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Beatles for Dummies" by Sarah Anne Polsinelli


When someone says "The Beatles", what images come to mind? I see a black and white picture of four guys onstage, sporting mop-top haircuts and grey collarless suits. To many people, that's what The Beatles are - a black and white TV image of their performance on The Ed Sullivan Show. In the spirit of unbiased journalism and avoiding clichés, I will not tell you that The Beatles were the greatest and most influential rock band ever. Nor will I tell you that their talents have been unrivalled for 35 years, since their breakup in 1970. I prefer facts, so here's one: The Beatles are the best-selling group of all time, with worldwide sales exceeding 1.3 billion records Here's another one: During the record-breaking week of April 4, 1964, singles by The Beatles were in the Billboard's top five positions in the singles chart -"Can't Buy Me Love", "Twist and Shout", "She Loves You", "I Want to Hold Your Hand", and "Please Please Me". The following week, 14 of their songs were in the Billboard Hot 100.

Beatlemania exploded in America in February, 1964, just months after President Kennedy's assassination, when John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr arrived at New York's JFK airport. They were greeted by thousands of screaming teen girls, and the foursome had no idea that they were there for them. They appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show later that week to an audience of 73 million people, still one of the highest-rated programs of all time.

Within the first few months of Beatlemania in 1964, United Artists quickly produced A Hard Day's Night to capitalize on their infectious popularity. The comedy starred all four Beatles, and is an exaggerated version of 36 hours in the life of The Beatles. It was a massive hit and was followed by Help! the next year, which was produced in colour, but not nearly as "colourful" as the first.

They toured for only a few years, recording their albums in the interim. To escape the throng of hysterical young girls that followed them around, they were forced to sneak out of bathroom windows and swiftly duck into limousines. Many of their concerts were even drowned out by the high-pitched shrieks and squeals of girls.

In a March 1966 interview with The London Standard, John Lennon said, "Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue with that; I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first? Rock 'n' roll or Christianity".

Naturally, this upset a lot of people, despite the fact that Lennon's tongue-in-cheek remark had been quoted out of context. Lennon was making a social commentary about an overall decline of Christian faith, but nonetheless radio stations in the South and Midwestern US banned their music. The Vatican denounced Lennon's words and South Africa banned Beatles music from the radio. The media circus surrounding the event and the stress from touring led to the band's decision to quit performing live, and in August 1966 they put their final "official" live concert.

They spent the rest of their career as a band, writing and recording music, taking the best elements of rock, pop, folk and psychedelia and making it their own. On June 2, 1967, they released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the first popular concept album. This was the album that raised their reputations as musical innovators and was a big catalyst, starting the art rock movement while remaining incredibly popular.

But the feelings of success from the album quickly turned to sorrow when long-time manager Brian Epstein died on August 27, 1967. He was the proverbial glue that held them together. There are many different rumours pertaining to the breakup of the band, but this was the key event that eventually led to their demise.

While recording Abbey Road together in 1969, it became more apparent that the band were pursuing their own individual interests (Let It Be was an abandoned album that was recorded earlier in the year, but was compiled and released by their record company in 1970). McCartney tried to take over for Epstein, first by involving the group with the film The Magical Mystery Tour. The film captured their psychedelic period, but was a drastic flop.

While Lennon was busy in love with artist Yoko Ono, and McCartney was off talking to the press and ceremoniously leading the group, George Harrison was pursuing his own style of artistry. Lennon and McCartney were the principal songwriters and Harrison, eager to burst free of his two-song-per-album limitation, released the first solo effort from a Beatles band member in 1968, with the film soundtrack Wonderwall Music.

There was also a terrible business decision that would plague them for many years. Apple Corps. was originally set out as a company that would give grants to the poets, songwriters and fashion designers of the late 1960s - in other words, hippies. But what began as a vehicle for tax evasion soon became a financial disaster. Apple was losing money and The Beatles were publicly mocked for their bad business sense. Their public money squabbles soon sent them on a downward spiral.

New manager Allen Klein was hired in 1970 to restructure the company, but McCartney disliked him and had wanted to hire his lawyer father-in-law instead. John's insistence on collaborating with Yoko sparked tensions within the group. They officially broke up in 1970, before the release of their final album, Let It Be.

Each member pursued careers as independent artists. John Lennon proved his talent as an independent artist with albums such as John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and Imagine, but his career ended abruptly the evening of December 8, 1980 when he was shot to death outside his New York City apartment building.

Lennon's assassination marked the end of Paul McCartney's new band, The Wings, as well. Formed with wife Linda (and six other members) in 1971, they had toured for almost 10 years, with some hit singles and profitable albums, until Lennon's assassination caused them to stop touring and breakup thereafter. McCartney remains the most successful popular music composer and recording artist ever with sales of 100 million singles worldwide. "Yesterday" (from the 1965 Help! album) is the world's most popular song with over 6 million airplays in the US alone.

One of George Harrison's most notable post-breakup achievements was releasing two very successful albums with The Travelling Wilbury's, which included members such as Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison. He pursued a solo career until he died of brain cancer in November 2001.

Last and least (in the public eye, anyway), Ringo Starr, nicknamed for having always worn lots of rings on his fingers, released a successful self-titled album in 1973, after producing two back-to-back number one hits. He dabbled in television and films, and later formed The All Star Band.

No band has ever come close to mimicking The Beatles' overall success and popularity. The Beatles gave us more than 22 number one singles, and a dozen albums that spanned and exemplified a decade rich with historical achievements. But most importantly, what we got was a "Revolution" (Well, you know).

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