The Beatles may not have been the first to do many of the things that made them successful. George Harrison clipped guitar licks from Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins. Paul McCartney got his wail from Little Richard. Their warm and wonderful harmonies were inspired by the likes of the Everly Brothers. They also found themselves in an important cross-Atlantic competition with their American counterparts, the Beach Boys.
Starting with "I Want to Hold Your Hand" in January of 1964, right through to "Penny Lane" in February of 1967, they had thirteen number-one singles, and each of their first seven albums reached the top spot on the US Billboard charts, accomplishments that will likely never be equaled.
The world simply couldn't get enough of the Beatles in the early-mid sixties, but by August 29, 1966, the Beatles--John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr--had had enough of the Beatles. Fully drained and disillusioned by the demands of unimaginable fame, they played their last concert at San Francisco's Candlestick Park. Exiting the field in an armored car, they looked at one another and agreed that they were done--not as a band but as a touring band.
A year earlier the Beatles had experienced their first LSD trips, the profound effects of which were first heard on the album Revolver. The transformation was somewhat startling, but they had begun to see themselves not as pop stars, but as creative artists. The end of their hellish, frenetic road tours had finally given John, Paul, George, and Ringo the one thing they had lacked for so long: time. The Beatles went into the recording studio along with their trusted producer George Martin, who was able to make profound recordings of all the ideas that sprang from them. Referred to as the "Fifth Beatle," Martin was, in so many ways, the technical translator of their genius.
Alone with each other, and with their own thoughts, Martin and the band began to work on an idea that originated with McCartney. He wondered out loud just what it would be like if they stopped being the Beatles and allowed themselves to start fresh, feeling that it would open them to boundless possibilities. He tossed out a new name that was, at once, whimsical and provocative: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Alongside their drug experiences, the Beatles were influenced by the psychedelic counterculture that had started in the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco and was beginning to grip the entire...