WITH THEIR EARLY career heavily influenced by skiffle, country and western, rockabilly and folk, The Beatles had a wide repertoire of music to lay the foundations for their future career. When they got to Hamburg, they had to develop a heavier sound, becoming in a few months the greatest rock ‘n’ roll group that only the fans in Liverpool and Hamburg ever saw.
They were taking American music, and adapting it for the stage show in the Hamburg clubs, and the halls and clubs in Liverpool, creating their own Liverpool, or Mersey, sound. They were heavily influenced by the American greats, like Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Ray Charles; now it was rhythm and blues, rock ‘n’ roll and Motown that filled their repertoire.
In Hamburg, The Beatles were the cowboys once again. Dressed in leather, standing on the rooftop of the Top Ten Club in their cowboy boots, they were the pioneers and outlaws on a new frontier, pushing the boundaries of music beyond the limits of Liverpool. How the West (Germany) was won!
When they returned from Hamburg and took the stage at Litherland Town Hall, instead of suits and ties, here was a groups of rebels taking on the establishment. These cowboys direct from Hamburg were there, dressed in jeans, leather jackets and cowboy boots, stamping on the stage. John Lennon had his new gang of “outlaws” and they had just moseyed-on into town and taken over the territory.
When Brian Epstein became their manager, they had to change their tune once more. Brian knew that to make it beyond the suburbs of Liverpool, they had to change their image and their repertoire. Getting them out of the rock ‘n’ roll clubs and into theatres and variety clubs, Epstein also needed them out of their leathers and into suits.
The changes worked and, having made their successful debut on BBC Radio in March 1962, Brian managed to get them an audition at Parlophone with George Martin. He was the man, often referred to as the Fifth Beatle, who would oversee their musical triumphs over their recording career. From “Love Me Do” being released on 5th October 1962 to Let It Be released as their final album in 1970, The Beatles covered so many musical genres, and moved the boundaries of what was possible in the studio.
When examined closely, country music was still very much in evidence through their entire recording career, not just in the songs they covered, but in the songs they wrote too. The following is a list – not necessarily definitive – of those songs that either The Beatles themselves have mentioned, or are obviously rooted in that country style.
Bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs remembers hearing The Beatles and their country and bluegrass roots. “I was in the middle of my house and mom and dad were listening to Flatt and Scruggs (of the Foggy Mountain Boys) or Ralph Stanley and I’d hear my sister listening to the Beatles and I would stand in the middle and it was like I could hear two worlds going off and on. But the harmonies that John and Paul were doing were not different to what Ralph and Carter were doing to me. I could hear it.”
Why not do why I have done and create your own Beatles’ Country album? The following are on my Beatles Crumbly & Western album.
Some of the songs with Country roots:
When asked about their new album, Lennon said: “You could call our new one a Beatles country and western LP.”5 Iain MacDonald in his book, Revolution in The Head, describes it as being “dominated by the country-and-western idiom”.
It is thought that this came partly through their exposure to US country radio stations while on tour, though, as we know, they had their roots in country and western songs back in Liverpool.
The evidence is clearly there in their original songs, and choice of a Carl Perkins for Ringo to sing:
Beatles For Sale
● “Honey Don’t” (Beatles for Sale 1964) — Another Carl Perkins song. John Lennon usually sang this live, but Ringo sang it on Beatles For Sale, and has been performing it ever since. “We all knew ‘Honey Don’t’; it was one of those songs that every band in Liverpool played. I used to love country music and country rock; I’d had my own show with Rory Storm, when I would do five or six numbers. So singing and performing wasn’t new to me; it was a case of finding a vehicle for me with The Beatles. That’s why we did it on Beatles For Sale. It was comfortable. And I was finally getting one track on a record: my little featured spot.”6
● “Everybody’s Tryin’ to Be My Baby” (Beatles for Sale 1964) — Another Carl Perkins song, with George “Carl” Harrison taking the lead vocal as well as two guitar solos.
● “Baby’s in Black” (Beatles for Sale 1964). A country waltz, with a strong Everly Brothers influence, who, like Sun Records era Elvis Presley, and Carl Perkins, blended a bit of country and rock.
● “I’ll Follow The Sun” (Beatles for Sale 1964). A song of Paul’s written when he was about 16 had a rockabilly feel to it initially, though in production it changed slightly, but its roots in country/ folk are still there.
● “I’m A Loser” (Beatles for Sale 1964). Another Lennon song, mixing some Dylan folk influence with a country-rock feel.
● “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” (Beatles for Sale 1964). John again writing in a country and western style, with a hint of the Everly Brother’s.
● “What You’re Doing” (Beatles for Sale 1964) Another Paul song, written after their first American tour, is distinctive because of the guitar solo George plays on his 12-string Rickenbacker guitar that would, in turn, influence bands like The Byrds.
● “Words of Love” (Beatles for Sale 1964) was a Buddy Holly song covered by The Beatles. One of their heroes, Holly’s songs featured in the group’s set-lists from the Quarrymen days, with “That’ll Be The Day” being recorded by them at Percy Phillips’ studio on 12th July 1958.
With their second film needing another great soundtrack, The Beatles were swinging again in that country style.
● “Act Naturally” (Help! 1965) Ringo shows his love of country, and of one of his favourite artists, Buck Owens, playing this classic country song. Ringo later re-recorded the song as a duet with Buck Owens.
● “Help!” (Help! 1965) The title track was written mainly by John because the title of the film had changed. He originally wrote it as a bluesy song, a cry for help, but, with the addition of Paul’s counter-melody, it became a pop song, though its roots and structure contain that country-blues feel about it.
● “I’ve Just Seen a Face” (Help! 1965) This is where Paul’s love of bluegrass, with a feeling of skiffle too, comes to the fore with this great song.
● “The Night Before” (Help! 1965) Another of Paul’s country-rock song with a swing, with The Beatles own merging of that country sound with a Mersey twist.
● “Another Girl” (Help! 1965) In the same mould as “The Night Before”, this country-rock/ rockabilly song moves along with a nice swing.
● “You Like Me Too Much” (Help! 1965) One of George Harrison’s early songs, it has a good country-blues-rock feel to it in 4/4 time, with interesting chord progressions that George favoured.
● “Tell Me What You See” (Help! 1965) Another of the songs written mainly by Paul, though John also said it was written entirely by Paul. The introduction of the Hohner Pianet coming immediately after the phrase, “Tell me what you see” adds a blues feel to what is a folk/ country song.
Discover more songs and analysis in The Country of Liverpool.