The Beatles facts: Early years, past members, songs, albums, break-ups and reunion of the Fab Four
22 March 2022, 12:13 | Updated: 10 March 2023, 13:34
The Beatles are maybe the greatest band in the history of popular music.
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The Beatles are riding their biggest wave since the Anthology project in the 1990s.
With the massive success of the Get Back series, the run of massive 50th anniversary reissue albums and Paul McCartney's career-spanning lyrics book, there's never been more Beatles available.
- The Beatles' 20 greatest songs ever, ranked
- The story of The Beatles' last ever concert
- Listen to the Gold 60s Live Playlist on Global Player
But in truth, ever since they burst onto the scene in the early 1960s, The Beatles never really went away.
Beatlemania swept the UK, then the US and the whole world, and the Fab Four established themselves as one of the greatest bands in the history of popular music.
Given their talent and impact, it's no surprise that there are thousands, or maybe even tens of thousands of books about The Beatles.
Recapping their career is no easy task, but that's just what we're going to do as we induct The Beatles into Gold's digital Hall of Fame.
When did The Beatles form and who were the Fab Four?
Everyone knows the classic lineup of The Beatles:
- Paul McCartney - bass and vocals
- John Lennon - guitar and vocals
- George Harrison - guitar and vocals
- Ringo Starr - drums and vocals
But it took a while for the Fab Four to actually come together. Here's a super-fast timeline of their earliest beginnings.
John Lennon formed skiffle band The Quarrymen with friends including Eric Griffiths and Pete Shotton in 1956. His pal Paul McCartney joined the group in October 1957, and Paul convinced John to let the then-14-year-old George Harrison join early the next year.
The band moved to a rock 'n' roll sound by the end of the decade, shifting various members and briefly changing their name to Johnny and the Moondogs and Japage 3 before returning to The Quarrymen.
In 1960, guitarist Ken Brown left the group and Stuart Sutcliffe joined on bass.
Riffing on Buddy Holly's Crickets and after playing around with The Beetles, The Silver Beetles and The Silver Beatles, Stuart and John settled on their new name: The Beatles.
A few months later, Pete Best (son of Casbah Club owner/founder Mona Best) joined the group on drums.
The Lennon-McCartney-Harrison-Sutcliffe-Best lineup had residencies in Liverpool and Hamburg, Germany, before Sutcliffe left the band in 1961 to focus on his painting.
Stu tragically died the following year from a brain haemorrhage, when he was just 21.
In November 1961, the band met Brian Epstein, who quickly became their manager and tried to get them a record deal.
They were infamously rejected by Decca Records ("Guitar groups are on the way out, Mr. Epstein"), before George Martin signed them to EMI/Parlophone a few months later.
Martin wasn't keen on Best's drumming during their first session on June 6, 1962, and suggested using a session player for that recording.
John, Paul and George were already considering axing Pete Best. It was felt he wasn't on the same wavelength as the other three, maybe wasn't the right drummer for the group and (gasp) was said to be too good-looking and popular.
The three took advantage of Martin's comments and cajoled Epstein into sacking Pete Best, with Ringo Starr leaving Rory Storm and the Hurricanes to replace him. (John, Paul and George did all later admit that they'd been a bit underhand and mean to poor Pete in the way they went about it.)
For what it's worth, Martin wasn't all that impressed with Ringo's drumming on the sessions for 'Love Me Do', 'Please Please Me' and 'PS I Love You' and got Andy White in to play on them. After that, Ringo was behind the kit and the Fab Four were born.
What are The Beatles' most famous songs (and albums)?
During their career, The Beatles released 12 studio albums (in the UK... their early catalogue was messed about quite a bit in the US), starting with Please Please Me in 1963, and ending with Let It Be in 1970.
Everyone has their favourites, with 1967's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band often topping 'Best Album of All Time' lists and Revolver (1966) and The Beatles (aka The White Album) (1968) not far behind.
The band released 213 songs during their lifetime (with many outtakes emerging since then), and it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that most of these are brilliant, with dozens of out-and-out classics.
Some of their very biggest and best songs include:
- All You Need Is Love
- Here Comes The Sun
- Can't Buy Me Love
- The Long And Winding Road
- While My Guitar Gently Weeps
- Come Together
- Tomorrow Never Knows
- I Am The Walrus
- A Hard Day’s Night
- Eleanor Rigby
- Twist and Shout
- We Can Work It Out
- Hey Jude
- A Day In The Life
- She Loves You
- In My Life
Who wrote The Beatles' songs?
Like many bands of the time, The Beatles had a number of cover versions in their early repertoire, and their first two albums each had six covers.
But The Beatles were a gamechanger in terms of a modern pop band writing most of their own material.
The vast majority of The Beatles self-penned songs were written by the partnership of Paul McCartney and John Lennon.
Whether they wrote a song alone or together, all the songs written by the pair released by The Beatles were credited to Lennon-McCartney.
On top of that, George Harrison pitched in 22 songs, and Ringo Starr even came up with a pair – 'Don't Pass Me By' on The White Album and 'Octopus's Garden' on Abbey Road – and some co-writing credit on a few others.
When and why did The Beatles split up?
It's no exaggeration to say that The Beatles: Get Back has rewritten the history books on exactly how and why The Beatles called it a day after just a decade together.
It was Paul McCartney who seemed to have announced the end, with a press release for his solo album on April 10, 1970 confirming that he was no longer working with the group.
In truth though, The Beatles were already over. Their last recording session as a foursome was appropriately when they put the finishing touches to Abbey Road closer 'The End' on August 18, 1969.
A month later on September 20, John announced to the group that he was leaving the band, but it was decided to keep the break-up under wraps.
Having lived in each others pockets for the best part of ten years, and with the incredible strain of being among the most famous people to have ever existing, it's maybe more of a surprise that The Beatles stayed together as long as they did.
Deciding to quit touring in 1966 undoubtedly bought them a few years together, but as each Beatle grew into their 20s, the cracks were inevitably going to grow.
Musical differences and ego ruffling were probably what caused Ringo to quit for two weeks while they recorded The White Album, with the same being true for George's five-day exit during the Get Back sessions.
Another major factor was the tragic death of the band's manager Brian Epstein in 1967. Not just because of their struggles without his presence, but also because Paul being outvoted on the choice of a replacement (the wanted Lee and John Eastman, the rest of band picked Allen Klein) naturally caused problems.
Then there was John's on-off heroin addiction, his deeply romantic but also all-consuming relationship and marriage to artist Yoko Ono.
Meanwhile, Harrison was getting grumpy at having less creative space than he probably deserved because of the shadow of the Lennon-McCartney partnership, and he'd been having fun collaborating with artists like Bob Dylan, The Band and Eric Clapton.
Despite Lennon's departure, his 'Cold Turkey' single with Yoko, and McCartney's secret work on his self-titled solo debut, Paul, George and Ringo got back into the studio in early 1970 to record 'I Me Mine' and 'Let It Be' for what would become their final album Let It Be.
Even after Paul's fateful press release there were rumbles and rumours of the band getting back together and making a new album, but financial and legal wrangling soon made it clear that would never happen.
After half a decade in the courts, the Beatles partnership was formally dissolved on January 9, 1975.
Did The Beatles ever reform?
The Beatles never officially reformed after their split and when John Lennon was murdered on December 8, 1980, it put an end to the chance of the Fab Four ever working together again.
But while all four men weren't in a studio or on stage together for the ten years up to that point, there had been plenty of collaborations between various pairs
That started from the very beginning, with George Harrison and Ringo Starr appearing on John's Plastic Ono Band albums, Paul popping up on Ringo's Sentimental Journey, and John and Ringo featuring on George's All Things Must Past.
The hook-ups continued throughout the 1970s, with 1973's Ringo album and 1976's Ringo's Rotogravure featuring all four Beatles, albeit not on the same song.
After John's death, the surviving Beatles continued the occasional collaboration of pairs, while all three featured on George's 1981 tribute to John 'All Those Years Ago'.
In 1995, the Fab Four had the closest ever thing to a real reunion.
As part of The Beatles Anthology project, made up of three triple albums, a massive TV show and giant book, George, Paul and Ringo were given some of John's unreleased demos by Yoko.
They overdubbed their work onto a 1977 demo of 'Free as a Bird' and 1980 demo of 'Real Love', with both songs being credited to The Beatles and being released as brand new singles, with production by Jeff Lyne.
They tried to do the same with Lennon's 'Grow Old With Me' and 'Now and Then', as well as McCartney/Harrison-written 'All For Love' but it didn't come together.
There's an argument as to whether 'Free as a Bird' and 'Real Love' are "real" Beatles singles, but given that they feature all four Beatles (which many "proper" Beatles songs don't) and are released under The Beatles name, we're going to go down on the side of saying they are.
How many records have The Beatles sold?
This question has always been a hard one to answer, and as we enter the digital age of "equivalent streaming sales" it's probably impossible.
But it's estimated that The Beatles have sold over 600 million albums worldwide, and it's a number that keeps on growing, year-on-year.
They sold 1.6 BILLION singles in the US alone between 1963-1969, and over 22 million singles in the UK as of 2012.