The intro of “I Feel Fine” is a dead ringer for Bobby Parker’s “Watch Your Step”, which in turn owed something to Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say”. Bobby Parker says that he is flattered that the Beatles knew his record, but “some residuals would be nice”.
When McCartney was struggling to complete “Michelle”, Lennon suggested that they borrowed “I love you, I love you, I love you” from Nina Simone’s “I Put A Spell On You”.
In “Run For Your Life”, John Lennon sneers, “I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man.” It’s a direct steal from Elvis Presley’s ‘Baby Let’s Play House”. Possibly Lennon thought that it was an old blues lyric and anybody could use it.
In addition to lifting snatches of lyrics or melodies for their own recordings, the Beatles paid tribute to their favourite genres and artists:
The initial version of “Please Please Me”, although it no longer exists, was a Roy Orbison-styled ballad. When I was with the Apple recording artist Jackie Lomax a few months ago, he played me ‘Oh Pretty Woman’ on his guitar: “Now,” he said, “I’m going to rearrange the notes a little differently and what do we have?” The answer was “Day Tripper”.
McCartney loved Little Richard and “I’m Down” is any Little Richard record with a Liverpool spin. Maybe the form had become a cliché but he had added some surprises to the style when he recorded “Helter Skelter”. On September 18, 1968, the Beatles took a break from a recording session at Abbey Road to watch a TV screening of The Girl Can’t Help It at Paul’s house. They returned for the frenzied “Birthday”, clearly inspired by Little Richard, the musical star of that film.
Another rock’n’roll pianist, Fats Domino, was the inspiration for “Lady Madonna” which was tempered with jazzman Humphrey Lyttelton’s 1956 hit, “Bad Penny Blues”. The mouth music in the middle of that record was because McCartney remembered a Liverpool band, the Fourmost, who did the same thing. When Domino recorded his own version of “Lady Madonna”, he didn’t have to change a thing as the melody was spot-on even if the words were psychedelic.
John showed his love of Del Shannon with “I’ll Get You”, the song containing shades of both “Hey Little Girl” and “Runaway” as well as the Kingston Trio’s “All My Sorrows”. The similar feeling in their songs was noticed by Shannon himself who covered “From Me To You” for the American market and became the first person to place a Lennon-McCartney composition on the US charts.
The Beatles often performed Tamla-Motown songs and although it didn’t happen, you could imagine the Marvelettes’ following “Please Mr. Postman’ with “There’s A Place”. Lennon loved Smokey Robinson’s ballad, “You Really Got A Hold On Me”, and as a result, “This Boy” sounds like pure Smokey.
In early interviews, Lennon and McCartney hoped that they would end up as a songwriting team like Gerry Goffin and Carole King. The love of the New York girl groups, which they wrote for, is evident in “All I’ve Got To Do”, which sounds like a Shirelles’ single. George Harrison’s fondness for the Chiffons was deeply embedded in his mind and he was successfully sued for plagiarism after basing “My Sweet Lord’ on “He’s So Fine”.