No band has influenced pop culture the way the Beatles have. They were one of the best things to happen in the twentieth century, let alone the Sixties. They were youth personified. They were unmatched innovators who were bigger than both Jesus and rock & roll itself: During the week of April 4, 1964, the Beatles held the first five slots on the Billboard Singles chart; they went on to sell more than a billion records; and 2000’s 1, a compilation of the Beatles Number One hits, hit Number One in 35 countries and went on to become the best-selling album of the 2000s.
Every record was a shock when it came out, The Beatles arrived sounding like nothing else. They were also writing their own songs. They made writing your own material expected, rather than exceptional. As musicians, the Beatles proved that rock & roll could embrace a limitless variety of harmonies, structures, and sounds; virtually every rock experiment has some precedent on Beatles records. As a unit the Beatles were a synergistic combination: Paul McCartney’s melodic bass lines, Ringo Starr’s slaphappy no-rolls drumming, George Harrison’s rockabilly-style guitar leads, John Lennon’s assertive rhythm guitar — and their four fervent voices. As personalities, they defined and incarnated Sixties style: smart, idealistic, playful, irreverent, eclectic. Their music, from the not-so-simple love songs they started with to their later perfectionistic studio extravaganzas, set new standards for both commercial and artistic success in pop.
In 1965 the Queen of England had announced that the Beatles would be awarded the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire).
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album was released in June 1967, it was hailed as serious art for its “concept” and its range of styles and sounds, a lexicon of pop and electronic noises; such songs as “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and “A Day in the Life” were carefully examined for hidden meanings. The album spent 15 weeks at Number One (longer than any of their others) and has sold over 8 million copies.
The Beatles as a group were going through problems and attempted to smooth over their differences in early 1969 at filmed recording sessions. Released in spring 1970, ‘Let It Be’ is essentially a documentary of their breakup, including an impromptu January 30, 1969, rooftop concert at Apple Corps headquarters, their last public performance as the Beatles.
Portions of this biography appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).
(read more at www.rollingstone.com/music/artists/the-beatles/biography)