The Beatles' influence

The Beatles' influence on rock music and world culture was -- and remains -- profound. Prior to their emergence as pop superstars, it was common for rock bands to rely on professional songwriters for their material (the Brill Building in New York City was a source of many hit singles in the early 1960s) and to rely heavily on studio musicians for their recordings.

It has been said that after the Beatles' initial appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, many who saw them perform were inspired to quickly form rock groups. The Byrds are one of innumerable groups of that era who cite seeing A Hard Day's Night as one of their major sources of inspiration.

Like The Shadows before them, The Beatles created a new paradigm for performers in popular music. Their multiple talents enabled them to combine the instrumental abilities of groups like The Shadows, the vocal harmony singing of acts such as The Everly Brothers and a songwriting strength of writer-performers like Buddy Holly and Bob Dylan.

Their concert performances in the mid-1960s electrified audiences and provided a huge burst of inspiration for local musicians in the countries they visited. Within a few months of their June 1964 visit to Australia, The Beatles' influence had transformed the local pop scene and saw the creation of literally hundreds of Beatle-style bands around the country. A similar scene was enacted, albeit on a smaller scale, in New Zealand.

From the 1960s, when the band was still recording and performing, to this very day, the Beatles have inspired many musicians, from disparate musical genres, but certainly not limited to Oasis, Queen, Everclear, The Brodsky Quartet, Opeth, MxPx, Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Genesis, King's X, Jerry Garcia, Sting, Elvis Costello, Brian Wilson, Neil Diamond, Brad Mehldau, Rush, Jimi Hendrix, Skid Row, Buddy Miller, Alice Cooper, Nirvana, Jeff Lynne and ELO, Rich Mullins, Kiss, Los Lobos, Very Large Array, Queensr˙che, Guns N' Roses, Moxy Früvous, Run DMC, and Aerosmith; the list of musicians who have covered Beatles' songs would certainly be vast.


The music

Composition and recording

Whilst by no means the first to do so (Buddy Holly composed his hits, for example), the Beatles' example made self-composition the standard for rock bands then and since. Although they did not necessarily invent all the new ideas they incorporated in their music, they often competed with and played off of the developing ideas of other prominent acts of the period (such Bob Dylan, The Byrds, and the Beach Boys). As such, they spurred rock music, which hitherto had been largely looked down upon by older music fans, towards becoming an accepted art form. When the Sergeant Pepper album was released, it was hailed by music critics of the time as a major work of art, even compared favorably to classical musicians such as Schubert and Schumann. Within days of its release, the album's title song was being covered by artists like Jimi Hendrix.

In the studio, The Beatles were always experimenting with new recording techniques and even coined a few common studio phrases that are still in use today. For example, a common vocal or guitar effect where two copies of the same sound are overlapped and time-shifted slightly (producing a swirling, swishing sound), is now known as flanging, thanks to John Lennon who nicknamed the effect in the 1960s.

The Beatles' use of various instruments is regarded as highly innovative. With the help of George Martin, they made wide use of string and brass overdubs for a variety of different musical effects and experimented with some more unconventional instruments. An early example is the string arrangement on "Yesterday"; other notable examples include the use of the sitar on "Norwegian Wood", the exclusive accompaniment of a string octet on "Eleanor Rigby", and the amusing orchestral arrangement (with an initial reference to La Marseillaise) of "All You Need Is Love".


The popularity of the individual Beatles combined with their considerable instrumental skills led to a better knowledge in the general public of the musical contributions made by lead guitar, rhythm guitar, drums, and particularly bass guitar.

Paul McCartney was not only cute and loveable, he was also a very melodic bassist and listeners learned to listen more carefully because of it.

While not flashy, Ringo Starr's drumming was tasteful, precise, and imaginative. The Beatles were legendarily rejected by Decca records because "guitar bands are passé", but John Lennon and George Harrison refuted that. Even the brand of instruments used by the band became more popular because of the band. Rickenbacker guitars have been widely used by rock and roll bands since the mid 1960s, thanks in part to Lennon's heavy use of the guitar.

The Hofner violin bass (or "Beatle Bass" as it would commonly be called nowadays) was styled after one of the very first Gibson electric basses, the EB-1.

George Harrison was also the first musician of a pop group in the sixties to make use of the sitar. Because of its psychedelic sound, the instrument would soon be used by many other bands, such as The Rolling Stones, Love and Donovan. Ravi Shankar, who taught the sitar to George Harrison, would even be part of the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.

The Hofner version of the violin bass was popular among the bands playing around Germany in the early 1960s, largely because it was cheap. McCartney's use of the instrument led bassists all over the world to buy Hofners, in spite of the fact that at the time, it was generally not considered a high quality instrument and even had difficulty staying in tune. To this very day, it is quite common to see the Hofner "Beatle Bass" being used by up and coming bands on MTV and in concert, which probably would not have happened without the Beatles. A large number of guitar manufacturers have copied the iconic design of the 'violin bass', such as Tanglewood, Cort and Epiphone.

McCartney has returned to using his original iconic violin bass in later years (1988 onwards) and features it regularly on tour, where it gets almost as much applause as he does.

In later years, from around the time of Revolver, Paul McCartney was to be seen sporting a fine looking fireglo finish Rickenbacker 4001 bass (see "Hello Goodbye" video, etc., where it was given a psychedelic paintjob). The use of this bass is not as well remembered, as The Beatles ceased touring not long after McCartney took delivery of it. Paul later used it quite extensively on the road with Wings, the paintjob removed and the bass sanded down to a natural finish.

The album format

Prior to the Beatles, record albums were of secondary consideration to 45s in mass marketing. Albums largely contained filler material along with one or two worthwhile singles. The Beatles, with the ability to produce albums with consistently well-regarded material and the desire to rarely use singles as part of full albums, helped to define the album as the preferred mechanism for releasing popular music, which in turn resulted in the development of new FM radio formats such as "Album Oriented Rock" (AOR) in the 1970s. The Beatles' song "Hey Jude" was memorable in its time for helping to break down the barriers around pop music.

To conform with the preferences of commercial radio, most (though not all) songs released as singles up to that time were about three minutes in length; "Hey Jude" clocked in at over seven minutes and helped make it acceptable for a single to be of longer than standard length. Even album covers changed during this period, becoming increasingly artistic -- works of art in their own right (The Beatles seemed to rebel against this in 1968 when they released their plain white album The Beatles, known as the White Album). While they were not alone in promoting these developments, they were clearly at the forefront of them.

The Beatles' album covers themselves were well thought out designs that have been copied and imitated hundreds of times by everyone from The Simpsons and The Muppets to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. This has especially been the case with the covers of With the Beatles, which featured the four band members' faces half darkened with shadows; The White Album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road. Abbey Road in London has become a popular tourist attraction with countless numbers of tourists taking their photo walking along the crosswalk in front of Abbey Road studios.

Ironically, one of their most experimental and personal cover designs was one which was released and recalled shortly thereafter -- the infamous Butcher Sleeve, photographed by Robert Whitaker. Originally intended by Whitaker to be one of a triptych of allegorical studies of the group, the photo was selected for the cover of the US version of the album Yesterday & Today; thousands of covers were printed, but the "Butcher Sleeve" version of the album was famously withdrawn from sale just prior to release because of complaints from retailers. It has since become one of the rarest and most valuable of all Beatles collectibles.

Photos and music videos

Their rapid ascent to vast international fame quickly made the four Beatles among the most photographed people in history. As part of the assiduous image management of the band overseen by manager Brian Epstein, the group was assigned a succession of leading photographers -- most notably Dezo Hoffmann and Robert Whitaker -- who helped Epstein to carefully sculpt the group's visual image. Whitaker took many of the best known photographs of the band during their heyday as a touring act between 1964 and 1966, including the famous photographs of their legendary Shea Stadium concert.

One other notable photographer who worked with the band was Richard Avedon, who photographed them for a famous and much reproduced series of psychedelic portraits in 1967, as well as the four portrait shots included as inserts with their 1968 album The Beatles ('The White Album').

The Beatles began filming promotional music videos for their songs in the early 1960s, mainly because they wanted to send them to television programs so they wouldn't have to appear in person.

Perhaps the single most influential of all the visual representations of The Beatles was their first film A Hard Day's Night, directed by Richard Lester. It pioneered many now-standard techniques including the cutting of images to the beat of the music, and it is arguable that this film became the basic template from which the music video as a genre emerged. Especially notable is the "Can't Buy Me Love" segment, which features creative camera work, and the band running and jumping around in a field -- a device which almost immediately has become de rigeur for virtually every pop band since. (George Harrison of the Beatles and Michael Nesmith of The Monkees went on to become pioneering music video directors.) Beatles promo videos include "Day Tripper," "Help!," "We Can Work It Out," "Ticket To Ride," "Paperback Writer," "Rain," "I Feel Fine," "Hello Goodbye," "Penny Lane," "A Day in the Life", "Revolution," "Lady Madonna," "Hey Jude," "The Ballad of John and Yoko," and "Something."

Their most innovative film-clip, which remains one of the landmarks of the genre, was that made in 1967 for the single "Strawberry Fields Forever". Shot in the late winter, in the afternoon and early evening, on Salisbury Plain, it depicted the group at the peak of their psychedelic phase, with long hair, colourful clothes, moustaches and what was soon to become Lennon's trademark, his 'granny glasses'. It used many techniques previously only seen in experimental film, including intricate jump-cuts that rapidly alternated between night and day, reversed film and other avant-garde devices.

Legacy and parody

Even decades after the band broke up, The Beatles have become a yardstick to which nearly all new rock and roll bands are compared. It is extremely common for new bands to be promoted as being "the next Beatles" or "the new fab four". It is also quite common for record reviewers and members of the media to refer to musical acts as being "Beatlesque" given the Beatles impact on Baby Boomer culture. To this day, no new artist or band has quite lived up to the hype of being compared to the Beatles. Inspiring the same degree of popularity as the Beatles may be unattainable now due to the splintering of popular tastes in music.

The influence of the Beatles even extended beyond their music. Perhaps the most notable was their influence on male fashion. Their relatively long hair, when they burst onto the scene in 1964, was a shocking fashion statement, one that was quickly adopted by other rock bands of the time, and by the 1970s, long hair became standard fashion for men. The hair styles even led toy manufactures to begin producing "Beatle Wigs". In the early Beatle-mania years, the Beatles would occasionally wear grey, collarless suits. These unusual suits eventually became extremely common for new bands after 1964. In fact, it was not unusual for bands to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show or another similar program wearing the suits made popular by the band.

Surprisingly for a band as controversial, prolific and as ubiquitous as the Beatles, there have been very few noteworthy parodies of their work and style.

  • The Rutles, an outfit created by Eric Idle (of Monty Pythons Flying Circus fame) and Neil Innes, formerly of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and a frequent Python contributor, was a satire of the Beatles' legend.
  • The cover of the The Residents' first album Meet the Residents (1974) mimicked the cover of Meet the Beatles. Their 1977 single "The Beatles Play the Residents and the Residents Play the Beatles" featured a humourous collage of Beatles record snippets on "Beyond the Valley of a Day in the Life" and the voice of John Lennon saying "please everybody, if we didn't do everything we could have done we tried" with the Residents yelling "WE TRIED, WE TRIED, HA HA HA!!!" on an uncomplimentary cover of "Flying" [1] (
  • Frank Zappa's 1968 album We're Only In It For The Money parodied the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and the whole hippie culture of the time with its cynical and sarcastic songs.
  • One notable parody was recorded by the Beatles themselves. George Harrison's "Only a Northern Song", named after a Lennon-McCartney publishing company, included many of the swirling studio effects identified with the psychedelic-era Beatles and ironic references to excessive dependency on the recording studio:
If you think the harmony
Is a little dark and out of key
You're correct, there's nobody there.
  • Some of the same psychedelic excesses were parodied on the 1969 single "Have You Heard the Word" credited to The Fut, but actually recorded by Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees and members of an Australian band called Tin Tin. The parody was so exact that it has appeared on several Beatles bootlegs, and in 1985 Yoko Ono even applied for a copyright on it under John Lennon's name.

External links

  John Lennon Missing image
Paul McCartney

The Beatles George Harrison Ringo Starr  

History of the Beatles | Long-term influence | British Invasion | Classic rock era | Paul is Dead rumours | Apple Records | George Martin | Geoff Emerick | Brian Epstein | Beatlesque | Discography | Bootlegs | Beatlemania


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