Beatles comment #6 (of 30)

How about The Beatles and the Blues? At first glance, they seem strange bedfellows. At second glance, again, strange bedfellows. That is probably because there was a growing contingency of musicians in Britain who took to the Blues (a music form meaning here). And, those players were from the same generation as The Beatles, or a few short months/years younger, though, not as intoxicated on straight rock and pop music as John, Paul, George, and Ringo. They chose to “pass themselves off” as “blues men”, while the Liverpudlian foursome saw the form with some interest while realizing the real Blues CAME FROM THE STATES. Most readers know the cast of characters I am referencing here. The Stones, Animals, Yardbirds, etc. I love them all. I love the renderings of Blues they put forth. However, it ain’t Muddy or Willie Dixon. It ain’t Hooker. It certainly ain’t Son House or Robert Johnson. The Beatles seemed to know they could not be that, no matter how much they might want it. The others? Well, they sometimes seemed to believe the press clippings certifying them as “Blues”. The twenty-year-old business schooler or art schooler from London just cannot be ‘The Blues”, really. Not unless we call the Mississippians or Chicago players something else. Having said all of that, no doubt a controversial sentiment for some to read, The Beatles were aware of Blues artists and liked them. When they landed in America a reporter asked if there was something they wished to see while in the USA. McCartney answered , “Muddy Waters”. The reporter asked, “Where is that?”. McCartney responded with “You don’t even know who your own celebrities are.” Let’s take a brief look at some moments of Blues and the Fabs. “Live at the BBC”, from ‘63 (released decades later in ‘94) shows McCartney singing “Clarabella” in a definite Blues voice. Lennon plays “cross-harp” style on the harmonica, an obvious Blues styling. He is not great at it, but, not bad. He does understand that he has to be playing in that said style. Through the years, McCartney would sing in very convincing Blues style many times. “Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey” is a rock voice, as good as it gets. But, it can, just as easily, be considered Blues singing. In the 70s he would emerge on songs such as “Call Me Back Again”, a self-written Wings number, as a bonafide Blues vocalist. I remember he and Steve Miller creating a Blues duet in the ‘90s (I Used To Be Bad)and not being embarrassing at all. They “got it” in exorcising their Blues-men alter egos. Many times, in the Beatles days, the form was implied handsomely. There is “ Oh Darling”, “ Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?”, “ Got To Get You Into My Life”, and others. Lennon would imply Blues on many songs such as “I’m So Tired”, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and “Come Together”. He, too, had an understanding of singing Blues style, using it on later solo works, too. Listen to him on Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got A Hold On Me”, from early Beatles period. He puts it in a genuine soulful Blues voice. Harrison would go so far as write a tongue-in-cheek Blues song “For You Blue” (Let It Be album), even referencing Elmore James in it. Lennon did so, too, with “Yer Blues” (“ White Album”). Both the Harrison and Lennon songs were written at the height of a Blues boom in the UK, late ‘60s. Harrison would immerse heavily into the form in ‘69 when he jumped onto a tour with Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, while still a Beatle. Earlier, I said the group of the Fab Four and Blues were strange bedfellows. I stated that was the case at first AND second glance. At third glance you can see that it was part of the Beatle motif, an influence that was in the music. It just was not something they wore like a badge. In the same way, they delved into Music Hall, Folk, Country, etc. All of those forms contributed to making The Beatles, musically, who they were. That is why they were so diverse, and so interesting across the board. Other British (and American) bands with infatuation of Blues, would gladly describe themselves as Blues bands, though many “purists” laugh aloud at them saying that. Hey, I wonder how many bonafide Blues artists covered Beatle songs? I will bet the number is staggering. How many Blues artists covered Jagger/Richards tunes? Anyone got comparison numbers? That might be interesting.

Leave a comment