If you turned on an American television set in the summer of 1957, you might have spotted President Dwight D. Eisenhower addressing the nation, or Willie Mays shagging fly balls in center field for the New York Giants. You'd notice that automobiles had tailfins, and that gasoline was advertised at forty-five cents a gallon. You also might have caught a young rock and roller named Jerry Lee Lewis pounding a piano while belting out “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On.” If you happened to be a teenager in Liverpool, England, in 1957, and were interested in pop music, you might have heard some of the rock music coming from America—you would definitely have heard of Elvis Presley, at the very least. By that time, Elvis, his music, and his youthful swagger had crossed the ocean and started to influence teenagers all over the world in many ways.
In the midst of these events, in July of 1957, sixteen-year-old John Lennon was introduced to fifteen-year-old Paul McCartney at a church fair in Liverpool where John was performing with his group, the Quarry Men. Both John and Paul had modest musical backgrounds at a young age: Paul had taught himself some guitar and John led his own group. Both wrote songs even then, but neither could have dreamed where a simple talent for songwriting would eventually take them.
It is hard to imagine what the world would be like today if this meeting had never occurred. From this simple introduction sprang a friendship that would last until 1970, when they would decide to end their partnership. In the years between 1960 and 1970, John and Paul were the leaders of a pop music phenomenon known as the Beatles. The Beatles wrote and performed songs that not only became huge, popular hits, but also touched people's lives in the process. And not just a few people—millions and millions of people. For a time in 1964, the Beatles had the top five hit singles in the Billboard pop chart, a feat that no one would have thought possible and that still has not been equaled.
With the hits, and the fame that came with it, also came influence. The Beatles’ presence is still felt in the way music is made today; while making their records, they invented dozens of the techniques that have become standard in music recording studios. They changed the clothes people wore and the length of their hair. And most of all, they changed the world's attitude toward what the younger generation could do. Their rise to superstardom seemed to happen at precisely the right time, as if the world had been waiting just for them. Seeing thousands of screaming teenagers greeting them in the street wherever they went must have struck many as simple mass hysteria that would soon fade away with the next fad. But their legacy is still very much alive today.
In many ways, the Beatles are almost as popular today as they were over thirty years ago. In 1995, ABC aired The Beatles Anthology, a lengthy documentary about the group, narrated entirely by the Beatles themselves. This attracted millions of viewers and reminded many of just how powerful their impact had been, and still remains. A recent album of all of their number one hits—called simply 1—has sold millions of copies and introduced the group to a younger generation. You can travel the world and still hear their songs coming out of radios everywhere, every day.
“The Beatles somehow reached more people, more nationalities, more parts that other bands couldn't reach,” said Beatles guitarist George Harrison. “I think we gave hope to the Beatle fans.” Although many reasons for their longevity and importance have been suggested, the Beatles’ significance to the world can probably be summed up with one quality: They were the very best at what they did.