The Influences and Music
As youths, the members
of The Beatles were enthusiastic followers of
British rock-and-rollers, notably Cliff Richard
and The Shadows, whose stage presence and female
following were often cited by the band as one
of their inspirations to begin performing publicly.
In their early days as performers, the band took
some cues from local Liverpool favourites Rory
Storm and the Hurricanes, who Ringo played with
prior to joining the Beatles.
Many of the Band's influences were
American in origin. Chuck Berry was perhaps the
most fundamental progenitor of the Beatles' sound.
They recorded covers of "Roll Over Beethoven"
and "Rock And Roll Music" early on and
many other Berry classics were in their live repertoire.
Chuck Berry's influence is also heard (in altered
form) on later recordings such as "Everybody's
Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey"
(1968) and "Come Together" (1969) (when
"Come Together" was released, the owner
of Chuck Berry's copyrights sued John Lennon for
copyright infringement of his song "You Can't
Catch Me", after which the two reached an
amicable settlement, the terms of which included
an agreement that Lennon cover some Chuck Berry
songs as a solo artist).
George Harrison had a fondness
for American rockabilly music, particularly that
of Eddie Cochran and Carl Perkins. The band's
early stage show featured several Perkins tunes;
some of these (notably "Honey Don't"
featuring an early Ringo vocal) would eventually
make it to vinyl. Moreover, Harrison's guitar
work remained highly influenced by rockabilly
styles throughout the band's tenure.
The Beatles' distinctive vocal
harmonies were also influenced by those of early
Motown artists in America; early Beatles staples
included faithful versions of Barrett Strong's
Motown recording of "Money (That's What I
Want)" and The Marvelettes' hit "Please
While many of these American influences
drew from the blues music form, The Beatles, unlike
their contemporaries the Rolling Stones, were
seldom directly influenced by the blues. Drawing
inspiration from an eclectic variety of sources,
their home idiom was closer to pop music (during
their early fame they were sometimes referred
to as a mod band, a label they seem to have resisted).
At the height of Beatlemania, John
Lennon declared "Before Elvis, there was
nothing." In comments recorded for the Anthology
TV series all four band members spoke of him in
glowing terms, with George Harrison (showing his
knack for religious allusions) saying "Seeing
Elvis was like seeing the messiah arrive."
However, it has been argued Presley's musical
influence on the Beatles may have been indirect,
with opinion somewhat split; although few deny
there was an influence, the extent of it has been
the subject of controversy among fans and music
The Beatles were also fond of Little
Richard and some of their songs (especially in
the early repertoire) featured falsetto calls
similar to his, notably on their version of his
song "Long Tall Sally". In 1962 he socialised
with the Beatles around Hamburg and they performed
together at the Star Club. "Long Tall Sally"
became a permanent fixture in the Beatles' concert
performances, and McCartney's singing on their
recorded version is widely regarded as among his
best rock and roll vocal performances.
Apart from the up-beat, optimistic
rock and roll sound of Little Richard and others,
McCartney's influences include ragtime and vaudeville,
owing much to his father's musical interests.
Their impact is apparent in songs like "When
I'm Sixty-Four" (composed during The Quarry
Men period), "Honey Pie", and "Maxwell's
Silver Hammer". Of their early single, "From
Me To You", McCartney said, "It could
be done as an old ragtime tune... especially the
middle-eight. And so we're not writing the tunes
in any particular idiom." His songwriting
was also influenced in part by Brian Wilson of
The Beach Boys, who was in turn spurred on by
the Beatles' work. Wilson acknowledged that the
American version of Rubber Soul challenged him
to make Pet Sounds, an album which then inspired
McCartney's vision of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts
Club Band. The song "Back in the USSR"
was based on a suggestion by Mike Love to McCartney
and contains overt allusions to the Beach Boys'
"California Girls". The song "Here,
There and Everywhere" is said to have been
written the evening that Lennon and McCartney
first listened to Pet Sounds.
The Everly Brothers were another
influence. Lennon and McCartney consciously copied
Don and Phil Everly's distinctive two-part harmonies.
Their vocals on two 1962 recordings, "Love
Me Do" and "Please Please Me" were
inspired by the Everlys' powerful vocal innovation
on "Cathy's Clown" (1960), the first
recording to ever reach number one simultaneously
in the USA and in England. "Two of Us",
the opening track on Let It Be is overtly composed
in the Everly style and McCartney acknowledges
this in the recording with a spoken "Take
The song-writing of Gerry Goffin
and Carole King was yet another influence. Some
say that one of the Beatles' many achievements
was to marry the relative sophistication of Goffin
and King's songs (which used major-seventh chords,
for example) with the straightforwardness of Buddy
Holly, Berry and the early rock-and-roll performers.
Lennon and McCartney's goal when they first began
writing together was to become "the next
Goffin and King."
John Lennon's early style has clear
relationships to Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison ("Misery"
from 1963 and "Please Please Me" from
1963). "That'll Be the Day" was the
first song Lennon learned to play and sing accurately
and the first song the proto-Beatles ever put
to vinyl. McCartney admitted, "At least the
first forty songs we wrote were Buddy Holly influenced."
Lennon said that Holly "made it okay to wear
glasses. I WAS Buddy Holly." The naming of
the Beatles (originally the Silver Beatles) was
of course, Lennon's way of paying tribute to Buddy
Holly's band, The Crickets. The Beatles covered
Holly's "Words of Love" on their album
Beatles for Sale.
After hearing the work of Bob Dylan
Lennon was heavily influenced by folk music ("You've
Got To Hide Your Love Away" and "Norwegian
Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" from 1965). Lennon
is said to have been stunned by Dylan's song Subterranean
Homesick Blues, and made to wonder at how he could
ever outdo it.
Lennon also played the major role
in steering the Beatles towards psychedelia ("Tomorrow
Never Knows" from 1966, and "Strawberry
Fields Forever" and "I Am the Walrus"
from 1967) and then renewed his interest in earlier,
"good old rock and roll" forms towards
the close of the Beatles' career ("Don't
Let Me Down" from 1969).
Paul McCartney is perhaps best
known as the group's romantic balladeer. Beginning
with "Yesterday" (1965), he pioneered
a modern form of art song, exemplified by "Eleanor
Rigby" (1966), "Here, There and Everywhere"
(1966) and "She's Leaving Home" (1967).
Meanwhile McCartney kept his affection for the
driving R&B of Little Richard in a series
of songs Lennon dubbed "potboilers",
from "I Saw Her Standing There" (1963)
to "Lady Madonna" (1968). "Helter
Skelter" (1968), arguably an early heavy
metal song, is also a McCartney composition.
Originally, The Beatles' work focused around themes
of optimistic, giddy love akin to that of a boy
who had just fallen in love, as typified by their
performances of songs on The Ed Sullivan Show,
such as "All My Loving", "She Loves
You" and "I Want To Hold Your Hand".
George Harrison derived his early guitar style
from 1950s rockabilly figures such as Carl Perkins,
Scotty Moore (who worked with Elvis Presley) and
Duane Eddy. "All My Loving" (1963) and
"She's A Woman" (1964) are prime examples
of Harrison's early rockabilly guitar work.
In 1965 Harrison broke new ground
in the West by recording on "Norwegian Wood
(This Bird Has Flown)" with an Indian sitar.
His long collaboration with Sri Ravi Shankar,
a famous Hindustani Musician, influenced many
of his compositions, some of which were based
on Hindustani forms (most notably "Love You
To" (1966), "Within You, Without You"
(1967), and "The Inner Light" (1968)).
Indian music and culture also influenced Lennon
and McCartney, with the use of swirling tape loops,
droning bass lines and mantra-like vocals on "Tomorrow
Never Knows" (1966) and "Dear Prudence"
Harrison retained Western musical
forms in his later compositions, emerging as a
significant pop composer in his own right, although
occasionally reprising major themes indicating
his relationship with Hindustani music and the
Hindu god Krishna. His later guitar style, while
not displaying the virtuosity of Jimi Hendrix
or Eric Clapton, was distinctive with its use
of clear melodic lines and subtle fills as in
"Something" (1969) and "Let It
Be" (1970), contrasting with the increasingly
distorted riffs and rapid-fire guitar solo work
of his contemporaries.
Ringo Starr rarely wrote songs
but he is often noted for his gentle comic baritone
on "Yellow Submarine" (1966) and "Octopus's
Garden" (1969) along with his steady drumming
and everyman image. Given his own performance
on Buck Owens' "Act Naturally", Starr
was likely responsible for the group's occasional
interest in surprisingly authentic country sounds
in songs such as "What Goes On" (1965)
and "Don't Pass Me By" (1968).
Later Beatles material shifted
away from dance music and the pace of the songs
is often more moderate, with interest tending
to come from melody and harmonic texture rather
than the rhythm ("Penny Lane" from 1967
is an example). Throughout their career the Beatles'
songs were rarely riff (or ostinato)-driven. "Day
Tripper" (1965) and "Hey Bulldog"
(1969, recorded 1968) are among the notable exceptions.
The decision to stop touring in
1966 caused an abrupt change in direction. Reportedly
stung by criticism of "Paperback Writer",
the Beatles poured their creative energies into
the recording studio, making a determined attempt
to produce material they could be proud of. They
had already shown a clear trend towards progressively
greater complexity in technique and style but
this accelerated noticeably in Revolver. The subject
matter of the post-touring songs was no longer
you, I, love, boy meets girl and so on, taking
them far from the days in 1963 and similarities
with bands such as The Hollies. All manner of
subjects were introduced, from home repair and
circuses to nonsense songs and others defying
The extreme complexity of Sgt.
Pepper's reached its height on the Yellow Submarine
soundtrack album, parts of which (for example
"It's All Too Much" and "Only A
Northern Song") were left over from 1967
and were apparently used because the Beatles themselves
weren't much interested in the animated film as
a project and weren't inclined to exert themselves
by producing much new material for it.
The iconic Abbey Road album cover.
After the Revolver/Sgt. Pepper's phase the creative
surge seemed to exhaust itself and their self-titled
double album, largely written in India, reverted
to a much simpler style and sometimes simpler
subjects (for example "Birthday"). Some
of it (for example "Why Don't We Do It In
The Road" and "Wild Honey Pie")
was far less complex than their material of just
a year or two before. In 1969 the band began its
disintegration during sessions for the abortive
Get Back project (which eventually emerged in
1970, much altered, as Let It Be). This had been
intended as a return to more basic songs and an
avoidance of thorough editing or otherwise "artificial"
influences on the final output. Ironically Let
It Be was heavily overdubbed and edited by producer
Phil Spector in his wall of sound technique. With
(what they thought of as) the disaster of Get
Back looming behind them, George Martin was asked
to produce the last album the Beatles recorded,
Abbey Road, representing a mature attempt to integrate
what they knew and use recording studio techniques
to improve the songs rather than experiment to
see what happened. It represented a final effort,
as McCartney once put it, to "leave 'em laughing."
Beatles music is still performed
in public by tribute bands such as the Bootleg
Beatles, and shows like Beatlemania!. They were
the inspiration for the spoof documentary The
Rutles (1978) created by Neil Innes and Eric Idle
that featured affectionate musical pastiches of
Beatles songs written by Innes.
For many, the group's musical appeal
lay in the interaction of John and Paul's voices
and musical styles. It is said they not only supplied
missing bits and pieces for each other's songs,
but shared a competitive edge that brought out
the best in them both. George's lead guitar and
vocals along with Ringo's understated but faithful
drumming contributed their own chemistry. Finally,
the Beatles' stage presence and charm as a group
kindled their live shows, as well as relationships
with key people in their careers. After the group
dissolved many critics cited inconsistencies in
each of their solo releases as a demonstration
of how important this group collaboration had
been: Together they sparked each other to reach
heights rarely attained on the later solo releases.