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Elvis Presley's impact on The Beatles


"Before Elvis, there was nothing." --John Lennon


If rock and roll had to be summed up in a phrase, it would be the "combination of black and white American music."

That is why Elvis Presley is considered the King. He took the musical styles of gospel, rhythm and blues, country and pop and combined them all into what is labeled "rock and roll." On top of that, he had youth, sex appeal and attitude.


Elvis was one-of-a-kind in the sense that very few performers were able to incorporate the two musical cultures into an explosive combination. (Learn more fascinating facts about Elvis Presley in the book, ELVIS: Behind The Legend)

 

Enter the Beatles.

As teenagers, The Beatles, especially John Lennon, were strongly influenced by Elvis Presley. They started wearing their hair slicked back like Elvis. They admired his rebelliousness and his appeal to women, not to mention his musical talent.

"Nothing affected me until I heard Elvis. Without Elvis, there would be no Beatles," John Lennon said.

As depicted in the 2010 film, Nowhere Boy, Lennon was inspired to create his first band the Quarrymen after discovering Elvis. He even asks his mother, Julia, "Why can't God make me Elvis?"


The Beatles' musical idols, besides Elvis, were the top black performers of the day: John idolized Chuck Berry and Paul vocally imitated Little Richard. Meanwhile, George was heavily influenced by country singer and guitarist, Carl Perkins.

It may not be as obvious as Elvis, but the Beatles took their influences from both the black and white cultures and incorporated them into their own style.

As proof, just look at how many cover songs recorded by black artists the Beatles released in the early days: "Long Tall Sally" "Please Mr. Postman" "Twist and Shout" "You Really Got a Hold on Me" ; as well as country songs "Honey Don't" and "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby".

Watch John Lennon performing with one of his idols, Chuck Berry, on "The Mike Douglas Show", 1971

 

In 1985, George Harrison and Ringo Starr appeared on the special Carl Perkins and Friends

 

In the early days of The Beatles live performances, they frequently sang rock and roll songs made famous by Elvis Presley. Several of The Beatles' live performances of these songs were recorded Live at the BBC for The Beatles' special radio series in the 1960s. One of Presley's songs that Paul used to sing was "That's All Right (Mama)."

Here's Paul McCartney singing Elvis Presley's "That's All Right (Mama)" for a special tribute to Sun Studio, with Elvis' original guitar player, Scotty Moore and original drummer, D.J. Fontana from "Good Rockin' Tonight: The Legacy of Sun Records", 2001



Fun Fact: For the first time ever, an exhibit that joined The Beatles and Elvis Presley was displayed at The Beatles Story in Liverpool from 2011 to 2014 called "Elvis and Us". It explored the relationship and influences that Elvis Presley had with The Beatles (See photos from the exhibit)




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