Fifty years ago, in the spring of 1963, an up and coming British band with one previous hit (“Love Me Do”), found its new single “Please, Please Me” in the U.K.s #1 records chart spot where it remained in the Top 10, for about 7 months. Less than one month later, their next single release “From Me, To You” opened at #1. Five months later, “She Loves You” made #1, and in November, after 13 weeks in the Top Ten, it had sold over 1 million copies in the U.K. Before “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was released, it had already sold 950,000 in advance orders, and it too, shot to #1. Beatlemania was about to explode on the international scene, where mobs of screaming teenagers met (and eventually terrified) the musical foursome everywhere they appeared.
I was a Beatlemaniac, although not of the shrieking mob variety. I was in the 6th grade when the Beatles hit the American music scene. I was besotted with their music. I had photos of the Fab Four taped to my bedroom walls and listened to their recordings incessantly. I moved the stacking release bar on my record player to the right, so that as soon as the record was over, the tone arm would be tricked into thinking another record had fallen onto the turntable, and the recording began all over again. When my parents would finally demand mercy, I would simply turn the record to the B-side and do the same thing all over again. I read the fan mags and learned all the puff about them that was put out in the press (“Paul’s favorite color is green,” “John’s favorite food is steak and chips,” “Ringo Starr isn’t his real name.”) But I knew nothing, absolutely nothing about these four people, their lives, their careers, their ideas and aspirations - and if pressed at the time, I probably could not have explained what was so special about their music, except that they sounded different from everyone else, and besides, they were the Beatles. I mean, THE BEATLES, people!
But who were these four “WWII babies”, raised in bombed out areas of England’s tough Liverpool neighborhoods who (except for middle class John Lennon) came from poor working class backgrounds, grew up in government subsidized housing, and who, by their early teens, were teaching themselves to play American rock tunes on pathetically inferior instruments? And how, with absolutely no connections to the music business, did they manage to breathe life into the anemic British pop rock scene, redefine it for an international audience, and become the most popular rock band in the world? What were the truths behind the myths that swirled around these young men? Why, after just a few short years of success, did they stop performing live and become a studio band? And how did mere rock musicians manage to ride atop the crest of change, and in many cases influence the tastes and ideas of a generation poised for major social, political and cultural shifts?
Get the answers by reading The Beatles – the Biography by Bob Spitz. This is not a new book, it was published in 2005, but it is very comprehensive. And don’t be afraid of the size (it’s got over 900 pages if you include footnotes.) You can read it in spurts, but if you’re like me, you’ll have a hard time putting it down.