Every once in a while, I meet someone who doesn’t believe that the Beatles were the greatest band ever.
I try to keep an open mind about this, since there are some groups that I simply don’t get, either (see my Joy Division issues). David Bowie? Yeah, I can understand that; his Ziggy Stardust days leave people scratching their heads. Bob Dylan? Sure. His voice itself can turn some people away. But The Beatles? Come on.
The Beatles are simply the greatest band ever. Why? I’ll give you 20 accomplishments, achievements and innovations that may change your mind:
During the week of April 4, 1964, The Beatles occupied the top five positions on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart (12 in the Hot 100), the top 2 positions on the albums chart, the no. 1 position in the British singles chart, the first two positions in the British albums chart and the no. 1 position in the British EP chart, – the most complete domination of the British and American charts in history. Today, you’re lucky to have one top 10 album and single at the same time.
To date, the Beatles have sold over 1 billion records. That’s billion, with a B.
They have the most no. 1 albums in the British album charts (15), and 17 No. 1 hits.
They hold the record for the group with the longest span between no. 1 albums in the Billboard albums chart (36 years and 51 weeks, 1964 to 2001). In 2000 – 20 years after John Lennon was killed and 30 years after they broke up, their second major greatest hits compilation, 1, spent eight weeks at no. 1 and sold 13 million copies in its first month of release.
They boast 20 No. 1 hits in the United States, (19 No. 1 albums), with 24 consecutive Top 10 hits from 1964 to 1976 (six years after they broke up), a record for a group. They also have 12 no. 1 hits in Germany, 23 in Australia, 21 in the Netherlands, 22 in Canada, and 13 in Malaysia.
According to the United World Chart, the Beatles have 16 of the 100 most successful tracks of all time, and also seven of the 100 most successful albums in history.
The Beatles recorded four of the Top 10 Greatest Albums of All Time, according to Rolling Stone magazine, and three of the Top Five. (I’ll ignore the fact that was only No. 14. Blasphemy.)
They were ground-breaking pioneers almost from the beginning, being the first group ever to employ feedback in 1964’s “I Feel Fine.” One of their first hits, “A Hard Day’s Night,” features an opening chord so revolutionary that people are still trying to figure out. 1965’s and the follow-up, saw more innovation, from the use of a sitar in “Norwegian Wood” to tape loops in “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Then there are the backward vocals in “Rain” (a first) and a Moog synthesizer on several songs on 1969’s Abbey Road.
Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Bandis arguably the greatest album ever made (indeed, it topped Rolling Stone‘s list). While it doesn’t have the strongest material, the album was a landmark in recording. It popularized the concept album – something that would serve as an inspiration to The Who and Pink Floyd.
“A Day in the Life” from Sgt. Pepper may have been the crowning achievement of the group – a five and a half minute song composed of two suites – one by Lennon, one by Paul McCartney – that are totally different in sound and texture, yet complement each other perfectly. The song features two cacophonous crescendos from an orchestra, the final one climaxing in a single E major piano chord that lasts 42 seconds.
One may not like songs such as “Yesterday” and “Hey Jude,” but they are unrivaled in their popularity, and the melodies are unforgettable.
Paul McCartney actually dreamed the tune to “Yesterday.”
“Helter Skelter” and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” are considered two of the first heavy metal songs.
They have 23 of the Top 500 songs of all time, again according to Rolling Stone – the most of any artist.
Their iconic No. 1 singles notwithstanding (“Love Me Do”, “From Me to You”, “She Loves You”, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, “Can’t Buy Me Love”, “A Hard Day’s Night”, “I Feel Fine”, “Eight Days a Week”, “Ticket to Ride”, “Help!”, “Yesterday”, “Day Tripper”, “We Can Work It Out”, “Paperback Writer”, “Yellow Submarine”, “Eleanor Rigby”, “Penny Lane”, “All You Need Is Love”, “Hello, Goodbye”, “Lady Madonna”, “Hey Jude”, “Get Back”, “The Ballad of John and Yoko”, “Something”, “Come Together”, “Let It Be” and “The Long and Winding Road”), some of their best songs weren’t even on any singles or B-sides: “I Should Have Known Better,” “You Won’t See Me,” “For No One,” “Across the Universe,” “Two of Us,” “Dear Prudence,” and “Because” are all just album filler.
They revolutionized the science of recording, using multiple tracks instead of playing live. Producer George Martin used varying tape speeds to make Lennon’s voice sound high (“Tomorrow Never Knows”) and slow (“Strawberry Fields Forever”); he also brought in string musicians to accompany certain songs (“Yesterday”). In another session, McCartney utilized bass drums halfway down a corridor to achieve a staccato sound in “Mother Nature’s Son.”
In an age where other people wrote songs for the flavor of the day – think the Brill Building songwriters doing all the work for the Shangri-Las and the Dixie Cups – The Beatles surprised everyone by penning their own hits from the beginning. As a result, they helped usher the singer-songwriter movement that popularized the late 1960s.
Their ability to cross over from media and teen idols to musical innovators is one-of-a-kind. Their chart success and initial popularity are unparalleled; but despite their initial fame, they managed to continue to improve throughout their career.
Their place in popular culture is unrivaled – Their movies, their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show (in which they played to 74 million people), the “bigger than Jesus” comment, the refusal to play in concert after 1966, the Maharishi, the painstaking production work, the beginnings of the drug culture and LSD fad, “Helter Skelter” and Charles Manson, the “Paul is Dead” phenomenon, Yoko Ono, the rooftop concert, the cover of Abbey Road, the subsequent solo years, and the hit singles created from rough demos of the late Lennon.