The Beatles – Music Biography
It’s very easy to forget that we’re talking thirteen albums, more than half of which were recording in the span of four years. Or that Sgt. Pepper’s involved almost seven hundred hours of studio recording time. Or that everything was done on four-track recording equipment.
It’s easy to get into the personalities – to be a John person or a George or a Ringo or a Paul. Or to take the incredibly easy way out and dump everything on Yoko.
You can be an “early fan,” or you can prefer the late studio work. You can think the second side of Abbey Road is the pinnacle of recorded music or you can marvel at how the simple “B” side of another single, “Rain,” (1966, flip side of “Paperback Writer”) is probably one of the greatest songs ever written.
You can hear the influences, from Chuck Berry (whom they covered extensively in the early years) to Carl Perkins to Buddy Holly to, of course, Elvis, whom Lennon would cite as a huge influence. And you can hear all the bands and artists that they influenced in turn, from the Byrds to XTC to Oasis. You can listen to their peers and contemporaries, Dylan, Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, the Who, and the Kinks, and hear how they all listened to each other and learned and made each other better performers, better songwriters, better studio artists.
The story, as stories go, is well known. John starts up a skiffle band, the Quarrymen, John meets Paul, Paul invites George, everyone is learning as they go and in 1960, now calling themselves the Beatles, they embark on the Hamburg circuit, playing at twenty-four hour strip clubs that used “˜round the clock live music to draw in passers-by.
For the next two years, the lads developed a big following, both in Hamburg and in their home base of Liverpool. In 1962 they signed with Brian Epstein who got them signed with EMI and put them together with producer George Martin, who in turn replaced drummer Pete Best with Ringo Starr. By the end of that year they recorded “Please Please Me,” which reached Number 2 on the British charts.
1963 saw the group performing throughout England, saw their audiences becoming more and more fanatic (to the point where Parliament debated whether it was smart to risk so many police officers in crowd control duties), saw the hurried release of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” in America, where the fever of Beatlemania continued in the same manner.
1964? Well, in the first week of April that year, the Beatles had twelve songs in the Billboard Top 100, including the top five spots. In 1965 the group held what may have been the first ever “stadium concert,” playing before 55,600 people in Shea Stadium in New York and using what we’d call “quaint” Vox guitar amplifiers. Whenever they weren’t touring, they were recording at a furious pace in the studio. Rubber Soul, released in early December for the Christmas holiday market, was recorded in four weeks’ time.
In 1966 the Beatles stopped touring, stopped playing live and concentrated instead on recording in the studio. They played their final concert at Candlestick Park, San Francisco, in August, the same month they released Revolver. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band followed in June, 1967.
Brian Epstein died of a drug overdose in August that same year.
Virtually all of 1968 was spent on what people call “The White Album” (officially released as The Beatles), released in November. Tensions and personality conflicts plagued the band as well as their studio personnel (Geoff Emerick, who engineered many Beatles’ sessions, walked off in July, claiming he could no longer work with them).
In 1969, they filmed and recorded Let It Be and recorded Abbey Road as well. The last time all four of them were together in the same studio was the session for “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” in August of that year. The last song recorded by the Beatles was Harrison’s “I Me Mine” on January 3, 1970.
Each of the Beatles enjoyed success as a solo artist. John Lennon died in December 1980. George Harrison passed away twenty-one years later. And writing that out, it seems like a mistake. Was it that long a time between? The dates don’t lie.
Today, some forty years after the Beatles’ disunion, people may listen to them, as avid fans as those were back in Liverpool and Hamburg. Some may not. But, at least for now, it’s close to impossible to hear any music that hasn’t been touched in some way by their influence.
Easy Songs for Beginners
You’ll learn the basics of Nowhere Man so quickly that I had to throw in a lot of fun and challenging stuff. Let’s put your chord melody training to good use and create an instrumental to include in this easy arrangement. Plus, pick up some new chords and a bit of theory while you’re at it!
With Eleanor Rigby we have a back to basics lesson, taking a simple, two-chord song and focusing on changing chords and strumming. You’ll also get a practical introduction to slash chords and, if you still need more to learn, there are a couple of fun and easy riffs for you to add.
Just when you thought we were done with walking bass lines, along comes another song where they play an important musical role! Learning The Beatles’ Help!, we’ll take a look at getting started on barre chords (and also look at making substitutions for them to cut us some slack!) and learn a cool little guitar riff.
Songs for Intermediates
Paul McCartney’s Blackbird is a good song for the solo guitarist to show off. It is also a excellent song to exercise and practice finger stretching.
Our version the Beatles classic Yesterday is based on the original and adds a few new things to make it more suitable for a solo guitar performance.
Here’s a wonderful arrangement of this beautiful and haunting song, Julia, from the pen of John Lennon. While we won’t be using the straight-from-the-record Travis picking style, we will more than make up for it by using many aspects of chord melody playing to make this both easier and challenging at the same time.
John Lennon’s Imagine is usually thought of as a piano song. We’re going to do a thoughtful arrangement for the solo guitarist.
Happy Christmas (War Is Over) is a John Lennon song that can show us a few interesting things about using guitar chords. We’ll work on the strumming and put together a bassline for solo guitar.