Who taught John Lennon to play the harmonica


The Beatles Story

If you ask musicians about important musical influences, the Beatles are still mentioned astonishingly often today (or again today?). Neither the style nor the age of the respondents seem to play a major role here. And it is still the Fab Four that get many teenagers to pick up the guitar for the first time.

Reason for us to analyze what substance lies in the “Beatles phenomenon”, that even after more than half a century, such a tremendous fascination and inspiration can still emanate from the music of this band.

There is probably no other band about which nearly as much has been said or written about; And since we don't want to ruminate on the well-known history of the Beatles at this point, we have focused this small series on some questions that are particularly interesting for musicians: What was the music world like at the time of the Beatles? Who influenced the Beatles? Where did they “use” themselves? What did you do with these influences and how did this development in turn affect the music of other artists?

In this context, on the one hand, typical stylistic devices and playing techniques of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison should be considered, on the other hand we also want to take into account the technical aspects: With which equipment they recorded which singles and LPs when, what they used on stage and how did they your setup evolves over the years?

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When were the Beatles founded?

John Lennon founded his first band in the mid-50s "The Quarrymen Skifflegroup"after his mother Julia showed him banjo chords and a corresponding touch technique, which he transferred to the guitar. This banjo technique would later have an important influence on his rhythm guitar work and founded his idiosyncratic style. So much later John played many chords in a typical banjo fingering. Regarding his technique of attack, it is noticeable that he hardly moved his right forearm, but mainly played with his wrist.

His band was a typical skiffle group with acoustic guitars, banjo, washboard, broomstick bass and a piano - if available. They played acoustic up-tempo / off-beat music, quasi “prehistorically unplugged”. The line-up in the skiffle often consisted of 8 to 10 musicians in order to create a sufficient richness of sound. In addition, certain instrumental weaknesses were not so significant in this way.

At a church festival in the Liverpool district of Woolton, John Lennon and met Paul McCartney after a performance by the Quarrymen. John was impressed by Paul's qualities: he knew a lot of lyrics in detail, played a solid guitar and could sing. McCartney, on the other hand, was fascinated by Lennon's charisma and his ability to fill in missing text passages with spontaneous, witty creations of his own.

Paul comes from a musical family, his father was a member of a dance orchestra that played current hits, swing and vaudeville. He grew up listening to his father's music, and the piano, trumpet and guitar were a permanent fixture. This circumstance, too, would later affect the music of the Beatles.

When the Quarrymen once again had a casting problem, the one who was two years younger presented himself George Harrison at. The revolutionary, who knew how to spice up the mandatory school uniform with a yellow sweater and already had hair longer than allowed, fanatically emulated his guitarist models from the USA. Although John Lennon was initially reluctant, George soon became an integral part of the band due to his skills as lead guitarist.

You can find playalongs and karaoke versions of The Beatles pieces in our Playalong shop!

Other musicians came and went, but the three stayed together. They soon turned away from the original skiffle towards a new and loud music: rock'n'roll. John later said, "When George joined us, the band had found a new sound."

Today it is often overlooked that the history of the Beatles did not begin with “Beatlemania”, but that the key to a deeper understanding of the Beatles lies in the early years. And at the beginning only one thing counted for them: Rock’n’Roll!

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The Beatles in Hamburg

It is well known that the real professional career of the Beatles began on Hamburg's Reeperbahn. Nevertheless, it is important to understand the context of the “popular music” of that time in order to understand the extraordinary impact of the Beatles. Allan Williams, their first manager, got the Liverpool student band an engagement with the Hamburg club owner in 1960 Bruno Koschmider.

The typical audience on the Reeperbahn: Seafarers who wanted to hear rock'n'roll and a hearty stage show - which of course had to compete with the numerous strip shows. Since German bands performed more contemplative performances at this time, armed with accordion and Philicorda organ, but on the other hand it was forbidden to fly in American bands due to the immense costs, the Beatles as a British band were a suitable alternative, especially since they were in this one Year the commitment of the then very successful Tony Sheridan for the "Kaiserkeller" had already paid off.

The video shows one of the Beatles' early appearances in Germany:

The Beatles, at that time still five guys with duck-tail hairstyles, including drummer Pete Best and bassist Stuart Sutcliffe, arrive in the supposed land of milk and honey and are confronted with the tough reality of musicians: long seasons, short breaks, an extremely critical and powerful audience. With the famous “Mach Schau!” The Beatles are “prescribed” movement on the stage by the Club, because the competition on the sinful mile is great and mostly female too.

Indeed, the 1960s Beatles were a band that played exclusively American rock’n’roll and copied American artists. Her heroes were Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Ray Charles and of course Elvis Presley - before his army service. George Harrison's comment on their sound at the time: "It's more like old rock (& ​​roll), only everything is a bit louder, there is more bass and drums, and everyone is singing very loud and screaming."

Though John Lennon and Paul McCartney had been writing songs together for some time, the Beatles were pure at the time Cover band, they would not have dared to play their own pieces. Nevertheless, in the following months they created a completely independent sound and they quickly blossomed from a student combo to a (r) evolutionary rock band.

Pete Best instead of the playful offbeat drums used by American drummers, the bass drum came through in quarters. At that time it was not called “techno” but “atom beat”. This admittedly dangerous sounding term corresponded to the zeitgeist of the time and definitely explains the effect of the music.

The much too small amps were ripped open as far as they would go, resulting in a distorted and accordingly dirty sound - long before guitarists began to operate their amplifiers with intentional distortion. Looking back, Paul says: "In Hamburg people were really crazy about us playing loud ... Bang, Bang!" The Beatles, with their charismatic lead singers Lennon and McCartney, combined with the high volume and their fresh interpretations, delivered an extremely energetic sound .

Whipped up by the entire atmosphere, the present z. Sometimes professional girls (after all, the Beatles were still teenagers and you were on the Reeperbahn) and the use of the well-known chemical agents, the Beatles acted like crazy to the amusement of the audience. Her tight lederhosen and uniform leather clothes, which she purchased, did not fail to have an effect on the increasing number of female fans. In order to keep the audience happy, no stone was left unturned, from the legendary story of the toilet seat to the pounding of the wooden stage to Lennon's infamous “Führer” ballhorns.

They played 15-minute versions of rock'n'roll numbers, with Lennon and Harrison fighting guitar duels, rolling on the floor, but also playing heartbreaking doo-wop ballads. Even then, the Beatles put theirs Harmony singing one that would later become one of their trademarks.

Word quickly got around in Hamburg that a cracking English band was playing on the Sinful Mile, and soon their audience was made up of seafarers, workers, students, night owls and hipsters. Unimpressed by the milieu, these completely different groups let themselves be drawn into the “Indra”, then into the larger “Kaiserkeller” and finally into the “Top Ten”. John Lennon later said in an interview: “What we generated back then was fantastic, we have never been better as a live band. When we did our 20-minute shows later, it was all just flea circus and we were the fleas. "

The existing live recordings from the Star Club are unfortunately technically rather modest (amateur recordings) and therefore only allow a very limited impression of the actual dynamics.

The Beatles later tried to take legal action against the publication of these tapes. If you want a more realistic impression of the original power of early Beatles music, you should definitely visit the Cavern Club during the annual Liverpool Beatles Convention recommended (on the last weekend in August). At last year's convention we met Allan Williams, the first manager of the Beatles, who emphasized several times: “The Beatles were made in Hamburg, not in Liverpool!” And he is probably right.

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The Beatles in Liverpool

When the Beatles reappeared in Liverpool, strengthened by these experiences, announced as a “band from Hamburg”, they were considered a German band there. They were absolutely unbritish (but not really German either!). John Lennon once said with a grin: "... and in Liverpool, when we stepped on leather and played hard, people thought we were Germans and spoke English pretty well ..."

With the first song the audience rushed frenetically to the stage, something like that had never been experienced before. The shallow rock'n'rollers of the 50s had become a tough rock band, unbridled, dirty, loud, dirty and simply shocking. They multiplied the previously known emotionality of music. This had nothing to do with the cliché of the four neatly combed, good boys with their suits and ties.

While popular music was mostly shallow at the time, with stars like Cliff Richard & The Shadows, Paul Anka and others. (in Germany it was Peter Kraus, Connie Froboes and Catharina Valente), the Beatles broke all taboos in the dance halls. It came to the first hysteria at home in Liverpool. The aging rock'n'roll experienced a renaissance, only presented harder, faster, louder and dirtier. A cultural revolution!

The music clubs in Liverpool exploded, a separate youth culture, previously only present in the United States, now began to develop in England as well. In retrospect, one can best compare the effect of the early Beatles with the later punk or grunge heroes such as the Sex Pistols or Nirvana.

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The instruments of the Beatles

The money earned in Hamburg was of course spent according to the age of the actors, but the equipment was also optimized. The semi-acoustic instruments literally fell apart and new ones had to be found.

Like the artists, the popular instruments of these days also came from the USA. Inspired by an appearance by Toots Thielemans, a harmonica-playing jazz guitarist, John Lennon bought (or nodded) a blonde Rickenbacker Capri 325 with a short scale length, with what he himself said is downright ridiculous string action. After this experience, John Lennon preferred short-scaled instruments, the electroacoustic ones Gibson J-160E, Epiphone Casino, Les Paul Junior or his others Rickenbacker 325 variations.

The harmonica, with which Love Me Do ‘was later recorded, he stole from a Dutch Muziekhuis on the way to Hamburg. George Harrison followed his idol Chet Atkins by using one Gretsch Duo Jet gained. This guitar was Gretsch's answer to the popular Les Paul and, not least because of the single coils used, it delivered an absolutely unique, twangy rock'n'roll sound. The sound behavior of these pickups lies somewhere between the thin, nasal sound of the Strats of the time, which were by no means as well known, and the fat P-90 single coils with which the big competitor Gibson initially equipped its Les Pauls.

Gretsch was thus the epitome of rock'n'roll guitar in the United States, and many American musicians "twang" their way to the top of the charts with this sound. Gene Vincent, lead guitarist of "Blue Caps", as well as the solo guitarist of Bill Haley's band "Comets". The coexistence of the Rickenbacker with the Gretsch - two guitars with extremely high-pitched and brilliant single coil sounds - should prove to be optimal and was certainly a stroke of luck for the Beatles.

Stuart Sutcliffe still played his huge Höfner President Bass, but directed his further ambitions more towards art and the photographer Astrid Kirchherr. When it became apparent that Stuart was hardly up to the musical level of his colleagues and would leave the band sooner or later, Paul increasingly took on the role of bassist. Even then, Paul was certainly the most versatile Beatle. He changed instruments during the performances, sometimes played guitar, sometimes bass, sometimes piano, less often drums and of course, alongside John, he played the role of second lead singer.

In addition, as a left-hander, Paul also had to cope with the bass stringed for a right-hander. As a thrifty Briton, Paul took over Sutcliffe's “Selmer Truevoice” combo after his departure, but also bought a new instrument: one that was quite cheap at the time Hofner violin bass, strangely enough, an instrument built for English imports with vertical lettering and two pickups on the neck. The symmetry, the low weight and the fact that the bassist of the backing band of his idol Little Richard played a similar bass (a Gibson violin bass) will have convinced Paul.

Would you like to marvel at the latest trends of the traditional Höfner brand, whose basses the Beatles have already played with, live? The Guitar Summit gives you the chance to test several hundred brands, including Höfner, on site! You can find all information about the three-day event here.

The amps were also upgraded, John got one Fender Deluxe Combo, George one Gibson GA40. Incidentally, this great sounding amp was reissued in 1999 in a revised version and is now being produced in the British Trace Elliot factory on behalf of Gibson.

The new instruments, in connection with the hitherto unknown volume, shaped the energetic sound of the band. The combination of these instruments became the main substance, but it had something organic about it and delivered exactly the right frequencies to make the Beatles sound good.

Lennon, McCartney and Harrison always stayed true to their instruments live, even if you later tried out other things, such as Strats, Les Pauls and the Epiphone Casinos - but more on that later. The use of much more expensive instruments was hardly avoided for cost reasons - and since there was no endorsement, there were no brand image reasons either.


But also the sound of the AKG D12 microphones (which are very popular these days as vintage bass drum mics) and the Shure ribbon microphone in conjunction with tube vocal amplifiers shaped the early sound of the Beatles.

The harmonic distortion at level peaks - such as those caused by loud screams or close microphone distances - made the sound more exciting and dramatic. These sounds have been reanimated by Tekkno culture and alternative music, but in a more violent form.

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The recordings of the Beatles

The Beatles returned in April 1961 for an engagement in Top 10 Club back to Hamburg - under significantly improved conditions, both in terms of accommodation and the in-house vocal system.The bassist Stuart Sutcliffe, who remained in Hamburg, appeared sporadically, but Paul now played the first (violin-bass) violin. Bert Kaempfert, producer and orchestra leader who had achieved international fame with his music, appeared at one of the numerous appearances and offered the Beatles a record production.

However, not under her name, which probably sounded strange to the ears of the time, but under the pseudonym "The Beat Brothers". Here they should act as a backing band for the already mentioned Tony Sheridan function, which was quite popular in Germany at the time and to which the Beatles also paid a lot of respect.

The recordings took place in June 1961 in the Rahlstedt studio and in the Friedrich-Ebert-Halle in Harburg. Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers were positioned on stage as in a regular performance, the recording technicians took up position behind the stage with their two-track devices. The equipment used corresponded to the top standard in Europe at the time. Sound engineer Karl Hinze remembers that in all probability an M5 machine from AEG was used.

For the backing band there was a Neumann SM2 stereo microphone, for Tony Sheridan U47, also used by Neumann. The recording took place live, the instruments were not removed individually, rather the balance between them on the one hand and the balance between the instruments and the backing vocals on the other hand had to be achieved through skillful matching. This is how several titles came about. Even the single , My Bonnie ‘ (At that time sales price DM 4, -) was recorded in this way, whereby the sound was quite acceptable compared to other German rock productions.

The Beatles received DM 300 (in total!) As a fee for their participation in these recordings. 100,000 copies were sold in Germany and 1,000,000 worldwide. The single sold rather sluggishly in England (48th place was the highest listing), but very well in Liverpool due to the steadily growing local fan base.

Brian Epstein, owner of the leading Liverpool record store, became aware of the Beatles through this single and took the position of their manager. His good contacts with record companies and distributors enabled him to finally get a contract for his new protégés after a few unsuccessful attempts. This came after an audition and test recordings with the producer George Martin at Parlophone Records, a division of EMI Records.

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The Beatles at Abbey Road Studios

Smart, with shirt and tie, dressed in chic suits, plus leather ankle boots with Cuban heels - as prescribed by their manager Brian Epstein - the four Liverpoolers enter the established London studio. Practically everyone knows the resulting recordings today, but what was the situation at the EMI Studio London like back then?

The "St. John's Wood Studios London “on Abbey Road had the right recording rooms for all requirements, from the concert hall to the small studio. The pop productions mostly took place in Studio 2, a large and high room that was furnished with heavy curtains and carpets to tame the reverberation of the room.

I.In the video, Paul McCartney remembers his first visit to the studio:

Until 1963, only two tracks were recorded live, with the help of a second tape machine, so-called overdubs could be created, which means that further instrumental or vocal tracks can be added to the previously recorded two-track recording and recorded on the second machine at the same time.

If an error occurs, the take (attempt) must be repeated. The tape machines of the type BTR were of exquisite quality, and if you listen to the recordings today, the audio quality is still convincing.

In England, too, a good recording began with a textbook set-up of microphones, distant miking instead of close miking. Only high-quality microphones were used, although the number of them was quite spartan: A Neumann U67 as overhead and generally for the drums, a Neumann for the vocals and the rest of the instruments. It was not until 1963 that the individual sound sources were recorded with separate microphones. The technicians in the studios were wrapped in white coats, hierarchical structures and strictly regulated behavior were the order of the day: the recording times were precisely defined, there were hardly any exceptions.

There were three admission intervals per day from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., 2.30 p.m. to 5.30 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Strict adherence to the schedule and dress code - musicians had to appear in suits and ties, technicians wore white coats (sound lab!) - prompted statesman Winston Churchill to comment on a visit to the studios: “I think I'm here on Wrong place, it looks like a hospital here. ”And the refrigerator with a lock was only allowed to be opened during tea time - pure British conservatism.

Nonetheless, the producers and technicians had in-depth specialist knowledge. The word of the producer was law, he was responsible for the respective project, a tape operator and a balance engineer listened to his word. The other white smocks built their own mixers, effects devices and other equipment. So also the in-house Desk REDD 37which was used in Studio 2. Ten input channels and two outputs, with huge buttons, battleship gray and, compared to today's miniaturization trends, also with battleship-like dimensions.

The signals were fed to the tape machines: BTR - British (what else) tape recorder. Attempting the tone control was considered to be rather clumsy, the most linear sound fidelity possible could be achieved with precise microphones. Since there were understandably no digital reverb devices, the sound was directed to a reverberation room, a microphone positioned there recorded the room and this sound was mixed with the original signal.

This is for example when recording , I Saw Her Standing There ‘ very good to hear - like here in the video:

The studio had a variety of instruments of all kinds, and you could use your own sound library with pre-recorded effects and natural sounds (samples!), A fact from which the Beatles would later benefit greatly.

So this was the status quo when the Beatles started. In the next few episodes we will go into more detail on how the Beatles, as "EMI's gold donkey", were able to loosen the rigid structures in their favor in the following years and get the maximum possible out of the staff and the premises of the Abbey Road Studios. In the course of this development, the Beatles turned the studio world upside down and created new worlds of sound with their unconventional “anything is possible” mentality.

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The Beatles Backline

Finally, a list of the Beatles' equipment at the time of recording their first single - live and in the studio.

John Lennon

Vox AC30 Non Top Boost Amp, blond vinyl covering with Celestion Blue speakers, with matching chrome stand. Guitars: 1959 Rickenbacker 325 Capri blond / natural with Bigsby B5 tremolo; Gibson J-160E E-Acoustic with P90 pickups (or variation); Hohner harmonicas.

George Harrison

Vox AC-30 (as with Lennon), Gretsch Duo Jet, black, with DeArmond single coils, Gibson J-160E E-Acoustic (these were amplified live via the Vox).

Paul McCartney

Höfner Violinbass 500/1 (nickname: The Cavern Bass; English Rosetti model, vertical "Hofner" logo, 2 pickups located on the neck, two-tone sunburst. Bass amplifier: "The Coffin", self-made by Hamburg friend Adrian (Paul : “They didn't want me to record with it, the bass sounded too heavy to them because of the huge loudspeakers.”); Vox-T60 amplifier & box (transistor amp, 60 watts, with germanium transistors, which normally make fuzz pedals were built; there was a 12 ″ and a 15 ″ loudspeaker in the cabinet).

Learn more about The Beatles in the other parts of the great Beatles story:

The Beatles phenomenon part 2: The Beatles & their equipment: The Beatlemania Live

The Beatles Phenomenon Part 3: Inside Abbey Road Studios

The Beatles Phenomenon Part 4: Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band

The Beatles Phenomenon Part 5: The Last Years & The Breakup

You can also download the entire “The Beatles Story” as a free e-paper and read it conveniently offline:

Authors: Johnny Silver & Michael Doering

About the authors: Johnny Silver and Michael Doering make up the guitar faction of the "Silver Beatles", the only German Beatles cover band that took part in the 1998 and 1999 "International Beatles Convention" in Liverpool. The Silver Beatles have already played four times in the legendary Liverpool Cavern Club and, in addition to their own intensive preoccupation with the music of the Beatles, can fall back on one of the most extensive Beatles archives in Germany. Further information: http://www.silverbeatles.de

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Beatles Gear Facts!

There is probably no other band that has been said or written about as much as the Beatles. We have collected 10 gear facts about Paul & Co.


  • Until 1968 the Beatles used it sharpened strings for guitars and basses, and that was very important for the sound. Try out! Mainly used for the guitars .012 and .013 String sets. It wasn't until the end of the sixties that thinner sets became available.


  • John Lennon's standard harmonicas were "Hohner Marine Band"; He moped his first harp in a Dutch music store in Arnhem in 1960; the band was on the way to Hamburg.

Lennon here with his Hohner on the song "I'm a Loser":


  • For the freaks: GeorgeHarrison essentially used two brown ones Gretsch Country Gentleman, one of them with a muffle. The colors differed somewhat: the guitar with the muffle is slightly green.

You can find out more about Harrison's playing style in the Reverb tutorial for the Beatles song “All My Loving”:


  • RingoRigidused in his drum set smaller kettlesso that he himself looked bigger. In the photos you can clearly see that he was sitting extremely high compared to the attitude of modern drummers.


  • PaulMcCartney could the guitar too upside down play, i.e. the bass strings are pointing downwards; that was also obvious for the left-hander.


  • The amplifiers most commonly used by the Beatles (1964-66) wereVox AC100with 4 × 12 “blue speakers and two Goodmans horns - and not, as is always associated, the Vox-AC30 combos.


  • Paul McCartney used Exchange speaker in his T-60 cabinets, in fact JBLs with blackened aluminum dome; something was cheated even then.


  • The Beatles used one as a replacement guitar Epiphone Caiolawhich is generally not associated with the Fab Four at all. There was also one (from 1965) black fender stratocaster ready for emergencies.


You can find out more about the guitar tips and tricks of the Beatles in the video:


  • John Lennon loved Fender amplifier: The Beatles already played on these amps in the Hamburg Star Club. Very soon after the touring ended, Lennon returned to this brand.


  • When shooting too, Sgt. Pepper ‘came one twelve-string guild electric guitar in use (, Getting Better ‘), from mid-1967 Martin acoustic guitars were added. Here's the song - can you hear the guild guitar on?

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The Beatles FAQ


When were the Beatles born and died?

John Lennon09.10.1940 in Liverpool

(died on December 8th, 1980)

Singing, rhythm guitar, piano
Paul McCartney


06/18/1982 in LiverpoolVocals, guitar, bass, piano
George Harrison


February 25, 1943 in Liverpool

(died on November 29, 2001)

Vocals, lead guitar, sitar
Ringo Starr

(from 1962)


07/07/1940 in LiverpoolDrums, percussion, vocals



Which Beatles are still alive?

John Lennon died in 1980, George Harrison in 2001. So Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are still alive - both are still musically active.


Why did the Beatles split up?

Yoko Ono, money problems, musical differences - there were several reasons for the separation of the Beatles in 1970. In the last part of our big Beatles Specials we devote ourselves in detail to the last few years and the separation.


How many German songs do the Beatles have?

On January 29, 1964, the Beatles took German versions of “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” against their express wish.Come give me your hand) in Paris. The EMI sub-label, Odeon, had insisted that the band gain a foothold in Germany.

Here the popular classic in the German version:


Who wrote the most Beatles songs?

John Lennon (Help!) And Paul McCartney (Let It Be) composed most of the songs. But George Harrison (I Need You) is also responsible for some hits. A list of the Beatles songs and their composers can be found on Wikipedia.


What's Beatles in German?

The band name comes from the English term "Beatle", which is used for the mushroom head hairstyle - the favorite haircut of the Beatles ...

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Where is the Beatles Museum?

A privately financed Beatles Museum is located in Halle (Saale). On 3 floors you will find the oldest and most extensive public facility on the subject of Beatles. Another museum is currently planned in Liverpool in the famous Strawberry Field.


Where did the Beatles cross the zebra crossing?

The famous crosswalk from Abbey Road Cover is at 3 Abbey Road.

You can find Come Together from the album Abbey Road in our Playalong Shop:

Who of the Beatles was shot?

John Lennon was shot dead in front of his New York apartment building on December 8, 1980, when he was just 40 years old. Sagittarius was the mentally ill fan Mark David Chapman.


Which films did the Beatles make?

  • 1964: Yeah Yeah Yeah (A Hard Day’s Night)
  • 1965: Hi-Hi help! (Help!)
  • 1967: Magical Mystery Tour
  • 1968: Yellow Submarine. (Cartoon)
  • 1970: Let It Be

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The Beatles discography (selection)

  • 1963: Please Please Me
  • 1963: With the Beatles
  • 1964: A Hard Day’s Night
  • 1964: Beatles for Sale
  • 1965: Help!
  • 1965: Rubber Soul
  • 1966: revolver
  • 1967: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
  • 1967: Magical Mystery Tour
  • 1968: The Beatles
  • 1969: Yellow Submarine
  • 1969: Abbey Road
  • 1970: Let It Be