Beatles, The, English rock music group formed in the late 1950s and disbanded in 1970. The members were John (Winston) Lennon, 1940–80, guitar and harmonica; (James) Paul McCartney, 1942–, guitar and piano; George Harrison, 1943–2001, guitar and sitar; and Ringo Starr (Richard Starkey), 1940–, drums. All were born in Liverpool, England. Influenced by such American performers as Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Elvis Presley, The Beatles dominated rock music in the 1960s, eventually disbanding when they felt their possibilities as a group were exhausted. The lyrics and music for most of their songs were written by Lennon and McCartney.
The group burst on the international rock music scene in 1961. Their initial appeal derived as much from their wit, Edwardian clothes, and moplike haircuts as from their music. By 1963 they were the objects of wild adoration and were constantly followed by crowds of shrieking adolescent girls. By the late 1960s, "Beatlemania" had abated somewhat, and The Beatles were highly regarded by a broad spectrum of music lovers.
From 1963 to 1970 the group released 18 record albums that clearly document its musical development. The early recordings, such as Meet The Beatles (1964), are remarkable for their solid rhythms and excitingly rich, tight harmony. The middle albums, like Rubber Soul (1965) and Revolver (1966), evolved toward social commentary in their lyrics ("Eleanor Rigby,""Taxman") and introduced such instruments as the cello, trumpet, and sitar. In 1967, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band marked the beginning of The Beatles' final period, which is characterized by electronic techniques and allusive, drug-inspired lyrics. The group acted and sang in four films: A Hard Day's Night (1964), Help! (1965), Magical Mystery Tour (1968), and Let It Be (1970); all of these are outstanding for their exuberance, slapstick, and satire. They also were animated characters in the full-length cartoon, Yellow Submarine (1968). After they disbanded, all The Beatles continued to compose and record songs. In 1980, Lennon was shot to death by a fan, Mark Chapman. McCartney was knighted in 1997.
See John Lennon, In His Own Write (1964, repr. 2000); H. Davies, The Beatles (1968, repr. 1996); W. Mellers, Twilight of the Gods (1974); P. Norman, Shout! (1981); R. DiLello, The Longest Cocktail Party (1972, repr. 1983); T. Riley, Tell Me Why (1988); M. Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions (1988), The Beatles Day by Day (1990), and The Complete Beatles Chronicles (1992); I. MacDonald, Revolution in the Head (1994); M. Hertsgaard, A Day in the Life (1995); The Beatles Anthology (video, 1995; book, 2000); J. S. Wenner, ed., Lennon Remembers: The Rolling Stone Interviews (2000); B. Spitz, The Beatles: The Biography (2005); K. Womack, ed., The Cambridge Companion to the Beatles (2009).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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