Fifty years ago this week The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” hit #1 in America. It marked the beginning of the end of the Old Order.
To some (including my Latin teacher at the time) it foretold the fall of Western Civilization. To others (including me) it foretold the resurrection of rock & roll—and the obliteration of the pop pablum and banal blandness that AM radio (and what else?) had been serving up to us. Suffice it to say, popular music—and culture—would never be the same.
Hyperbole? Check out here how The Beatles bulldozed the musical landscape, including the traditional Hit Parade, curtailing the careers of many middle-of-the-road crooners, surfers, and novelty songsters.
In Britain The Beatles had already scored four #1 rock & roll hits in 1963, but it was January ‘64 when the Fabs broke through on the US charts and became a global phenomenon. By April they occupied the top five slots on the Billboard Hot 100—an unprecedented accomplishment—displacing far fluffier fare!
I often use The Beatles to illustrate many of the “success traits” that top-tier rock bands share with the best business teams, but let me focus on one here. The Beatles were driven, with a monomaniacal focus on the end goal: being the biggest band in the world. They were going to make an impact. Their motto was “to the toppermost of the poppermost”—or "being bigger than Elvis.” (In business-speak we’d say they had an “action orientation” and a “results bias”!) They obviously enjoyed the ride as it unfolded, but their focus was always on the final prize. And they were in perpetual motion to achieve it.
I was reminded of this when I came across a schedule of gigs they did in their early years. Before they arrived in America in 1964 they often did 30 performances a month. (When they played Hamburg, Germany, in 1960-61, those nightly gigs often consisted of six or more sets per night.) They were workaholic before there was a word for it. And Brian Epstein, once he took over management of the band at the start of 1962, pushed them even harder.
Example: On January 16, 1964, when The Beatles received news that they had their first #1 in America, it occurred after the first night of an eighteen-day run at the Olympia Theatre in Paris, in which they performed two to three sets per day—including a matinee and evening show.
When Brian Epstein read the boys a telegram from Capitol Records announcing the achievement (in advance of the Beatles trip to the US in February), the boys were uncharacteristically quiet. Nobody said a word. Perhaps they were stunned by the realization that their goal, for the first time, was within reach?
Ironically, after they had their first US hit, although they maintained a grueling touring schedule, they rarely performed more than one set per night, so by their standards they had started to coast. John Lennon would later say that at the time The Beatles arrived in America their act was so polished they were no longer the killer live rock band they had been for years. But by then these four moptops were already on their way to writing and producing the best records in the history of popular music. Their results obsession would serve them well in the recording studio (where producer George Martin marveled at their drive and tenacity), finally making them "bigger than Elvis"—and any other pop music act before or since.
Stephen R. Covey once said, “Begin with the end in mind.” Know your objective from the start. That's something every business team should practice.
But that line may also mean something that Covey did not intend. Begin with the end of WHAT in mind? The Beatles (and many rock bands that followed) understood what they wanted to end—as in destroy. Any business team with a game-changing product or service should know what it wants to terminate. That’s what disruptive innovation does. And the bigger the innovation, the bigger the destruction.
In the next month I’ll be interviewing biographer Jude Southerland Kessler who is about to release her third volume on John Lennon’s life, She Loves You, which will be covering this period, fifty years ago, when the Fabs took the States (and the world) by storm. An apt metaphor.