I think all the cover songs done by The Beatles are fascinating, especially stuff like this that clearly shows their reverence for early rock and roll. You can hear the specific influence of Little Richard on Paul’s vocals throughout his career, and that’s so intriguing and important. Paul still performs this song, and it’s just as special to him almost 60 years after he first heard it, which makes it even more interesting to me.
When The Beatles arrived in America in February 1964, they were besieged by reporters trying to embarrass them and make them look stupid and pointless. But The Beatles were too quick for those journalists, and they had clever responses nobody was prepared for. There was no way you could not like these guys—they were cute and charming and funny. One reporter asked them what they thought about being called “nothing but a bunch of British Elvis Presleys.” They responded with some exaggerated Elvis shaking and said, “It’s not true!” So fuck you, American press, they seemed to be saying. You can’t stop The Beatles!
The Rolling Stones did countless blues covers before they started writing their own songs. The Beatles not only covered Little Richard, but Chuck Berry, Motown, and Buddy Holly before they started writing all their own music. When a band performs music from artists who influence them, it’s not just about not having their own material yet; they are trying to find their own voice. One of the main ways any artist does this is by copying those they admire. And that’s just a fact of life. There’s nothing wrong with that, and there’s no other way to do it.
Keith Richards has said that he’s stolen every Chuck Berry riff out there. John Lennon also acknowledged Chuck’s influence on his music. Paul openly admits that he took much of his style from Little Richard. These admissions (and there are so many others from that era of rock and roll) are why I don’t get upset when contemporary performers “rip off” people they look up to. For example:
- The bass line from Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” was taken from Chic’s disco hit “Good Times”
- Oasis have professed their love for The Beatles, and you absolutely hear that in their music and lyrics; the line “a fool on the hill and I feel fine” appears in their 1997 song “D’You Know What I Mean?”
- The Strokes used the opening of Tom Petty’s “American Girl” for their first hit “Last Nite;” Tom Petty being the badass he is, he was cool with it and even invited The Strokes to tour with him in 2006
- Lady Gaga obviously stole the music from Madonna’s “Express Yourself” for her “Born This Way” anthem in 2011; Gaga has also borrowed heavily from Madonna’s playbook for many other aspects of her career
- One Direction, who I cannot believe were influenced by The Clash, took parts of “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” for their song “Live While We’re Young”
I mention the above artists and their influences because I want to make it clear that everyone takes something from somebody they admire. Even geniuses like The Beatles. Even The Rolling Stones. And Elvis. Chuck Berry and Little Richard did it, too. Whether you’re doing a cover song or an original song that has some lyrical or musical similarity, or if your style of performing has something in common with another singer or musician, it’s all good. What gets me is when an artist doesn’t directly acknowledge it, and I especially hate when their fans don’t understand the influences that brought them the artist they love. I am fortunate to have understood the roots of the music I love from the day I started listening to music. Part of my mission in life is to spread this knowledge to as many people as possible. It’s not just about music, either. As a historian, I believe it is crucial to the progress of the human race to know what came before our generation. We must respect the past and those who paved the way, even when we’re stealing from them.