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The Beatles: This British 1960s greatest awesome foursome changed music forever.
The first version of the band, formed by John Lennon in 1957 in Liverpool, United Kingdom, was a skiffle outfit called The Quarrymen, after the local Quarry Bank High School which he attended. Paul McCartney and George Harrison joined later. By the time they briefly disbanded in 1959, the Quarrymen designation had become irrelevant - John had left the school for art college the year before and the others were at The Liverpool Institute.
Later, the reformed trio went through a series of monikers, for example christening themselves The Rainbows one night because they turned up in different coloured shirts.
The drummerless band also entered one talent competition, selecting, on the spur of the moment, the handle Johnny And The Moondogs. This was a reference to the origins of rock with the singer Moondog and Alan Freed's 1951 radio show Moondog's Rock 'n' Roll Party. It also reflected the fact that most acts in those days, such as Cliff Richard And The Shadows, had a leader - and John was acknowledged the prime mover.
It was he who suggested their final name. He wanted to emulate Buddy Holly, idolised for his songwriting and guitar-playing. Holly died in 1959, but his music lives on to this day via musicals and much else. John liked the double-meaning of Holly's backing band The Crickets - referring both to "cricket" = insect and also "cricket" = game. He was annoyed someone had beaten him to it, perhaps especially with cricket being English. John's love of Goonish word play, which later emerged in humorous slim volumes such as the endlessly-punning In His Own Write and A Spaniard In The Works, caused him to search around for a similar insect designator. He soon misspelled "Beetle" as "Beatle" to make the pun on beat music more obvious. (Lennon's punning later led to his naming another band Cyrkle).
The term "The Beat Generation", coined by writer Jack Kerouac, was reaching its apogee. In time, Kerouac influenced many bands such as The Dharma Bums and Elmerhassell. It would be fascinating to establish an earlier link between Kerouac and arguably the greatest of all bands. There's no evidence to confirm this however.
Still, there's another possible origin here: John may not have read 1957's On The Road by Kerouac but he certainly knew of The Wild One, the 1953 film which propelled Marlon Brando to greater stardom - wearing the leather jacket look much favoured by the early Beatles. Brando's character led a motorcycle gang against Lee Marvin's rival faction who were called The Beetles: their black jackets made them look like beetles. (Cf Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, who named from Brando's gang.)
Lennon jokingly referred to "the Bootles" in several interviews, so he knew of a connection with the Liverpool district of Bootle. Still, there's no strong evidence that this was an initial motivation for the choice of the moniker.
Liverpool friend Casy Jones, of Cass and The Casanovas, said the Beatles appellation was too short. Following the fifties trend for "showbizzy" long designations, Jones suggested Long John And The Silver Beetles. The Baldry-style 'Long John' alias was another reference to the outgoing Lennon, still seen as the leader, possibly by everyone apart from McCartney.
They shortened/ changed it to The Silver Beatles, the billing they used for an audition in 1959, until 1960. Even then, they preferred its further-abbreviated form without the meaningless "Silver" tag. It was as The Beatles they evolved with Stuart Sutcliffe (left in 1961, died in 1962), Pete Best (sacked in 1962) and Ringo Starr (replaced Best in 1962).
However, they made one demo record in 1961, backing pop singer Tony Sheridan as 'The Beat Boys' because 'Beatles' was thought too confusing.
Clearly, there was some resistance to the handle, revolutionary in its time - the band discovered during their Hamburg days that Germans often said the byword as "Peedles", slang for cock or John (Lennon) Thomas. Top English promoter Arthur Howes, on first hearing of the band, merely thought "another group with a silly name!"
The Beatles often shrouded the choice in secrecy, producing various "entertaining" yarns such as that the name was given to them by a man on a magic carpet. As John put it: "It came in a vision - a man appeared on a flaming pie and said unto us 'From this day on you are Beatles with an A'. Thank you, Mister Man, we said, thanking him." (In May 1997 McCartney released an album entitled Flaming Pie and Oasis referenced it in Magic Pie.)
There's more on all four individual Beatles' other pseudonyms in their separate entries. (Paul Ramon, cf The Ramones; Carl Harrison.) In contrast to the rebellious Lennon, who returned his M.B.E. long before his untimely death, McCartney went on to be knighted, joining a group of pop "Sirs" including Bob Geldof, Elton John and Cliff Richard. His band Wings named, in part, from his 1968 Beatles song, Blackbird.
All four Beatles became household names as their band's identifier passed into popular consciousness and into language: Beatlemania, Beatlesque. They became known as The Fab Four or The Fabs (sometimes made into a joke: The Prefab Four).
Inspired/related: Apple, Apple Boutique, Badfinger, Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, Glass Onion, The Glove, The Nerk/Nurk Twins, Ricky And The Red Streaks, The Rutles, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Smoking Mojo Filters and Yeah Yeah Yeah.
Among many tribute bands: The Bootleg Beatles and Sgt. Pepper's Magical Mystery Trip.
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