The British Invasion began on February 7, 1964, the day The Beatles walked off that transatlantic flight and their Cuban heeled boots first struck the tarmac at John F. Kennedy airport, newly named after the slain president, just 77 days after his death. But the groundwork for this mind-boggling and, frankly, unexpected revolution was laid long before John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr hoisted their blue plastic flight bags onto their shoulders, straightened their skinny black ties, smoothed their eyebrow-skimming fringe and walked down the metal stairs of Pan Am Flight 101 into a teeming throng of upwards of 3,000 screaming, fainting girls, jaundiced reporters and airport staff and into the future — a future of such great musical and social import that the reverberations are still being calculated five decades later.
At first, they seemed like nothing special, like a hundred other Liverpool beat bands reared on the dance hall music of their elders and the burgeoning and dangerous sounds of rock ‘n’ roll coming out of America. Elvis, mostly.
When they first started they played souped-up Eddie Cochran and Buddy Holly songs, anxious fast and sloppy — nothing very innovative or even original. The band — which included John Lennon’s art school pal Stu Sutcliffe and drummer Pete Best at that time — were classic teddy boys, decked out in leather, greasy combed back hair and, by most accounts, were rather thuggish in those early days.
In 1960, they did a brief tour of Scotland backing up a more established artist named Johnny Gentle, but mostly they skirted from gig to gig in Liverpool, having a lunchtime stint at The Cavern Club, then traveling to Hamburg, Germany, for a 48-day residency, playing torturous six-hour sets with a 15-minute break every hour at the Indra Club. They were fueled by ambition and amphetamines. Somehow this heady combination paid off, adding an edge of danger to The Beatles’ music by having to come up with material and between-song quips to keep the rowdy German audiences entertained. Before the end of 1960, they completed four stints in the smoky, seedy and rather nihilistic Hamburg clubs, and were ready to take on the world.
But perhaps what is more key than that they were so well-rehearsed was that they were a new kind of outfit: they were a vocal and an instrumental group, rather than heartthrob crooners who dominated the charts at the time or a backing band that provided the music for singers like Cliff Richards and the Shadows and Billy Fury and the Tornados.
Made up of four strong and distinct personalities, they all contributed to the identity of the group, as well as each occupying a niche in their own right.
John Lennon the “smart” Beatle, Paul McCartney the “cute” Beatle, George Harrison the “quiet” Beatle, and Ringo Starr the “funny” Beatle.
Furthermore, they all wrote their own material, they could all sing, and they all played their own instruments, which allowed them to be “portable” — meaning they weren’t just a prefabricated band. They could reproduce their records on a stage — not that anyone could tell through the din of tens of thousands of screaming fans.
This equation became the gold standard for all the bands that followed in The Beatles slipstream. In fact, you could be safe in saying that it wasn’t until after The Beatles made their mark that rock groups played their own instruments and wrote their own songs. It was a watershed in the development of the rock canon, along with the idea that rock music was transformed from an occupation to a way of life. It’s still true today, and here are 30 bands carrying on that legacy of The Beatles in their music.
- The Jam, “Start”
- Guided By Voices, “A Crick Uphill”
- Cheap Trick, “If You Want My Love”
- Foo Fighters, “God Is My Witness”
- The Who, “So Sad About Us”
- The La’s, “Feelin’”
- Tame Impala, “Mind Mischief”
- Flaming Lips, “Do You Realize”
- Of Montreal, “Pancakes for One”
- Oasis, “Don’t Look Back In Anger”
- The Raconteurs, “Together”
- Rod Stewart, “The Killing of Sister George, Pt. 1 and 2”
- Green Day, “Hold On”
- Julian Lennon, “Valotte”
- Electric Light Orchestra, “Mr. Blue Sky”
- Blur, “Beetlebum”
- The Beau Brummels, “Laugh Laugh”
- Tears for Fears, “Sowing the Seeds of Love”
- Bon Jovi, “I’ll Be There For You”
- The Avett Brothers, “Will You Return”
- Jet, “Look What You’ve Done”
- Radiohead, “Karma Police”
- Spoon, “The Beast and Dragon”
- White Stripes, “We’re Going to be Friends”
- Bob Dylan, “4th Time Around”
- MGMT, “Weekend Wars”
- The Shins, “Saint Simon”
- Crowded House, “Not the Girl You Think You Are”
- Knickerbockers, “Lies”
- Soundgarden, “Black Hole Sun”