The Beatles with Ed Sullivan as they prepare for their performance on Feb. 16, 1964, in Miami
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
What the Beatles eventually gave us is even more staggering than the ratings they generated for CBS on those cold February nights.

The Beatles’ phenomenal success — a magnificent run that changed not only the sound of music but also hairstyles, fashion and even the way music was recorded in the studio — took place in an extraordinarily short period of time.

Seven years.

When the Beatles hit America, they hit hard. On April 4, 1964, less than two months after their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, the Beatles made history by having the top five singles on the Billboard Hot 100. No musician or group had done that before — or has done it since. The songs and rankings were:
  1. "Can't Buy Me Love"
  2. "Twist and Shout"
  3. "She Loves You"
  4. "I Want to Hold Your Hand"
  5. "Please Please Me"

That was it. That was all we had of John, Paul, George and Ringo recording music together, and it was even shorter than that if you lived in the United States. From the first release in January 1964 until the release of Let It Be in May 1970, it was a six-year, four-month journey through 19 music albums (there was also an album that featured stories about the Beatles and interviews with them).

The Beatles held us in thrall, grew from three guitars and drums to three guitars, drums and instruments such as the sitar, piccolo trumpet, flügelhorn, oboe and even a 40-piece orchestra. They became the most important rock ’n’ roll band of all time, and they did it in less time than Bill Clinton or George W. Bush was in the White House.

Although there were some duplications in those 19 albums, the majority of songs were original. In the current music world, such prolific production is nonexistent. It is not uncommon for top groups or solo artists to fill in time between original albums with live or compilation albums. It is also not uncommon for top performers to have several years between releases of original material. None of the major groups do at least two new original albums a year, which the Beatles easily did during their prime.

“It was an extraordinary achievement, but it was also a different time,” Hilburn says. “In those days, the entire focus of the music business was on making records. The problem today is that touring worldwide is such an important part of the rock game plan that there isn’t the same amount of time to write songs and make albums.”