On this day in 1969, perhaps the most influential musical group of all time, The Beatles, make their last public performance, giving an impromptu concert on the roof of their London recording studio. Neighbors complained about noise, and police broke up the concert. John Lennon closed the performance announcing, “I’d like to say thank you very much on behalf of the group and myself and I hope we passed the audition.” In April 1970, Paul McCartney formally announced the group’s breakup.
The Beatles, who led the rock-music movement called the “British Invasion,” revolutionized popular music around the world and achieved unprecedented popularity. The band started as Johnny and the Moondogs, featuring Liverpool musicians John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison. When Stu Sutcliffe joined as their bassist, they changed their name to the Silver Beetles, later modified to The Beatles. Tommy Moore joined the band as drummer, but Pete Best replaced him in 1960. Sutcliffe left in 1961 to become a painter (he died of a brain hemorrhage less than a year later), and the band returned to Liverpool as the quartet that would rock the world.
Label after label rejected them in Europe. Then in 1962, Best left the band, Ringo Starr joined up, and they recorded “Love Me Do,” their first Top 20 hit in the United Kingdom. In 1964, they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, and Beatlemania began in the United States.
The band’s shaggy-haired stars, boasting an unrivaled playful and eclectic synergy, were among the first rock bands to write most of their own material. As the band evolved, its members experimented with a variety of different musical styles that ranged from the simple (“I Want to Hold Your Hand”) to the innovative (“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,”which used electronic music and a sitar to achieve an eerie sound to go along with its unconventional lyrics).
The Beatles received the Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1965 at Buckingham Palace, and their immense popularity prompted Lennon to tell a newspaper reporter, “We’re more popular than Jesus Christ right now.” Beatlemaniacs searched for hidden meanings in Beatles songs and album covers, and the release of Abbey Road, allegedly filled with coded clues, sparked rumors that McCartney was dead.
When the band broke up, the members continued their musical careers as solo artists or band leaders. They were often asked to reunite, but that idea dissolved when Lennon was murdered by a deranged fan in 1980. Eight years after his death, the Beatles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and a retrospective anthology was released in 1995. It included the previously unrecorded “Free as a Bird,” which was written by Lennon and recorded by the surviving band members in 1994 and 1995. It became one of the fastest-selling albums in history.
(WITH THANKS TO HISTORY.COM)