The Beatles (1960-1970), were an English musical group from Liverpool, and are usually regarded as the most critically acclaimed, commercially successful popular music artists in history. They continue to be held in the highest esteem for their artistic achievements, their huge commercial success, their groundbreaking role in the history of popular music, and their contributions to popular culture. Although their initial musical style was rooted in the sounds of 1950s Rock & Roll, the group explored a great variety of musical styles, ranging from Tin Pan Alley to rockabilly. The innovative music and style of John Lennon (1940–1980), Paul McCartney (1942—), George Harrison (1943–2001), and Ringo Starr (1940—) helped to define the 1960s.
The Beatles were the best-selling popular musical act of the 20th century. In the United Kingdom alone, they released more than 40 different singles, albums and EPs that reached number one. This commercial success was repeated in many other countries: EMI estimated that by 1985, the band had sold over one billion discs or tapes worldwide. The RIAA has certified The Beatles as the top selling artists of all time in America based on US sales of singles and albums.
The Beatles were a major force behind the so-called "British Invasion" of UK-based popular bands in the United States in the mid-1960s and they helped to pioneer more advanced, multi-layered arrangements in both rock and pop.
The Beatles' impact extended well beyond their music. Their clothes, hairstyles, and statements made them trend-setters from the 1960s to this day, while their growing social awareness – reflected in the development of their music – saw their influence extend into the social and cultural revolutions of the 1960s.
The Beatles were fans of almost every kind of music that they heard on the radio, or heard on imported records from America. These early records were not officially imported to the UK, but were taken to Liverpool by sailors who had bought them in America. Early influences included Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Lonnie Donegan, ragtime, and English music hall.
Their constant demands to create new sounds on every new recording, and the imaginative – and ground-breaking – studio expertise of EMI staff engineers, including Norman Smith, Ken Townshend and Geoff Emerick all played significant parts in the innovative sounds of the albums Rubber Soul (1965), Revolver (1966) and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967). (In 1973, Smith had a hit as a singer under the performing name Hurricane Smith with "Oh Babe, What Would You Say". The role of producer George Martin is often cited as a crucial element in their success. He used his experience to bring out the potential in the group, recognising and nurturing their creativity rather than imposing his views. After The Beatles stopped touring, they increasingly came under pressure, and it was decided for the group to vent their artistic energy solely into recording. They had already shown a clear trend towards progressively greater complexity in technique and style but this accelerated noticeably on their Revolver album. The subject matter of their post-touring songs branched out as well, as a diverse range of subjects were written about.
The Beatles also continued to absorb influences throughout their career - long after their initial success - often finding new musical and lyrical avenues to explore from listening to the work of some of their contemporaries. Among those influences were Bob Dylan, on songs such as "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" (Help!) and "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" (Rubber Soul). Dylan introduced The Beatles to marijuana (1964) in a New York hotel room when he offered the Fab Four pot as a consequence of his misconception that the lyrics in their hit song "I Want to Hold Your Hand" (Meet the Beatles!) were "I get high" instead of "I can't hide". This initial partaking in drugs grew into heavier experimentation with LSD and various other substances whose psychedelic effects were commonly thought to have manifested themselves in the band's music. The Beatles, in turn, would influence Dylan's move into an electrified rock sound in his music.
In 1965, having recently become interested in Indian music, George Harrison purchased a sitar, which he played on the song "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)", the first instance of such an instrument being used on a rock record. He later took sitar lessons from maestro Ravi Shankar, and implemented further elements of Eastern music and spirituality into his songs, notably "Love You To" and "Within You Without You". These musical decisions greatly increased the influence of Indian music on popular culture in the late 1960s.
Along with studio tricks such as sound effects, unconventional microphone placements, automatic double tracking and vari-speed recording, The Beatles began to augment their recordings with instruments that were unconventional for rock music at the time, including string and brass ensembles, Indian instruments such as the sitar and the swarmandel, tape loops, and early electronic instruments including the Mellotron, which was used with flute voices on the intro to "Strawberry Fields Forever". McCartney once asked Martin what a guitar would sound like if it was played underwater, and was serious about trying it. Lennon also wondered what his vocals would sound like if he was hanging upside down from the ceiling. Clearly their ideas were out-stripping the technology that was available at the time.
The Beatles appeared in several films, most of which were very well received. The exception was the (mostly unscripted) television movie Magical Mystery Tour which was panned by critics and the public alike. All of their films had the same name as their associated soundtrack albums and a song on that album.