Founded in Liverpool during the late '50s by guitarists John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison, with drummer Pete Best and Stu Sutcliffe on bass, the Beatles were initially a skiffle band, playing a British variation of American folk music. The band -- which went under several names before arriving at the Beatles -- incorporated numerous American rock & roll, rhythm & blues, and pop music influences in their playing and songwriting, most notably the sounds of Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Arthur Alexander. By the early '60s, they had developed significant popularity in Hamburg, Germany, where dozens of Liverpool bands were booked into local clubs, and this soon translated into success in their hometown, where the band's mixture of solid American rock & roll and careful music articulation made them stand out from the rest of the city's music scene. Sutcliffe left the band in 1961 and McCartney took over on bass. After finding their manager Brian Epstein -- who got them an audition with George Martin, the head of EMI Records' tiny Parlophone label -- the band was signed to a recording contract in 1962. Ringo Starr replaced Best on drums soon thereafter, and the group's lineup was set.
By the spring of 1963, the Beatles' singles and albums were breaking sales records in England, and they were officially introduced to America in February 1964 with an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show followed by a whirlwind tour. The group had been signed the year before to do a movie, and, through a stroke of good luck, they were turned over to producer Walter Shenson, director Richard Lester, and screenwriter Alun Owen, who together created A Hard Day's Night, probably the best rock & roll movie ever made. This film, a black-and-white, documentary-style, fictionalized account of the fishbowl lives that the Beatles were leading during the first wave of Beatlemania, was popular with parents as well as their teenage children, and critics loved it, too. (Andrew Sarris called it "the Citizen Kane of jukebox movies.") The mix of the four personalities -- Starr's honest, earthy, clownish presence; Harrison's cutting, funny personality; McCartney's pleasant, engaging presence; and Lennon's snide, sarcastic wit -- won over audiences around the world.