The most influential and famous musical group to emerge in the 1960s was a quartet from Liverpool, England, known as the Beatles. Members included John Lennon (1940–1980), Paul McCartney (1942–), George Harrison (1943–2001), and Ringo Starr (1940–). The band's first recording was the tune “Love Me Do,” and it was released in Britain in October 1962. By 1963, the Beatles were a sensation in England and adoring fans followed them everywhere. In early 1964, all of their one-night performances had to be cancelled due to rioting.
The Beatles first visited America on February 8, 1964, to appear on the popular television variety program The Ed Sullivan Show. Seventy million viewers tuned in, and a new record was set for the most-watched television appearance. It helped that America's media publicized the event. Magazines and newspapers carried photographs, reports, and in-depth articles chronicling the lives of the band nicknamed the Fab Four.
The Beatles took America by storm. Seemingly overnight, teenage boys were sporting long hair just like the Beatles, and teenage girls plastered their bedroom walls with posters and magazine pages of their favorite Beatle. Concerts sold out in record time, and police were required to keep the frenzy of female fans under control; it was not uncommon for hysterical teens to faint during a concert. In both Britain and America, Beatles tunes such as “I Want to Hold Your Hand” sold millions of copies, and the sound of the group could be heard in nearly every household that included teenagers.
While teens across the country raised the Beatles to a godlike status, parents and other adults feared the influence the Fab Four wielded over the younger generation. John Lennon did not help dispel the idea that his band's music was an evil influence when he made the comment that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. That one statement led to record-burning throughout the nation, and adults were more determined than ever to squash Beatlemania.
The Beatles were an unstoppable force throughout the 1960s, however. Their cross-country tour in 1964 only cemented their place in American culture, as did the five movies they made, the most popular of which were A Hard Day's Night and Help! Their appeal lay in more than just their music. For millions of young people, the Beatles represented freedom from authority and convention. Each member was charismatic, and together, they were irresistible to a young America that was embroiled in the unpopular Vietnam War (1954–75). The Beatles, their music, and their charm provided American youth a much-needed escape from the harsh realities of the era.
The Beatles stopped touring in August of 1966. They focused exclusively on recording in the studio. In 1970, the Beatles broke up, and members began to pursue solo projects and careers.