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Classic Movies & TV - The Five Heartbeats Tags: classic movies tv five heartbeats word life production featured blog

The Five Heartbeats is a 1991 musical drama film directed by Robert Townsend, who co-wrote the script with Keenan Ivory Wayans. Distributed by 20th Century Fox, the film's main cast includes Townsend, Michael Wright, Leon Robinson, Harry J. Lennix, Tico Wells, Harold Nicholas of the Nicholas Brothers, and Diahann Carroll. The plot of the film (which is loosely based on the lives of several artists: The Dells, The Temptations, Four Tops, Wilson Pickett, James Brown, Frankie Lymon, Sam Cooke and others)follows the three decade career of the R&B vocal group The Five Heartbeats. The film depicts the rise and fall of a Motown inspired soul act through the eyes of the film's main protagonist, Donald "Duck" Matthews (portrayed by Townsend), who serves as a narrator throughout the film. However, a majority of the cinema is presented in a consecutive time line as opposed to traditional flash backs.

The film was released to most North American audiences March 29, 1991 however it was not made available to audiences in other continents until 2002 when a DVD was released prior to another DVD release in 2006 for the film's 15th anniversary. The movie received mixed reviews from critics.

In the early 1990s, Donald "Duck" Matthews browses a Rolling Stone magazine, noticing an article questioning the recent exploits of The Five Heartbeats, The Temptations, and The Four Tops and why the groups disbanded.

In a flashback, Donald Matthews, Anthony "Choir Boy" Stone, J.T. Matthews and Terrence "Dresser" Williams are preparing to perform at a music contest. They are forced to prepare to sing both their vocals and those of other members since Eddie King Jr. and Bobby, the lead singers, are missing. Bobby and Eddie cheat while gambling. Bobby is shot in the leg, but Eddie arrives at the contest and performs with the Heartbeats.

The group loses to Flash and the Ebony Sparks but pleases the crowd and is noticed by music producer Jimmy Potter. Jimmy offers to manage the group; to prove he has their best interests at heart he promises them $100 from his own pocket if they do not win first prize the next month. After a more polished performance the group still loses. Jimmy pays the group, and they sign a contract with him. Jimmy brings in Ernest "Sarge" Johnson as the group's choreographer. After vigorous training Sarge and Jimmy feel the Heartbeats are ready to perform in a larger competition.

Bird, lead singer of Bird and The Midnight Falcons witnesses the Heartbeats rehearsing their routine and is concerned his group could lose; he asks his girlfriend to invite her friends and boo The Heartbeats while cheering The Midnight Falcons. The announcer, Bird's cousin, forces The Heartbeats to use a piano player they are unfamiliar with. He also claims that The Heartbeats believe themselves to be better than the other groups.

The Heartbeats perform "A Heart Is a House for Love". Duck grows frustrated with the house piano player's butchering of the music and takes over the piano. Eddie leads the group in a number that results in Bird's girlfriend fainting in Eddie's arms. Watching in the audience is Flash, leader of the Ebony Sparks. The Heartbeats win the contest with a standing ovation and the interest of Big Red, who owns Big Red Records. Big Red offers them a deal, but Jimmy and his wife Eleanor, aware of Big Red's corrupt operations, decline. The group searches for a record company they can trust, but the only ones that will sign them are Caucasian operated and insist that their songs be covered by a white group named The Five Horsemen, giving the Heartbeats only minor song writing credit, thus forcing them to sign with Big Red.

The group goes on the road. Choir Boy's father is concerned he will forget where he comes from, Dresser has a girl back home, Eddie's father is waiting for him to fail and J.T. and Duck have a family depending on them. The travel is marked by racism and poor living conditions. Dresser's girlfriend visits at the same time as the record rep from Big Red. Dresser finds out his girlfriend is pregnant and they are faced with their first album cover having white people on the cover. Despite their problems, the group becomes successful.

Throughout the mid to late 1960s The Five Heartbeats receive numerous awards, charting several hits, and being featured on magazine covers. Eddie abuses alcohol and cocaine, causing him to miss rehearsals and performances as well as losing his girlfriend. Eddie becomes paranoid and attempts to blackmail the other Heartbeats and Jimmy using his new deal with Big Red, along with buying Jimmy out of his contract. Jimmy threatens to go to authorities with information about bootlegged LPs, cooked books and payola that could have Big Red arrested, leading Red to have Jimmy killed. In the wake of the murder, the group learns that Eddie's deceit was behind the argument between Jimmy and Big Red. The group gets together to talk and includes Bird, whom Red beat up when he questioned his bookkeeping, to put Big Red away. Big Red is convicted of Jimmy's murder and the group moves to a new record label, but, despite Duck's pleas, Eddie leaves the group in disgrace.

The Heartbeats add former rival Flash as their lead singer, which angers J.T. due to their rivalry over women. Duck has gained the attention of Tanya Sawyer, whom he lusted after since meeting her in Jimmy's living room years ago. After their engagement, he suspects she is having an affair. After she leaves the house, he follows her to a hotel. The doorman asks for his autograph and marvels at the fact that he is the second Heartbeat the doorman has seen that night; his brother is already upstairs. Duck realizes Tanya is cheating on him with his brother. As Duck leaves, his fiancee and brother fight. Tanya has been trying to break things off, but he insists that she break things off with Duck. Tanya refuses, insisting she loves Duck. At an awards ceremony celebrating their success, Flash announces he is leaving the group. Duck reveals that he knows about Tanya and J.T., and that he, too, is no longer a Heartbeat.

 

Several years later, Duck receives a letter from Choir Boy, who returned to his father's church. He asks Duck to come to a service. When he enters the church Choir Boy's father is speaking then the choir starts singing and Eddie and Baby Doll step up to sing lead. After the service Duck reunites with Eddie, Choir Boy and Baby Doll. Eddie is clean, sober and married to Baby Doll, and also manages a group. He asks Duck to write songs for them, to which he agrees. He urges Duck to contact J.T. Duck finds J.T. in a park with a wife (an old girlfriend with whom he shared a bathroom sex scene at the beginning of the movie) and two children, including a son affectionately named "Duck". The brothers reconcile.

In the early 1990s, Flash has transitioned from doo wop to pop, as the lead singer of Flash and The Five Horsemen. The Heartbeats are disappointed by the music and aspire to show their families how they performed at the peak of their career. At first Eddie declines to join the other Heartbeats but Eleanor Potter, coming to terms with her husband's death, forgives Eddie.

The Five Heartbeats reunite at the end in front of their families and friends, trying graciously to remember their old moves.

The Five Heartbeats

Robert Townsend as Donald "Duck" Matthews: Duck hails from a poor family. He is The Five Heartbeats' co-founder and brother of fellow Heartbeat's member J.T. Matthews, and originally was only the composer and musician for the group. He is a permanent vocalist after Bobby disappears. He serves as the movie's narrator, with the film beginning as he reminisces about the group's career.

Leon as J.T. Matthews: J.T. is the older brother of Duck.

Michael Wright as Eddie King, Jr. : (Because of a thick southern drawl, this is often heard as Eddie Kane) Eddie comes from an area that features predominantly poor individuals, his own father believing his attempts to start a career in the music industry will be unsuccessful. Similar to David Ruffin, Eddie is the lead vocalist of the band and falls into a life of drugs that eventually leads to his expulsion from the group as well as emotional trauma. Eddie is one of the founding members of The Heartbeats and serves as the crowd pleaser whose voice leads to success in many of their performances.

Tico Wells as Anthony "Choir Boy" Stone: Stone is given the nickname "Choir Boy" (much to his chagrin) for his past as a choir boy in his father's church. Similar to Eddie, Stone's father does not support his decision to become a music artist fearing rock and jazz are "the devil's music."

 Harry J. Lennix as Terrence "Dresser" Williams: The original choreographer of The Heartbeats, Dresser serves as the groups bass singer and one of the founding members. He is replaced by Ernest "Sarge" Johnson as the choreographer after Sarge out-dances Dresser.

 

Other characters

 

Hawthorne James as Big Red Davis: Corrupt owner of the first record label The Five Heartbeats are signed to.

Chuck Patterson as Jimmy Potter: The Heartbeats' manager, Jimmy is responsible for giving the group the opportunity to perform at more publicized events and receive training from Ernest "Sarge" Johnson.

 Diahann Carroll as Eleanor Potter: Jimmy Potter's wife, Eleanor along with her husband are the original supporters of The Five Heartbeats.

 John Canada Terrell as Michael "Flash" Turner: Lead singer of Flash and the Ebony Sparks, the Heartbeats' only competition. When Eddie goes into a downward spiral, Flash is brought in as the new lead singer.

 Roy Fegan as Bird: Bird is the lead singer of Bird and The Midnight Falcons. Early in the film the character attempts to defeat The Five Heartbeats in a vocal contest. After Big Red orchestrates the murder of Jimmy Potter, Bird joins members of the Heartbeats in testifying against Red and helps to convict him of the murder.

 Harold Nicholas of The Nicholas Brothers as Ernest "Sarge" Johnson: Johnson is The Five Heartbeat's choreographer. He choreographs the dance moves for the group. Sarge is last seen in the hospital on his birthday.

Troy Beyer as Baby Doll: Eddie's girlfriend, who leaves him after he abuses drugs and alcohol. She later marries Eddie and they are shown singing together in a choir.

Theresa Randle as Brenda: - Dresser's girlfriend, who later becomes his wife. She and Dresser have a daughter named Monica.

Lamont Johnson as Bobby Cassanova: Bobby and Eddie are the original co-lead singers of the group. Bobby is only seen in the movie's opening scenes when he and Eddie are caught cheating at a high stakes poker game. Bobby gets shot in the leg and is replaced by Eddie as the lead singer.

Carla Brothers as Tanya Sawyer: Tanya and Duck were set to be wed, but Duck's suspicion about Tanya and Choir boy had him follow her to a motel only to find out that his brother J.T. was the one seeing her. This led Duck to estrange himself from the Heartbeats and his Brother for years.

Tressa Thomas as "Duck's Little Sister:" Clara Matthews, Duck's little sister, was also his muse, often helping him compose and arrange songs for the group as they did household chores. She was instrumental in arranging the vocals for "We Haven't Finished Yet".

Other bands

 

Bird and The Midnight Falcons portrayed by actors Roy Fegan, Gregory Alexander, Roger Rose, Jimmy Woodard: The group The Five Heartbeats compete against in their second onscreen performance. The Midnight Falcons attempt to cheat by ordering their girlfriends to deliberately cheer against The Heartbeats.

 Flash and the Ebony Sparks portrayed by John Canada Terrell, Ron Jackson, Recoe Walker and Wayne "Crescendo" Ward: The Ebony Sparks defeat The Five Heartbeats in singing competitions—many of which are rigged—prior to their mainstream popularity. Flash later becomes the lead singer for the Five Heartbeats.

Production

After writing (along with Keenan Ivory Wayans), producing, directing, and starring in his first film Hollywood Shuffle, Robert Townsend had attained near-cult status among independent filmmakers due to his dedication to that film—a project which caused him to max out all his credit cards and spend nearly $100,000 of his own money raised through savings and various acting jobs in order to produce the film. When writing Townsend's first feature-length film The Five Heartbeats, Townsend and Wayans kept comedy an important aspect of the film, but also explored complex characters in a more dramatic way.  After extensive research with R&B singing group The Dells, who were renowned for their four-decade career, Townsend used his film to depict a similar story, following the lives of three friends who aspire to musical stardom. Given the setting of the film, he was able to tie in other elements, such as race relations, as well. Due to the production's budgetary constraints, Townsend used little-known actors of the time, with the exceptions of Leon Robinson, Diahann Carroll and Harold Nicholas of The Nicholas Brothers.

Promotion

To promote the film prior to its release, Townsend, along with the other actors who portrayed the fictional musical quartet The Five Heartbeats (Leon Robinson, Michael Wright, Harry J. Lennix, and Tico Wells) performed in a concert with real-life Soul/R&B vocal group The Dells, one of many groups that inspired the film. The Dells sang and recorded the vocals as the actors lip synced.

Soundtrack

The Five Heartbeats

(Music from the Motion Picture)

Soundtrack album by Various Artists

Released             April 2, 1991

Genre   Pop, Soul

Label     Capitol

A soundtrack for the film was released by Virgin Records, featuring original music by various artists. Both "Nights Like This" and "A Heart Is a House for Love" became top 20 hits on the U.S. Billboard Hot R&B Singles chart. Many of the tracks are credited to fictional characters in the film as opposed to the actual vocalists.

   A Heart Is a House for Love - The Dells

    We Haven't Finished Yet - Patti LaBelle, Tressa Thomas, Billy Valentine

    Nights Like This - After 7

    Bring Back the Days - U.S. Male

    Baby Stop Running Around - Bird & The Midnight Falcons

    In the Middle - Dee Harvey

    Nothing But Love - The Dells with Billy Valentine

    Are You Ready for Me - Dee Harvey

    Stay in My Corner - The Dells

I Feel Like Going On - Andre Crouch (Eddie, Baby Doll and the L.A. Mass Choir)

Reception

The film grossed approximately $8,500,000 after being released in 862 theaters throughout North America. However, despite the film's moderate success, it was not well received by a majority of critics. On Rotten Tomatoes The Five Heartbeats accumulated an average of 38%, although only 16 reviews were counted (6 of which were positive, the remaining 10 negative).

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times commented that:

“at feature length, Townsend shows a real talent, and, not surprisingly, an ability to avoid most cliches, to go for the human truth in his characters...by the end we really care about these guys...There is one obligatory scene showing racial prejudice against the group, and it seems a little tacked on, as if the only purpose of the Southern trip was to justify the scene.     ”

Due to the nature of the film, music montages were often used to progress the plot; critics considered this a major flaw.

The numerous musical performances in the film were highly acclaimed. All Music complimented the Dells' lead singer Marvin Junior (who provided the singing voice for fictional character Eddie King, Jr.) stating that he was "one of the most underrated voices in pop music."Tressa Thomas' performance of "We Haven't Finished Yet," in particular, was given favorable attention by critics. The film received an ASCAP award for Most Performed Songs in a Motion Picture for the song "Nights Like This."

DVD releases

A DVD was released for the film in 2002, a special edition was also released in 2006 for the film's 15th Anniversary which includes additional content.

 

Beat Street is the Classic hip hop film of the 80's Tags: beat street classic hip hop movies television word life production feature blog

Beat Street is a 1984 drama film, following Wild Style in featuring New York City hip hop culture of the early 1980s; breakdancing, DJing, and graffiti. It began with a script written by Steven Hager titled "Looking for the Perfect Beat" and in 2012, Hager put that original script up at smashwords.com.

Set in the South Bronx, the film follows the lives of a pair of brothers and their group of friends, all of whom are devoted to various elements of early hip hop culture. Kenny Kirkland (Guy Davis) is a budding disc jockey and MC, and his younger brother Lee (Robert Taylor) is a hardcore b-boy who dances with Beat Street Breakers (the New York City Breakers). Kenny's best friends are Ramon (Jon Chardiet), a graffiti artist known by his tag, "Ramo", and Chollie (Leon W. Grant), his self-styled manager/promoter.

The film begins with the main characters preparing for a house party set in an abandoned apartment building, where Kenny is the featured DJ. An uninvited Lee and his breakdancing friends crash the party, and nearly get tangled into a battle with a rival troupe, the Bronx Rockers (the Rock Steady Crew). The battle of mostly words is broken up by Henri (Dean Elliot), a squatter who lives in the building and is befriended by Kenny, Chollie, Ramon, and Luis (Franc Reyes).

Kenny has dreams of performing in New York City's top nightclubs. No club is bigger than the Roxy, and on one visit he crosses paths with Tracy Carlson (Rae Dawn Chong), a college music student and composer. A breakdance battle between the Breakers and Rock Steady ensues, and Tracy admires Lee's performance. She then invites him to audition for a television show focusing on dancing. Lee, Kenny, and their crew arrive during a dance rehearsal, and Lee gives his performance only to find out he won't be on television. Protecting his brother's interests, Kenny rips into Tracy for leading Lee on; Ramon steals a videotape of Lee's dance as the crew walk out.

A remorseful Tracy then shows up at the Kirkland home to apologize. Lee was not home but Kenny was, working on a mix tape. Tracy clarifies her story, saying that she did not promise to Lee that he was going to be on the TV show. She then takes an interest in Kenny's mixing and the two find common ground. Kenny and Tracy then head into the subway, where they meet up with Lee, Ramon, and Luis spray painting an abandoned station platform. They pack up and leave when they hear noises, thinking it may be the police; it turned out to be a rogue graffiti artist known as Spit who defaces Ramo's work (and the work of other artists) by spraying his tag over it. As the group take the train back uptown, Kenny and Tracy break away and spend the rest of the evening together, striking up a romance while walking and talking.

Chollie talks Kenny into a guest spot at the Burning Spear, a club run by DJ Kool Herc. Kenny not only spins but presents a special Christmas-themed skit performed by the Treacherous Three, Doug E. Fresh, and the Magnificent Force. The crowd's positive reaction convinces Kool Herc to invite Kenny back. But both Kenny and Chollie see the regular gig as a stepping stone to their bigger goal. They return to the Roxy, where auditions are being held for new talent. Chollie convinces Kenny to let him do the talking, and waits for the auditions to end before he succeeds in getting the talent scout to check out Kenny at the Burning Spear.

The scout keeps his word, and is impressed enough that he offers Kenny a performance on New Year's Eve. Tracy offers to help Kenny out by allowing him to work on a computer keyboard system at her studio. However, Kenny accidentally presses a wrong button and deletes his work. Stubborn and frustrated, Kenny leaves the studio, saying he had enough material for New Year's Eve.

Meanwhile, Ramon is feeling pressure from two sources. His father Domingo (Shawn Elliot), who despises his graffiti, wants him to find honest work, while his girlfriend Carmen (Saundra Santiago), the mother of his son, longs for them to be together as a family. Ramon eventually gets a job in a hardware store, and he then takes Carmen and their baby to live with him in Henri's building. But Ramon does not stop thinking of the subway trains that are his canvas. When he sees a white-painted one pass him by, he vows to put his mark on it.

Later that evening, Ramon and Kenny find the train and proceed to paint one side of the lead car. As they work on the second side of the car, Ramon hears noises, and they discover the rogue graffiti artist Spit, defacing the completed side. Ramon and Kenny chase Spit through the tunnel and into a station, and a fight ensues. Spit sprays paint in Ramon's eye, and both men tussle on the roadbed before they roll onto the electrified third rail, which kills them instantly.

As the group mourns the death of their friend, Kenny considers not performing for the New Year's Eve show at the Roxy. However, with the help of Tracy and despite initial reluctance from Chollie, Kenny turns his big break into a celebration of Ramon's life. The show is the film's grand finale, starting with a rap performance by Kenny while images of Ramon and his work were shown on a screen in the background. Kenny is followed by Grandmaster Melle Mel & the Furious Five and a Bronx gospel choir, and backed by dancers and breakdancers.

Some of the plot line was based on the New York City graffiti documentary Style Wars. Most visibly, the antagonist Spit in Beat Street was lifted from the real-life graffiti artist CAP MPC, who was portrayed in Style Wars. It was screened out of competition at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival.
 

Filming locations Beat Street was filmed entirely on location in New York City, in the boroughs of The Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. Several scenes were shot inside the city's subway system, both onboard trains and in stations, notably Hoyt-Schermerhorn Streets, 57th Street-Sixth Avenue, and Fresh Pond Road. Scenes were also filmed on the campus of the City College of New York, which includes the concert venue Aaron Davis Hall. Many of the internal dance sequences were filmed at the popular nightclub the Roxy, located in the Chelsea section of Manhattan.

Most of the graffiti art that was displayed all throughout the film was not done by real graffiti artists—it was airbrushed by set decorators.

Musical performances and soundtrack Main article: Beat Street (soundtrack)

There are several performances in the movie, notably from established early hip-hop groups Grandmaster Melle Mel & the Furious Five, Doug E. Fresh, Afrika Bambaataa & the Soul Sonic Force, and the Treacherous Three. As a member of the Treacherous Three, Kool Moe Dee also appeared in the film.

 

The musical performance of Kool Moe Dee stands as one of the few media appearances he has ever made without his trademark sunglasses (a style he had not yet adopted at the time). In addition to these acts, Guy Davis, who played Kenny, is also a blues musician in real life.

What is typically forgotten in narrative histories of hip-hop as in the history of this film were the appearances of pioneering artists like Sha-Rock who was a member of Enjoy recording group The Funky Four Plus One More, later known as Funky 4+1. They are often overlooked simply because they are women. The Funky 4+1 was one of the first groups signed to Sugarhill Records and MC Sha Rock was an emcee to be reckoned with, female or male.

Three female MCs appear in a party scene in Beat Street--Debbie D, Sha-Rock and Lisa Lee. They perform a limited and limiting performance as a group called "Us Girls" (see video). The first lyrics you hear are sung (vs. rapped). This moment tends to diminish the significance of women in early hip-hop performance as if by 1984 female emcees were already exceptional to a musical genre that was still emerging and developing. The group sings in unison, "Us Girls / Can Boogie, too," then each emcee performs a short rhyme.

The film also includes other musical performances from Tina B and The System, both of whom appear on the soundtrack album. Though not featured on the album, there were also appearances by rapper Richard Lee Sisco and singers Bernard Fowler and Brenda K. Starr, known as the Queen of freestyle who later became a Latin artist.

Contrary to popular (internet legend) belief, The RZA of Wu-Tang Clan was not actually in the movie. Some rumors have floated around the net stating that he is the guy in the black hat rhyming during the Roxy auditions scene. However, RZA has gone on the record stating he was not in the film. In fact, he would have only been 15 at the time Beat Street was filmed. The actor in the black hat appears to be markedly older than 15.

At least three breakdancing battles between the New York City Breakers and the Rock Steady Crew were also included in the film. In addition, the Roxy audition scene features a pair of breakdancing boys known as the Fantastic Duo.

This was the first American film to feature more than one soundtrack album. Originally, Atlantic Records, which released the soundtrack albums, had three volumes planned, but only two of these were released. The second volume was never released on compact disc.

The trailer includes an alternate version of the title song performed by Kool Moe Dee, a version that was not featured in the movie or on the original soundtrack albums.

Impact[edit]Loose Cannons a Dallas based Hip Hop duo composed of MC's Boo Naap and Cin Q sample the "It's working" scene for their early Hip Hop era tribute song to break dancing.

The film is mentioned in episode 12 of The Boondocks while Robert "Granddad" Freeman discusses Riley's graffiti masterpiece.

Legendary Rapper AZ mentions the film in his song "The Come Up", in the line "Before Beat Street, streets was heavily in deep with the ryders."

The Notorious B.I.G in his song "Suicidal Thoughts" said, "Should I die on the train tracks like Ramo in Beat Street/People at my funeral frontin' like they miss me."

Jay Electronica mentions the film in his song "Exhibit A (Transformations)" in the line "Who gone bring the game back/who gone spit that Ramo on the train tracks".

Rapper Ras Kass in his song "Won't Catch Me Runnin'" said, "When my voice hits the mike, I electrocute Spit like Beat Street."

Mr. Lif, on "Elektro", rapped the lines: "So I use the same flow to put niggas under in The Serpent and the Rainbow disambiguation needed]/Go back to Beat Street and resurrect Ramo knock the poo out of Spit verbal eclipse"

Lines from the film were mentioned in Lost Prophets song "Five is a Four-Letter Word."

1200 Techniques sampled lines from the film in the song "Battlemaster."

50 Cent from G-unit references Spit and Ramo in "Hustlers Ambition."

Portions of the Beat Street Breakdown scene can be downloaded from the video-sharing sites YouTube and MySpace.

Beat Street's impact was felt internationally as well as throughout the United States. In Germany, for example, movies such as Beat Street and Wild Style are credited with introducing the hip hop movement to the country. Because movies are so easily distributed over borders, part of the importance of this movie lay in its ability to influence both East and West Germany, which at the time were still divided. Beat Street was of particular importance in the East, where it is said to illustrate for young people the evils of capitalism. Because the film focused so heavily on the visual aspects of hip hop, such as breaking and graffiti, these aspects had the heaviest influence on the emerging German hip hop scene.

It was precisely these visual aspects that helped bring hip hop culture to Germany, rather than simply a genre of music. Beat Street appeared in the German Democratic Republic at almost the same time as in the West. Dresden, the center of the Beat Street scene was geographically out of western media range, making it a perfect center to explore this genre of music. The hip hop scene for the entire public would meet at breakdancing competitions, emceeing competitions, and graffiti spraying.[6] Puerto Rican and African American breakdancing, hip hop and Latin freestyle dance sounds, and inner-city American graffiti made up what Germans knew as hip hop culture. The aftermath of Beat Street propelled events such as competitions in emceeing, break dancing, and graffiti spraying throughout Germany.

A force for political expression, social commentary and contemporary lifestyles, The Beatles are the Ultimate Rock Legends Tags: the beatles rock legends word life production music hall fame

George Harrison (guitar, sitar, vocals), John Lennon (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Paul McCartney (bass, guitar, keyboards, vocals), Ringo Starr (drums, percussion, vocals)

The impact of the Beatles has often been noted but cannot be overstated. The “Fab Four” from Liverpool, England, startled the ears and energized the lives of virtually all who heard them. Their arrival triggered the musical revolution of the Sixties, introducing a modern sound and viewpoint that parted ways with the world of the previous decade. The pleasurable jolt at hearing “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” - given the doldrums into which rock and roll had fallen in recent years - was comparable to the collective fever induced by Presley’s “That’s All Right” and “Heartbreak Hotel” nearly 10 years earlier.

The Beatles’ music - with its simultaneous refinement (crisp harmonies, solid musicianship, canny pop instincts) and abandon (energetic singing and playing, much screaming and shaking of mop-topped locks) – ignited the latent energy of youth on both sides of the Atlantic. They helped confer self-identity upon a youthful, music-based culture that flexed its muscle in myriad ways - not just as music consumers but also as a force for political expression, social commentary and contemporary lifestyles.

Landing on American shores on February 7, 1964, they literally stood the world of pop culture on its head, setting the musical agenda for the remainder of the decade. The Beatles’ buoyant melodies, playful personalities and mop-topped charisma were just the tonic needed by a nation left reeling by the senseless assassination of its young president, John F. Kennedy, two months earlier. Even adults typically given to dismissing rock and roll conceded that there was substance in their music and cleverness in their quick-witted repartee. Between the lines, and without obvious disrespect, the Beatles announced the ascendancy of youth - and the inevitable coming of a generation gap as a result.

The long journey resulting in the mob scene that greeted the Beatles’ arrival at Kennedy Airport began in Liverpool. In 1958, John Lennon formed a skiffle group called the Quarrymen. Lennon was raised on Fifties rockabilly and was especially partial to Elvis Presley and Gene Vincent. He met a similarly rock-smitten schoolkid named Paul McCartney. Impressed by McCartney’s knowledge of song lyrics and ability to tune a guitar, Lennon recruited him into the Quarrymen. A schoolmate of McCartney’s, George Harrison, came next. The youthful Harrison’s mastery of guitar licks by Duane Eddy impressed the skeptical Lennon.

With a rhythm section consisting of bassist Stu Sutcliffe (a sharp-looking art student with negligible musical ability) and drummer Pete Best, the group eventually settled on the Beatles as their name. They became a fixture on the rough-and-tumble club scene in Hamburg, Germany, where their five-set-a-night marathons helped mold them into a tight performing unit. Their repertoire comprised well-chosen rock and roll, and rhythm & blues covers by such trailblazers as Chuck Berry and Little Richard. In April 1961, Sutcliffe left and McCartney switched from guitar to bass. On the local scene in their hometown of Liverpool, the group landed a lunchtime residency at a club called The Cavern, where they were discovered by a local record merchant and entrepreneur, Brian Epstein, who became their manager in December 1961. In January 1962, a fan poll in Mersey Beat declared them the top group in Liverpool.

Epstein helped polish the group’s appearance. He attired them in dapper collarless gray suits, which made them appear more accessible than the menacing leathers they’d worn in Hamburg. The Beatles signed with EMI-Parlophone in April 1962 after impressing producer George Martin. In August, fellow Liverpudlian Ringo Starr (born Richard Starkey), then a member of Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, replaced Pete Best. The group’s first single, “Love Me Do”/”P.S. I Love You,” briefly dented the U.K. Top 20 in October 1962, but their next 45, “Please Please Me,” formally ignited Beatlemania in their homeland, reaching the Number Two spot. It was followed in 1963 by three consecutive chart-topping British singles: “From Me to You” “She Loves You,” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

They conquered the U.K., even inducing a classical music critic from the Sunday Times to declare them “the greatest composers since Beethoven.” Moreover, they were the greatest rockers since the composer of “Roll Over, Beethoven” - i.e., Chuck Berry. The freshness and immediacy of the Beatles’ sound stemmed from the fact they assimilated and synthesized the most vital sources for rock and roll that preceded them.

Writing in the Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll, Greil Marcus observed that “the form of the Beatles contained the forms of rock and roll itself. The Beatles combined the harmonic range and implicit equality of the Fifties vocal groups with the flash of a rockabilly band (the Crickets or Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps) with the aggressive and unique personalities of the classic rock stars (Elvis, Little Richard) with the homey, this-could-be-you manner of later rock stars (Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran) with the endlessly inventive songwriting touch of the Brill Building, and they delivered it all with the grace of the Miracles, the physicality of ‘Louie, Louie,’ and the absurd enthusiasm of Gary ‘U.S.’ Bonds.”

The Beatles’ success can be attributed to a combination of factors, including Lennon and McCartney’s songwriting genius, Harrison’s guitar playing prowess, Starr’s artful simplicity as a drummer, and the solid group harmonies that were a hallmark of their recordings. Personally, they had youthful high spirits, good looks, quick wit and refreshingly down-to-earth dispositions to commend them. George Martin’s production and Brian Epstein’s management were important elements as well.

The Beatles’ conquest of America early in 1964 launched “the British Invasion,” a torrent of rock & roll bands from Britain that overtook the pop charts. The Fab Four’s first Number One single in the U.S. was “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” released on Capitol Records, EMI’s American counterpart. This exuberant track was followed by 45 more Top 40 hits over the next six years. During the week of April 4, 1964, the Beatles set a record that is likely never to be broken when they occupied all five of the top positions on Billboard’s Top 40, with “Can’t Buy Me Love” ensconced at Number One. Their popularity soared still further with the release of their anarchic Marx Brothers-as-rock-stars documentary film, A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and its equally playful followup, Help! (1965).

When all was said and done, the Beatles charted 20 Number One singles in the States – two more than runner-up Elvis Presley. It is estimated by EMI, their British record company, that the Beatles have sold more than 600 million units worldwide. For feats of sales and airplay alone, the Beatles are unquestionably the top group in rock and roll history. Yet their significance extends well beyond numbers to encompass their innovations in the recording studio. The Beatles’ legacy as a concert attraction, during their harried passage from nightclubs to baseball stadiums, is distinguished primarily by the deafening screams of female fans more overcome by their appearance than the music they played.

Consequently, the Beatles began to indulge their creative energies in the studio, layering sounds and crafting songs in a way that was experimental yet still accessible. This retreat from the ceaseless mayhem of pop celebrity yielded such musically expansive and lyrically sophisticated albums as Rubber Soul (1965) and Revolver (1966). The former, with its acoustic leanings and thoughtful lyrics, betrayed the influence of Bob Dylan upon the band, while the latter stands as a tour de force of tuneful, concise pop psychedelia.

The Beatles retired from touring for good after a San Francisco concert on August 29, 1966. Like Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, who abandoned touring to focus on his music, the Beatles thereafter became creatures of the studio. Ten months later, they released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, an album that has almost universally been cited as the creative apotheosis of rock and roll, a watershed event in which rock became “serious art” without losing its sense of humor - or, in Lennon’s case, sense of the absurd. Realizing the band members’ collective ambitions took four months and all the technical wiles of producer George Martin could muster. A completely self-contained album meant to be played and experienced from start to finish, Sgt. Pepper broke the mold in that no singles were released.

The album’s artistic reach further cemented the notion of a viable counterculture in the minds of youthful dropouts everywhere. Anyone who was alive in the summer of 1967 can remember the pleasant shock of hearing it and the reverberations it sent outward into the world of rock and roll and beyond. As writer Langdon Winner observed, “For a brief moment, the irreparably fractured consciousness of the West was unified, at least in the minds of the young.” Sgt. Pepper was preceded by perhaps the greatest two-sided single in rock history, “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane,” which exhibited the creative sensibilities of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, respectively, at their zenith.

In the wake of Sgt. Pepper, the Beatles began to splinter in ways that were initially subtle but gradually grew more pronounced. Subsequent events included the death of manager Epstein due to an overdose of sleeping pills; the release of the TV film Magical Mystery Tour, which earned the Beatles some of their first negative reviews; a trip to India to meditate with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, about whom Lennon wrote “Sexy Sadie;” and the launching in January 1968 of Apple Corps, Ltd., a well-intentioned but ultimately mismanaged entertainment empire that helped bring down the Beatles.

Through all the chaotic events of the late Sixties, however, the Beatles retained their ingenuity and focus as recording artists. Released in August 1968, the single “Hey Jude"/"Revolution" became their most popular single. The Beatles (1968), a double-LP popularly referred to as "the White Album," found the group refracting into four estimably talented individuals. This 30-song tour de force included such Beatles classics as “Back in the U.S.S.R,” “”While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Blackbird,” “Birthday” and “Helter Skelter.”

The album and film Let It Be, recorded in 1969 but shelved until 1970, documented the Beatles’ dissolution. Internal squabbles and the discomfiting presence of John Lennon’s new soulmate, Yoko Ono, revealed widening cracks within the group. Even in this tense atmosphere, the Beatles playfully harked back to their origins with impromptu performances of early rock and R&B classics in the studio.

The Beatles exited on a high note, coming together in the summer of 1969 to record a fitting swan song, Abbey Road. That album included numerous highlights: a playful pastiche of short songs, with Paul McCartney as chief instigator, on the second side; a pair of John Lennon’s most emotionally unguarded songs ("Come Together,” “I Want You [She's So Heavy]"); and impressive contributions from George Harrison ("Here Comes the Sun,” “Something").

On April 10, 1970, Paul McCartney announced his departure from the Beatles, and the group quietly came to an end. Throughout the Seventies, fans hoped for an eventual reunion, while the group members pursued solo careers with varying degrees of artistic and commercial success. Those hopes were dashed by the senseless murder of John Lennon in New York City on December 8, 1980.

The Beatles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. Paul McCartney did not attend the ceremony, leaving surviving Beatles Harrison and Starr, and Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, to be inducted by fellow British Invasion legend Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. McCartney released a brief statement that read: ‘’After 20 years, the Beatles still have some business differences, which I had hoped would have been settled by now. Unfortunately, they haven’t been, so I would feel like a complete hypocrite waving and smiling with them at a fake reunion.’’

In 1995, the three ex-Beatles regrouped harmoniously for The Beatles Anthology, which produced a six-hour video documentary aired over the course of three nights on ABC-TV; three double-disc anthologies of Beatles music, including much rare and unreleased material; and a massive coffee table book with new and archival pictures and interviews. Yoko Ono provided home demos of several unreleased Lennon songs for the project, and McCartney, Harrison and Starr completed two of them under the guiding hand of singer/multi-instrumentalist/ composer/producer Jeff Lynne, most famous for his lead role in Eletric Light Orchestra and Harrison's bandmate in the Traveling Wilburys. This resulted in the first new Beatles singles in 25 years: “Free as a Bird” (Number Six) and “Real Love” (Number 11). It was the closest the group came to a reunion since their breakup in 1970.

One of the latest eruptions of Beatlemania occurred in 2005 with the release of 1, a single-disc collection of 27 songs that topped the American and/or British charts. In July 2006, LOVE – an elaborate Cirque de Soleil production that pays tribute to the Beatles - opened at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas.

Although popular music has changed considerably in the decades since the Beatles’ demise, their music continues to reach and inspire new generations of listeners. Half a century after their humble origins in Liverpool, the Beatles remain the most enduring phenomenon in the history of popular music.

Source: http://rockhall.com/inductees/the-beatles/bio/ 

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