In my early teenage years, I discovered the Beatles. There was something about their music and their personalities that moved me, the way they have moved so many people over the years. One thing that amazed me is the volume of music they produced during their short ten-year career together. The Beatles came out with twelve albums over the span of seven years from 1963-1970. Today, we are very lucky to see a band come out with an album every 3 years. And most successful bands only have one really good album, with maybe a few good hit songs. The Beatles had 27 Number 1 hits. Think about that. That’s more Number 1 hits than the songs on Lady Gaga’s first two albums.
And if the 27 number 1 hits is not impressive enough, the Beatles had 22 other singles that made it onto the charts as well. That’s nearly 50 hit songs in less than a decade.
At their peak (1963-1969), the Beatles were churning out, on average, two albums a year. And these were not just shoddily slung-together records with filler songs. These were some of the most transformative albums of a generation. Some 30 years after the Beatles broke up, these same songs outsold all other modern tracks by a large margin. (The Beatles “1” album, released in 2000, was the highest selling album of the decade.)
How was it humanly possible for the Beatles to write and record so many quality songs over such a short period of time?
They really loved music.
They did not play for fame. They did not play for fortune. Music was not merely their “ticket” to stardom. It was who they were.
In fact, when they realized that people were coming to their concerts just to see a spectacle rather than listen to their music, they stopped touring. The Beatles’ last concert was September 1966.
An undying love for music and artistic expression is the only explanation for how the Beatles accomplished what they did. The vast bulk of their music came after they reached the height of their fame, during the “British Invasion” of 1964. In modern days, there are a few artists that consistently produce beyond their peak, but most do not. Most trail off artistically and live on their celebrity status. If you don’t believe me, go through the archives of the Billboard charts and look to see who were the biggest names in music 5 years ago. Chances are, you will be amazed at how much has changed. Even from year to year, the fluctuation is palpable. If an artist has a big year, they are almost guaranteed to disappear from the airways within the next year or so.
The Beatles could have done that, too. But instead, they stayed in the studio. They kept cranking out album after album, year after year. “Please Please Me” and “With The Beatles” in 1963. “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Beatles For Sale” in 1964. “Help!” and “Rubber Soul” in 1965. “Revolver” in 1966. “Sgt. Pepper” in 1967. The White Album in 1968. “Yellow Submarine” and “Abbey Road” in 1969. “Let It Be” in 1970.
For eight consecutive years, they produced at least one album and had at least one number 1 hit. Is there any modern artist who can claim to have done that for 4 years? 3 years? Two?
But the Beatles were more than just their music. They were dreamers who believed (perhaps naively) in the hope of a better world. Just the image of John Lennon conjures up the principles of pacifism and peaceful protest. Whether you agree with their message or not, you surely can respect them for speaking from the heart.
What the Beatles have come to symbolize, to me at least, is genuineness. They lived according to their own principles and refused to “sell out.” (Although let’s be fair, the Beatles were wealthy enough to live however they wanted.) They were not just some type of corporate machine designed to extract money. (Although let’s be fair, the music companies have made a lot of money off of them.) The Beatles were the real deal. I think people saw that they were real and that is one of the things that has helped them remain so popular over the years. The Beatles had something that can’t be bought or sold, manufactured in a plant, or taught in a school. They were genuine.