The strumming of the bass meets with a roaring applause, when all of the Candlestick Park in San Francisco comes out alive as Lennon goes ‘Just let me hear some of that rock and roll music’. On 29th August 1966, little did the crowd know that the very electric moment was the last time The Beatles would come together on stage, live.
It has been fifty years since their last gig and more than half a century since the band came to be in Liverpool, way back in 1960. In the due course of a little over eight years, the foursome is often regarded to be one of the most influential acts of the rock era, not only in England, but interestingly, nationwide. On this day in the road down the Beatlesque memory, let us delve into their evolution, the phenomenon in India and the ‘fab four’ themselves.
Where it all began
In 1957, a 16-year-old boy from Liverpool, formed a skiffle (music genre played on rudimentary instruments) group with many of his friends from the Quarry Bank School. That boy was none other than John Lennon, the lead vocalist of the band. The Quarrymen, they called themselves. The band of teens soon became a local group, after which Paul McCartney joined the band, thanks to his fine guitar tuning skills. As time passed, The Quarrymen soon changed into The Beatles, along with the addition of new band members George Harrison and Ringo Starr (who joined much later as a replacement drummer in 1962)
Shortly, with music columnist Brian Epstein as their manager, the band finally made the cut when producer George Martin signed them up. Towards the end of 1962, their debut single Love me do was recorded, marking a foremost moment in the era of rock music.
This was then followed by sets which broke the charts, while the band gradually spearheaded the one million clubs. Soon they became to be one of the best-selling bands in history, with the estimated sales of records crossing over 600 million, worldwide.
India and Beatlemania
The frenzied popularity of the foursome began to erupt between 1963 and 1966, which was dubbed by the press as ‘Beatlemania’. And England wasn’t the only nation to be bit by the bug. India is no stranger to the fan frenzy.
India’s early interest in The Beatles deepened when the band travelled to Rishikesh to attend a session with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the late 60s. Harrison, in an excerpt to the Beatles Anthology was wildly surprised to find frenzy in the Indian capital!
As the band culture in the country settled, the Beatles was certainly one among the notable ensembles that influenced Indian rock. “I think at one point in time, every musician would be influenced by them. It is the Beatles we are talking about. Bands like ours grew up with them,” proclaims Vikram Vivekanand, from a leading Rock n Roll band in Chennai, Grey Shack.
Vikram, the lead guitarist of the band then strugglingly picks a favourite. “George Harrison is hands down, one of the most unconventional guitar players in the even now. He is one of the reasons I first picked up my guitar,” he says, going on to speak of Grey Shack’s earliest shows in 2007, which happened to be their first tribute show for The Beatles.
Nrithya Maria Andrews, another musician based out of Bangalore speaks about how The Beatles inspired her to pursue the genre. “It is always nice to see the audience get up and sing along when you perform. Well, whenever I do a cover of The Beatles, I get to see that rare occurrence,” she smiles. “Like every band, The Beatles too suffered from shortcomings and erratic in-house squabbles which finally led to their break-up. Yet, it is alluring how they still somehow stay on with us”
The beginning of the end
So why did the band bid adieu to big gigs? There is no easy answer to that.
“In 1966 the road was getting pretty boring,” recalled drummer Ringo Starr in the Beatles Anthology documentary. From the screaming crowds who played foul with the meagre 1oo-watt vox amplifier (because of which they couldn’t hear themselves play) to the raging wrath that Lennon’s several anti-religious statements caused (“Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink… We’re more popular than Jesus now” said Lennon in an interview with Maureen Cleave in 1966), their musicianship began to falter.
“Touring was killing the Beatles by 1966. Perhaps not literally, but that seemed like less of a guarantee with each passing day… The Beatles were dying as musicians. Playing for a crowd had once been their lifeblood, but fame had robbed them of everything that made it joyful and fulfilling.” says Jordan Runtagh, speaking about the beginning of their downfall, in an elaborate piece in Rolling stone.
The rest was history as they say. The disintegration of the band in 1970 is a cumulative process throughout 1968 and 1970. Starting from the sudden demise of Brian Epstein (who is said to have held the group together by many) to Yoko Ono’s (Lennon’s then new bride) intrusive presence in the band, speculations regarding their fall-out have been galore.
However, Candlestick Park in 1966 is widely held to have been a litmus test of the band’s impending doom. While that fateful Monday might have been the last time they got together on stage, The Beatles had one last quirk in store. Marking the end of an era, they got back together one last time on January 1969 on a rooftop in London, surprising locals with an impromptu performance.
“Unpredictable as they were, a few months before The Beatles had unofficially disbanded, they got together one random day on a rooftop, singing their hearts out while the police ascended to the roof,” reminisces Vikram Vivekanand. “Who does that?”