Paul McCartney's announcement of his departure from and the de facto end of The Beatles on April 9th, 1970 was front-page news, and not just in the music trades. And though their impact was considerably less than Christ's, The Beatles were a one-of-a-kind phenomena - often imitated, never duplicated. Their influence was, and continues, to be enormous. They appeared in the midst of the Cold War and in the U.S., shortly after the Kennedy assassination. They were irreverent and fun. Just what the U.S. and by extension, the world, needed to pull itself out of the doldrums. More than that, they were exceptionally talented. But what often got lost was their discipline and hard work ethic. John and Paul spent years honing their songwriting skills and the two complimented each other, largely canceling the other's worst tendencies (a practice woefully missing in their solo careers); John's crippling sarcasm and Paul's over-sentimentality.
As the Skiffle craze rolled through England in the late '50s, Liverpool native John Lennon started a group to play this crude shuffle music and dubbed them the Quarry Men (a Rock 'n' Roll pun). After a performance at a Woolton church social John was introduced to Paul McCartney. During the show John, either not knowing or bothering to learn the lyrics to the Del Vikings' "Come, Go With Me" substituted his own racy lyrics. Paul was duly impressed. Paul knew chords Lennon didn't and how to properly tune a guitar. He also knew the lyrics to several Rock 'n' Roll songs. Lennon took notice and soon asked McCartney to join. Even in the beginning the basic dynamic between the two was set with Lennon being the Rock 'n' Roll rebel and McCartney, the inquisitive musician. That's not to say McCartney couldn't write lyrics or Lennon melodies. Both clearly learned from each other while playing to their own strengths. There was another bond. Both had lost their mothers at a young age. Lennon's mother Julia was killed in a car-pedestrian accident while McCartney's mother had succumbed to cancer.
Paul's friend, George Harrison, auditioned for John on the top of a double-decker bus. These three, together since '57, formed the nucleus. Having passed an audition for a Hamburg, Germany, club gig they were told they need a drummer and at the last moment recruited Pete Best. The Hamburg line-up was John Lennon (rhythm guitar/vocals), Paul McCartney (rhythm guitar/vocals), George Harrison (lead guitar), Pete Best (drums) and Stu Sutcliffe (bass). Stu was in because he was John's friend and fellow art student. But Stu was hardly a musician and only half-heartedly attempted to play bass. In Hamburg, performing countless hours before rowdy audiences, earned The Beatles their chops. They participated in recording sessions - mostly as a backing group. They also encountered another Liverpool group, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, with Ringo Starr on drums. As the group was about to return to Liverpool, Sutcliffe announced he was going to stay in Hamburg with this girlfriend Astrid and become an artist. Like Lennon, Sutcliffe had been an art school student. But unlike Lennon, he was far more serious about drawing and painting. After both John and George categorically refused to play bass (George had just bought a new guitar). Paul, being the good sport, took up the instrument. Having acquired manager Brian Epstein and the interest of EMI Records (after being rejected by several other labels) The Beatles long-time dissatisfaction with Best came to a head. Epstein got the unenviable job of telling Best he was out and Ringo was in. The quartet was now complete.
From the very beginning The Beatles were far more complex than their '50s predecessors. Still, in their early period beginning in '62 with the relatively primitive "Love Me Do" to "A Hard Day's Night" soundtrack (their first film) in '64, there was a remarkable growth in Lennon and McCartney's songwriting capabilities.
By '65, The Beatles had matured both as a recording act and as musicians. Furthermore, Lennon and McCartney entered into their most creative and accomplished songwriting period turning out a succession of brilliant songs including "Help!," "Ticket To Ride" and "Nowhere Man."
The rigors of touring and making a second film, "Help!" took its toll. Controversies, including Lennon's "We're bigger than Christ" statement and turning down a royal invitation in the Philippines made life difficult. General rule of thumb: never cause a despot dictator (Ferdinand Marcos), his wife (shoe maven Imelda) and their self-indulgent family to lose face in their homeland. The Beatles barely got out alive. So the decision was made to stop touring and focus on recording. The last Beatles concert was at San Francisco's Candlestick Park in August 29th, 1966.
Showing progressive leanings on their last two albums, "Rubber Soul" and "Revolver," The Beatles seemed poised for something new. Sparked by McCartney's idea of ditching The Beatles identity, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" mixed Rock 'n' Roll and the prevailing psychedelic vibe with a heavy dose of traditional British music hall frolicking. The album along with its less accomplished follow-up, "Magical Mystery Tour" developed the idea of the concept album and "art" in Rock.
John and Paul had, by this time, developed easily identifiable songwriting characteristics. John with his dreamy, occasionally harsh view of the world ("Strawberry Fields Forever," "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" and "I Am The Walrus") contrasting with Paul's almost whimsical "we'll get by" attitude ("Lovely Rita" and "Penny Lane"). "A Day In The Life," is a perfect example of how the two styles meshed. There's Lennon's detached review of the daily news followed by McCartney's urgent "day in the life" (or at least 'morning in the life') before returning to Lennon.
As the Lennon/McCartney dynamic changed so to did Lennon's personal life. He'd divorced his wife of six years, Cynthia, to take up with conceptual artist Yoko Ono. Meanwhile, The Beatles, no longer burdened with touring, produced more songs than could fit on an album. So the double record "The Beatles" or as it was more commonly known "The White Album" was released to clear the decks. The album probably stands as the best example of The Beatles eclectic nature. Not all of it is brilliant but enough is.
As the late '60s rolled by, The Beatles were at odds with each other. Paul wanted the group to tour or do some kind of performance. The other three were dead against it. John was spending all his time with Yoko and she was even joining him in the studio. The other three felt this was an intrusion. On top of it, John threatened to quit but was talked out of it.
Disgusted and feeling belittled, Ringo did quit but returned a short time later. George bailed for a time as well. Financially, The Beatles were suffering too. Their Apple businesses (clothes, electronics and media) were burning through money. And since manager Epstein's death (listed as an accidental overdose) there had been no control or financial accountability. To right the situation, John, George and Ringo hired Allen Klein. Paul, having married Linda Eastman, wanted her father and brother (both New York entertainment lawyers) to handle The Beatles' affairs. On top of that, it was time for another Beatles movie. Paul again developed the concept - a film of the group recording an album. If Yoko was seen as an intrusion, the film crew was far worse.
The accompanying soundtrack was a mess and temporarily set aside until producer/genius Phil Spector was called to salvage the situation. Basically, he added strings and female voices (which McCartney hated) and put an acceptable polish on the thing. The soundtrack album is OK. "Let It Be" documents the group's disintegration and includes the infamous row between George and Paul. It is a dispirited film with the rooftop performance at the end being the only saving grace.
As Spector toiled on the "Let It Be" tapes, The Beatles decided to temporarily suspend their differences and re-enter the studio. "Abbey Road" was as great a swan song as anybody could hope for. With the "fixed up" "Let It Be" rolling out, McCartney, having already completed his debut solo album, announced he was leaving - John, George and Ringo unanimously decided to disband.