Sonny Curtis (767): “Elvis’s first records are great but he failed to grow like the Beatles. The Beatles started with ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘Please Please Me’, which were very good records, but then every record they came out with was a little bit different and they kept adding new twists. Man, I remember hearing ‘Yesterday’ and thinking, ‘What a great song and what a great idea to do it with a string quartet’. When I heard that, I had to turn the radio off as anything that followed it couldn’t possibly please me after that. The Beatles were always wanting to grow while Elvis gave up after a while.”
Chet Atkins (768): “Their melodies are so wonderful that I still play them in my shows. They wrote some of the greatest music of the century, if not the greatest. I admire them so much and their melodies are even greater than their lyrics. The melody is never less than the lyrics and that really is the problem with country music. Country writers can come up with clever lyrics but then they throw melodies on: they don’t work hard enough or put their heart into it. That’s not true of the Beatles. They were geniuses at writing great melodies whether it be ‘Lady Madonna’ or ‘Michelle’.”
Record producer Bob Keane (769): “The Beatles’ melodies were different to the other melodies you heard, a bit more exotic, and you got hooked immediately because you knew it was a Beatles song. Bobby Fuller had the makings of the next Beatles. He had his own sound but he wasn’t able to develop it before he was killed.”
Another record producer, Huey P. Meaux (770), jumped onto the bandwagon. “I produced several big records in the early 60s but the Beatles came along and knocked me off the charts. Doug Sahm had been bugging me to make some records with him and I told him, ‘Doug, we gotta figure out where the Beatles are coming from. If we don’t, we’ll starve to death.’ I got a case of T-bird wine – it was $1 a bottle and it’d get you drunk in a hurry and keep you drunk for days – and I bought some Beatle records. I went to the Wayfarer Hotel in San Antonio and the clerk said, ‘Why do you want three rooms?’ and I said, ‘I’ll be playing these records pretty loud.’ I realised that it was all so simple, the Beatles had a beat, and we were just not catching onto that. I called Doug, who was also in San Antonio, and I said, ‘C’mon over, man, I’m drunk but I’ve figured it out.’ I told him to write some songs with that beat and to grow his hair. He came up with ‘She’s About A Mover’ and ‘The Rains Came’ and we recorded them at the Goldstar studios in Houston. American d-js would play anything from England, so I called up London Records in New York and I said, ‘Put this out. Leave my name off and we’ll call Doug something else.’ I thought about knighthoods and the Sir Douglas Quintet sounded perfect. The record made the charts and Doug kept bugging me, ‘I want to go on the road, man. When will you tell them it’s me?’ I told him to keep quiet until the record made the Top 40. Doug was booked for the Hullabaloo TV show in New York City, which was mc’d by Trini Lopez. Freddie and the Dreamers were on the show but there was also Doug and me, Vikki Carr from El Paso and Trini himself. Trini said, ‘I can’t believe so many people from Texas are on the same show. You’ve got to let me tell the people.’ I said, ‘Go ahead,’ and that was the night that America learnt the identity of the Sir Douglas Quintet.”
Gene Pitney (771): “A lot of people learnt English through the Beatles’ records. I was relieved when the market changed and English records were acceptable everywhere, and I thank the Beatles for that. I did a show in Italy and I worked hard to do the whole show in Italian. I found out later that I’d been wasting my time as they didn’t want that at all. They wanted the show in English.”
P.J. Proby (772) was brought to the UK to appear on a TV special, ‘Around The Beatles’, for the producer, Jack Good. “I’d loved the ballad, ‘Hold Me’, and I could sing a slow version like Dick Haymes. When I knew I was coming here, I felt I had to do something like the Beatles, so I took all the old songs I knew and worked out which ones would fit in with their sound. (Sings) ‘Hold me, yeah, oooo’. We recorded it in a small studio at IBC with Big Jim Sullivan on lead, Jimmy Page on rhythm, Ginger Baker on drums, Charles Blackwell on piano and Jimmy Powell on harmonica. When the TV programme was recorded, Paul McCartney said, ‘This is P.J. Proby, our best friend and a big star from the USA’ and I was none of those things. I’d known Paul for 15 days and I wasn’t a star in America. I’d been a motorcycle delivery boy, a stuntman and a songwriter. Paul said all that and I had to live up to it. When ‘Hold me’ came out, I was sure it was going to be a Miss on ‘Juke Box Jury’ because Dick Haymes was on the panel. I’d done a rock version of his beautiful ballad and when I shook hands with him, I said, ‘I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.’ I told him afterwards, ‘I can sing ballads, you just haven’t heard me yet’. He said, ‘I was in the era of the crooners and we had to sing like that. You’re with the Beatles and you’ve done a great job.’ I thought, ‘If Mr. Haymes accepts me, if the Beatles accept me, I think I’ll stick around.”
An intriguing aspect of all this is that so many pre-Beatle hitmakers recorded Lennon and McCartney songs. Not only the rock’n’rollers, but also the famed MOR singers like Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. Barney Kessel (773): “Who knows what their motives were? It might be that they liked the songs, it might be that their producers insisted that they did them to sell records, it might be that they felt intimidated and said, ‘I want to reach younger people so I’m going to do something they will identify with.’ If they did those songs for any other reason than that they loved them, then they were not true to themselves.”
Bearing that in mind, it is worth noting that most of the major rock’n’roll stars recorded songs from the Beatles’ catalogue. The Beatles’ name was a nod to the Crickets and they were quickly off the mark with their 1964 album, “California Sun”. It contained “Please Please Me”, “I Saw Her Standing There”, “From Me To You”, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and a flaccid “She Loves You” as well as a song the Beatles recorded, “Money”. The arrangement of their 1964 hit single, “La Bamba”, also owes much to the Beatles’ “Twist And Shout”. The mutual admiration continued as Paul McCartney was to buy Buddy Holly’s song catalogue and he often sang on stage with the Crickets, also producing their 1988 single, “T-Shirt”.
Sonny Curtis (774) of the Crickets also made solo recordings: “I was sitting around the apartment one night, playing ‘All My Loving’ fingerstyle on the guitar. Snuff Garrett said, ‘I like that. Let’s do a whole album like that.’ The next day I was in the studio so I didn’t have time to arrange anything and was groping for something to play. ‘Beatle Hits, Flamenco Style’ is a nice album though, not earth-shattering, but pretty good for what it is.”
With some reluctance, Elvis Presley met the Beatles at his home in Bel Air in 1965. They failed to win him round as he later denounced them for their subversive views and, somewhat hypocritically, drug-taking. He gave them a namecheck in his version of “I’ve Never Been To Spain” (1972) and he sang “Yesterday”, “Hey Jude” and “Get Back” (in a medley with “Little Sister”) with his return to splendour in Las Vegas.
While the Beatles were going for world domination, Elvis made no attempt to reclaim his throne, making movies that were unworthy of his talent. Albert Goldman (775): “Elvis had no say in the movies he appeared in, any more than he had a say in any of the other major decisions in his career. He would get a script, he would examine it, he would be appalled by it, he would make devastating statements about it, and then he would go out and do it. There you have the essential Elvis Presley – he was a mule pulling a plough.”
Doc Pomus (776): “I thought some of his films were marvellous. I loved ‘Viva Las Vegas’, and ‘Wild In The Country’ was very interesting. Okay, a lot of them weren’t up to par but that’s how it is with people who are singer / actors rather than actor / singers, you know, the motion picture becomes a vehicle for the singing.”
Gene Vincent’s guitarist, Johnny Meeks (777): “I was in ‘Roustabout’ with Elvis and I’ll bet you never saw me. I’m a part of the band but all eyes are on Elvis. He was like that in real life. You could be standing right next to Elvis but everybody would be looking at him. He had more charisma than anyone I know.”
“I Saw Her Standing There” was inspired by Little Richard – just listen to the “Wooo”. Little Richard, who worked with the Beatles during their formative years, cut his own “I Saw Her Standing There” on his 1970 album, “The Rill Thing”. Equally, “Lady Madonna” was based on Fats Domino’s style and he recorded it along with “Lovely Rita” for the 1968 album, “Fats Is Back”, produced by Richard Perry.
Many people would argue that the best covers of the Beatles’ songs were by Ray Charles. His “Yesterday” (1967) was positively ferocious, while his “Eleanor Rigby” was the blueprint for Aretha Franklin’s US hit single. “The Everly Brothers Show” (1970) included snatches of “The End”, “Hey Jude” and “Give Peace A Chance”, and they sang a new Paul McCartney song, “On The Wings Of A Nightingale”, on a minor hit single in 1984. Roy Orbison sang “Help!” on the BBC’s “Tribute To John Lennon” (1984) and teamed up with George Harrison for the Traveling Wilburys (1988). Unfortunately, Roy only discovered in the late 80s that the Beatles had originally written “Please Please Me” as an Orby-styled ballad: maybe he would have recorded it as such in the 90s.
The excellent album, “Duane Eddy, His Twangy Guitar And The Rebels” (1987), included “Rockestra Theme”, written and produced by Paul McCartney, and “The Trembler”, written by Duane and Ravi Shankar with George Harrison on slide guitar. Another instrumental act, the Ventures recorded “I Feel Fine” for their “Knock Me Out” album (1965) and “Strawberry Fields Forever” for their “Super Psychedelics” album (1967).
Among the other covers were Brenda Lee (“Can’t Buy Me Love”, 1965), Esther Phillips (“And I Love Him”, 1965), Brian Hyland (“Norwegian Wood”, 1966), Jackie Wilson (“Eleanor Rigby”, 1970), Smokey Robinson and the Miracles (“And I Love Her”, 1970), Link Wray (“I Saw Her Standing There”, 1979), Chubby Checker (“Back In The USSR”, 1969) and Ike and Tina Turner (“Come Together”, 1969). Dion recorded both “Let It Be” and “Blackbird” on his 1971 album, “You’re Not Alone”. Among the more bizarre covers are Screamin’ Jay Hawkins singing the hell out of Paul McCartney’s “Monkberry Moon Delight” (1979) and Louis Armstrong chanting “Give Peace A Chance” (1970). “It’s Only Love” was not amongst the Beatles’ best performances, and Gary US Bonds outclassed the original on his 1981 hit single, produced by Bruce Springsteen.
Although he recorded none of their songs, Carl Perkins provides the strongest link between the rock’n’roll stars and the Beatles. They recorded several of his songs, both as the Beatles and in their solo careers, and Paul McCartney recorded a duet with him, “Get It”, in Montserrat in 1982. During the session, Paul told Carl a dirty joke and Carl’s laugh has been added to the track, which is featured on the “Tug Of War” album. In 1984 George, Ringo and Eric Clapton were among the musicians paying tribute to Carl Perkins in “A Rockabilly Session – Carl Perkins And Friends” for Channel 4. Carl Perkins (778): “It’s hard for me to realise that I influenced people like George Harrison and Eric Clapton with my simple guitar licks as they play so much better than I do. They tell me that I caused them to pick up their guitars, but, man, they have run off and left me.”