The son of Mona Best, the owner of Liverpool's Casbah Club, where The Beatles played occasionally, Best was first invited to join the band in 1959, later rejoining for their 1960–1961 residency in Hamburg. He stayed until shortly after their first audition for EMI in 1962, but was fired on 16 August of that year, to be replaced by Ringo Starr, then of Rory Storm and the Hurricanes.
Best was told of the dismissal by The Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein. The reason given was that George Martin, who was to become The Beatles' producer, had been dissatisfied with Best's drumming and intended to replace him on their recordings. (Indeed, Martin did use a studio drummer, Andy White, on their first single session for "Love Me Do", even though Starr had been auditioned beforehand.) The decision appears to have been a 'last straw' with the group, who felt Best had never completely fit in as a member. While Lennon, McCartney and Harrison usually spent their offstage time together, practicing their music or socialising, Best mostly went off alone. He therefore was not privy to many of the group's experiences, references, in-jokes and developing sense of style; when the band adopted the mop-top-style Beatle haircut, Best did not follow suit.
Starr, on the other hand, had an appealing, unique playing style (which impressed Harrison, in particular), and he was already quite popular in the Mersey scene and readily joined in all The Beatles' activities. Starr's affable personality fit more naturally with the personalities and egos of the others, and indeed would continue to do so until the Beatles final breakup and beyond. It has been speculated that another reason for dismissing Best (and hiring Ringo) was to draw fans from one of their primary local rivals Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Aside from that, there has also always been the assumption that the other Beatles were jealous of Best's appeal with the female fans, since he was more conventionally handsome than the other members, a problem that certainly would not exist with Ringo in his place. It has also been reported that Epstein first offered the job not to Starr, but to Johnny Hutchinson of The Big Three, who turned it down. Ringo's old band is said to have invited Best to make the switch reciprocal by becoming The Hurricanes' drummer, but he refused. Oddly, Ringo had always worn a beard during the period that The Beatles had known him, and did not shave it off until after he had joined the band.
When word of Best's replacement broke in Liverpool (through outlets like Mersey Beat), many Beatles fans were upset, and one gave George Harrison a black eye. Quite a few female fans considered Best to be the band's best-looking member – at many early shows, Best had had his own group of female fans present in the audience. Fans would cheer "Pete Forever, Ringo Never."
In an appearance on the American game show I've Got a Secret, roughly two years later, Best seemed to deny that he was dismissed. Asked why 'he left the band', the still-ducktailed Best replied that he '...didn't think they would go as far as they did.'
In later years, Best himself has admitted to being a Beatles fan and owning their records.
Best's musicianship has been a source of debate among Beatles' fans. The Beatles were considered a tight band prior to the start of their major recording career at EMI, and Best's drumming was generally thought to be solid. His performance on a 1962 demo of The Beatles' "Love Me Do" (included on The Beatles Anthology) is virtually indistinguishable from the single version released later that year, and recordings from the German period (notably the recording of "My Bonnie" with Tony Sheridan) show him playing a harder style than Starr would in succeeding years. His main weakness was a lack of creativity. He keeps time in a standard manner on several Anthology recordings and uses conventional fills. Starr proved to be significantly more innovative with the instrument, pioneering a new drumming style (leading with his left hand) and composing drum parts particular to a song's needs.
After The Beatles
After his split from The Beatles, Best joined Lee Curtis & The All Stars, which then broke off from Curtis and became Pete Best & The All Stars. They signed to Decca Records — who had previously rejected The Beatles, and signed The Tremeloes instead — and released the single "I'm Gonna Knock On Your Door", which failed to gain an audience.
Best then relocated to the United States — along with two songwriting musicians from The Remo Four, Wayne Bickerton and Tony Waddington — as The Pete Best Four, and did some recording for small labels. Personnel changes in early 1965 increased the group's size to five, with the new name The Pete Best Combo. They toured the United States with their combination of 1950s songs and originals but had little success, hurt by having no hit records in England or major label promotion in the United States. Finally, they released an album on Cameo Records titled Best Of The Beatles (a dubious play on Peter's name, leading to disappointment for record buyers who expected a Beatles compilation), but disbanded not long after. (Bickerton and Waddington were to find much greater success as songwriters in the 1970s for a series of hits by The Rubettes.)
Best apparently tried to commit suicide in 1965 by locking himself in a room and inhaling fumes from a gas fire. Best filed a libel suit against The Beatles in October of that year, because Starr implied in an interview with Playboy magazine that Best had been fired because he was a drug user. The suit was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. Best decided to leave show business, and in Hunter Davies' 1968 authorised Beatles biography, he was portrayed as both somewhat bitter but also unwilling to further talk about or otherwise cash in on his Beatles association.
After a series of jobs outside music, including work as a baker and a civil servant, Best began giving interviews to the media, writing about his time with The Beatles, and serving as a technical advisor for the television movie Birth of the Beatles in the late 1970s. Thus, Best eventually found a modicum of independent fame, and toured as leader of The Pete Best Band. In this public role, Best is uniquely positioned to gratify the many fans who are fascinated with The Beatles' early days.
When the surviving Beatles released their Anthology in 1995, which featured a number of tracks with Best as drummer, Best received a substantial windfall — apparently between £1 million and £4 million — from the sales. Some have speculated that Apple Records head Neil Aspinall, who reportedly remains friendly with Best, saw to it that Best would be compensated. (Aspinall had an affair with Best's mother, Mona, in the early 1960s, and Best's half-brother, Roag, is Aspinall's son.) Unfortunately, some aspects of the project also seemed to perpetuate the band's legacy of insult with regard to Best. He was not interviewed for the book or the television documentaries, and later disputed a statement by former bandmate George Harrison where Harrison claimed he remembered Best missing several live gigs, with his future replacement, Ringo Starr, sitting in for the night (this is documented to have occured on at least one occasion). His image on an early group photo used on the cover was prominently and purposefully obscured by a cut-out of Ringo Starr, contrasting with the cover collage's inclusion of fellow former early Beatle Stuart Sutcliffe's portrait. (However, Best is visible in another, less prominent, photo also appearing on the cover.) Additionally, "Ain't She Sweet," one of the early tracks included on the compilation album to feature Best on drums, was presented in its 1964 U.S. mono single mix, which had been remixed with another studio drummer playing over Best's original drumming. But Best persevered, and recently has appeared in a television special built around him titled Best Of The Beatles, telling his life story.