I'm reading "Tune In," Mark Lewisohn's fantastically detailed biography of the Beatles up to their moment of fame. (Apparently, two more volumes are coming.)
Within a few pages, he started mentioning rock and roll songs that the Beatles were listening to and learning to play. I went to Youtube and started playing each song as they were mentioned. It has enriched the experience immensely, and what a cool resource!
I took several lessons away from this book:
1.) It's often been said that the Beatles learned to play in the crucible of the clubs in Hamburg and Liverpool, but I never realized just how much. They were playing for 6 and 8 hours, day after day after day, year after year, fueled by booze and uppers. They were the bad boys, (especially John), dressed in leathers and misbehaving every chance they got.
2.) Ringo was the more accomplished musician right up to the time the Beatles were beginning to jell. He joined at just the right moment.
3.) The establishment are idiots. It's infamous that Decca (among others) passed on them. What wasn't clear to me was how freaking easy it would have been to sign them up and put a record out. Minimal cost and effort. One guy liked a song of theirs and thought it worth signing them up just for the potential sales of sheet music! Meanwhile the companies were signing lame act after lame act. Once they started passing on the Beatles, it became self-reinforcing.
"Guitar groups are on their way out, Mr. Epstein."
It was probably only because Brian Epstein owned record stores that were important to them that they finally cracked.
Apparently, EMI dumped the Beatles on George Martin's lap as punishment.
4.) Luck and timing. It's so clear that things could have tipped in different directions at any time. They just kept missing the right moment, but ironically, the delay made them wait for the right people; especially Ringo, Brian Epstein, and George Martin.
5.) Genius is inexplicable. Hard work, and intensive immersion in the scene, sure, but the songs they wrote were offhand at first. They didn't think much of their own songs and had to be convinced to play them!
6.) Their personalities and relationships were as tightly honed as their music. They had a comedy act going among themselves which made them impervious to the squares who tried to take them down later. They were so fast on their feet, they took down the squares instead.
In my fifth year of writing, it's encouraging in a way that it took Beatles at least that many years to get good. And then, well, they got a bit better. Heh.
4 days ago