The Beatles weren’t just the greatest band in the history of music-and they were, by the way, and anyone who says differently is just being obstinate-they were also avid music listeners. They had no intention of being anything but the best, and realized that it was important to listen to the artists of the day in order to know what was going on musically. This enabled them to stay a step ahead of their competition.
Some albums were powerful enough to greatly influence the Beatles works, and others were just always on the Fab Four’s record players. Here are some of Beatles favorite artists and albums, and how they affected their work.
John Lennon once claimed to have listened to Harry Nilsson’s Pandemonium Shadow Show for two days straight. It’s believable; the largely unknown American singer had a voice of absolute gold and the songwriting brilliance of the Beatles themselves. The Beatles had a strong affection for Nilsson, inviting him to their studio and telling reporters about him, basically launching Nilsson’s fame. John Lennon’s infamous lost weekend period was spent in a drunken haze with Nilsson during the recording of their Pussycats album, resulting in an ejection from a Smothers Brothers concert and the temporary destruction of Nilsson’s voice from binge drinking. When Nilsson lost his record contract, Ringo and John bluffed RCA into giving it back by saying that they’d go with the label if they re-signed their old friend. The influence of Nilsson’s song “1941” can be heard throughout several of the later Beatles albums.
The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
The Beatles felt threatened musically by the genius of Brian Wilson, and although most of the Beach Boys catalog was silly enough in lyrics and form not be considered anywhere close to the Beatles’ level, when Pet Sounds was released, the Beatles panicked. This resulted in some of their most dazzling vocal-oriented songs, such as “Because,” and may be why the last half of Abbey Road is so cohesive; it was a direct response to Wilson’s ability to string together godlike songs of vocal rapture.
Brian Wilson intended his follow up, Smile, to be an answer to Abbey Road, but he had a drug-addled breakdown before his band could complete that album. In 2004, a solo version of the record was released to widespread critical acclaim.
John Lennon admired Chuck Berry so much that he borrowed a line from the rock and roll legend in the Beatles classic, “Come Together”: the line “Here come old flattop” comes from Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me.” Because John admitted the influence in a few interviews, Berry caught wind and sued Lennon. However, they later settled on the condition that John Lennon would cover two Chuck Berry songs in their entirety on his next album (appropriately titled “Rock And Roll.”)
Berry’s influence can also be heard on early Beatles albums; “Roll Over Beethoven” was on With The Beatles, and is one of Harrison’s first vocals on record.