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The Roots of the Beatles


This page explores the genesis of the music of Lennon/McCartney, Harrison and Starr, by taking a look back at some of the early rock and roll music which influenced the Beatles. These were the artists that were their idols, and the songs that they covered on stage in Hamburg and at the Cavern, on the BBC, and on their early albums.

These are the records the Beatles listened to the way we listen to Beatles records.

Songs Covered on Please Please Me

1:02 Excerpt Anna - Arthur Alexander

Arthur Alexander, from Florence, Alabama, wrote and recorded Anna in 1962 on the Dot label. It reached #68 in the American charts in October, 1962. Alexander's first hit, You Better Move On, was also covered by another British group, the Rolling Stones.

The Beatles with John doing the lead vocal recorded Anna on February 11, 1963 for their first album Please Please Me which was released one month later.

Arthur Alexander

:49 Excerpt Chains - The Cookies

The Cookies were an R&B vocal trio from New York. They did backup work for Neil Sedaka, Carole King and Little Eva. In the 1950's they backed up Ray Charles as the Raelettes. They had three hits from 1962 to 1964 on the Dimension label, Chains being their first, hitting number 17 in December, 1962.

Chains was the second cover song by the Beatles on the Please Please Me album, this time with George doing lead vocal, and John on harmonica.

The Cookies

:55 Excerpt Boys - The Shirelles

An R&B "girl group" from Passaic, New Jersey, the Shirelles, led by Shirley Owens, had their first hit in 1960 with Will You Love Me Tomorrow on the Scepter label, who's B side was Baby It's You. Some of their other hits include Dedicated To The One I Love, Mama Said and Soldier Boy. The Shirelles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.

Boys was the third cover song by the Beatles on the Please Please Me album, this time with Ringo doing what would become his usual one lead vocal per album.

:54 Excerpt Baby It's You - The Shirelles

Baby It's You went to number eight for the Shirelles in January, 1962. It's the fourth cover song by the Beatles on the Please Please Me album. John sang lead vocals, and George Martin played piano on the track.

The Shirelles

1:04 Excerpt A Taste Of Honey - Lenny Welch

Although there were a few instrumental versions in 1962, Lenny Welch's version, released on Spetember 17, 1962, was the first vocal version of A Taste Of Honey. Lenny Welch was a black pop singer from Asbury Park, New Jersey, and had hits in the early sixties with Since I Fell For You and Ebb Tide.

A Taste Of Honey was the fifth song covered on the Please Please Me album. Paul sings the doubletracked lead vocal.

Songs Covered on With The Beatles

For their second album, the Beatles pulled six more classic rock and roll songs out of their repertoire. All of these songs were recorded by the Beatles in the same two sessions at Abbey Road, on July 18 and July 30, 1963.

:46 Excerpt Till There Was You - Peggy Lee

The Music Man, written by Meridith Wilson, was a smash hit of the 1957 Broadway season, running 1375 performances and beating out even West Side Story in the Tony races. The original cast starred Robert Preston and Barbara Cook, who sang Till There Was You, one of the hit songs from the show.

Till There Was You was a minor hit in the UK for Peggy Lee in March 1961. Paul McCartney was introduced to her music by his older cousin who would occasionally baby-sit the two McCartney brothers. McCartney said: "I had no idea until much later that it was from The Music Man."

Peggy Lee

The Beatles version of Till There Was You was recorded on July 18, and July 30, 1963, with Paul doing lead vocal and Ringo on bongos, as it was decided that drums would be too heavy for this track.

1:03 Excerpt Please Mr. Postman - The Marvelettes

Another girl group from Detroit, the Marvelettes got together in 1960, and were discovered by Motown after entering a high school talent contest. Please Mr. Postman hit number 1 in 1961, and was their only number 1 record.

Recorded in the same session as Till There Was You on July 30, 1963, the Beatles version of Please Mr. Postman was recorded in nine takes with John on lead vocal.

The Marvelettes

1:05 Excerpt Roll Over Beethoven - Chuck Berry

Born in 1926 in St. Louis, Chuck Berry was introduced to Leonard Chess of Chess Records in Chicago by blues singer Muddy Waters, and went on to influence every rock musician that followed, including the Beatles. His first hit on Chess records was Maybellene in 1955. His second hit, Roll Over Beethoven, reached number 29 in the top 40 charts in 1956. He went on to have 10 more top 40 hits through 1964, including another song that the Beatles covered, Rock and Roll Music in 1957.

George took center stage for the Beatles version of this song, also recorded on July 30, 1963. They got it in five takes.

Chuck Berry

1:07 Excerpt You Really Got A Hold On Me - The Miracles

Formed in 1957 in Detroit, the Miracles later became known as Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Bob Dylan called Smokey Robinson "America's greatest living poet". Their fourth record, You Really Got A Hold On Me, was released in 1963 and hit number 8 on the pop charts. They had many hits through the sixties, their last hit was Tears of a Clown in 1970.

The Beatles' version of You Really Got A Hold On Me, with John on lead vocal, was the first song recorded during the sessions for With The Beatles on July 18, 1963. The basic master for the track was edited together from takes 10 and 11.

The Miracles

:51 Excerpt Devil In His Heart - The Donays

During 1961 to 1966, the peak years of the girl group era, many obscure groups came and went with very little notice. The Donays, featuring lead vocalist Yvonne Allen released Devil In His Heart. It did not chart, and the group split up soon afterward. The Donays version of this song regained some attention after the Beatles' version came out.

The Beatles' version, renamed Devil In Her Heart, was recorded on July 18, 1963, in three takes, with three overdubs, with George doing lead vocal.

1:04 Excerpt Money - Barrett Strong

Barrett Strong's career started big in 1961 with Money, one of Motown founder Berry Gordy's first hits, reaching number 23 on the pop charts. Barret then went on, with Norman Whitfield, to write some of Motown's greatest hits, including Ball of Confusion and Papa Was A Rolling Stone. He also wrote I Heard It Through The Grapevine.

The Beatles recorded Money on July 18, 1963, in seven takes, including a piano edit peice, John performing the raucous vocal.

Barrett Strong

Historical information from The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits by Joel Whitburn and The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll. Additional information thanks to Scott French.

All song excerpts on these pages are for educational use only. Individuals may copy these files for their personal use only, for academic study of the source material. They are not to be redistributed commercially.

This page created January 1, 2002
Last updated October 25, 2007

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