Screenshot of the Beatles from the movie Hard Day's Night
From movies like "A Hard Day's Night" to countless No. 1 hits, the Beatles had quite a prolific career. (Image via Google Images)

How Hamburg Shaped the Beatles and Changed Music Forever

They’re still one of the most popular bands in the world even decades after breaking up, but there was a time when their surroundings were much more humble.

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Screenshot of the Beatles from the movie Hard Day's Night

They’re still one of the most popular bands in the world even decades after breaking up, but there was a time when their surroundings were much more humble.

If you have ever wondered why you like certain music and your friends listen to something else, then there may be a good reason. There is some science behind your musical tastes, but back in the ‘60s, at least at some point, it seemed like everyone was listening to one particular band.

Beatlemania arrived at Kennedy Airport on Feb. 7, 1964. The band had just scored their first No. 1 in the states and were on their first visit to try and conquer the unbreakable U.S. market.

However, a few short years earlier, the band was unheard of and playing approximately, 6,126 kilometers away, while dreams of stardom were even further down the line.

One significant part of Beatles history is their time in Hamburg. Over 60 years ago, an unknown bunch of youngsters turned up in Germany to try and find the sound they were looking for, along with much-needed stage time.

When did the Beatles go to Hamburg?

The Beatles first arrived in Germany in August 1960. They had been booked to play as a resident band at the Indra by Allan Williams, their booking agent.

The band back then consisted of four permanent members: Paul McCartney, George Harrison, John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe. They had no drummer and had to rope in Pete Best just a few days before they left.

The trip nearly didn’t happen and you have to wonder if the world would have had the same music if it didn’t.

Firstly, Paul’s dad didn’t want him to go and took some convincing. John’s aunt felt the same way, so he exaggerated just how much money he was going to make. And, last, they didn’t have a drummer. On top of this, their booking agent didn’t even think they were any good and was on the lookout for a replacement.

How long did they stay?

They played a series of clubs over a period of just over two years. In total, they made five trips to Germany to continue playing in the clubs, no matter how grueling it was.

The first trip ended for George Harrison when it was discovered he was under the age of 18, and 10 days later Best and McCartney also got deported. The latter were deported under suspicion of arson, and it wouldn’t be the last time Paul fell afoul of the law.

What major events happened in Hamburg?

In many ways, The Beatles’ time in Hamburg shaped them into the band that made the groundbreaking record “Abbey Road,” which still sounds great 50 years later.

They met Ringo Starr in Hamburg, who later became the replacement for Best, and one of the Fab Four.

Their time in Germany also gave them exposure — admittedly in some seedy places at first — but it still brought them attention. This enabled them to get their name heard by some pretty useful people. One of these interested parties was a man named Brian Epstein.

Playing in the rough and ready clubs of St. Pauli on their first tour taught them a lot.

Where did they play, and how did it shape them?

The Beatles played the Indra originally, and a dump by any accounts. After that club closed, the band moved to the Kaiserkeller.

The hours that the band had to perform were endless. Hours of continuous playing with not enough material to back it up. This was one reason that the band became so good. They had to improvise, make up solos and extend songs. It was practicing but in front of an audience, and a hostile one at that.

Not only were the bars and the area dangerous, but the staff could be too. There is mention of one incident that occurred where the doormen beat them up. A lot of the tension could be chalked up to John Lennon’s particular sense of humor and unwillingness to back down.

Still, the band found that they improved over time, and ended up playing at The Top Ten and The Star Club as well. It was in their later days in Hamburg perhaps that the band put together recognizable Beatles chords with their guitars.

They got their look from Hamburg

While Stuart Sutcliffe was never destined to be a musician, his time in Hamburg had hidden benefits for the band.

Astrid Kirchherr had met Sutcliffe and taken his photograph. It was him that asked for the haircut that later resulted in the Beatles being called mop-tops. Incidentally, Kirchherr denied ever having transformed the Beatles’ appearance and called it rubbish.

One thing that is undeniable, though, is that she took a series of famous photographs of the Beatles during their times in Hamburg. She would have also been the reason that the Beatles met Klaus Voormann who later played bass with Harrison and Lennon after the band split. He also designed the cover artwork for “Revolver.”

How influential are the Beatles today?

The Beatles continue to sell records, decades after they broke up. Video games have been based around their music and you can imitate them in Rock Band on the PS3.

You can learn the Let it Be chord online on music tutorial websites, and you can watch them on YouTube. Bands such as Oasis have openly admitted their love for the Beatles, and you can hear their influence in their music too.

Without the Beatles, you would still have music of course, but how different it would be from today’s is an interesting thought.

Did they break a lot of records?

As far as records go, the Beatles didn’t just make them, they broke them too. The Fab Four holds the record for the most No. 1 hits on the U.S. Billboard with 20.

All these singles were released within six years. They also hold the same record for the UK charts unsurprisingly with 17 No. 1 hits.

They are simply the best-selling group of all time. Hundreds of millions of copies of their songs have been sold on vinyl, cassette, CD and downloads.

One other event in Hamburg overshadowed some of their triumphs though.

In April 1962, Stuart Sutcliffe died from a brain hemorrhage. He had already left the band to pursue his ambition to be an artist. He was just 21 years old.

Summary

The Beatles didn’t last anywhere near as long as some other huge bands. The Rolling Stones, the Beatles’ great rivals, are still touring today. However, the body of work that the Fab Four produced has stood the test of time, and gets covered and practiced by amateur musicians everywhere.

The band got involved in movies and even released an animated film, “Yellow Submarine.” “A Hard Day’s Night” currently sits at No. 6 of the best musicals ever on Rotten Tomatoes too.

One thing the Beatles never did during their time together was sit still. They moved from covering rock ‘n’ roll staples to writing their own music. They worked up from gritty clubs in the red light district to playing stadiums. Their music changed through the years, and they touched on influences from India and psychedelia.

The Beatles evolved, and Hamburg showed them how to.

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