, it seemed that the Beatles were finished. Paul, however, was determined to keep the group together. That summer, the band reunited from their unofficial break-up to record a new album.
The sessions for Abbey Road were free of arguments and the album, a combination of straight rock numbers (side one) and heavily produced melody of songs (side two) returned the Beatles to the old days of musical and commercial brilliance. Despite the success of Abbey Road, business arguments continued to plague the Beatles with Paul favoring his father in law to manage the band while John, George and Ringo wanted Rolling Stones' manager Allen Klein to take care of the group's finances. In April 1970, Paul announced the break-up of the Beatles with the release of his first solo release, McCartney. A month later, the Get Back sessions were re-mixed by producer Phil Spector and released as Let It Be. After the break-up, the Beatles each enjoyed solo careers to varying degrees. McCartney has been the most successful with seven number one albums and nine chart topping singles, despite being criticized for writing fluff. (He answered critics with 1976's "Silly Love Songs.") Harrison first two solo albums scored well, but didn't do well again until the late 1980s. (See George Harrison bio for more info.) Ringo was the least accomplished of the former Beatles with his 1973 Ringo faring the best of his works thanks to help from each of the other Beatles. (This was the closest to a full Beatles reunion until 1995.)
John Lennon's solo work was mixed ranging from success (Imagine) to utter disaster (Some Time In New York City). In 1975, John went into retirement to care for his son, Sean. He re-emerged in 1980 with Double Fantasy. Two days after the album entered the charts, Lennon was murdered in front of his apartment by an insane fan. The Beatles' legacy to popular music is apparent, and their popularity continues more than 35 years after their first release. .