The massive popularity of The Beatles didn’t diminish once the band officially broke up in 1970. The impact that John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr had on pop music was unmatched by any other act, and the revolutionary shockwaves they sent through culture are still being felt to this day. But more than anything else, being a Beatle meant unprecedented success.
Talking about cultural shifts and critical praise is nice, but it’s not tangible. Record sales and chart positions, however, can be quantified and measured to show just how massively popular The Beatles really were. Across the US and UK singles charts, The Beatles landed a total of 32 number one hits throughout their career. In terms of confirmed units sold, The Beatles remain the biggest-selling music act of all time, with nearly 300 million confirmed sales and nearly 600 million claimed sales.
Once the band broke up, it was only logical that their global fanbase would follow each member in their respective solo careers. Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison each quickly released solo albums, while Starr opted to focus more seriously on acting over recording. But by 1973, all four members had landed a number one song on either the US or the UK singles charts.
The first was George Harrison, who took ‘My Sweet Lord’ to number one in both the US and UK in the late months of 1970 and the early weeks of 1971. Harrison had seen a number of his songs rejected by his bandmates during the final years of The Beatles, so to be the first member to land a song on top of the charts must have been a special moment of satisfaction for Harrison.
The next Beatle to reach the summit was Paul McCartney, who had baulked at a potential chart-topping single by keeping ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ as an album track on his debut solo LP. When he and his wife Linda recorded Ram in 1971, it was decided that the medley ‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’ would be the first single. Despite its sprawling nature, the track topped the Billboard Hot 100 in September of 1971. Still, McCartney wouldn’t have a true-blue solo number one until 1980, when ‘Coming Up’ became the first song credited solely to McCartney to reach number one.
After initially putting his solo music career on hold, Ringo Starr was back in pop star mode by 1973. His self-titled album Ringo was a return to rock music after two solo albums focused on traditional pop and country music, with Starr bringing in all three ex-Beatles to assist him. It was his collaboration with Harrison, ‘Photograph’, that landed Starr his first of two American number one hits. The next would come a few months later when ‘You’re Sixteen’ from the same album topped the American charts in 1974.
Despite getting off to a hot start with ‘Give Peace a Chance’, ‘Instant Karma!’ and ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ all just barely missing number one, John Lennon would be the last of his Beatles bandmates to land a number one single. That eventually came in 1975, when his collaboration with Elton John, ‘Whatever Gets You Thru The Night’, topped the Billboard Hot 100 in the November of 1974. Lennon would only get another number one after his passing, when ‘Imagine’ and ‘(Just Like) Starting Over’ went to the top of the charts.