The Beatles

The Beatles recorded together for a little over seven years. Between October 1962 and May 1970, they released thirteen albums and a number of tracks issued on standalone singles. The catalogue created in that short period has sold more than that of any other group in history and its commercial success continues - the world’s best selling album during the first decade of the 21st century was a collection of The Beatles’ chart-topping singles called 1. But the group’s significance stems not just from huge sales figures. Their music has inspired generation upon generation of musicians, songwriters and producers. As Mark Ronson put it: ‘Everything we take for granted - they absolutely invented it.’ Tom Petty was a teenager during the years The Beatles’ records appeared in quick succession: ‘They were just out in front. There was The Beatles …and then there was everyone else. And everyone else could be great, but The Beatles were leading the way and that’s just irrefutably true.'

The Beatles’ story began in Liverpool in March 1957, when John Lennon (born 9 October 1940) formed a group named The Quarry Men. His life was changed by the excitement of rock ’n’ roll music - heralded by Bill Haley and His Comets, but taken to another level when Elvis Presley stormed the charts during 1956. The next year saw the arrival in the UK of hits by Little Richard, Buddy Holly and The Crickets, the Everly Brothers and, in movie theatres, the exciting rock film The Girl Can’t Help It!, featuring Eddie Cochran singing ‘Twenty Flight Rock’. Introduced to John on 6 July 1957 at a church fete in Woolton, Liverpool, Paul McCartney (born 18 June 1942) sang Eddie’s song word perfect. Impressed, John invited the fifteen-year old to join his group. In February 1958, Paul’s younger school pal George Harrison (born 25 February 1943) won his place in The Quarry Men when he impressed the others with his guitar skills, especially on the current hit instrumental ‘Raunchy’ by Bill Justis. With a constant nucleus of John, Paul and George, the group underwent a series of lineup changes and names. Having gained a dependable drummer - Pete Best - in August 1960, The Beatles made their first visit to West Germany to perform in the clubs of Hamburg. Playing long sets through the night, they spent hundreds of hours onstage during five visits to the city. Back home in Liverpool, their regular stomping ground was The Cavern Club, where they played nearly 300 times. The experience gained in Hamburg and at The Cavern helped to make The Beatles the most proficient and popular group on Merseyside.

At this time, a group from Liverpool had the odds stacked against them when trying to gain a foothold in a record business focused on London. In early 1962, they had acquired an ambitious and rather refined manager, record shop boss Brian Epstein. He faced regular rejection from music companies until George Martin signed the group to EMI’s Parlophone label. By fate, The Beatles had found both the ideal manager and perfect producer. The last piece of the picture slotted into place just three weeks before recording their first single on 4 September 1962. Ringo Starr (born 7 July 1940) was asked to take over as drummer. He had been playing with Rory Storm & The Hurricanes - another Liverpool group who played long stints in the clubs of Hamburg. Ringo’s personality, sense of humour and rock solid, inventive drumming proved to be just right for The Beatles. Their first Parlophone single was released on 5 October 1962. Both sides of the disc were original compositions - a remarkable statement of intent from a group making their first steps in the music business. In fact, George Martin had urged them to record Mitch Murray’s ‘How Do You Do It?’, which he felt was a sure-fire hit. They had reluctantly agreed, but were able to persuade George to shelve the recording in favour of their own songs ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘P.S. I Love You’. Just one example of how The Beatles’ story might have been very different with a less open-minded record producer. George Martin’s faith in The Beatles, and in John and Paul as songwriters, was soon vindicated by the release of ‘Please Please Me’ in January 1963. The single reached the top of all but one of the UK charts.

It was followed by the number one ‘From Me To You’ and their first album Please Please Me, which topped the chart for 30 weeks until their next LP replaced it at number one. The debut album featured eight Lennon/McCartney compositions and six cover versions of recent American Rhythm and Blues records. The selection, a result of The Beatles’ constant search for the unusual, showed their impeccable taste. Compared to the sophisticated arrangement of an R&B original like ‘Twist And Shout’, their versions were stripped down reinventions for a four-piece beat group. George Martin has confirmed that ‘it was primarily the American Rhythm and Blues sound that was their inspiration. It’s probably what the so-called Beatles sound was, because all the black music was a tremendous influence on them.’ However, that source was unknown to the majority of their British fans. The super confident second album With The Beatles was issued in November 1963 when the single ‘She Loves You’ was at number one. Once more, it featured eight original compositions - including ‘All My Loving’ and George Harrison’s first recorded song ‘Don’t Bother Me’ - and six cover versions. A week later, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ was released and also reached number one. The group had become the biggest musical phenomenon in British show business - ever. Among the key factors that led to this success were the chemistry between the four personalities in the group, their immense charm and a daring image - nobody had worn their hair that long. Their interviews were funny and articulate, they had a charismatic presence when performing, and girls screamed and swooned over them. The term ‘Beatlemania’ was coined by the press to describe the hysteria aroused by the group but, as an appearance on The Royal Variety Show demonstrated, their popularity stretched way beyond the teenage market.

What The Beatles did next was extraordinary for a British act. In February 1964, they arrived in the USA to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show. They performed to 73 million viewers, the biggest television audience to date, and with ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ at the top of the charts, America was suddenly held spellbound by The Beatles. As their success spread across the world, almost everything the group did from then on was unprecedented. In addition to unparalleled success on record - they held all top five positions in the American chart in the first week of April - their first movie A Hard Day’s Night was a box office hit and acclaimed for its wit, invention and unbeatable self-composed songs. Premiered in July 1964, it was perfectly timed to capitalise on their international breakthrough. They rounded off the year with Beatles For Sale and the massive hit single ‘I Feel Fine’. In 1965, they starred in the film Help!. Like their first movie, it was directed by Richard Lester and featured a brilliant batch of songs on its accompanying album. Tucked away towards the end of the LP was a performance by Paul McCartney of his composition ‘Yesterday’. Not even released as a single in the UK, it was a number one in America. It quickly became - and remains - the most covered song of all time.

‘Yesterday’ is an example of how The Beatles and their producer did not compromise; whatever best served the song was always pursued. In the case of ‘Yesterday’, the bold choice was a classical arrangement for string quartet. For the next album Rubber Soul, more studio time was made available to try out unusual instrumentation and adventurous recording techniques. The words of the songs were more mature and the vocal blend, heard on tracks such as ‘Nowhere Man’ and ‘Michelle’, is one of the album’s most distinctive qualities. The Beatles’ sound is, of course, distinguished by the character of their voices. Few groups were blessed with two powerful lead singers as versatile as John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Furthermore, George Harrison not only contributed at least one lead vocal to every album, his voice was integral to the intricate harmony vocals on many Beatles tracks. Ringo Starr usually sang a solo on albums, making such Lennon/McCartney songs as ‘Yellow Submarine’ and ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ unimaginable without his voice.

Released on the same day as Rubber Soul, 5 December 1965, ‘We Can Work It Out’/‘Day Tripper’ was the first of The Beatles’ double A-Sides. They ended another frantically busy year with their final British tour. There was a deadline to complete their next album, because concerts had been scheduled for the summer of 1966 all over the world. But this did not affect their approach to recording at all. The Revolver sessions saw the group reach a new peak of creativity in performance, songwriting and innovative studio techniques. In addition to the songwriting mastery displayed by John and Paul, the LP contained the biggest contribution to date from George with three songs. His caustic ‘Taxman’ was given the status of the album’s opening track. ‘Eleanor Rigby’ is now regarded as a fully realised masterpiece, but when released in August 1966 on Revolver and as a single coupled with ‘Yellow Submarine’, its solemn subject matter and stark arrangement were radically different. A year before, in August 1965, their appearance in front of 55,600 fans at Shea Stadium in New York had broken the record for concert attendance and box office revenue. But live performance had become an unsatisfying charade ...and dangerous too. Who cares how lucrative it was? That had to stop. The Beatles’ final concert for a paying audience took place at Candlestick Park, San Francisco on 29 August 1966.

At the end of 1966, The Beatles started work on ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’. Its long evolution showed the musical imagination and technical experimentation heard on Revolver would be continued. To stop the long wait for new material, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and ‘Penny Lane’ were released in February 1967. Although songs were always credited to Lennon and McCartney, it soon became clear that whoever sang the lead vocal was usually the main composer. The double A-sided single shows how their different stylistic approaches established a perfect counterbalance. Having set themselves a task of writing about their Liverpool childhoods, John’s song is dreamy and steeped in melancholy, while Paul’s is uplifting and brimming with brilliantly observed vignettes. Many were shocked when the unconventional promotional films for both songs were broadcast. Even their moustaches and John’s spectacles were considered to be evidence of how weird The Beatles had become. The square world worried. Everyone else listened over and over until they ‘got it’. Released on 1 June 1967, the immediate artistic and commercial success of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band vindicated the new approach taken by The Beatles. It was the album that provided the soundtrack to the so-called ‘summer of love’, but its appeal is ageless. The Beatles performed their next single ‘All You Need Is Love’ for the first time on the TV programme Our World - broadcast live to an audience of 350 million around the globe. Their place at the top of contemporary pop music was indisputable. Sadly, soon afterwards, The Beatles were shaken by the sudden death of their manager Brian Epstein in August 1967. They rallied to write and direct Magical Mystery Tour - a film shown on television in the UK at Christmas. Some of the millions who saw it, did not like it. As Paul McCartney remembered: ‘They were looking for the plum-pudding special. That’s what they were expecting, and they very much didn’t get it! We were giving it to the young kids. Why shouldn’t they see something far out?’ The music was as successful as ever. The six new songs in the film and the number one ‘Hello, Goodbye’ completed a momentous year of recording. Three more tracks from 1967 remained unreleased until they were heard in the movie Yellow Submarine premiered in 1968. The film’s imaginative animation evoked the ‘psychedelic’ spirit of Sgt. Pepper to reveal the triumph of Love over Evil.

Nowadays, following a year as busy as The Beatles had in 1967, an artist would take an extended break. In fact, the group did allow themselves a little time off. The first music of 1968 came in March on their seventeenth single ‘Lady Madonna’. Soon after it was recorded, The Beatles flew to Rishikesh, India for several weeks of meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. At this remote and peaceful location, they enjoyed a prolific period of songwriting. As George Harrison explained: ‘When we came back, it became apparent that there were more songs than would make up a single album.’ Recorded in five months, the double LP The Beatles was soon known as ‘The White Album’ because of its plain white cover. ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Revolution’ were the first songs to be heard from the sessions when they were released as a single on 30 August 1968 - the first Beatles record to be pressed with the Apple label. Never interested in repeating themselves, The Beatles took a different approach in the studio in 1968. Ringo Starr remembered: ‘On “The White Album” we ended up being a band again and that’s what I always love. I love being in a band.’ Discussing his songwriting, John Lennon reflected: ‘It was a complete reversal from Sgt. Pepper. My songs on the double album were fairly simple and basic.’ It is still astonishing to hear The Beatles moving through every style of popular music imaginable, including a pastiche of a Hollywood musical number (‘Honey Pie’), an intense blues (‘Yer Blues’) and heavy rock (‘Helter Skelter’). As with Sgt. Pepper, no singles were released from ‘The White Album’ in the UK and USA during the 1960s. But it is full of tracks that could have been huge hits, such as ‘Back In The USSR’, ‘Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da’ and ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’.

In January 1969, while ‘The White Album’ was still at number one, The Beatles assembled to write and rehearse brand new songs for a televised live concert. The plan changed so that, in the end, their work was documented in a movie released over a year later. Its final scene showed The Beatles performing on the roof of their Apple office building in Savile Row, London with most of the audience gathered in the street below. ‘Get Back’, a number one single from the sessions at Apple, was swiftly followed by ‘The Ballad Of John And Yoko’ - a chronicle of John’s marriage to Yoko Ono and their honeymoon/‘Bed-In’ for peace in Amsterdam. Recorded mostly during the summer of 1969, the last album The Beatles made together was named after the street where EMI’s studios are located. It was a fitting tribute to the place where the majority of their songs had been recorded. The Beatles’ collaboration with producer George Martin and the engineers at Abbey Road had challenged the way that popular music was created. On many occasions this team rewrote the rule book and set a new standard to which their contemporaries had to aspire. In contrast to the January recordings at Apple, which were ‘as live’ with no overdubs, their return to Abbey Road studios with George Martin resulted in carefully crafted tracks with ambitious musical arrangements. The album’s varied highlights include ‘Come Together’ and two songs that showed George Harrison’s songwriting had hit a peak - ‘Something’ and ‘Here Comes The Sun’. However, the character of Abbey Road is dominated by the sophisticated medley the group called ‘The Long One’. It brought the album, and The Beatles’ recording career, to an impressive conclusion. What a farewell. Measured in terms of its enormous popularity and musical ingenuity, Abbey Road now challenges the status of Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band as The Beatles’ greatest achievement. When the earlier set of recordings from 1969 was finally released as Let It Be in May 1970, news had already broken that the group had split up. The album’s title track and ‘The Long And Winding Road’ took the total of American number ones by The Beatles to twenty in six years - a feat unequalled by any other artist.

When The Beatles began making records, no one anticipated that they would be listened to far into the future. Pop music was regarded as disposable. But the timeless appeal of The Beatles’ catalogue ensured it was built to last and highly valued. In 1979, the distinguished conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein wrote: ‘Three bars of “A Day In The Life” still sustain me, rejuvenate me, inflame my senses and sensibilities.’ There is also another dimension to the seductive power of The Beatles’ music. Filled with the spirit of the era in which it was born, it is joyous and generous. ‘All You Need Is Love’. ‘With our love - we could save the world.’ ‘The love you take is equal to the love you make.’ Tom Petty felt it: ‘We grew up with The Beatles and grew up trusting them. They could have chosen to do anything and they chose to do good, which is a great example for the rest of us.’

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Top SongsAlbum
1
Beatles Interviewed at Regal Theatre in Cambridge England - 11/26/63Beatles Tapes, Volume 2- Early Beatlemania 1963-640:27
2
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Remix)Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Super Deluxe Edition)2:02
3
George Harrison 1964 During The Filming Of Hard Days NightEvergreens - Famous Interviews2:49
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Within You Without You (Remix)Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Super Deluxe Edition)5:07
5
I'm Down (Take 1 / Anthology 2 Version)Anthology 22:53
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Besame Mucho (Anthology 1 Version)Anthology 12:36
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Love You To (Remastered 2009)Revolver (Remastered)2:59
8
Eleanor Rigby / JuliaLove3:05
9
Getting Better (Take 1 / Instrumental And Speech At The End)Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Super Deluxe Edition)2:19
10
I Got To Find My Baby (Live At The BBC For "Pop Go The Beatles" / 11th June, 1963)Live At The BBC (Remastered)1:57
The original concept for Let It Be had been particularly ambitious: to write and rehearse a fresh batch of songs for a live television broadcast - in less than a month. Rehearsals began at Twickenham Film Studios on 2 January 1969, with a film crew capturing every moment while the group worked. The sometimes stressful circumstances led to George Harrison quitting The Beatles on 10 January 1969. He agreed to return on two conditions. First, rehearsals must be switched from the cold environment at Twickenham to the cosier surroundings of the basement studio in the Beatles’ Apple office building at 3, Savile Row in London. Second, the group would not perform in a live television concert.

While at Apple, the group stuck to the initial ‘back to basics’ idea of recording ’as live’ - without the studio effects and elaborate overdubbing of instruments and vocals that had distinguished their recent albums. The plan now was to be filmed making a record as simply as when they had first visited Abbey Road. With their old friend Billy Preston joining them on keyboards, half of the tracks on Let It Be were recorded in two days. On 30 January, to give the movie a dramatic final sequence, The Beatles braved the winter weather for an unannounced lunchtime concert on the roof of their Apple building. The open air versions of ‘Dig A Pony’, ‘I’ve Got A Feeling’ and ‘One After 909’ are heard on the album. The following day, the cameras rolled for what was called the ‘Apple Studio Performance’. Three songs unsuitable for the rooftop concert were recorded: ‘Let It Be’, ‘The Long And Winding Road’ and ‘Two Of Us’. A studio version of ‘Get Back’ taped a few days earlier was released as a single in April 1969 and reached number one. Apart from its B-side ‘Don’t Let Me Down’, everything else from January remained under wraps until 1970.

When the documentary film was near completion, Phil Spector was allowed to ‘reproduce’ the recordings for a soundtrack album. Disregarding the rule of no overdubs, he added lavish orchestral arrangements to three songs, including a recording from February 1968 of ‘Across The Universe’. Spector’s freedom to edit, compile and rearrange the material on the album - without ever consulting Paul McCartney - was indicative of how much the group’s unity had shattered by now. When Let It Be was finally released in May 1970, The Beatles had effectively disbanded. The dream was over.
In September 1969, The Beatles delivered the last album they recorded together. Measured in terms of its enormous popularity and boundless musical ingenuity, Abbey Road challenges the status of Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band as their greatest achievement.

A key element of Abbey Road is the quality of the harmony singing. There are comic backing vocals in the cautionary tale of ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ and delicate choral work in ‘Sun King’. The most impressive example is heard on ‘Because’. The vocal blend of John, Paul and George was recorded three times to create a choir of nine voices. However, the album’s opener demonstrates how The Beatles’ great talent for arranging their songs did not necessarily lead to something elaborate. Adopting the principle of ‘less is more’, the combination of space with a tight performance creates the funky feel of ‘Come Together’. John’s singing provides a rock master class in controlled tension, energy and commitment. He gives another one with ‘I Want You (She’s so heavy)’, which brought the first side of the album to an astounding climax. Former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash described it as a ‘huge influence as far as where I come from as a musician. The guitar melody on that is so perfect.’ Paul’s impressive rock vocal gymnastics are heard in ‘Oh! Darling’.

George’s compositions on Abbey Road showed his writing at a creative peak. ‘Something’ became one of the most covered songs in The Beatles' catalogue. His uplifting ‘Here Comes The Sun’ featured the newly invented Moog synthesizer - one of the first times it was heard on a pop LP. Ringo’s ‘Octopus’s Garden’ was a sparkling surprise amongst the variety of styles on side one. However, the character of Abbey Road is dominated by what was referred to as ‘The Long One’ on side two of the original LP. Starting with ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’, a medley of eight titles flowed together until ‘The End’ - its concluding couplet gained more significance once it was clear that the LP contained The Beatles’ last recordings.

Since its release, Abbey Road has continued to grow in stature. The sheen of George Martin’s production and the group’s immaculate performances make it tempting to think they pulled out all the stops for their last musical statement. But that is just speculation. They might have continued to record, but The Beatles stopped at the end of the decade they had helped to define. However, Let It Be, made in January1969, was still waiting in the wings.
The Beatles’ tenth album was released in January 1969. Unusually for a soundtrack album, this was exactly six months after the Yellow Submarine movie’s premiere in London. One side of the original LP was devoted to six Beatles tracks and the other featured a new recording of the film’s orchestral score composed by The Beatles’ producer George Martin. Clearly, the title song had to be included so ‘Yellow Submarine’, a number one from 1966, opens the album. It also featured ‘All You Need Is Love’ from 1967, which was, as Paul McCartney saw it, ‘basically the message of the movie’.

The remaining tracks were previously unreleased songs first heard in the film. Three came from 1967. George Harrison’s ‘It’s Only A Northern Song’ dated from the sessions for St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but was replaced on that album by his composition ‘Within You Without You’. Another of his songs ‘It’s All Too Much’ was recorded on 25 May 1967 - a week before Sgt. Pepper was released. It was around this time that The Beatles signed up to provide some new as well as old songs for the movie. The sing-a-long catchiness of ‘All Together Now’ proved perfect for the finale of Yellow Submarine. As John recalled, during the latter part of the film’s production, ‘they wanted another song so I knocked off “Hey Bulldog”. It’s a good-sounding record that means nothing.’ Typical Lennon understatement. This outstanding example of how hard The Beatles could rock together was recorded, overdubbed and mixed in a single ten-hour session on 11 February 1968.

Directed by George Dunning, the innovative animation of Yellow Submarine evoked the psychedelic spirit of Sgt. Pepper to show the triumph of Love over Evil. As George Harrison observed: ‘That film works for every generation - every baby, three or four years old, goes through Yellow Submarine.’ It is an illustration of how easily children fall under the spell of The Beatles’ music - a melodic force more powerful than all the sour Blue Meanies of the world.
After the longest wait yet for the ‘official’ next album, there was widespread and heightened anticipation of what The Beatles would do to follow Sgt. Pepper. Issued on 22 November 1968, the stark white cover of their ninth UK album signalled they had, once again, overturned all expectations. Called simply The Beatles, but forever to be known as ‘The White Album’, the double-LP may be the most eclectic album ever released. The Beatles seemed determined to write and play in every style imaginable.

The origins of the music are rooted in The Beatles’ visit to Rishikesh, India where they studied transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Their trip in March 1968 was a communal experience that reinforced the group’s unity. It certainly inspired a prolific phase of songwriting. In May, before sessions began at EMI Studios, The Beatles taped acoustic demo versions of 27 songs at George Harrison’s house. They began recording these new compositions at Abbey Road on 30 May and studio work occupied most of their time until the final date on 16 October 1968. ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Revolution’ were the first songs to be heard from the sessions when they were released as a stand-alone single on 30 August 1968. It is doubtful whether any other artist would have even considered leaving off their album such a monumental hit single.

The juxtaposition of loud and soft is one of the reasons ‘The White Album’ is so surprising. The raucous rocker ‘Helter Skelter’ precedes the delicate ‘Long Long Long’. The pastoral calm of ‘Mother Nature’s Son’ is placed between the fiery ‘Yer Blues’ and the wildness of ‘Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey’. As usual, there are many humorous touches - as heard in ‘The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill’, ‘Rocky Raccoon’, ‘Piggies’ and ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’. In 1968, The Beatles changed their approach to recording. As Ringo remembered: ‘On “The White Album” we ended up being a band again and that’s what I always love.’ Conversely, more than ever before, it was not considered necessary for all of The Beatles to play on every song. Only sixteen out of 30 tracks featured the participation of all four. Uncredited, Eric Clapton played lead guitar on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’.

It was clear to everyone in 1968 that The Beatles had recorded an album that was in sharp contrast to its predecessor. As George Harrison explained: ‘We always tried to make things different. There was no chance of a new record ever being like the previous one.’ The group’s remarkable achievement in creating ‘The White Album’ is that, despite such dazzling diversity within the collection, each track is stamped with the unmistakable sound of The Beatles.
After the longest wait yet for the ‘official’ next album, there was widespread and heightened anticipation of what The Beatles would do to follow Sgt. Pepper. Issued on 22 November 1968, the stark white cover of their ninth UK album signalled they had, once again, overturned all expectations. Called simply The Beatles, but forever to be known as ‘The White Album’, the double-LP may be the most eclectic album ever released. The Beatles seemed determined to write and play in every style imaginable.

The origins of the music are rooted in The Beatles’ visit to Rishikesh, India where they studied transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Their trip in March 1968 was a communal experience that reinforced the group’s unity. It certainly inspired a prolific phase of songwriting. In May, before sessions began at EMI Studios, The Beatles taped acoustic demo versions of 27 songs at George Harrison’s house. They began recording these new compositions at Abbey Road on 30 May and studio work occupied most of their time until the final date on 16 October 1968. ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Revolution’ were the first songs to be heard from the sessions when they were released as a stand-alone single on 30 August 1968. It is doubtful whether any other artist would have even considered leaving off their album such a monumental hit single.

The juxtaposition of loud and soft is one of the reasons ‘The White Album’ is so surprising. The raucous rocker ‘Helter Skelter’ precedes the delicate ‘Long Long Long’. The pastoral calm of ‘Mother Nature’s Son’ is placed between the fiery ‘Yer Blues’ and the wildness of ‘Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey’. As usual, there are many humorous touches - as heard in ‘The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill’, ‘Rocky Raccoon’, ‘Piggies’ and ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’. In 1968, The Beatles changed their approach to recording. As Ringo remembered: ‘On “The White Album” we ended up being a band again and that’s what I always love.’ Conversely, more than ever before, it was not considered necessary for all of The Beatles to play on every song. Only sixteen out of 30 tracks featured the participation of all four. Uncredited, Eric Clapton played lead guitar on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’.

It was clear to everyone in 1968 that The Beatles had recorded an album that was in sharp contrast to its predecessor. As George Harrison explained: ‘We always tried to make things different. There was no chance of a new record ever being like the previous one.’ The group’s remarkable achievement in creating ‘The White Album’ is that, despite such dazzling diversity within the collection, each track is stamped with the unmistakable sound of The Beatles.
After the longest wait yet for the ‘official’ next album, there was widespread and heightened anticipation of what The Beatles would do to follow Sgt. Pepper. Issued on 22 November 1968, the stark white cover of their ninth UK album signalled they had, once again, overturned all expectations. Called simply The Beatles, but forever to be known as ‘The White Album’, the double-LP may be the most eclectic album ever released. The Beatles seemed determined to write and play in every style imaginable.

The origins of the music are rooted in The Beatles’ visit to Rishikesh, India where they studied transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Their trip in March 1968 was a communal experience that reinforced the group’s unity. It certainly inspired a prolific phase of songwriting. In May, before sessions began at EMI Studios, The Beatles taped acoustic demo versions of 27 songs at George Harrison’s house. They began recording these new compositions at Abbey Road on 30 May and studio work occupied most of their time until the final date on 16 October 1968. ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Revolution’ were the first songs to be heard from the sessions when they were released as a stand-alone single on 30 August 1968. It is doubtful whether any other artist would have even considered leaving off their album such a monumental hit single.

The juxtaposition of loud and soft is one of the reasons ‘The White Album’ is so surprising. The raucous rocker ‘Helter Skelter’ precedes the delicate ‘Long Long Long’. The pastoral calm of ‘Mother Nature’s Son’ is placed between the fiery ‘Yer Blues’ and the wildness of ‘Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey’. As usual, there are many humorous touches - as heard in ‘The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill’, ‘Rocky Raccoon’, ‘Piggies’ and ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’. In 1968, The Beatles changed their approach to recording. As Ringo remembered: ‘On “The White Album” we ended up being a band again and that’s what I always love.’ Conversely, more than ever before, it was not considered necessary for all of The Beatles to play on every song. Only sixteen out of 30 tracks featured the participation of all four. Uncredited, Eric Clapton played lead guitar on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’.

It was clear to everyone in 1968 that The Beatles had recorded an album that was in sharp contrast to its predecessor. As George Harrison explained: ‘We always tried to make things different. There was no chance of a new record ever being like the previous one.’ The group’s remarkable achievement in creating ‘The White Album’ is that, despite such dazzling diversity within the collection, each track is stamped with the unmistakable sound of The Beatles.
The frequency of The Beatles’ albums seems startling now but as ten months passed between the release dates of Revolver in August 1966 and the next LP on 1 June 1967, there was much speculation about what was seen as a long gap. The wait was the result of The Beatles pursuing a new direction. They had decided that their concert at Candlestick Park, San Francisco on 29 August 1966 would be their last. Touring had become musically frustrating and too dangerous. In December 1966, Paul explained: ‘We feel that only through recording do people listen to us, so that is our most important form of communication. We take as much time as we want on a track, until we get it to our satisfaction.’

With Sgt. Pepper, The Beatles and producer George Martin showed the world what could be achieved with this approach. Their experimental and painstaking work meant that around 400 hours were needed to complete the LP - an astonishing total at that time. Unusual studio techniques were applied throughout Sgt. Pepper. Artificial Double Tracking, or ‘phasing’ as it was nicknamed, was used to alter the true sound of an instrument or a voice. There was also the speeding up and slowing down of tapes during recording and mixing, which changed the tempo and pitch of a voice, instrument or whole song.

No singles were released from Sgt. Pepper, although it includes two of the best known Lennon/McCartney hits - ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ and ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’. The songs range across styles from the poignant ballad ‘She’s Leaving Home’ to the jaunty music hall pastiche ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ and the giddy fairground atmosphere of ‘Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!’. The album ends with ‘A Day In The Life’ - a composition seamlessly combining two distinct ideas originating from John and Paul. The most radical aspect of its arrangement was the superimposition of an orchestra building to a cacophonous climax. George Harrison’s ‘Within You Without You’ introduced pop fans to the unfamiliar sound of an Indian ensemble trading licks with a classical string section. However, it is not only the exotic instrumentation on the album that dazzles, listen for the soulful drum fills, exciting guitar flourishes, elastic bass lines and characterful vocals.

As the sessions for Sgt. Pepper progressed, George Martin recognised the commercial risk he and the group were taking: ‘As it was getting more and more avant-garde... there was a slight niggle of worry. I thought, “Is the public ready for this yet?”’. It was.
In 1966, The Beatles’ world tilted on its axis. Their previous album Rubber Soul had marked a turning point in their approach to studio work. The group’s focus on making something revolutionary in the studio was pursued even more fervently upon their return to Abbey Road on 6th April, 1966. The result of 300 hours of work in three months of sessions, Revolver is a towering artistic achievement.

There is an astonishing variety of moods in the songs by Lennon/McCartney - ranging from the feel-good bounce of ‘Good Day Sunshine’ to the scary paranoia of ‘She Said She Said’. The LP’s two ballads have contrasting emotions. The joyful ‘Here, There And Everywhere’ has an uncluttered arrangement distinguished by exquisite harmonies. The melancholy narrative of ‘For No One’ unfolds over a backing track with a classical mood, which is heightened by a rhythmic clavichord accompaniment and a French horn solo. The LP contained the biggest songwriting contribution to date from George Harrison. His caustic ‘Taxman’ was given the status of the album’s opener. ‘Love You To’ reflects his growing fascination with Indian music and is mostly devoid of Western instrumentation. ‘I Want To Tell You’ is a more straight forward rocker but, as with the other two, has an unconventional lyric.

During the first session for the album The Beatles began recording ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’. The track introduced many of the new sonic ideas that were used throughout Revolver, including innovative techniques to record the drums, a much more prominent bass guitar, electric guitar played back on a reversed tape and a special vocal sound. With other musicians, the use of studio effects might have sounded gimmicky and, before too long, quaintly old-fashioned. But The Beatles and George Martin always applied an unerring sense of taste while they experimented. The unusual sounds enhance the songs. The home-made tape loops on ‘Tomorrow Never Know’ create an ethereal atmosphere that matches the spirit of the song. The ‘backwards’ electric guitar on ‘I’m Only Sleeping’ has a yawning quality that complements the dreamy nature of the words and the languorous performance. The many sound effects on ‘Yellow Submarine’ amplify the track’s sense of childish fun. Unlike anything else on the album - and in the music world to that date - ‘Eleanor Rigby’ is a solemn masterpiece. With little evidence of the electronic manipulation of sound heard throughout Revolver, it was the score for double string quartet that made ‘Eleanor Rigby’ sound so stark and radical. These were adventurous times.
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