Some years ago I was asked to write a biography of The Beatles in less than 400 words for an encyclopedia. Here it is:
The Beatles – the most successful pop group the world has ever seen – were formed in Liverpool, England, by John Lennon (b. October 9, 1940) who recruited Paul McCartney (b. June 18, 1942) to his skiffle group the Quarrymen in 1957. Paul in turn recommended the addition of George Harrison (b. February 25, 1943). All three sang and played guitar and went through a succession of drummers until the arrival of Ringo Starr (b. Richard Starkey, July 7, 1940) in 1962, by which time McCartney had become their bass player and, with Lennon, formed the group’s songwriting nucleus. They had also by this time gained a wealth of experience performing in clubs in Hamburg and Merseyside.
Though already popular locally, their breakthrough in the UK occurred in mid-1963 as the public became aware of them through a series of huge selling singles and albums. Extraordinary scenes of wild abandon occurred at theatres where they played that year, and in 1964 Beatlemania, as it was called, spread to the rest of the western world. The Beatles thus became the first British pop singers to achieve notable success in the USA. It’s estimated that over 200,000 were on the streets to greet them in Adelaide, Australia.
The volume of work that the Beatles accomplished between 1963 and 1967 ensured their subsequent fortunes. Having abandoned the futility of touring they retired to the studio to produce album after album of superb original songs that have influenced all succeeding generations of pop and rock stars. Prolific despite growing tensions within the group, they continued to record together until the end of 1969, leaving behind a body of work that remains unsurpassed, but their greatest achievement was probably the creation – now established as the norm – of the self-sufficient unit, capable of writing, producing and playing on all their own recordings. They also became, perhaps unwillingly, spokesmen for the Sixties counterculture, especially Lennon, who after his marriage to Japanese artist Yoko Ono in 1969 became a renowned peace campaigner.
The Beatles formally disbanded in 1970 after McCartney issued a press statement saying he no longer wished to work with the other three. All four went on to have successful solo careers. Lennon, arguably the most charismatic Beatle, was assassinated in New York in 1980. Harrison died from cancer in 2001. McCartney continues to tour the world performing the group’s repertoire as, to a lesser extent, does Starr.