The Beatles: A to Z

As rumours suggest a US TV series about the mop-topped Liverpudlians could be in the works, we detail some fascinating alphabetical facts

Founded in 1968, Apple Records was originally intended as a creative outlet for the Beatles as a group and its members’ individual projects.  Other artists to sign for the label included James Taylor, Billy Preston and Badfinger.  The label hit the headlines in 2006 after its long-running name dispute with Apple computers entered the High Court.  An amicable agreement was eventually reached and in November 2012 The Beatles’ back catalogue was released on iTunes.


B – Brian Epstein 

Manager of the Beatles until his death in 1967, Epstein was instrumental in helping the band secure a record contract and catapulting them to international superstardom in the early 1960s.  Paul McCartney once said of Epstein: “If anyone was the fifth Beatle, it was Brian.”  A heavy gambler, secret homosexual and drug user, Epstein died of an accidental drug overdose at the age of just 32. 

C – Cirque du Soleil

In 2006, the Canadian theatre company mounted a production at a specially built theatre at the Mirage casino in Las Vegas that blended re-produced versions of Beatles songs put to a circus-based interpretative dance show.  The Beatles’ original producer George Martin and his son Giles oversaw the show’s music.  The soundtrack to Love was released in November 2006.  

D – Decca

In one of the greatest mistakes in pop music history, Decca Records in 1962 auditioned and then turned down the Beatles for a recording contract.  At the time, the reasons given included that “guitar groups are on the way out” and “the Beatles have no future in show business”. The label went on to sign the Tremeloes who auditioned on the same day as the Beatles.    

E – Ed Sullivan Show

An estimated audience of 73 million Americans watched The Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show on 9 February 1964, the first of three consecutive performances on the programme that are considered as milestones in American pop culture. They heralded the “British Invasion”. 

The Beatles’ early Ed Sullivan performances, along with those of Elvis and Bill Haley, are still regarded as some of the most influential in television history. 

F – Free as a Bird

Originally recorded as a home demo in 1977 by John Lennon, Free as a Bird was completed by the remaining Beatles in 1995, 25 years after their break-up and 15 years after Lennon’s death.  

McCartney, Starr and Harrison contributed instrumentation and vocals to the Lennon-led track which was released as a single and as part of the Beatles Anthology part one.

G – The Grey Album

In 2004, the US musician Danger Mouse took an a capella version of Jay Z’s The Black Album and combined it with backing tracks made from a range of samples from the Beatles’ White Album. Originally released to a few internet outlets, the album provoked an outraged reaction from EMI, who hold the copyright on the Beatles’ recordings. Despite both Paul McCartney and Jay Z giving the record their blessing, EMI attempted to quash the recording, which nonetheless made its way around the web, earning heaps of critical praise. 

H – Hamburg

Germany’s city of sin was where, between 1960 and 1962, the Beatles honed their musical skills, began to build a fanbase and made their first proper recordings. It is also the period when the band lost original members Pete Best and Stuart Sutcliffe and gained drummer Ringo Starr, began experimenting with drugs, developed their mop-top image and grew into the Fab Four that exploded onto the music scene in late 1962.  
John Lennon said: “I might have been born in Liverpool, but I grew up in Hamburg.”

One of the greatest urban myths to come out of the hippie era was the legend that Paul McCartney had died in the mid 60s and been replaced in band photos by a lookalike. According to Ian MacDonald’s book Revolution in the Head, the rumour got started when press write-ups of Paul McCartney crashing his moped in November 1966 suggested he’d been decapitated. Soon after, fans began to notice “clues” about Paul’s death in Beatles songs or on the band’s album covers. Patently untrue, McCartney had a wry dig at the legend in the title of his 1993 concert album, Paul is Live.

J – Jesus

John Lennon caused uproar in America’s Christian heartland in 1966 when the teen magazine Datebook printed the Beatle’s claim that his band were “more popular than Jesus.” His words led to mass record burnings in the Southern states, and the furore spread to Mexico, South Africa and Spain. Sadly for the group, the row erupted on the eve of a US tour, which manager Brian Epstein considered cancelling. The gigs went ahead, but the Beatles felt rather intimidated and at one show believed they’d been shot at.

K – Klaus Voormann

An award-winning German artist, Klaus Voormann became friendly with the Beatles during their Hamburg days. Moving to London in the early 60s, he lived with George Harrison and Ringo Starr for a time before being asked to design the Revolver sleeve in 1966. The band loved his design, and Voormann was paid £40 for his work on the record. He went on to become the bassist in the Plastic Ono Band and also provided the low end on Ringo’s first solo record.

L – Love Me Do

After recording one single as Tony Sheridan’s backing band, the group’s first single proper came out in October 1962. Backed with PS I Love You, the recording peaked at number seventeen in the UK singles chart. Two years later, Love Me Do hit number one in the United States, and the song has since been covered by the likes of David Bowie, Sandie Shaw and The Persuasions.

M – Mop top

While their haircuts don’t look especially revolutionary by today’s standards, the Beatles shocked the establishment with their shaggy locks back in the early 60s. However, because of the band’s popularity, the mop top style took off and even led to wig-makers manufacturing “Beatle wigs” in the mid-60s. Later in the decade, the band members grew their hair even longer and more or less ushered in the stereotypical long-haired rocker look still with us today.

N –  Now and Then

After Free as a Bird and Real Love were released in the mid 90s, the Beatles briefly considered resurrecting an unfinished John Lennon composition called Now and Then as a third reunion single. However, after two days of work on the song, the plans were shelved and the recording was never issued. In 2008 it was rumoured that the band may yet issue Now and Then as a single, but there has since been no further word as to the status of the song.

O –  Original compositions

While the Beatles are commonly regarded as some of the best and most prolific British song-writers of all time, their first albums released in the UK, US and Canada all featured a welter of cover versions. Ironically however, the Beatles proved so popular that many of the covers featured on these early recordings, such as Twist and Shout, are popularly mistaken for original Beatles songs.

The band’s original drummer, Pete Best played with the Beatles during their Hamburg club days from 1960-62. Originally selected to join the group because of his reputation on the Liverpool music circuit as a steady sticksman, Best was also admired by female fans as a “mean, moody and magnificent” individual, which the Beatles thought would be a good selling point for the group. Best played on the band’s Decca demo, but was given the boot after engineer George Martin elected to use a session drummer in his place during a Parlophone recording session in June 1962.

Q – The Quarrymen

Before he was a Beatle, John Lennon formed a skiffle group in Liverpool in the mid 1950s called the Quarrymen. Originally consisting of Lennon and assorted school-friends, The Quarrymen began to evolve into the Beatles after Paul McCartney and George Harrison came on board in the late 50s. By 1960 they’d been joined by Stuart Sutcliffe and re-named themselves the Silver Beetles. The surviving members of the original Quarrymen line-up reconvened in 1997 and are still performing today.

R – Rooftop concert

The Beatles’ last ever live performance came in January 1969, on the rooftop of the Apple Corps building in London’s Savile Row. Accompanied by organist Billy Preston (one of the many individuals dubbed the “fifth Beatle”), the band performed to huge crowds gathered in the street before the police turned up and ordered them to stop playing.

Before Paul McCartney picked up his famous Hofner bass, the Beatles had another four-stringer in the form of art student Stuart Sutcliffe. Sutcliffe played with the band from May 1960 to July 1961 and, like Pete Best, toured the clubs of Hamburg with the group. A better painter than bassist, Sutcliffe was criticised for his rudimentary bass playing and elected to leave the group to pursue his artistic career a year after becoming a Beatle. Sadly, he died of an aneurysm aged just 21 in April 1962.

T – Thomas The Tank Engine

Ringo Starr endeared himself to a whole new generation of youngsters in the mid 1980s as the narrator of Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends. Before being offered the role, Starr had never read any of Thomas’s adventures, but was so charmed by a perusal of the books that he readily accepted. He voiced two series of the show before bowing out in 1986, but said that the anthropomorphic steam-train will always have a place in his heart.

U – UK number 1s

The Beatles produced a staggering 27 singles which made it to number one in the UK singles chart. Their US and UK number ones were collected on the 2000 CD compilation 1, which, coincidentally, topped the album charts in 35 countries and sold over 31m copies.

The first ever Beatles video game, The Beatles: Rock Band, was released amid much fanfare in 2009. Giving gamers the opportunity to play along with 45 famous Beatles songs, the game has sold over 3m copies worldwide since release. Like other games in the Rock Band series, players interact with the game using controllers in the shape of guitars, drums or microphones, and a range of controllers modelled on the Beatles’ iconic instruments was released alongside the game.  

W – Wings

Paul McCartney’s band, which he formed in 1971 with wife Linda on keyboards, enjoyed many hit singles over their decade-long existence including Band on the Run, Maybe I’m Amazed and Mull of Kintyre. Still highly regarded, Wings were, according to Alan Partridge, “the band the Beatles could’ve been.”

X – Xylophone

As the Beatles sadly did nothing we can label ‘X rated,’ there’s little to include for ‘X’, so here’s a video of Yellow Submarine being performed on the xylophone.

Y – Yoko Ono

Japanese conceptual artist Yoko Ono began a relationship with John Lennon in 1968 and started creating music with the Beatle almost immediately. She contributed backing vocals to some tracks on the White Album and co-composed the avant-garde Revolution 9. She and Lennon married in 1969 and the couple formed the Plastic Ono Band, which began recording and touring during the Beatles’ dying days. Their son Sean was born in 1975, and Ono was at Lennon’s side when he was murdered in 1980. Still an artist of considerable repute, Ono won Australia’s highest award for contemporary art, the Oskar Kokoschka Prize in 2012.

Z – Zebra crossing


One of the most iconic album covers in rock history, Abbey Road’s sleeve famously featured a photograph of the Beatles walking across a zebra crossing outside EMI’s studios on London’s Abbey Road. Having inspired countless parodies and imitations, the Abbey Road cover is now so well known and highly regarded that the zebra crossing has been given grade II listed status.