As an amateur Beatles historian I sometimes wake up in the morning wondering what the Fabs were doing on this calendar day decades ago. (Hey, we all have our quirks. At least this one doesn't require supervision.) Today I started poking around to find out what they were up to on September 17th in the years before they became the biggest band on the planet.
It turns out that there’s an amazing online resource for this, The Beatles Bible, which has chronicled where the Fabs were playing—and anything else of Beatles importance—on nearly every day of their existence! Here’s what I discovered:
On 9/17/60 they played the Indra Club in Hamburg, Germany, the 32nd of 48 consecutive nights there. They had to perform four and a half hours each weekday night, beginning their first set at 8 pm and ending their last set at 2 am. (Longer hours on the weekend.)
On 9/17/61 they performed at the Hambleton Hall in Liverpool, in the middle of a 33-gig month.
On 9/17/62 they played a lunchtime concert at the Cavern Club in Liverpool—their 234th appearance there. This was also in the middle of a 33-gig month.
What jumps out from this itinerary snapshot—and the broader schedule the website displays—is that these guys were busting their hump for years! I have written about what workaholics these lads were—not exactly the cartoon stereotype of rock musicians who “love to do work at nothing all day,” as brayed by Bachman-Turner Overdrive in “Taking Care of Business.” But I hadn’t grasped the extent of it.
The Beatles’ customary routine was 30-38 performances a month, even before they charted their first tune (“Love Me Do” in October, 1962). Once they had hit records and Beatlemania took over, things got crazier—though the gig schedule decreased slightly due to increased recording sessions and TV appearances.
That they could keep up this pace over a twenty-four-month period (approximately 700 gigs) while playing for peanuts, with no record to promote them, is insane. Again, this was before the celebrity madness began in 1963 which whipped them into an even higher level of activity for many years. But in this early period they were grinding it out on their own. Overnight traveling/sleeping in a van plus setting up/breaking down equipment each night (unless they had an extended stay at a Hamburg club) was a pretty typical “day in the life.”
I still get weird looks when I tell people that business teams have much to learn from the great rock bands. The looks get weirder when I mention that business teams can learn from these bands the value of being preoccupied with, fixated by, obsessed with results. The great bands were driven. That doesn’t fit the common caricature of rockers. But it does the successful ones.
The Beatles were fanatically focused on the final prize for six years before they broke through on the international stage. According to Lennon historian Jude Southerland Kessler, Lennon was talking about being “bigger than Elvis” long before The Beatles starting calling themselves The Beatles.
And there are dozens of other top-tier bands who had the same crazed ambition and drive—and racked up the days on the road to prove it—from The Rolling Stones to U2 to Maroon 5.
While most business teams can't sustain weeks of work without a day off, bands usually don't get burned out from their intense performance schedules. This might have something to do with the fact that they love their work. It's creative, enlivening, and challenging—and in pursuit of a shared dream. (This is also true for some software teams.)
So a challenge for business leaders is: how do you recreate this phenomenon? How do you generate an environment for this in your company? The point of course isn't for team members to be working eight days a week. Folks should have a full life outside of their job or career. But wouldn't it be great if they had difficulty leaving work at the end of the day because they loved it so much?