Forty-nine years ago, yesterday, on April 10, 1970, bicycle messengers went scurrying off across rainy London with big news. This was before email or even fax machines, so press releases were still distributed on old fashioned mimeograph paper with blue ink by “runners”, generally bicycle couriers employed to hurry paperwork around the capital. All at once, there was a race by the major London newspapers to break the big story, and The Daily Mirror seems to have got there first. Their front page headlines? “Paul Quits the Beatles”. And the world of music and culture was changed forever.
John, Paul, George and Ringo played together for less than a decade, but the world of music and entertainment has never, before or since, seen anything like it. The Beatles were the most successful and marketable band in history, and Paul had decided to leave it. Although their heyday was before I was born, I do remember adults playing their music and having huge amounts of national pride about these British “boys from Liverpool”.
Just how successful were the Beatles? The list of awards, accolades and achievements seems endless. EMI (now Universal Music Group) said that The Beatles are the best-selling band in history, with over one billion records and CDs sold. Billboard Magazine named them the #1 “Most Successful Band in History”, and they hold the record for the most Billboard #1 hits. Rolling Stone Magazine named Sgt Pepper’s Lonely-Hearts Club Band the “Greatest Album of All Time”. Time Magazine included the Beatles in their list of “The 100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century”. They won an Oscar for “Best Original Film Score” for the 1970 documentary ‘Let It Be’, plus 10 Grammy Awards over the years, and so on. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, more honors and awards for the band.
What was it about these four young men from Liverpool England that made them such a global phenomenon? They were all heavily influenced by the emergence of the rock and rollers of the late 1950’s – Chuck Berry, Elvis, Carl Perkins, and the like. However, in the early 1960s, the charts on both sides of the Atlantic had generally moved back towards a more “easy listening” type of music. At that time, the “Fab Four” were honing their sound with six and seven nights a week of playing live to rowdy crowds in Hamburg Germany. Some say that those audiences constantly wanted “more and louder” music, and at a time that Lennon and McCartney were starting to write their own songs, which was usual among pop bands at that time. So, an amazing song-writing duo, a talented band that was constantly playing live and in tune with their audience, four good looking young men with funny haircuts, and a time of huge social and demographic upheaval in the Western world…. all these ingredients came together to create the greatest band in history.
And let’s not forget the beautiful simplicity of their music and lyrics. American author David Levithan says it best: “You know the reason The Beatles made it so big? ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand.’ First single…brilliant. Perhaps the most brilliant song ever written. Because they nailed it. That’s what everyone wants. Not 24/7 hot sex. Not a marriage that lasts a hundred years; not a Porsche, or a million-dollar (home). No. They wanna hold your hand. They have such a feeling that they can’t hide. Every single successful song of the past fifty years can be traced back to ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand.’ And every single successful love story has those unbearable and unbearably exciting moments of hand-holding.”
There were a lot of reasons for the band’s breakup. The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, died tragically in 1967, and by most accounts he had been the glue that held them together, arbitrating disagreements, and handling the finances. In addition, artistic differences started to emerge, with Paul focused on pop music, John on more experimental music, and George developing a fascination with Indian music. And in 1968, Lennon commenced a relationship with Yoko Ono, a Japanese-American artist. Lennon started involving her in the band’s business and music, which became another source of great friction between the Fab Four.
Add into this mix the “normal” tensions that come with fast superstardom, periods of heavy drug use, and each band member experimenting with a solo career on the side, and you get to the end of a great run. While Lennon had privately told his bandmates that he would be leaving the group the year before, it was the day of Paul McCartney’s press release that the world now calls “the day The Beatles broke up”, and the band never played together again.
I sign off this week with a great quote from John Lennon. The Beatles became super popular not only because of their music, but also because of their likeable image and the wit they often showed with the media. During a band press conference in 1964 during their first US tour, an interviewer asked “How do you find America?”, to which John immediately replied “Turn left at Greenland!”
God bless America!
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