Historical Figures: The Beatles

They were the greatest band the world had ever seen and the first boy band! But just who are The Beatles? Consisting of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, The Beatles were an Liverpool rock band formed in 1960. The Fab Four became one of, if not the most successful and acclaimed group in the history of music.

John Lennon

Born as wartime bombs were falling on Liverpool, John Lennon endured a difficult childhood to grow up a rebellious, charismatic young man with a strong artistic streak.

Forming skiffle group The Quarrymen after meeting Paul McCartney at a church fete in 1957, the pair bonded over a shared love of rock n' roll. As the Quarrymen metamorphosed into The Beatles, Lennon and McCartney developed a formidable partnership which when coupled with the band's powerhouse rock n' roll honed in the clubs of Hamburg and Liverpool, landed them a deal with Parlophone records. Working with Paul, Lennon's song-writing and distinctive, powerful voice helped propel the band to the top of the charts, triggering critical and commercial success on a scale pretty much unseen in post-war popular music.

The Beatles playing live

The Beatles playing live

Beatlemania begins

As 'Beatlemania' swept the globe, Lennon diversified into literature with In His Own Write and A Spaniard In The Works, books which ably demonstrated a love of the absurd. Behind the loveable mop-top image however, Lennon was troubled by an unhappy marriage to childhood sweetheart Cynthia Powell. Marathon tours and a life besieged by screaming fans also took their toll, and in 1966 the band withdrew from live performances. Lennon took time off to appear in the surreal anti-war film How I Won The War before reconvening with the Beatles to produce their psychedelic landmark album Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Lennon then began an affair with conceptual Japanese artist Yoko Ono and became interested in the teachings of Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. His relationship with Ono saw a growing emotional rawness in his work; Julia from double album The Beatles saw him touch on the hurt he had experienced as a child following the death of his mother.

Global ambassador of peace and love

Divorced from Cynthia in 1968, Lennon began to grow apart from the rest of the band amid a growing heroin habit and deepening bond with Ono. The band's tangled business affairs would also drive a further wedge between Lennon and McCartney - their song-writing partnership had effectively ended with the McCartney-dominated Sergeant Pepper. By 1969, John resolved to quit the band, though was persuaded to defer his departure until the completion of aborted album Let It Be. When the band eventually dissolved in April 1970, Lennon began a solo career, became a peace activist and immersed himself in a world of campaigning. His feud with McCartney remained until a mid-1970s semi-reconciliation in New York, where John and Yoko had decamped in 1971. Solo highlights include his paean to global harmony Imagine, considered by many to be the greatest song of all time. Though this song sealed for many his image as a "global ambassador of peace and love", Lennon was also a man who could demonstrate a cruel temper, outbursts of violence and abuse of alcohol and drugs.

By 1975, John seemed exhausted and his output dwindled. Entering a period of semi-retirement as a 'househusband' to Ono and their infant son Sean, he shunned the limelight and would not record or perform for nearly five years. In 1980 Lennon seemed poised to enter a new period with comeback album Double Fantasy until disturbed fanatic Mark Chapman shot him dead on the steps of his apartment in the Dakota Building. Millions mourned his death; 26 years later it is his song writing that has endured and guaranteed him status as possibly the most iconic figure of the 1960s. .

Paul McCartney

As a boy, Paul McCartney was given his love of music by self-taught pianist father James, who worked as a dance-band leader. Trading in a trumpet for an acoustic guitar McCartney teamed up with local skiffler John Lennon's in his band The Quarrymen.

Strong bond

As the Quarrymen became the Beatles, Paul forged a strong song-writing bond with John. His early influences included Little Richard and Buddy Holly. Paul's attention to detail and musical ability saw him emerge as the perfect foil to John's more rough-hewn approach. Switching to bass after the departure of early Beatle Stuart Sutcliffe, McCartney redefined the role the instrument played within a band, transforming it from humdrum background accompaniment to vital element of the overall sound.

The development of the Beatles as a studio band saw McCartney come into his element as a writer and arranger. Encouraged by producer George Martin, Paul embarked on an early solo foray with his score for 1966 feature film The Family Way. He also became a driving force in studio production, obsessed with new techniques such as multi-tracked 'layering' of instruments. His gentle acoustic song Yesterday displayed classical overtones and a hitherto unexpected depth to the Beatles' talents.

Avant garde pop star

By the mid-1960s McCartney main influence came from Brian Wilson's Beach Boys. The two groups developed a healthy rivalry, seeking to out-do each other with successive releases; Wilson's Pet Sounds released as an 'answer' to the Beatles' Rubber Soul. As rest of the newly-rich band retreated to large country piles outside London, McCartney remained in the heart of the city, immersing himself in the booming psychedelic scene and developing a love of avant garde cinema and music. In 1967 he became the first British pop star to admit to taking LSD.

By the late 1960s Paul was the main creative force in an increasingly jaded Beatles, single-handedly writing most of the second side of final album Abbey Road. Following the band's rancorous 1970 split, McCartney retreated to his Scottish farm to fashion his first solo album, playing all instruments himself. He would re-emerge later in the decade to great success with his band Wings, which featured wife Linda and former Moody Blues guitarist Denny Laine. .

George Harrison

Several years younger than Lennon and McCartney, George Harrison was very much the junior party during the early years of the Beatles. A fluent, self-taught guitarist, George teamed up with John and Paul in the Quarrymen and was the band's only constant member amid an ever-changing procession of drummers and bassists.

The Quiet One

George drew inspiration from Chuck Berry and Chet Atkins. Although his playing and solos gave the band vital melodic colour, his introspective character led to the nickname "The Quiet Beatle" during the height of Beatlemania.

Although John and Paul dominated the band's early studio work, George sang backing vocals and would normally be allotted lead vocals on at least one song per album. His first song-writing credit came on the With The Beatles album track Don't Bother Me - a gloomy, semi-dirge whose narrator pleads for solitude. Undeterred, George's writing picked up and 1965's If I Needed Someone and 1966's Taxman were a marked improvement and raised his profile. His face dominated the pen-and-ink cover of 1966's Revolver album and his jangling 12-string Rickenbacker sound displayed a trademark taste and economy of guitar style.

Flower Power Beatle

George travelled to the hippie suburb of Haight Ashbury in 1967 and witnessed the boom of Flower Power first hand. He had developed a love of Indian music, in particular the sitar, and sought to integrate this within the Beatle's music - an almost unthinkable stylistic progression to many of the early-60s meat-and-potatoes beat groups. The sitar sound would shape three Beatles classics - Norwegian Wood, Within You Without You and Revolver's colossal Tomorrow Never Knows.

By the late 1960s, George was flourishing as a songwriter but seemed held back within the increasingly fractious Beatle ranks. Feeling the strain, it has been suggested that Lennon and McCartney deliberately ignored George's superior quality songs through fear of losing their pre-eminence. Despite this, some songs slipped through the net; Frank Sinatra praised George's lustrous ballad Something from Abbey Road as "possibly the greatest love song of the last 50 years".

After the dissolution of the Beatles in 1970, George organised the Concert for Bangla Desh - a forerunner of large-scale charity events such as Live Aid - and released his debut solo album, All Things Must Pass. This treble album contained a backlog of several years worth of songs, including major hit My Sweet Lord. George seemed set for large-scale solo success, but his career was dealt a blow when he was successfully sued for plagiarising My Sweet Lord from the song He's So Fine by girl group The Chiffons. This seemed to deal a knock to his confidence, and though George continued to write and release records, his career dwindled to decreasing returns as the 1970s drew on. .

Ringo Starr

Born Richard Starkey in 1940, Ringo - or Ritchie as he was known in his early years - grew up in the impoverished Dingle area of Liverpool. As a child he suffered two serious illnesses and spent several lengthy periods in hospital.

The Joker

In 1959 as the skiffle boom peaked in Liverpool he joined the Raving Texans - backing band to one Rory Storm - and adopted the name Ringo, due to the number of rings he wore on his fingers. Ringo first hooked up with John, Paul and George in Hamburg where his band - now Rory Storm and The Hurricanes - were playing rounds of gigs at the same set of seedy nightclubs. Ringo had stood in for The Beatles' first drummer Pete Best on occasion, so when Best was sacked in 1962 he became the only choice to fill the drumstool - to the chagrin of Best's small legion of fans in Liverpool.

Ringo's deadpan humour and genial personality, displayed particularly at press conferences during the height of Beatlemania, saw him adopt something of a role as joker in the pack. From the evidence of the two Beatles movies, he was also by far the best actor of the four, an ability which would stand him in good stead in later life.

Key influence

Although Ringo's playing has been derided by some, most serious critics consider him a highly-competent, reliable drummer with an idiosyncratic playing style. Many drummers have cited Ringo as a key influence; his finest moment is often seen as his tumbling, mellifluous playing on A Day In The Life. Despite possessing only a limited vocal range, Ringo was usually given a lead vocal performance by Lennon and McCartney on at least one song per album, on occasion the pair specifically writing songs with him in mind.

Ringo's song-writing efforts in the Beatles amounted to the slight, yet memorable Don't Pass Me By and Octopus's Garden, from the band's latter period. When the band split in 1970, Ringo was quick off the mark, releasing two albums before the end of the year Sentimental Journey and Beaucoups of Blues with assistance from Georges Harrison and Martin, Paul McCartney and American producer Quincy Jones. Both albums were commercially successful, but as the 70s unfolded, his musical career slowly declined. Despite this Ringo continued to receive a steady stream of film offers and parts - a particularly successful one saw him cast as a teddy boy in 1973's That'll Be The Day.