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Boomers@50

Meet the Beatles

From their roots in Liverpool to their last concert, a photo look at the life of the Fab Four

Growing Up: Liverpool

The future Beatles as Liverpool kids — from left, Ringo Starr, John Lennon, Paul McCartney (with older brother Mike) and George Harrison. All are born between 1940 and 1943 and grow up in the gritty English town. Among the local spots name-checked in Beatles songs are Strawberry Field (the orphanage) and Penny Lane, where a young John and Paul would meet to catch a bus downtown.

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The First Foursome

The boys join and form various rock bands in their teens. Lennon and McCartney first hook up in a group called The Quarrymen, which later becomes Johnny and the Mud Dogs, then the Silver Beetles and finally, The Beatles, as pictured here with Harrison and original drummer Pete Best.

Alamy

The Fab Four Forms

In August 1962, Ringo Starr (center), drummer for a rival band called The Hurricanes, jumps ship to the Beatles, ousting Best. The Fab Four is born. Best goes on to a 20-year career as a civil servant before forming The Pete Best Band, with which he still tours. In 1969, Best settles a defamation of character suit against his old bandmates.

Alamy

'Love Me Do' Hits the Charts

The road to worldwide fame for the Beatles begins in small Liverpool clubs like the Cavern, pictured here. The early local gigs are now legendary, but the group is clearly destined for bigger stages: In late 1962, their first single, "Love Me Do," hits the top 20 of the UK pop charts.

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Coming to America

After more than a year of surging popularity in their home country, Beatlemania lands in America; the Fab Four touches down at New York City’s then newly renamed John F. Kennedy Airport in February 1964. Local radio stations promise to give fans who show up a dollar and a free T-shirt and thousands of them — mostly screaming girls — await them. “We like lunatics,” Lennon tells the press when asked about the fevered reception.

AP

Beatlemania Eve

The Beatles visit the set of The Ed Sullivan Show, a day before they make their first U.S. TV appearance. “If anyone has a ticket for The Beatles on our show next week, could I borrow it? We need it very badly,” the 62-year-old host, pictured with the band, jokes in the days leading up to the much-anticipated debut.

Alamy

'The Ed Sullivan Show'

Sullivan’s introduction of the band on the Feb. 9, 1964, broadcast is simple but instantly iconic: “Ladies and Gentlemen … The Beatles!” 73 million TV viewers watch the group’s five-song set, which includes “All My Loving,” “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

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First U.S. Concert: A Capital Affair

The Beatles mug for cameras in snowy Washington, D.C., before their first post-Sullivan Show concert on Feb. 11, 1964. The Washington Coliseum show is the band’s first live U.S. concert.

Getty

'A Hard Day's Night'

The Beatles’ big year continues with the July 1964 release of A Hard Day’s Night, the rock musical that is their film debut. The Richard Lester-directed low-budget production is more than a quick cash-in on the band’s fame: “It is one of the great life-affirming landmarks of the movies,” the late critic Roger Ebert once wrote.

Alamy

'Help!'

In 1965, The Beatles follow up A Hard Day’s Night with their second movie, Help!, also directed by Richard Lester. The filming experience features a bigger budget, more exotic locations (including skiing the Austrian Alps, pictured) and, according to Ringo Starr, a lot more fun: “A hell of a lot of pot was being smoked while we made the film. It was great,” he says in a 1995 interview.

Alamy

Shea Stadium Show

If Beatlemania ever had a peak in America, it is probably the night of Aug. 15, 1965, when the band plays New York’s Shea Stadium. It is the first major stadium rock concert, and the crowd of 55,600 is the largest to see a Beatles show up to that point. Lennon once remembered it like this:  “At Shea Stadium, I saw the top of the mountain.”

Corbis

Bigger Than Jesus?

Lennon sparks a major controversy in 1966 when he off-handedly tells a British newspaper reporter that The Beatles are “more popular than Jesus.” The quote prompts protests across the American South, like the Waycross, Georgia “Beatles Burning” pictured here. Lennon later apologizes — sort of. “I still don’t know what I’ve done,” he says at a Chicago press conference. “But if you want me to apologize, if that will make you happy, then OK, I’m sorry.”

Corbis

Final Concert: San Francisco

The Beatles play their final official concert at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on Aug. 29, 1966. The band plays 11 songs, closing with “Long Tall Sally.” The concert draws a crowd of 25,000, far below the stadium’s 42,000 capacity. The highest priced ticket is $6.50.

Alamy

'Sergeant Pepper's'

Though they retire from touring, The Beatles continue to record together. In June 1967, they release Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. With its iconic album cover and use of experimental recording and production techniques, it is a risky venture. But the risk pays off: To date, Sergeant Pepper’s has sold more than 30 million. In 2003, Rolling Stone named it “Greatest Album of All Time.”

Alamy

John as Elvis

“Before Elvis, there was nothing,” Lennon once famously said of his rock 'n' roll idol, Elvis Presley. The King was hugely influential on Lennon and his music. In 1968, Lennon pays tribute by dressing as Elvis for a costume party at a bar in Liverpool.

Zuma

The Beatles Go to India

The Beatles pose with their spiritual adviser, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, on a visit to his ashram in India in early 1968. The band’s interest in Transcendental Meditation is credited with popularizing the practice among Westerners, and their weeks-long visit produces some of their most famous work, including many of the songs on The Beatles (the White Album).

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Farewell: The Rooftop Concert

The Beatles final public performance together is an impromptu one, a lunchtime concert atop London’s Apple Organization building on Jan. 30, 1969. The 42-minute set is shot by director Michael Lindsay-Hogg for the documentary Let It Be. Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono is seen sitting on the far right. Lennon ends the show by addressing surprised fans listening on the streets below: “I'd like to say 'thank you' on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition!” Later that year, Lennon officially leaves the band, effectively ending The Beatles.

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