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The Beatles: Taking the World by Storm
At the end of 1966, after months of tension and failure to devise any creative or unseasoned ideas, the Beatles at last formulated a plan of action regarding their musical metamorphosis. The Beatles had already accumulated a plethora of fans, starting the British Invasion and causing the craze that came to be known as Beatlemania all across America. However, the members felt as if their influence had been nothing of substance; merely a fad that, in time, would pass. They felt as if their prevalence had solely been the result of a trend, rather than actual adoration based on meaningful circumstance. In fact, the band mates were so utterly discouraged that they were considering quitting the band altogether. However, after many months of worry, discussion, bickering, and chaos the band seemed to have finally reached an innovative idea. Their album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band, had much more of an effect than even they had hoped for. This album came to symbolize the very concept of the new age; masking political, social, and religious innuendos beneath the demented, unique lyrics of its most popular songs. The Beatles took the entire world by storm; not only forever changing the music industry, but heavily influencing political and religious beliefs, ultimately helping to lead to the Anti-War and Free Love movements, and unknowingly encouraging thousands of youths to experiment with drugs.
The Beatles was a band that was made up of four members. These members were John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. All four of the men were born in Liverpool, England at some point during the 1940s (Gallagher 15). Oddly enough, none of the men were familiar with each other before meeting to create the band. In fact, the band did not even begin as “The Beatles” and has a much more complicated, intricate history than many realize.
At the age of seventeen, John Lennon formed a skiffle group with some of his friends called the Quarry Men. Skiffle was a type of music that was popular in England. This genre relied on guitars and homemade instruments to create music (Gallagher 15). While it was a young group, the band was popular throughout the members' community, although confined to being known only in that area.
The same year he started his band, Lennon met 15 year old Paul McCartney at a church festival where the Quarry Men were playing (Gallagher 16). Although John was two years older, Paul was a much better musician when the teenagers met (Gallagher 16). Lennon was instantly impressed with McCartney's musical talent, as he was able to fluently play the piano, trumpet, and guitar. Paul informed John that he had been playing the guitar chords incorrectly and taught him how to properly play after John asked him to join his band (Gallagher 16).
Months later, McCartney introduced Lennon to George Harrison, a quiet and contemplative fourteen year old with an impeccable talent for music. In March of 1958, Harrison became the lead guitarist for the Quarry Men.
Slowly but surely, the group members began to develop as performers. Even though the Quarry Men was becoming an established band, the only permanent members were John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Stuart Sutcliffe, a long time friend of Lennon's. Myriad musicians rotated in and out of the band, but never became abiding members. Because of this, the band had no perennial drummer (Gallagher 16).
After nearly three years of playing together, the Quarry Men were invited to play as the backup band for Johnny Gentle, a singer on the brink of performing in Scotland. Pay was meager, but this opportunity gave band members a taste of real performing. To the members, the experience in itself was invaluable. On the Scotland tour, the Quarry Men were accompanied by Tommy Moore as their drummer.
After playing with Moore, Lennon and McCartney realized that a full time drummer was necessary. Moore declined their offer and for a time McCartney was needed to play drums for the band (Gallagher 17). Paul resented this, preferring the guitar over any other instrument. It took the members close to 5 months, but they eventually came across a man by the name of Pete Best. Best became the drummer for the Quarry Men in August of 1960. Now a full band, the Quarry Men began to take off.
Before becoming wildly known, the Quarry Men changed their name to the Beatles. This was the chosen name of the band for various reasons. One of these reasons was that it resembled Buddy Holly's band, the Crickets. Another reason was that the name included “beat,” which was in symmetry with their music. Whatever the reason for their name change was, it seemed to do wonders for their career and popularity.
By 1960, the Beatles had become something of a craze in Liverpool. The previously uninhabited night clubs in which they performed were soon swarming with fans hoping to hear the sound of the new fad that was the Beatles. Because of their growing supremacy, the band was soon invited to play in Hamburg, Germany. The men spent a month playing in numerous night clubs six nights a week, often for hours at a time. Often playing for more than eight hours, band members learned crucial aspects involved in the art of crowd pleasing. Hamburg proved to be so moved by the new caprice that the Beatles ended up in the town for a second time one year later.
Some time after returning to England, the Beatles met Brian Epstein, who offered to manage their band. Epstein had a multitude of ideas as to changes he believed the band should make. Under his direction, the members adopted clean-cut hairstyles, began to dress nicer, and began bowing together after shows (Gallagher 19). He also had the band members to record a demo, which he sent to countless executives in the business. While the band was called to several auditions, they were not signed to a recording contract.
After teeming tries to get signed, the band members finally met George Martin. Martin agreed to sign them, on the condition that they made some changes, starting with drummer Pete Best. Martin was not a fan of Best and believed him to be holding the band back. Because of other issues between Pete and the other band members, they agreed to let him go and hired a new drummer. In 1962, Ringo Starr became the new drummer for the Beatles.
The band took off, recording hits such as “Love Me Do” and “Please, Please Me,” which reached #1 on the charts. After achieving such a feat, Martin brought the band in to quickly record an album, Please, Please Me, which was an instant success. By 1963, the band had two more hit singles, “From Me To You” and “She Loves You” under their belt. With their success quickly expanding, the Beatles set out to conquer America (Gallagher 21).
The band's prosperity turned out to be even greater in America. The Beatles established more than just a fan base. They started the “British Invasion,” which opened the American market for other British groups such as the Rolling Stones and the Who, and collected a legion of fans. This popularity soon became known as “Beatlemania”. Two movies, 5 Billboard hits, and a herd of crazed fans; the Beatles were quickly becoming the most innovative music group in American history. As their influence grew, their lyrics began getting deeper and more intricate (Gallagher 27).
Many asked, “What is the reason for this new sound?” Were the Beatles' deranged lyrics a mere result of coincidence? After years of exposure to the music industry, was it natural for lyrics to deepen? Had the Beatles finally tapped into some source of inspiration? While all of these could be true in their way, the band had, in fact, found a new source of inspiration that was the rationale for their twisted songs.
“What was the source?” one may ask. While some may have been expecting a glorified response pertaining to love or nirvana, the answer is simple. During an interview with George Martin to expand popularity, McCartney was asked what caused the album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. He replied, “In one word, George, drugs. Pot. . . Yes, we were [on drugs the entire time]. Sgt. Pepper was a drug album.” (Gilmore 2).
The Beatles made no secret of their drug use. It is a known fact that they were introduced to marijuana by Bob Dylan when he misheard the song “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” mistaking the lyrics “I can't hide” for “I get high.” After this, they used the drug steadily for the remainder of their career (“Beatles Drug References” 1). It was their journey with psychedelics, such as LSD, however, that launched the stars into the genesis of their distorted, haunting song lyrics.
Although LSD was something that Lennon and Harrison had initially ingested by mistake, it was a drug that would come to shape the way the Beatles played and wrote their music. Lennon acclaimed the drug, insisting that his songwriting had directly benefited from his use of it. A hard concept to conceive, some of the band's most beloved pieces that are now considered classics were actually inspired by the use of drugs.
“And Your Bird Can Sing,” for example, utters the phrase, “You say you've seen seven wonders.” McCartney wasn't talking about the seven wonders of the world, though. The lyrics indeed refer to the seven phases one would go through during an acid trip. A better-known song “With A Little Help From My Friends” blatantly says, “I get high with a little help from my friends.” No amount of speculation could deny the obvious drug reference in that song, as well as song “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”. Lennon protested this song was not inspired by his use of psychedelics, stating it was about his daughter's childhood friend, Lucy, but the imagery used in the song, along with the obvious LSD in the title, would show otherwise.
Whether it was the band's intention or not, their music inexplicably led the youth of the decade to shed the values on which they were raised and to begin to experiment with drugs. It wasn't just the Beatles; many influential bands and artists of the 1960s encouraged the use of drugs (Allusions 1). Song lyrics and artists themselves claimed drugs were a tool for “expanding the mind” and the teenagers, in turn, began to use this as a pass to experiment (Allusions 1).
Even George Harrison, the youngest member of the band, admitted to using drugs early on in his life, stating that, at age twenty-three, he had “already been through India and LSD was on the road to transcendentalism” (Allusions 1). All of the members were friends to psychedelics, but it was Harrison who perhaps had the most profound experience. John needed the drugs to write songs and Paul realized his love and respect toward John through them, but neither could relate to the experience George often described. He explained the strange encounters he abided, stating that because of the drugs, he had “the realization of God” (Allusions 1).
The use of drugs was far from the only thing this band seemed to have influence over. People almost worshiped them, looking at the members as idols rather than ordinary men. Of course, it has been hinted that they too believed they were anything but ordinary. Lennon once even referred to himself as “bigger than Christ”.
This comment brought on much speculation and scrutiny. Some agreed, believing that the lyrics in the songs these men had written went much further than a great hook. These people believed that the Beatles were, in fact, gods of sorts; their lyrics prophecies.
Others, however, were not convinced. Some were merely offended by the band's lack of devotion to a higher being, while others became obsessed with destroying the band, taking stances that were just as absurd as the people who believed the Beatles to be gods.
As if the supposed songs about drugs and religion hadn't caused enough hype, the racy, suggestive innuendos hidden in the lyrics of other songs was close to sending some over the edge. A collection of their songs were also about sex. Although they may have believed this would not cause a commotion, it lit the spark that turned into the fire known as the Free Love Movement. Suddenly, the once obedient, dexterous generation of teenagers had turned into long haired, war protesting, free-loving hippies.
In time, the group that was the Beatles fizzled out. A couple of the members went solo, and later down the line, two were dead. The band most thought to be perpetual reached its end, as all things eventually do. Did it ever really end, though?
Some 50 years later, the band that will never again be still has an overpowering influence on music today. Many of the most popular artists have openly stated that their music inspiration came from the Beatles. John Lennon, who was killed in 1981, remains a household name, as well as a respected music icon. Paul McCartney is still known to be one of the greatest lyricists of all time. George Harrison, even after dying of cancer in 2001, is remembered as the quiet and contemplative musician who had a natural writing ability that he often kept a mystery.
The Beatles were a band that, indeed, took the entire world by storm. While they believed to simply be creating music, they were creating something much greater: a legacy, a craze, an epidemic. Whether it was the chords and lyrics of their music or their overwhelming ability to sway any crowd, their influence has remained timeless.