The Beatles are one of the best-selling groups in history, with over 800 million records sold. For the past thirty years they have maintained their status as a world icon, and remain even more popular today than they were in the 1960s. People all over the world continue to discover The Beatles’ music, getting into them for the first time or listening intently to what is probably one of the top three collections of recorded work in rock history.
They also hold an interesting position in culture because of how kids react to them. Even though The Beatles were around before most people who listen to them now were born, they are still idolized by every age group. Because their songs are so easily accessible–they are some of the most famous melodies of all time–people can listen to them whenever, wherever.
And the band’s music has never been out of style; their influence shows in almost every single genre and musical movement since they broke up. They’re a group that belongs equally to everyone: young and old, intellectuals and musicians alike appreciate them for different reasons. They’ve influenced religious groups as well as lip-syncing contests, and anyone who appreciates good vocal harmonies or fantastic song-writing should find some songs (or albums) worth listening to on The Beatles’ extensive catalog.
But there are some facts about The Beatles you probably haven’t heard before. From the first album they recorded together as a band to the decisions behind Let it Be , their career was much more tumultuous than you might have imagined. These are the top ten secrets about The Beatles that you hadn’t heard before.
#1 – When they first came to America, they were almost denied entry by immigration authorities because they didn’t have work visas.
This wasn’t because it was difficult for groups from England to enter the United States in the ’60s–bands like The Rolling Stones had entered without incident many times at this point. But somehow, four unknown musicians managed to get lost in the system. It took Brian Epstein traveling to New York City and doing some serious bureaucratic maneuvering before their papers were finally processed.
#2 – George Harrison actually wrote a lot of songs that ended up on other people’s albums.
Early on in their career, George Harrison was limited to playing guitar and tambourine because he wasn’t a very good drummer or bass player. But his contributions as a songwriter were integral, so the other Beatles let him have some space at the piano on Rubber Soul . This turned out to be a very profitable arrangement for both parties. Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison wrote songs together all the time–but it also happened that they would write two or three times as many individually for themselves.
For instance, “If I Needed Someone” was written by Harrison but ended up being recorded by The Hollies . “This Boy” was given to singer Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas , while “I’m Looking Through You” ended up on the first album by The Byrds .
#3 – Brian Epstein didn’t know anything about music.
Before he discovered The Beatles, Epstein was managing a record store in Liverpool. But one day, after closing hours, he accidentally walked into the basement and discovered the band playing above him. He became their manager immediately–he had never managed another act before–and helped them secure vital gigs like The Cavern , which was where they built up their local following. It wasn’t until much later that his lack of knowledge about music actually became an asset; because he didn’t try to control what kind of songs they wrote or how they performed them onstage, his band was able to develop more freely. And he also started the tradition of wearing suits that other managers imitated for years.
#4 – John Lennon’s aggressive personality was at least partly a response to the fact that he felt inferior to Paul McCartney.
In interviews, Lennon always claimed to be the most talented Beatle–a claim that isn’t necessarily true when it comes to songwriting, but certainly is when you consider his vocal range and charisma. But during their early days playing in Liverpool, Lennon was actually envious of McCartney’s confidence onstage. He once made a derogatory comment about his friend writing “silly love songs,” which inspired Paul to write ” She Loves You .” In spite of this initial tension between them, they eventually found a way to balance each other out; John could get away with being the sarcastic, outspoken Beatle, while Paul could be “the cute one.”
#5 – The Beatles were actually much less popular in America than most people think.
The only reason The Beatles are so well-known in America is because of the way their career ended. Because they stopped touring after 1966, their popularity shifted to how big their albums were instead of how many concerts they sold–and this made it possible for them to have more number one hits than Elvis Presley . But on a day-to-day basis, they weren’t nearly as dominant over American music as you would expect. For instance, Bob Dylan was huge at this point; he had just released Blonde on Blonde , which many critics consider to be one of the greatest albums in rock history. And The Beach Boys ‘ Pet Sounds was released just a couple months before Sgt. Pepper, and it is frequently cited as one of the best records ever made.
#6 – There’s an alternate version of the Sgt. Pepper cover where George Harrison has a mustache.
The photos for the Sgt. Pepper album were shot in late November 1966 , and because it was so close to Christmas, The Beatles had to rush through them as fast as possible so they could get back to London and finish their album. One of these photos got used on the cover–but if you look closely, you can see that someone edited out George Harrison ‘s upper lip and turned it into Ringo Starr .
#7 – Sgt. Pepper was never supposed to be a concept album.
Although the idea was always there, The Beatles originally intended for it to be an eclectic mix of songs about whatever they felt like–which is why “When I’m Sixty-Four” appears next to “A Day in the Life.” The whole thing came together as a full-fledged concept at Geoff Emerick ‘s suggestion; he kept hearing Paul McCartney talk about how great the studio was going to sound, and suggested that they treat this album like one long session instead of just a random collection of songs. As a result, everything on Sgt. Pepper was recorded with each song bleeding into each other–a technique that would go on to become one of the defining aspects of psychedelic music.
#8 – Paul McCartney isn’t on “A Day in the Life.”
McCartney wanted to write a song about the death of someone the same age as him, but it didn’t work out–so Lennon finished up the first half by himself and McCartney wrote the second half. The reason he’s not there is because John Lennon had an argument with George Martin , so Geoff Emerick was forced to edit his vocal track down to a couple lines instead of letting him play drums like he always did; it’s also why Lennon sounds like such a mess–he wasn’t used to having Emerick splice his vocal takes together. (McCartney only made it partway through “I Am The Walrus” before he left the studio and had to be called in later to finish up.)
#9 – The Beatles were sent home early from India because of bad behavior.
George Harrison was the only one who went with his family, but he brought everyone else along for the ride–and they all stopped following Maharishi Mahesh Yogi ‘s rules over time. Ringo Starr ended up sneaking off into town to see a movie about Sikhs, John Lennon wrote ” Sexy Sadie ,” and Paul McCartney had an affair with actress Jane Asher . This eventually culminated in George Harrison throwing a fit during their last week there; after having enough of his bad attitude, Maharishi ejected him from the ashram , which meant that The Beatles had no choice but to leave early as well.
#10 – Before they were famous, The Beatles recorded a Christmas album for their manager’s daughters.
Brian Epstein ‘s family had four daughters and no sons, and he desperately wanted to be able to buy them each a pony–but there was no way he could afford it on his salary as an accountant. And so he made up his mind that even though The Beatles didn’t have any hit songs yet, he would keep managing them until they did. It was only later that the band surprised him with Please Please Me ; because of all the time and money they spent on those two albums , Epstein risked going broke if they flopped. But since those first two singles went straight to #1, Epstein felt comfortable enough to give up his job and focus full-time on being their manager–and that’s what effectively turned The Beatles from a struggling band into what we all know today.