Accessibility links

Breaking News

The Beatles: The Biography


The Beatles and the band's music continue to captivate millions to this day. Yet the world may never have heard of John, Paul, George and Ringo if not for a fateful meeting that started it all. VOA's Jeff Feuer explains.

Nearly four decades after their breakup, The Beatles remain a global phenomenon. But the world might never have heard the "Fab Four's" many hits if it had not been for a chance encounter on July 6, 1957 in the city of Liverpool, England.

Bob Spitz is the author of The Beatles: The Biography. "This year (1957), one of the moms got John's band, The Quarrymen, to perform at the rose parade at the annual church fair. Now the Quarrymen was John's folk band but they were gonna play a little rock and roll this year as well. And outside the kids gathered to watch them, and John noticed one of the people in the second row. You couldn't miss him. He had come in a sport coat that had silver and gold threads woven into it, and it was a 15-year-old kid who bicycled over from the next community and his name was Paul McCartney. He had been brought by one of John's friends from school because the friend thought that John and he might get along. They were introduced after John had played the opening set."

After a brief introduction, McCartney asked a fateful question. "And Paul brought this guitar on his bicycle into this church festival and asked John if he could play him something. And John was knocked out. It was an amazing performance and he knew right away that there was a place in his band for this fat kid named Paul McCartney"

But success was still years in the making for the group, as they toiled in small clubs from Liverpool to Hamburg, Germany. But the Beatles hard work would eventually pay off. Still, many record companies rejected them before The Beatles were signed by the British label E.M.I.

"The Beatles were rejected by everybody. Before they went to Hamburg, they were considered the worst band in Liverpool, and they were. There were 300 bands - the Beatles stunk. They had no show. They punched each other on stage.

Spitz says the band's days in Hamburg were exhausting, but crucial to the Beatles' development. "Then when they got to Hamburg, they really worked hard, they played 11 hours a night, and they became what we now know as The Beatles. When it came time for them to get a record deal and Brian Epstein shopped them around, they got the same message from everyone, and that message was that guitar bands are out."

E.M.I. executives decided to take a chance on the band with one key condition. That demand would forever change the course of two lives, including that of a young drummer from another Liverpool band, Ringo Starr.

"Earlier on, their drummer was someone else, it was Pete Best. He was really their first drummer. He had worked with them for two years. People thought it was very unfair that the day George Martin signed them, he gave the Beatles a record contract (and) they gave Pete Best the boot."

The final lineup of the Beatles - John, Paul, George and Ringo - would capture the imagination of people across England in 1963, in what could be considered the "first wave" of Beatlemania. The following year, the Beatles went on to conquer America and the world.

They last recorded as a band in 1969, so why do the Beatles remain so popular to this day?

"The music is very special," says the author. "It speaks to everybody of all ages and all generations. It's terrific music. It's music that that you don't get tired of hearing 10, 20, 30 years later."

"And, of course, it's their voices. There is so much personality in their voices that it speaks to everybody. There's something pure, something simple, something so insanely identifiable that everybody connects with it right away and that's one of the miracles of the Beatles. It's something that they do for all of us in that sound, that it's lasting and enduring."