A Brief History
On February 1, 1964, the British sensational band, The Beatles, hit the top of the American charts for the first time with their smash hit, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” The iconic rock song was written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney and would be the first of many such #1 hits by this song writing and singing pair. In fact, the Beatles would go on to post a record 20 #1 hits in the US. The Beatles would go on to probably the greatest career for any band in musical history, let alone Rock and Roll.
Oddly enough, in Britain “She Loves You” was the first Beatles #1 hit and prevented “I Want to Hold Your Hand” from instantly taking the top slot. In 2 weeks “I Want to Hold Your Hand” finally ousted “She Loves You” and grabbed Britain’s top position for the next 5 weeks. While the Beatles had previous success in Britain with “She Loves You” and “Love Me Do,” those 2 songs failed in the US market, and it was finally “I Want to Hold Your Hand” that captivated American music fans. In fact, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” went on to sell 12 million singles and remains the biggest Beatles hit in the US and in the entire world. Billboard Magazine rated “I Want to Hold Your Hand” #44 on their list of Biggest Hits of all time in 2013.
Considering the incredible success of the Beatles, it is mind boggling that the band broke up in 1970, after being together only for 10 years. Even more amazing is that the Beatles only enjoyed widespread popularity for even fewer years, from their breakout year of 1964 until their breakup year of 1970. Still, Billboard (as of 2017) does call them the most successful artists of all-time, with record sales of 178 million in the US and over 800 million world-wide! A total of 7 Grammy’s and an Academy Award emphasize just how amazing the Fab Four really was.
Of course, the success of the Beatles was not merely the synergy of 4 separate musicians, but also based on the extreme writing and performing talents of each of the members. Lennon and McCartney went on to the greatest level of success in the post-Beatles era, though Lennon’s career was tragically cut short at the hands of a mentally ill assassin in 1980. McCartney continues to draw enormous crowds wherever he appears. George Harrison, often referred to as “The Quiet Beatle” also enjoyed individual success, although he also died young, at the age of 58, cut down by lung cancer. He had survived an assassination attempt 2 years earlier from a knife wielding mentally deranged man at Harrison’s home in England. Harrison had achieved great success with his 1988-1992 collaboration with the Traveling Wilburys, a super-group he formed with Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, and Tom Petty.
Ringo Starr, the drummer of the Beatles since replacing Pete Best on percussion in 1962, is arguably the least musically talented of the Fab Four, but this particular mop top also achieved great post-Beatles success himself, with hit songs such as “It Don’t Come Easy,” “Photograph” (a #1 hit), “You’re Sixteen” (a cover that also hit #1), “Back Off Boogaloo,” and “Oh My My” among others. Ringo also succeeded at acting, with appearances in the Beatles’ movies as well as several other films. In 1981 he married the beautiful Barbara Bach, a marriage that has lasted to the present.
The Beatles found initial success with a faddish sort of pop music that they quickly left behind for more substantial themes, their music evolving to stay on the cutting edge of the industry throughout their entire career from 1964 to 1970. From light hearted pop music to heavy, politically shaded tunes and even fringe drug culture songs, the Beatles remained relevant like no other band of their time. Not surprisingly, the Beatles were named among the 100 Most Influential people of the 20th Century by Time Magazine.
Questions for Students (and others): Which Beatle is your favorite? What is your favorite Beatles’ song? Who is your favorite musical group?
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For more information, please see…
Spitz, Bob. The Beatles: The Biography. Simon & Schuster Audio, 2005.
Theroux, Gary. The British Invasion, Volume 1. Happyland, 2017.
Turner, Steve. The Complete Beatles Songs: The Stories Behind Every Track Written by the Fab Four. Dey Street Books, 2015.
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