Personalities | Introducing The Beatles

There are so many books stuffed with learned theories about The Beatles, that we can easily overlook the point that really matters. Simply, The Beatles were the greatest device that was ever invented for causing enjoyment on a global scale. There used to be a record label whose half-ironical slogan was ‘Happy to be Part of the Industry of Human Happiness’. But that is exactly what The Beatles were. A sort of Happiness Machine.

In a career that now looks astonishingly brief – all their LPs were made between 1963 and 1970 – they gave the world an abundance of delight. And as new generations discover, The Beatles’ music is a gift that goes on giving. There is no law that orders us to love the songs of John, Paul, George and Ringo – but it’s practically impossible not to.

On the group’s 1964 album, Beatles For Sale, there is an irresistible sleevenote by their droll, far-sighted press agent Derek Taylor. ‘When, in a generation or so,’ he writes, ‘a radio-active, cigar-smoking child, picnicking on Saturn, asks you what the Beatle affair was all about – Did you actually know them? – don’t try to explain all about the long hair and the screams! Just play the child a few tracks from this album and he’ll probably understand what it was all about. The kids of AD 2000 will draw from the music much the same sense of well being and warmth as we do today.’

All right, so the colourful sci-fi scene is a little off course, but as AD 2000 itself recedes into history, the general truth of Taylor’s prediction is unassailable. For people who grew up in the 1960s, when The Beatles were in the very fabric of everyday life, those songs are intensely nostalgic. But much of the group’s colossal fanbase today was not even born when the last dying chords of ‘Let It Be’ were recorded. Nostalgia alone cannot explain the seeming immortality of The Beatles’ appeal. Their art belongs to the ages, not just to the aged.

Great as it was, perhaps the music is not the only reason for that enduring fascination. There is something about The Beatlesstory – a fairy-tale quality in their rise, a certain tragic drama in their fall – that captures our imaginations. In the seven years between their first hits and the eventual split, The Beatles changed the course of popular music, probably for ever. They were figureheads for the most profound social changes of that century. And in their own lives, those four young men experienced extremes of fame, adulation, hostility, self-doubt and recrimination.

As a narrative alone, The Beatles’ story is amazing. Throw in the soundtrack – that unsurpassable, life-enhancing soundtrack – and we have the most compelling package in the history of entertainment. No wonder we can’t seem to get enough of The Beatles.

The innovations began with the group’s first singles, all self-written in a time...

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