Throughout the Quarrymen/Beatles' existence, they played a total of at least 14 Gene Vincent songs in live shows (as dictated in Lewisohn 2006, page 361-65), listed here in approximate chronological order.
Unfortunately, very few of these tunes were ever recorded - and those that have survived are not studio recordings so they're not great quality and sometimes don't even feature the Beatles singing.
The band recorded "Be-Bop-A-Lula" in December 1962, but instead of Lennon singing lead (as was usual) Star-Club waiter Fred Fascher takes vocals and the Beatles play back-up. This version was released on the album Live! At the Star-Club.
Two recordings of "Wild Cat", both home recordings from Summer 1960, have also survived. Here's the better of the two:
"Hey Good Lookin'" is a 1952 song by Hank Williams. The Beatles performed it live from 1960 to 1962, tough they were probably more influenced by Gene Vincent's 1958 cover. They also recorded a very rough rendition of the song during the Get Back sessions on 31 January 1969 as they warmed up in preparation for their 'real' recordings of the day.
Lastly, although the Beatles never recorded a version of "Wedding Bells", Lennon often cited the lyrics as significant regarding the Beatles break-up. He told David Sheff in a 1980 interview, "[O]nce I found the woman, the boys became of no interest whatsoever, other than they were like old friends. You know: 'Hi, how are you? How's your wife?' That kind of thing. You know the [Gene Vincent] song: 'Those wedding bells are breaking up that old gang of mine.' Well, it didn't hit me till whatever age I was when I met Yoko ... that was it. The old gang of mine was over the moment I met her" (page 62).
So while the Beatles didn't make very many recordings of Gene Vincent's music, his influence is still significant. Vincent, like both Perkins and Presley, is most strongly associated with the genre of Rockabilly, a style the Beatles would imitate on many of their own recordings - even if none of them were actual Vincent covers. The Beatles would adopt that Rockabilly style in recordings such as "Act Naturally", "Don't Pass Me By", "Honey Don't", and "What Goes On", among others.
"Be-Bop-A-Lula" is without a doubt the Gene Vincent song that influenced the Beatles the most. Lennon admitted to Barry Miles in 1969, "That beginning - 'we-e-e-e-e-l-l-l-l-l!' - always made my hair stand on end" (Lewisohn 2013, page 94). Significantly, John sang the song live for the first time on the day he met Paul McCartney for the first time. Also significantly, Lennon opened his 1975 album Rock 'n' Roll with a cover of "Be-Bop-A-Lula". The song also is a prime example of early so-called 'nonsense lyrics'. Although lyrics such as "Be-Bop-A-Lula" contain no literary or semantic meaning, they do have musical meaning. The words "Be-Bop-A-Lula" were chosen because the phonetic articulation of those syllables perfectly fit the music - and any meaning of those syllables is largely coincidental. This style of lyric-writing is something that John Lennon would explore in depth in his songs from the later 60's, such as "Dig a Pony", "Come Together", "Strawberry Fields Forever", "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey", and many more. In other words, it's not much of a stretch from "Be-Bop-A-Lula" to "Goo goo k'joob".
Vincent also influenced the band's fashion sense. In the 1963 BBC documentary The Mersey Sound, John Lennon admitted, "[W]e'd always worn jeans 'cuz we didn't have anything else ... [W]e went back to Germany and we had a bit more money the second time, so we bought leather pants and looked like four Gene Vincents, only a bit younger." The visual similarities are indeed quite strong:
The influence of Gene Vincent on the Beatles, then, is mostly musical (rockabilly flavor) and lyrical (nonsense lyrics of "Be-Bop-A-Lula") with a little bit of fashion sense (black leather) mixed in, and this influence can be seen more in John Lennon than any of the other Beatles.
Lewisohn, Mark. The Complete Beatles Chronicle. Pyramid Books, an imprint of Octopus Publishing Group Limited, London, UK, 2006.
Ibid. Tune In. Crown Archetype, New York, NY, 2013
Sheff, David, G. Barry Golson, ed. The Playboy Interviews with John Lennon & Yoko Ono. Berkley Books, New York, NY, 1983.
12/19/2015 04:19:45 pm
I saw Gene many times in Sunderland ,i am now 70 years old and remember him fondly.
7/23/2017 08:03:29 am
I really, really appreciate your making this information available, - the songs The Beatles played/covered by the seminal 1950's rockers. Gene Vincent is my favorite, even more than Elvis,… and Eddie Cochran second,… then Elvis,… then Buddy Holly,… even though Elvis and Buddy Holly are more standard in their popularity,… and Elvis had the most 'pop star' character by far and much more high level output of recordings and such,… he's the major icon,… as we all know.
7/23/2017 10:44:23 pm
I hear Gene Vincent's voice style in some of Paul McCartney's early vocals. I'm a Vincent and Cochran fan in particular,… and Elvis,… the other influences of the Beatles I don't find as endearing. But, The Beatles live version of 'Talkin' 'Bout You' by Chuck Berry is possibly the most endearingly-dynamic-rock-n-roll/alt-pop song I've heard performed by The Beatles.
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This blog is a workshop for developing my analyses of The Beatles' music.