In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Beatles

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Lyrical Analysis
  • Biographies
  • The Touring Years and Beatlemania
  • The Studio Years
  • Apple and the Disintegration of the Beatles
  • Film, Radio, and Television
  • Press and Media Coverage
  • Photographic Essays
  • The Beatles and their Fans
  • John Lennon
  • Paul McCartney
  • George Harrison
  • Ringo Starr
  • Additional Sources

Music The Beatles
Ian Inglis
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 March 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0085


The Beatles (John Lennon, 1940–1980, rhythm guitar and vocals; Paul McCartney, 1942–, bass guitar and vocals; George Harrison, 1943–2001, lead guitar and vocals; Ringo Starr, 1940–, drums) emerged in 1963–1964 to international acclaim as a hugely popular and profoundly influential force in popular music. The group’s four members were born and educated in Liverpool, England, and it was in that city that their musical career, inspired by their fondness for American rock ’n’ roll, began. From Lennon and McCartney’s initial meeting in July 1957, the group progressed through several changes of name (the Quarrymen, Johnny and the Moondogs, the Silver Beetles), variations in membership (bass guitarist Stuart Sutcliffe, drummer Pete Best), and a performance history largely centered on the dance halls and clubs of Merseyside and Hamburg, Germany, before signing a management contract with Liverpool businessman Brian Epstein in 1962 and securing a recording contract with Parlophone in the same year. In 1963, the Beatles achieved unprecedented commercial success in the United Kingdom amid scenes of fan hysteria that were quickly dubbed “Beatlemania.” In 1964, their achievements were repeated in the United States and around the world. They spearheaded the “British Invasion” of the mid-1960s in which British performers established for the first time a significant presence in American popular music. Under the guidance of producer George Martin, the group enjoyed an unbroken sequence of hit singles and albums that defined much of the decade’s musical activity. The group composed the great majority of its music, and the ability of the Lennon-McCartney songwriting team to create original and innovative songs across a variety of genres was seen as a principal explanation of the Beatles’ success. In 1966, they announced their retirement from touring and live performance in order to concentrate on studio recording, and the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in June 1967 was hailed, then and now, as a pivotal moment in the cultural history of the postwar years. Following Epstein’s death in August 1967, the group attempted to take control of its business and financial affairs via the creation of its own musical and managerial company, Apple. However, the increasingly troubled history of Apple and the individual aspirations of the four Beatles led to irreparable schisms in the group’s personal relations. The Beatles effectively disbanded in April 1970, although all four members continued to have active, if intermittent, careers in music and film. John Lennon was shot dead outside his home in New York in December 1980; George Harrison died in November 2001 at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, where he was being treated for cancer.

General Overviews

There is no shortage of sources presenting comprehensive accounts of the music and career of the Beatles. The most detailed, and certainly the most well-informed, is the group’s own autobiographical version of its remarkable story, Beatles: Anthology (Wonfor 2003). Many others combine elements of social history, journalism, biography, and musical criticism: Schaffner 1977 provides a clear and wide-ranging review of the group’s various activities that concentrates mainly on its impact in the United States, and MacDonald 2007 locates the Beatles’ music within the expanding cultural boundaries of the 1960s. An interesting example of the ways in which scholarly forms of critical journalism perceive the Beatles is presented in Marcus 1992. The growing number of scholarly contributions reflects not only the increased interest in popular music studies as an academic discipline but also the status of the Beatles themselves as key figures in the social and artistic history of the 20th century: Inglis 2000, Womack and Davis 2006, and Womack 2009 contain collections of original essays that offer assessments of the Beatles from sociological, literary, musicological, linguistic, and cultural perspectives. Although criticized for its lack of impartiality, Davies 2010 remains the only authorized biography of the group.

  • Davies, Hunter. The Beatles. Rev. ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 2010.

    Originally published in 1968, this substantially expanded and updated book is the only biography to have been written with the full cooperation of the Beatles and Brian Epstein. Although it presents a somewhat sanitized version of their story, it reveals the ambitions of the four Beatles at a time when they were determined to move beyond the restrictions of Beatlemania and to progress from pop stars into musicians.

  • Inglis, Ian, ed. The Beatles, Popular Music and Society: A Thousand Voices. New York: St. Martin’s, 2000.

    An important collection of essays that demonstrates the multidisciplinary nature of research into popular music studies in the 21st century. It is particularly notable for the fact that several of the authors challenge conventional assumptions and perennial mythologies about the Beatles and seek instead to supply a balanced and objective critique of the group and its activities.

  • MacDonald, Ian. Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties. 3d ed. Chicago: Chicago Review, 2007.

    Especially valuable for its introductory essay, which maps out the cultural contours of postwar Britain and points to the Beatles’ music as an integral component of its time. The song-by-song analysis of the Beatles’ records gives equal weight to their musical properties and individual influences, and specifies thematic and stylistic connections with other contemporary musicians.

  • Marcus, Greil. “The Beatles.” In The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll: The Definitive History of the Most Important Artists and Their Music. Edited by Anthony DeCurtis and James Henke, 209–222. New York: Random House, 1992.

    An idiosyncratic but stimulating overview, by a leading rock critic, in which chronological, cultural, and musical perspectives are presented as competing locations from which some sense of the Beatles’ career might be gleaned.

  • Schaffner, Nicholas. The Beatles Forever. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1977.

    This book is distinguished by an unusually perceptive commentary that distinguishes it from many illustrated histories of the Beatles’ story. Its chapters are arranged chronologically, but the presence of recurring themes (including their approaches to performance, songwriting, their visual appearance, and film and TV work) supplies a continuous trajectory.

  • Womack, Kenneth, ed. The Cambridge Companion to the Beatles. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL9780521869652

    Organized into three sections—“Background,” “Works,” and “History and Influence”—the thirteen chapters provide an informed guide to the historical impact and continuing reputation of the Beatles. The bulk of the book focuses crucially on their musical output, from pop to psychedelia to their solo careers, and emphasizes that despite the undoubted significance of other attributes, the music of the Beatles remains their most memorable legacy.

  • Womack, Kenneth, and Todd F. Davis, eds. Reading the Beatles: Cultural Studies, Literary Criticism, and the Fab Four. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2006.

    An eclectic collection of essays, whose topics range across the records, films, politics, and cultural legacy of the Beatles.

  • Wonfor, Geoff, dir. Beatles: Anthology. London: Apple, 2003.

    Compiled from the recollections of McCartney, Starr, and Harrison, and from previously published interviews with Lennon, this expanded five-DVD collection presents ten hours of archive film, musical performances, and newsreel material, with personal commentaries from the Beatles. Part of the group’s “Anthology” project, which also included three double-CD releases, and a copiously illustrated book (London: Cassell, 2000) covering the years from their childhoods in wartime Britain to the group’s disintegration in 1970.

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