A controversial title for some and more contemporary history for me, but this topic is nonetheless something I wanted to explore after my recent trip to Liverpool, the birthplace of The Beatles.
Please note this article does not discuss events after The Beatles broke up so will not cover the tragic death of John Lennon in 1980.
Whilst I was walking the streets of Liverpool, what struck me the most, aside from the beautiful buildings and the marvellous waterfront, was the reverence the city has for ‘The Beatles.’ It almost seemed to me that The Beatles are ingrained in the buildings, into the very fabric of the city and that their musical legacy shaped the eclectic, funky and indie city that Liverpool is today. And in some ways this feeling is unsurprising.
Little did Lennon and McCartney know in 1957, aged sixteen and fifteen respectively, that their musical collaboration would spark the beginning of a journey that would shape and change the definition of Rock and Roll and define the attitudes and genre of a whole generation. Stuart Sutcliffe, the former bass player could not have foreseen that the name he created for the band he left in 1961 would become the household name that it did – and still is in 2020.
Their rise to fame began with their first manager, Allan Williams who arranged a series of residencies for the band in Hamburg, which would see Pete Best become the original drummer for the Beatles in 1960. It was during their time in Hamburg that Stuart Sutcliffe left the band, resuming his art studies in Germany and thus Paul McCartney took over, playing bass in his stead.
Following their second Hamburg residency, the group, minus Stuart Sutcliffe, returned to Liverpool in 1961 and performed a series of concerts in the city as part of the growing Merseybeat movement. They performed in numerous clubs, but perhaps the best known is The Cavern, where they were noticed by Brian Epstein who became their official manager in 1962. That same year, Pete Best was replaced as drummer, and so the Beatles as we know them today were complete; John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. In October of 1962, their first single ‘Love me Do’ was recorded at Abbey Road Studios, reached number 17 on the charts and following their final residency in Hamburg that year, they were on track for stardom.
1963 saw the rise of ‘Beatlemania’ for the group after the release of their first LP Please Please Me which became an instant success and stormed its way to number 1 in the U.K charts. Following this release, the band went on to perform multiple European tours and at each venue, thousands of screaming fans lined the streets to watch the group perform. This intense fan reaction was named ‘Beatlemania’ and wasn’t limited to venues; fans even lined up at the airports in their hundreds to catch a glimpse of the Beatles.
Following their European success, the Beatles decided to take on the USA and in 1964 launched what is now known as the ‘British Invasion.’ Their first performance in the States was on the Ed Sullivan Show and this performance was watched by 73 million viewers across the USA. Soon, the Beatles were just as popular in the States as in Europe, and they held the top five places in the Billboard Top 100 which is still a record to this very day. The Beatles were able to achieve something no U.K artists had really ever achieved up until that point; domination over the US charts. The Beatles held multiple concerts across the country but after a while found the regime of constant touring gruelling. Their last concert in the USA was in August 1966.
Following 1966, The Beatles returned to the studio where they began to record new music. During the years 1966-1970 they recorded six further albums however following the death of Brian Epstein, tensions in the band began to surface. Despite inner tensions, the Beatles still occupied the top of the UK and US charts, but their last performance together would be in 1969, on the rooftops of Apple Corps on Saville Row. The Beatles released one of their most famous albums ‘Abbey Road’ later that year before separating for good in 1970.
Their fame and popularity as a band is undeniable but as I walked round the streets of Liverpool I couldn’t help but wonder what it is about The Beatles which made them so famous.
Now I am no music expert, the opposite in fact, but I do think that their music is great. It is really good fun to listen to and definitely has a timelessness about it that artists these days struggle to emulate. For example you could put The Beatles on in a bar or club in 2020 and their sound wouldn’t feel out of place and people would be singing along happily (before covid obviously!) But for me, I feel the same way about other bands too like Abba or Queen. So why are The Beatles so revered? This musing led to a poll on my Instagram where I asked my followers the following question:
Are the Beatles iconic? Or overrated?
As you can see, iconic evidently won the day. However, what is interesting to me is that the results are much less polarised than I expected. I imagined outrage that I had even posed the question and that The Beatles are iconic, full stop, end of discussion. However as you can see, my followers are definitely split in their opinions and you can read what they had to say by clicking on the images below!
So as you can see from the quotes above and the results of the poll, The Beatles are less iconic to some, but more to others, some enjoy their music more, some less so! What is a fact though is that The Beatles have earned their place in music history, with the Rolling Stone magazine ranking them as the most significant and influential rock music artists of the last 50 years in 2004!
But what do you think? Iconic? Or overrated?
Let me know what you think in the comment or by email! Happy history everyone x
P.S Thank you to everyone who took part in the poll and for supplying me with quotes to use in this article I really appreciate it!