February marks the 50th anniversary of the arrival in America of the Beatles, the group that changed the landscape of the music industry. The Beatles produced the first music video (Paperback Writer/Rain), invented the concept album (Sgt. Pepper) and created Apple, their own record label. But the Beatles’ most important contribution may be the inspiration given to a generation of artists to create their own music. Here’s a look at some key musicians influenced by the Beatles over the years.
Here are 11 of the best (in no particular order, mind you).
11. Dave Grohl, Nirvana & the Foo Fighters
Before he founded Foo Fighters, Dave Grohl was the drummer of Nirvana, the grunge rock band led by singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain, who died in 1994. Grohl joined Sir Paul McCartney and the surviving members of Nirvana to perform as “Sirvana” at the 12.12.12 Concert for Sandy Relief.
Grohl told Access Hollywood that McCartney and the Beatles inspired him at an early age. “When I was young, that’s how I learned how to play music – I had a guitar and a Beatles songbook. I would listen to the records and play along. Of course, it didn’t sound like the Beatles, but it got me to understand song structure and melody and harmony and arrangement. So, I never had a teacher – I just had these Beatles records.”
Even the late Cobain admired the Beatles, said Grohl. “Even in Nirvana – the Beatles [were]such a huge influence. Kurt loved the Beatles because it was just so simple. Well, it seemed simple… they sound easy to play, but you know what? They’re hard!”
Below, watch Dave and Paul’s band play Band on the Run:
10. Joe Walsh, the Eagles
Joe Walsh, guitarist of the James Gang and the Eagles, played in a band during high school but never took music seriously until the Beatles shook the world in 1964.
“I took one look on The Ed Sullivan Show and it was, ‘Fuck school. This makes it! I memorized every Beatles song and went to Shea Stadium and screamed right along with all those chicks,” Walsh told Rolling Stone. “My parents still have a picture of me all slicked up, with a collarless Beatles jacket and Beatles boots, playing at the prom.”
When the young guitarist heard George Harrison’s solo on And Your Bird Can Sing, he labored to master the Quiet Beatle’s complex riff. Years later, Walsh would marry Marjorie Bach, whose sister Barbara is wed to Ringo Starr. When Walsh told Ringo the story of his relentless practicing, the drummer thought Walsh was insane. Walsh told the Chicago Tribune that Ringo explained, “Nah, nah, nah — he played it twice. It’s two notes playing together!”
Harrison had simply recorded his guitar solo two times and mixed them together. Walsh replied, “I think I’m the only guy who can play it – including George.”
9. Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys
In 1966, the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson recorded Pet Sounds, regarded as the surf rockers’ masterpiece. Wilson’s inspiration came when he first heard the Beatles’ Rubber Soul. “As soon as I started hearing it, I loved it. I mean, loved it!” Wilson told The Times of London. “I still remember hearing Michelle for the first time, and Girl. What an incredible song! Everything about the way John Lennon sang, and the lyrics he was writing… It sounded amazing. Norwegian Wood is my favorite, too. The lyrics are so good, and so creative… I can’t forget the sitar, too, I’d never heard that before, that unbelievable sound. No one had heard that in rock ‘n’ roll back then, this amazing, exotic sound. It really did inspire the instrumentation I ended up using for Pet Sounds.
“When we were listening to it that night I said to myself, ‘Now I’m gonna make an album just as good as Rubber Soul.’ Not the same album. Obviously there can only be one album that’s Rubber Soul, just like there can only be one Pet Sounds. But it inspired me to do my own thing, and so the next morning I went to the piano and wrote God Only Knows with Tony Asher.
8. Nancy Wilson, Heart
Sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart have said they never wanted to be the girlfriends of the Beatles or the wives of the Beatles – they wanted to be the Beatles. “The lightning bolt came out of the heavens and struck Ann and me the first time we saw the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, Nancy told Believer. “There’d been so much anticipation and hype about the Beatles that it was a huge event, like the lunar landing: that was the moment Ann and I heard the call to become rock musicians. I was seven or eight at the time.
“They were really pushing hard against the morality of the times. That might seem funny to say now, since it was in their early days and they were still wearing suits. But the sexuality was bursting out of the seams. They had crazy long hair. They seemed to us then like the punks seemed to the next generation – way out of the box for the time… Right away we started doing air guitar shows in the living room, faking English accents, and studying all the fanzines… Luckily, our parents were both musical and supportive about us getting into music. So it didn’t take all the begging in the world to convince them we had to have guitars. We taught ourselves to play off the Beatles’ albums and the trusty old Mel Bay chord book. Pretty soon we knew every Brit pop song that was out.”
The Word by Nancy Wilson and the Court Yard Hounds:
7. Billy Joel
One of Billy Joel’s most requested songs is Theme From an Italian Restaurant, a medley of three individual pieces that began as one, The Ballad of Brenda and Eddie. “Then I wrote the other pieces either prior to that or after that,” Joel explained to The Republican. “It was kind of based on side two of Abbey Road. I think the Beatles all came in with individual song fragments and George Martin helped them sew it all together. It’s looked on now as a work of genius but I said, ‘I know what happened. They didn’t finish the songs, they didn’t feel like it, and George Martin said, ‘Why don’t we do this?’ and then they called it Golden Slumbers.”
The Beatles inspired Joel to become a musician during an era of clean-cut teen idols. “The single biggest moment that I can remember being galvanized into wanting to be a musician for life was seeing the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show,” Joel told Spinner.
“Hollywood tried to take control of rock ‘n’ roll… they tried to pretty it up, they tried to sanitize it. So they come out with Frankie Avalon and Fabian and Bobby Rydell… and all of a sudden there’s this band with hair like girls… and they played their own instruments and they wrote their own songs. And they didn’t look like Fabian, they looked like these working class kids like we all knew… and I said at that moment, I said, ‘That’s what I want to do. I want to do that. I want to be like those guys.’”
6. Michelle Phillips, the Mamas and the Papas
By 1965, the Mamas and the Papas – vocalists Cass Elliot, Denny Doherty and John and Michelle Phillips – had performed in folk music groups with little success and were ready for a change. “We were trying to get out of folk music and into whatever this was that was coming out of Britain. I don’t think we even called it the British Invasion at that point,” Michelle Phillips told Retrosellers.
“The first night we ever took acid we heard our first Beatles album. It was such an eye opener. We wanted to do commercial music but we just didn’t know exactly what it was. And it wasn’t folk anymore.
“We knew we had to get out of folk music as it was dying a quick death but when we listened to that Beatles album, and it wasn’t the first Beatles album – I don’t know where we were when the first Beatles album came out. It was the second Beatles album and our jaws just dropped and I remember Denny was the one who said, ‘Now, we wanna be doing more stuff like this.’”
I Call Your Name by the Mamas and the Papas:
5. Gene Simmons, KISS
For Gene Simmons, lead singer and bassist of heavy metal’s KISS, Liverpool had always been a place he’d wanted to play. “I’ve been fascinated by the place ever since I heard the Beatles,” Simmons told the Liverpool Echo when he arrived in 2010. “There is no way I’d be doing what I do now if it wasn’t for the Beatles. I was watching The Ed Sullivan Show and I saw them. Those skinny little boys, kind of androgynous, with long hair like girls. It blew me away that these four boys in the middle of nowhere could make that music. Then they spoke and I thought, ‘What are they talking like?’ We had never heard the Liverpool accent before.
“I thought that all British people spoke like the Queen. The only time you heard a British accent was when they played the Nazi in war films.
“Overnight I became an Anglophile,” Simmons continued. “I read up on the Beatles, who they were, where they were from. I learnt about Liverpool, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Ringo’s band, and the Quarrymen and all that. I read up on everything they did in the news. I followed their failures and their successes. The Beatles were a band, of course, and I loved their music. But they were also a cultural force that made it OK to be different.”
4. Maurice and Robin Gibb, the Bee Gees
Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb formed the Bee Gees in 1958 and have sold more than 200 million records in a career that spanned four decades. The brothers told CNN that the music industry was a far different place before the Beatles showed that singers could write their own songs. “In those days, I used to think like Sinatra and Elvis and all of them used to write their own songs and do their own thing,” said Maurice. “You never knew what label the pop people were on. You never knew who produced them. You never knew the names of the people in the band.”
“They were a great influence to us because they were songwriters, they broke a lot of rules and they created an artistic credibility in the pop music business, which was never there before,” added Robin. “The Beatles broke those walls down and started selling a lot of albums, which pop artists didn’t do before them… When the Beatles came on they changed all that. And pop music started.”
3. Joni Mitchell
Early in her career, singer Joni Mitchell was best known as the writer of Chelsea Morning, The Circle Game and Both Sides, Now – all hits for other folk artists. Mitchell told Rosie O’Donnell that after playing a song for John Lennon at a recording studio, the Beatle was puzzled. “You want a hit, don’t you?” Lennon asked. “Why do you always let other people have your hits for you?”
Like Brian Wilson, Mitchell was influenced by the Beatles’ 1965 masterpiece, Rubber Soul. That year the Canadian folk singer had moved to the United States, where her music evolved to include rock ‘n’ roll and jazz elements. “Rubber Soul was the Beatle album I played over and over,” Mitchell related in Lava. “I think they were discovering Dylan, and the songs often had an acoustic feel. I used to sing [Norwegian Wood] in my coffeehouse days in Detroit before I started writing for myself.
“The whole scenario has this whimsical, charmingly wry quality with a bit of a dark undertone. I’d sing it to put some levity in my set. I got a kick out of throwing it in there amongst all these tragic English folk ballads.”
Norwegian Wood by the Beatles:
Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell:
2. Roger McGuinn, the Byrds
When the Byrds topped the charts in the midst of the British Invasion with 1965’s Mr. Tambourine Man, the media dubbed them “The American Beatles.” The jingle-jangle of Roger McGuinn’s 12-string Rickenbacker guitar and the voices of McGuinn, David Crosby, Gene Clark and Chris Hillman defined the band’s sound. “Early on the Byrds went to see A Hard Day’s Night, a kind of reconnaissance trip,” McGuinn recalled in Modern Guitars. “And we took notes on what the Beatles were playing and bought instruments like they had. We got a Gretsch Country Gentleman and the Rick.
“I got really jazzed by the Beatles. I loved what they were doing… I imagined that they were more folk-oriented than they really were. I thought they were probably more a folk band that could play bluegrass banjo and mandolin, but they chose to do pop music because it was more commercial. Turned out not to be the case. But in my imagination this whole thing developed and I started mixing up old folk songs with the Beatles beat and taking them down to Greenwich Village and playing them for the people there. To the point where a guy put out a sign outside that said, ‘Beatle Imitations.’ I was kind of put off by that.”
Anna by Roger McGuinn:
1. Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen was thrilled when Paul McCartney asked him to join the band at the 2012 Grammy Awards for a performance of the Abbey Road closing medley. “I’ve been waiting since 1964 for you to ask!” Springsteen told McCartney. In a documentary produced by the Grammys, Springsteen said, “There’s a basic realization that you simply would not be here, the way you are here, without this specific person. Who actually is a person!”
At an emotional Philadelphia concert in 1980 shortly after the murder of John Lennon, the Boss shared with the audience how important the Beatles were to him. “It’s a hard night to come out and play tonight when so much has been lost. The first record that I ever learned was a record called Twist and Shout. It was a Beatles record. If it wasn’t for John Lennon, we’d all be some place very different tonight. It’s an unreasonable world and you get asked to live with a lot of things that are just unlivable. It’s a hard night to come out and play but there’s just nothing else you can do.”
Of course, this list merely scratches the surface. Countless musicians, artists, songwriters and the like can call the Beatles a driving influence in their careers…if you think of any we left out, please let us know in the comment section below!