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Encounter sparks a musical revolution

July 6, 1957: John Lennon, Paul McCartney meet

By Stephanie Snipes
CNN

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The Beatles land in New York on February 7, 1964, less than 7 years after Paul McCartney and John Lennon met at a church picnic.
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(CNN) -- In 1957, as the gritty sounds of rock 'n' roll started filling the airwaves, two teens named John and Paul met for the first time just outside the industrial English town of Liverpool, trading riffs and setting the stage for a musical revolution.

Seven years later, the Beatles -- as John and Paul's group became known -- famously "invaded" America and took the musical world by storm. By the time the band broke up in 1970, it had broken numerous sales records and transformed the face of popular music.

The Beatles succeeded in large part because they were able to blend catchy melodies with meaningful lyrics and were willing to experiment with a variety of musical instruments and styles.

"As a cultural phenomenon, as musicians, to the way they changed people's dress, to the way they changed people's outlook on life, I don't think there's been any entertainers since that have had that kind of an impact," said Larry Kane, author of the book "Ticket To Ride" and the only American journalist allowed to tour with the group on their entire 1964 trek across America.

Despite recording together only from 1963 to 1970, the Beatles consistently ruled the charts and shattered music industry records.

The Beatles had the most No. 1 singles, 20, in the United States (topping even Elvis Presley, who holds the No. 2 spot with 17), and more than 40 top 40 hits.

In the week of April 4, 1964, two months after making their American debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show," the Beatles held the first five slots on Billboard's Top Singles Chart -- a feat never achieved before or repeated since.

"The Beatles sang 'Until There Was You,' and they sang 'All You Need is Love,' and they sang 'I'll Follow The Sun,' and they sang 'I Want to Hold Your Hand,' and 'She Loves You.' And those songs hung in there and they were very meaningful and they have great melodies and beautiful lyrics," said Joe Johnson, host of Westwood One's "Beatles Brunch," a syndicated radio show that pays tribute to the group.

Fateful meeting

As Paul McCartney tells it, the beginning came on a warm summer day in the small town of Woolton, England. The year was 1957. John Lennon, then 16 years old, was in the Liverpool suburb to play at a church picnic with his band, the Quarrymen.

Lennon arrived in the back of a pickup truck with his band mates, his hair in a short buzz-cut with a little flop of dark locks in front. He wore a checked shirt and carried an acoustic guitar.

In the audience a chubby faced 15-year-old named Paul McCartney, a stranger to Lennon even though both grew up only a few streets apart in their hometown of Liverpool, watched the Quarrymen perform.

McCartney was entranced by Lennon's rendition of the Dell Vikings' song "Come Go With Me," even though Lennon didn't know the words.

"Back then ... if you wanted the lyrics to a song you had to play it on the record and stop it, and then write it down, then play it again, then stop it," said Johnson. (In 1967, the Beatles would remedy this nuisance with the release of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," the first album in history to include song lyrics, according to Johnson.)

Paul and John
McCartney, left, and Lennon pose for a picture in the early 1960s, prior to their first U.S. tour.

During a break from performing, a mutual friend introduced McCartney to Lennon and the band.

McCartney, who was well versed in popular music, impressed Lennon by teaching the band to play the Eddie Cochran song "Twenty Flight Rock." He also taught them the song lyrics to "Come Go With Me," which McCartney had studied mercilessly.

A few days later, Lennon, impressed with McCartney's musical abilities, invited him to join the Quarrymen.

Making history

For the first six years, there were a lot of changes within the group -- for starters, its name. The Quarrymen became the Silver Beetles, which then became simply, the Beatles.

As the name evolved, so did the band. George Harrison, a friend of McCartney's, joined in 1958. Stu Sutcliffe, who had been with the group for several years, left in 1961 to pursue his art. (He died a year later of a brain hemorrhage.) Ringo Starr replaced Pete Best, who served as the drummer from 1960 to 1962.

With these final changes, the "Fab Four" was set, and a few months later, guided by the foresight and perseverance of their manager, Brian Epstein, Beatlemania swept through the British Isles, then America, then the world.

The Beatles attained success, longevity and a massive cultural impact without the many trappings and gimmicks that defined big-name acts of their era and today.

"How many superstars have we had in music that didn't need, and think about this, that didn't need laser lights and an accompanying show of glitter and glamour to be successful?" asked Kane. "The Beatles were four guys with guitars and drums, and their music stands alone."

They not only earned millions from record sales, movies, merchandise and more, but the Beatles also garnered widespread respect from the music industry as a whole.

McCartney Kane
McCartney signs the press pass of Larry Kane, the only U.S. journalist to tour with the Beatles in 1964.

"As much as the R&B people, and the gospel people, and spiritual music, and the country-western people influenced them, I think the Beatles were the bar. And they set the bar, and nobody's quite been able to jump beyond it," Kane said.

According to Kane, the "bar" is the quality and individuality of their music. Whether they were adding Indian influences, orchestral arrangements or thumbing a matchbook, the Beatles found new and refreshing ways to bring their message, their words, to the world.

"I think that their impact is yet to be felt, their full impact. First of all, their music is now listened to as part of the psyche of everybody, day in and day out. It's the most recorded music in the world, the most copied music in the world, the most enviable music in the world. It's inspired thousands and thousands of artists," Kane said. "Culturally they've had a tremendous impact on the entire 20th century."

Throughout all the songs, all the performances, all the fashion and all the films, Kane attributed the Beatles' success and continued influence to three factors.

"I think the first factor is the music. I think the second is their individuality. And I really think the third was that if you take their music today, and you played it to an audience that never heard of the Beatles, and played their 20 or 30 best songs, the music would be as fresh today as it was in 1970 or 1966," Kane said. "It's timeless."


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