50 things we wouldn't have without the Beatles
Let your brain be boggled by the Beatles legacy with our guide to the 50 things that we wouldn't have without the Fab Four
Thu Feb 6 2014
Let's get one thing straight from the get-go: We simply wouldn't have modern life as we know it without the Beatles. Mom wouldn't have met dad, you wouldn't have been born, we'd all be eating space pills by now. We all know that. But we'd like to share with you some tangible—and sometimes surprising—facts about the Fab Four's influence, from the sublime (their popularization of Eastern philosophy in the West) to the ridiculous (vegetarian sausages) and various shades of Phil Collins in between. Ladies and gentlemen: 50 things we wouldn't have without the Beatles.
1. Mass singalongs to “Hey Jude”
“Hey Jude” has become the alternative national anthem—the song that Paul McCartney is wheeled out to play at all events of patriotic significance, including the Olympic Opening Ceremony. Without it, we wouldn't have discovered the joy of collectively belting out nonsense words. All together now, “Na, na, na, na-na-na na!”
2. Gridlock on Abbey Road
Thanks to a continuous stream of tourists recreating the famous album cover on the London street.
Photograph: © Caleigh-Rose
3. Thomas the Train
Would the little blue train have been so successful without Ringo's monotone narration underpinning his adventures in the UK series Thomas the Tank Engine?
Steve Jobs named his company Apple out of admiration for the Beatles’ record label of the same name. Sadly for Jobs, this wasn’t taken as a compliment and resulted in a legal battle between the two firms that lasted for decades.
5. The image overhaul
You wouldn’t think that Lady Gaga would have a lot to learn about pop from Paul McCartney. Her reinventions have sustained her over a few years, but she should look to the Beatles for tips on how to refresh a look over a few decades. They might not have been the first band to change their image, but they managed more impressive costume changes than most other groups, setting a standard for the periodic rock makeover. If only Status Quo had taken note—think where they could be now.
6. John Peel
The legendary British DJ got one of his first breaks on US radio thanks, in part, to the fact that he hailed from the same part of the world as the Fab Four. Peel came from Heswall on the Wirral Peninsula, which was near enough to Beatles territory for Dallas station KLIF. He was hired as a “Beatles Correspondent” after he rang the station to correct a presenter on a fact about Liverpool.
Photograph: © Peter Sanders/Rex Features
7. Music videos
The Beatles and Richard Lester, director of A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, were honored by MTV in 1984 for “essentially inventing the music video.”
8. Stadium concerts
The band’s show at Shea Stadium, New York, in 1965 was the first of its kind. The Beatles were so popular, all 55,600 tickets sold out in 17 minutes.
Photograph: © Andrew Hasson/Rex Features
9. Rooftop gigs
Their final gig, played on the roof of Apple Records’ Savile Row HQ, has been aped many times by everyone from Homer’s barbershop quartet in The Simpsons to U2, who took to a Los Angeles rooftop in the video for “Where The Streets Have No Name” and played a surprise gig on top of the BBC headquarters in 2009.
10. Beatles cover bands
You might know the Bootleg Beatles, but many more are also playing the circuit: The Counterfeit Beatles, Them Beatles, The Fab Faux, Sisters of Mersey, Sgt Pepper’s Only Dart Board Band, Rebeats, Revolution Four, The Fab Fourever, Hey Dudes... the list goes on.
11. Military-style jackets
Where else would the Libertines (and countless noughties teenagers) have got the inspiration for their look?
12. The three minute-plus pop song
In the ’50s and ’60s, strict radio rules meant nearly all singles were between two and a half and three minutes long. The Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride”—which clocked in at a rebellious 3:10—helped pave the way for more open playlist policies.
13. The concept album
In all its rollicking, 39:42-length of surreal glory, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is rock’s most celebrated concept album, and a huge influence on bands since who’ve wanted their music to take a groovy journey, man.
14. The double album
The Beatles’ self-titled album—widely known as The White Album—was another groundbreaking release. Its 30 eclectic tracks spanned four sides of vinyl, and paved the way for various future examples of songwriting excess.
15. Dance music
“Tomorrow Never Knows”, the closing track on 1966 album Revolver, introduced the idea of a beat-driven loop as the basis for a song—exactly the same principle that informed early sampling and breakbeat experiments, which in turn paved the way for modern dance music. The track still sounds as fresh as a daisy today, and is a favourite of DJs including James Murphy. More than that, Paul McCartney’s driving synth ditty “Temporary Secretary,” taken from his 1980 album II, has been touted as an early example of electro.
Photograph: © V Parker
16. Psychedelic rock
They may not have been the first, but the Beatles helped popularize psychedelic rock styles including droning undercurrents of sound, distortion and trippy lyrics. The band’s experiments with drugs including LSD had a direct inspiration on songs such as “Tomorrow Never Knows.”
Photograph: © David Magnus/Rex Features
17. Kula Shaker
The Revolver track “Love You To” featured Anil Bhagwat playing tabla, accompanied by George Harrison on sitar, and set a precedent for Indo-Anglo musical collaborations in pop. Thirty years later, Crispian Mills and his band, Kula Shaker, drew heavily on the Beatles’ Indian influences for their own sound. Mills hit a hurdle, however, when he was quoted as saying he admired the swastika as a symbol, and that he thought the UK should introduce, “a non-elected body that set the right standards.” Not very peace and love, is it?
18. Heavy metal…
Paul McCartney’s crazed warbling and chugging guitar playing on White Album track “Helter Skelter” makes it an interesting heavy metal precursor, though songs as far back as “Ticket to Ride” (1965) are credited with having heavy metal elements.
19. … and Charles Manson
Not to say that he wouldn’t have encouraged his followers to murder anyone if the Beatles had never existed, but he believed the band spoke to him through their lyrics. The words “Healther Skelter” [sic] were found painted in blood at the scene of one of the Manson Family’s most notorious crimes.
Photograph: © CSU Archv/ Everett/Rex Features
Backmasking—the technique of recording sounds backwards so they can be played forwards—was experimented with by the Beatles, particularly for the Revolver sessions. It was the June 1966 track “Rain,” released as the B-side to “Paperback Writer,” that was the first to use backmasked vocals.
21. Animal noises in songs
The cock’s crow at the start of “Good Morning, Good Morning” was (as far as we can work out) the first deliberate use of a fowl in rock.
22. Intentional feedback
The few seconds of atmospheric buzzing at the opening of 1964’s “I Feel Fine” mark the first intentional use of feedback on record.
23. Pillows inside drums
Ringo Starr stuffed his bass drum with pillows to produce a dull, heavy sound, popularizing a trend followed by tub-thumpers ever since.
24. Eastern philosophy
Although it had existed for thousands of years before any of the Fab Four were even born, the Beatles’ trips to India helped introduce many in the West to meditation and the Hare Krishna movement.
25. Musicians trying to change the world
Fifty years ago, it was rare for a musician to interrupt a set to dedicate their latest single to saving the rainforest, preach against a politician or speak out against a war. In 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono held two week-long bed-ins—one in Amsterdam and one in Montreal—to promote peace and protest against the Vietnam War. Lennon and Ono also arranged for billboards reading “WAR IS OVER! If You Want It—Happy Christmas From John and Yoko” to be displayed in 11 major cities around the globe, and sent acorns to world leaders in the hope that they’d be planted as symbols of peace. Lennon’s political actions caused waves—they even encouraged the Nixon administration to try to kick him out of the States—that resonate even today, and helped ignite a still-burning political consciousness among artists.
Photograph: © TODAY/Rex Features
26. Printed lyrics
The Sgt. Pepper’s packaging caused a fuss, not only because of Peter Blake's psychedelic artwork, but also because it represented the first time in rock history that lyrics had been printed with an album cover.
27. Seamless songs
Another legacy of Sgt. Pepper’s is songs sliding into each other, for that perfectly dreamy sense of continuity.
28. Bands starring in their own movies
A Hard Day's Night, Yellow Submarine, Magical Mystery Tour—enough said.
29. The Monkees
In Micky Dolenz’s words, the group started out as “a TV show about an imaginary band... that wanted to be the Beatles [but] that was never successful.”
30. James Taylor
The first non-British artist to release an LP on the Beatles’ Apple Records.
Photograph: © Peter Sanders/Rex Features
31. The Drab Four
Bleak Brooklyn goth-metallers Type O Negative covered the Beatles’ songs and fashioned themselves as the Drab Four in an unlikely homage to the boys from Merseyside. Former frontman Peter Steele described his songs as “Black Sabbath meets the Beatles.”
32. Phil Collins
He was introduced to the world as an extra in A Hard Day’s Night. Sure, he was uncredited as a boy in the concert audience, but don’t underestimate the effect of a bit of Beatles stardust early on in life.
The song that convinced Nevermind producer Butch Vig there was more to the Seattle trio than long hair and noise was “About A Girl.” Kurt Cobain wrote the song after he spent an entire afternoon listening to With the Beatles. Vig said in a 2004 NME interview, “Everyone talks about Kurt's love affair with... the whole punk scene, but he was also a huge Beatles fan, and the more time we spent together the more obvious their influence on his songwriting became.”
Cher’s first single, released under the name Bonnie Jo Mason, was directly inspired by the Beatles. Entitled “Ringo, I love you (Yeah!),” it's not hard to figure out the influence the Fab Four had on a young Cheryl Sarkisian.
Photograph: © Everett Collection/Rex Features
35. Yoko Ono
We'll brook none of your "But Yoko broke up the Beatles!" BS here. Ono was an accomplished artist and member of the Fluxus movement before she met John Lennon—in fact, her art was the thing that brought the two together—but there's no question that their relationship helped propel Ono's work into the mainstream. And pop culture is all the better for it: The 81-year-old artist is still going strong, regularly performing with her son, Sean, and the Plastic Ono Band, and championing peace. And artists as diverse as Sonic Youth, Antony and Lady Gaga have cited her as an influence.
Do we really need to explain this?
Photograph: © Hayley Madden/Rex Features
37. Rolling Stone
No, not the Rolling Stones, Rolling Stone. This isn't to say one of rock’s most famous magazines wouldn’t have flourished, but featuring John Lennon on their very first cover can’t have done the fledgling publication any harm.
38. The mop-top
A round, bulb-like boosh, with earlobe-length sideburns and a fringe that sits on the eyebrows was the Beatles' major contribution to ’60s hair design.
39. Round specs
So iconic, they are featured in the logo for Liverpool John Lennon Airport.
Photograph: © Sipa Press/Rex Features
40. The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds
The Beach Boys wrote their seminal pop album after Brian Wilson felt he had been “challenged to do a great album” by Rubber Soul.
41. The Offspring’s “Why Don't You Get a Job?”
The song reached number two in the UK singles chart in 1998 and was “inspired by” (read: made use of the entire melody from) “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.”
In the late ’60s, Eric Clapton fell madly in love with George Harrison’s model wife, Pattie Boyd, and wrote this song for her. He then played it to her at a party, in front of her husband. It obviously had some effect as Boyd divorced Harrison in 1974 and married Clapton in 1979.
43. Band documentaries
The Beatles’ final film, Let It Be was intended to document the creation of the album of the same name, but ended up uncovering the cracks that led to their break-up shortly after. In this sense, the Beatles became the first band to film their own demise, paving the way for other revealing band docs.
44. Spinal Tap
Before the mock doc rock gods were turning it up to 11, they had an early career phase as Merseybeat group the Thamesmen. The spoof band’s supposed 1965 hit, “Gimme Some Money” has a distinct, Beatle-y ring to it.
45. The Rutles
Not only did the Beatles provide the inspiration for the Eric Idle-fronted parody band; in addition, Neil Innes, the man behind the Rutles’ music, appeared in Magical Mystery Tour during his time in psych-pop group the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.
46. That Thing You Do
The Tom Hanks-directed film, about a fictional pop-band called the Wonders, drew on the Beatles’ early career for inspiration. For instance, during the Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, a shot of John Lennon was accompanied by the caption, “Sorry Girls, He's Married.” In the film, band leader Jimmy Mattingly is shown with the caption, “Careful Girls, He's Engaged” during the Wonders’ national TV debut.
47. The Life of Brian
The Monty Python film was controversial at the time of release, and would never have seen the light of day without much-needed funding from George Harrison. Later, Withnail & I got similar backing from the guitarist.
48. The suffix “-mania”
As in “Beatlemania.”
49. Breaking America
A whopping 73 million viewers tuned in for The Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show—the first of its kind by a British act. Countless acts have since tried to copy the band's success. Few have succeeded (apart from One Direction, sadly).
50. Veggie sausages
Sure, they’d exist, but would Linda McCartney’s bangers have flown off British supermarket shelves quite so quickly without that McCartney brand name? Maybe, or maybe not. As with everything on this list—from hairdos to pork replacement products—it’s hard to tell just how expansive the Beatles’ influence was, but the fact that they could claim to be the instigators of quite so many cultural trends proves just how special the band was.
Photograph: © Rob Greig
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