What I learned to appreciate is their unbelievable songwriting. It really doesn't get any better than The Beatles. And then the production. Incredible. Pop music at its best. The Beatles also informed so much of the other music I love. Especially Brazilian pop music like Caetano Veloso, Ivan Lins, Djavan, etc. And The Beatles influence has only gotten stronger with time, as their sound and ideas are more prevalent in current pop music now than ever.
When reflecting upon how important The Beatles' work has been in my life as a listener and musician, the first thing that often comes to mind is the longevity of my enthusiasm for their music. I first heard and loved them when I was very young, and I continue to be as enthralled by their music today as I was then.
There are relatively few artists who seem to get such a huge percentage right in terms of what's important in making an artistic endeavor successful. The combining of an absolutely Herculean ability to write reams of unforgettable songs that frequently pushed standard ideas of harmony and melody in popular music forward with their seemingly unquenchable desire and skill in creating completely new ways to record music was unprecedented and, I think, unequaled to this day.
Their music has impacted upon me in so many ways. As a composer they have always presented a sort of near perfect example of what a great song could and should be. The songwriting so purely melodic and harmonic, the songs can be played in any context. In terms of their playing and the production of their recordings, the sounds and parts on their records are always somewhere in my brain as reference points for what a brilliant and succinct recording conception should be when all that is superfluous is cut away.
I still listen to their albums all the time. The songs, the singing, the playing, the production and recording, the album covers. Everything is of a thread. It is music that inspired me to become and continue to be a musician.
I was a boy when The Beatles exploded onto the scene in the U.S. My brother Alex and I wrote them off as a "girls band," embracing The Rolling Stones and others of the day. By the time we saw Help!
, by chance on a double bill with Fantastic Voyage
, we were finished. The music and the amazing charisma of the band was irresistible. We went back to A Hard Day's Night
and were blown away. Then Revolver
came out. The ultimate mind-blow was watching the film (they weren't called videos yet) for "Strawberry Fields Forever" on The Ed Sullivan Show
. They had, by then, dragged us all into a world of imagination, sophistication, and infectiousness beyond anything else, beyond any genre. Few of any persuasion can claim to be immune to this magic. I know I am not.
It never ceases to amaze me how kids, usually just preteen, seem to go through a Beatles phase. I have heard about this and witnessed it in my friends' families to some degree very often. It brings up the startling and timeless universality of The Beatles' music, from all phases of their amazingly/relatively short career together. And of course one then hears the music over and over, and almost invariably this leads to an even deeper awe and appreciation for the infectiousness and craft of even their "lightest" songs. It is so inspiring. somewhat daunting, and a bit mysterious, no?
The music of The Beatles' has been a source of inspiration for me from song writing to arrangingto live performance and studio recording. I especially felt a connection to George's music after discovering that we shared the same passion for the ukulele. His song "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" will always be my favorite song to play on the tiny four string.
The Beatles were the first popular music I remember hearing as a child in the early 60's, starting with the song "Help." We got Sgt. Peppers
the week it came out in 1967 and it was the first record that I really played over and over at age 6.
I didn't realize it until mixing my CD Narrow Margin
40 years later that this record had more influence on the way that I hear music in general than anything else, and is in all likelihood the reason I gravitated to the guitar. The great songwriting, density of textures and the amount of activity on many tracks, and the sheer number of different colors in the orchestration became the blueprint for what music is to me. Of course I had no way of knowing at the time that Sgt. Peppers
was exceptional in this way vis-à-vis other records.
The Beatles' musical influence on American culture was all-pervasive. Not only the music, but also their "mop-topped" look transformed the way America dressed and cut their hair! Hair
, the musical, is a perfect example of that influence. As usual for the rock and soul bands of that time, their own influence was Black American music, so it was interesting to see how, through their own prism, something truly unique was born.
The songs and lyrics were simple, yet each and every one had a phrase, a word, a chord change that was just brilliant and, with the addition of George Martin as producer, they forever set the bar for the pop music of the '60s and thereafter.
Growing up in that same era, I couldn't help but be influenced by their records you would hear them all day on the radio and couldn't get them out of your head... they were some of the first pop records that I took seriously. Besides the great songs and production, they played and sang so well togetherit was really a group with a symbiotic affinity much like Coltrane's classic quartetthere were no weak links.
In 1966 I took my first trip to Europe and Asia with the Indiana University Big Band. We landed at Heathrow for a day of sightseeing and lo and behold, from a second floor balcony at the airport, we looked down and there they were (!) just milling around the airport togetherwe couldn't believe our luck in seeing themthey were dressed super mod and each had a walking stick... just too cool. On that same trip, some of us spent a day at the beach in Beirut after taking LSD (my one and only "trip!"). I went back to the hotel room and eventually listened to "You Won't See Me" from Rubber Soul
over and over and over...
Later on in 1974, Mike and I toured Japan with the Plastic Ono Super-Band featuring Yoko Ono, a tour "sponsored" by John during the time he was having the affair with his secretary May Pang (who later worked for the Brecker Bros office), and that was as close as we got to playing with The Beatles, but that tour was a lot of fun.
Also, Steve Gadd
, Rick Marotta, Don Grolnick
and Steve Khan were in the band. Mike and I both did some recording with John right before he was shot, and played on a Paul McCartney session. Also when I was doing some ghostwriting for Arif Mardin in the '70s, Arif handed me a bunch of tracks on tape with lead sheets that needed horns. I asked him who might be singing on the tracks because that might help me in the writing of the charts. He said rather brusquely "Oh, I don't know, maybe Aretha, maybe Carly or Bette, or maybe Ringo (!), we'll figure that out later!... "I said "thanks for narrowing it down!" :) ...so maybe there's a Ringo track out there with some Brecker Bros. horns on it!
As a child I fell in love with the later compositions of the Beatles, especially "Eleanor Rigby" and "Yesterday," both written by Paul McCartney. But of course the "bassist" would be the most melodic one in the band. ;-)
The music of The Beatles has had an impact on my writing and my appreciation of their music. I must admit that for many years I never considered myself a fan of The Beatles and I actually became more interested in exploring and studying their music as I heard jazz musicians record and perform some of their compositions like "Eleanor Rigby," "Can't Buy Me Love" and "Blackbird." The Beatles have written many songs with simple melodies and pretty harmonic movements and I enjoy the simplicity of their music. Throughout the history of music, the songs with longevity are quite often the ones with simple melodies and this is why I like the music of The Beatles.
As a huge fan of The Beatles, sometimes it's hard to quantify how they have impacted my own music, because I think their influence runs pretty deep on me. While I'm not sure my ability to win a trivia contest about Revolver
-era recording techniques has much influence on my jazz piano playing, I think I've learned two very important musical lessons from them that I can apply to my own music. The first is a reminder of just how vital and important a truly great, memorable melody is (especially when it allows me to cover the song and screw up all the harmonies!). And the second lesson is that it's always worth it to truly be what you want to be musically, to not get constrained by genre or other people's expectations; to have the courage to go ahead and record "Tomorrow Never Knows" or "Strawberry Fields Forever" or what not, even when it departs from the formula that initially brought you success.