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date: 15 October 2019

Beatles, the (USA)locked

  • Walter Everett

Extract

English pop group. George Harrison (b Liverpool, England, Feb 25, 1943; d Los Angeles, Nov 29, 2001), John Lennon (John Winston (Ono) Lennon; b Liverpool, Oct 9, 1940; d New York, Dec 8, 1980), Paul McCartney (James Paul McCartney; b Liverpool, June 18, 1942), and Ringo Starr (Richard Starkey; b July 7, 1940). They were the world’s most popular musical force from 1964 through their 1970 break-up, and their legacy has continued to be highly influential for subsequent artists, the entertainment industry, baby-boom culture and beyond. This article outlines the inspiration taken by the Beatles from American sources, and the group’s appearances and reception in America; for a general introduction to their career and extensive bibliography, see Grove7.

Whereas the Beatles’ early sound was partly based on British folk and popular forms—including skiffle and music-hall styles—American rock ’n’ roll was by far their dominant resource. The group began by covering, and then borrowing stylistic traits from American performers, principally Elvis Presley (particularly his expressive vocal embellishments), Chuck Berry (reciting-tone vocals with witty rhymes, extended guitar sonorities, rhythm chording, melodic blues riffs, and bass ostinati), Little Richard (vocal falsetto and bluesy pentatonicism), Bo Diddley (mixolydian chords, direct simplicity), Carl Perkins (rockabilly picking), Jerry Lee Lewis (keyboard pounding, raw energy), Buddy Holly (major-mode melody), and the Everly Brothers (descant vocal arrangements). In the few years surrounding the late-1962 launch of their recording career, the group drew variously from American male R&B figures (the Isley Brothers, the Coasters, the Drifters, Larry Williams, Arthur Alexander, Barrett Strong, the Miracles), female vocal groups (the Teddy Bears, the Shirelles, the Marvelettes, the Cookies) and pop singers (Del Shannon, Roy Orbison). Many traits taken from these sources remained at the musicians’ core even as they continued to borrow American ideas: the group used Caribbean models for their first two B-sides, and based their fourth single, “She Loves You”/“I’ll Get You,” (...

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S. Sadie and J. Tyrell, eds.: The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2/London, 2001)