GUITARISTS: George Harrison, John Lennon,
TOOLS OF THE TRADE: Gretsch Country Gentleman, Rickenbacker 6- and 12-strings, Epiphone Casino, Gibson J-160E acoustics, Hofner violin bass, Vox piggyback amps
KEY ALBUMS: Rubber Soul, Revolver, The "White Album"
SIGNATURE SONGS: Too many to list!
HIDDEN GEM: "Rockin' Awhile"
HALLMARK: Songwriting nonpareil!
Back in the days of black-and-white TV, when pop music fans were restricted to shows like Thank Your Lucky Stars and Juke Box Jury, there was just one group that really mattered. Brash newcomers at first, The Beatles captured the public imagination in 1964 and swiftly progressed to universal fame as the ultimate pop band.
The tremendous opening chord of "A Hard Day's Night" ushered in the band's period of peak creativity. Despite its throwaway lyric, "Eight Days A Week" featured a classic McCartney walking bass and Lennon's soaring, double-tracked vocals. Based on blues changes and with a buoyant performance by Ringo, "I Feel Fine" debuted at No. 1 in November 1964.
Emotionally and aurally deeper than anything the group had come up with before, "Ticket To Ride" was the first Beatles recording to break the three-minute barrier. A raw slice of autobiography in B-minor, "Help!" was co-opted by director Richard Lester as the title tune for the group's second film.
Recorded over two days in June 1965 and released in August on the Help! album, "Yesterday" holds the Guinness Book of Records title as the most "covered" song in history. Paul famously woke one morning to find the tune running through his head. "There are certain times when you get the essence," he said later "It's like an egg being laid—not a crack or flaw in it."
Maintaining the bluesy style of "Drive My Car",, the riff-driven "Day Tripper" was scheduled as a new single until the recording of "We Can Work It Out" a few days later. To resolve conflict within the group, both titles were marketed as the first 'double A-side' in December 1965. Short of new songs for Rubber Soul, Paul and John worked up six bars of a 'joke French tune' into "Michelle", a favorite among folk guitarists.
"Paperback Writer" featured passages of four-part harmony modeled on the group's US rivals, The Beach Boys. The result of two 12-hour sessions, "And Your Bird Can Sing" comes from 1966's Revolver, arguably The Beatles' finest album, as does the melancholy, memorable "Eleanor Rigby" and the effects-laden "Yellow Submarine", which includes chains, whistles, hooters, handbells and an old tin bath!
As if rolling back the perceived limits of the pop single with "Strawberry Fields Forever" wasn't enough, The Beatles increasingly began to open up the format of the LP. 1967's boundlessly inventive Sgt. Pepper was a major cultural event which, inevitably, produced its own fallout. The BBC banned "A Day In The Life" and "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds". Others found drug references in "Getting Better" and "With A Little Help From My Friends."
One of the group's immediate post-Sgt. Pepper recordings, "All You Need Is Love" was put together for a live global TV broadcast in June 1967. Paul's anxiety to maintain The Beatles' impetus led to the psychedelic roadshow of "Magical Mystery Tour" and the poignant "The Fool On The Hill." Recorded after most of the filming for Magical Mystery Tour was finished, "Hello Goodbye"—and its stunning B-side "I Am The Walrus"—spent seven weeks at No. 1 in the UK.
Planned as a Beatles A-side for spring 1968, John's "Across The Universe" was dropped in favor of the bluesy "Lady Madonna." That the Beatles were also adept at the fingerpicking styles of '60s folk music is amply demonstrated in "Blackbird" and "Dear Prudence."
1968's sprawling double-album The Beatles (White Album) also featured "Back In The U.S.S.R.", "Helter Skelter" and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," all of which were recorded on one of the first 8-track machines used in England.
Composed while Paul was out for a drive one day, "Hey Jude" boasts an expressive melody underpinned by a four-square rhythm. The massive orchestral contribution was the work of 36 highly-trained classical musicians, doubling-up as singers and hand-clappers in the chorus. It proved to be the group's biggest-selling American hit, staying at No. 1 for nine weeks.
1969's "Get Back", a hybrid of R&B and country blues, became The Beatles' 19th British single, followed one month later by John's highly-autobiographical "The Ballad Of John & Yoko." With the group in isolation from one another, the Abbey Road album was basically a set of solo performances, exemplified by George's atmospheric "Here Comes The Sun" and the Yoko-inspired, harmonically complex "Because."
Inspired by a dream in which his dead mother Mary appeared to him, Paul's "Let It Be" stemmed from the group's erratic, perfunctory January 1969 sessions. Dusted down over a year later, like most of the songs on the album of the same name, it was an unwelcome finale to The Beatles' glittering career.