In preparation for a documentary film about Carl Perkins, Paul McCartney claimed, "If there were no Carl Perkins, there would be no Beatles." And while Macca might be exaggerating, his influence on the young Beatles is undeniable.
Throughout the Quarrymen/Beatles' existence, they played a total of at least 11 Carl Perkins songs in live show repertoire (as dictated in Lewisohn, page 362-65), listed here in approximate chronological order.
The Beatles officially recorded and released "Honey Don't", "Everybody's Trying to be my Baby", and "Matchbox", all in 1964.
Although sung by Ringo on the official recording, "Matchbox" was for a time sung by George Harrison, as the recording off the album Live! At the Star-Club proves.
Pete Best actually sang the song from 1960 until his departure from the band in mid-1962, with George and John apparently trading off turns singing lead in his absence in late 1962.
"Lend Me Your Comb" is particularly interesting because the Beatles borrowed a distinctive chord progression from it for use in "Please Please Me". Both songs are in E major and use the chords G-A-B (underlined below):
“Lend Me Your Comb”
B E G A B E
I gotta confess my hair is a mess.
E: V I bIII IV V I
“Please Please Me”
E A E G A B E
Last night I said these words to my girl
E: I IV I bIII IV V I
Furthermore, the Beatles were clearly conscious of the 'borrowing' because "Lend Me Your Comb" had been in their repertoire since 1957. Two different recordings exist of the Beatles covering "Lend Me Your Comb" on three different albums: Anthology 1 and On Air - Live at the BBC, Volume 2 both include a live recording from 2 July 1963...
... and Live! At the Star-Club features a recording from December 1962.
Just as the Beatles borrowed chords from "Lend Me Your Comb", so too they borrowed the distinctive chords of "Honey Don't" in "It Won't Be Long".
Well how come you say you will when you won't? Say you do, baby, when you don't?
Let me know honey how you feel. Tell the truth now, is love real?
Even though the Beatles recorded "It Won't Be Long" a year prior to recording "Honey Don't", the Perkins number had been in their repertoire since 1962, and thus very likely inspired the same progression in the Beatles' number.
"It Won't Be Long"
E C E C E
Every night when everybody has fun, Here am I sitting all on my own.
I bVI I bVI I
Two years later, "Eleanor Rigby" would use something similar.
C e C e
Ah, look at all the lonely people. Ah, look at all the lonely people
bVI i bVI i
Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been
The only difference here is the use of an e minor chord instead of an E major chord.
Another Perkins cover to appear on the album Live at the BBC is "Sure to Fall (in Love with You)".
Two different Beatles versions of "Glad All Over" were included on the two Live at the BBC albums.
Although none were ever officially recorded or released, the Beatles did play "Tennesse", "Gone, Gone, Gone", "Blue Suede Shoes", and "Your True Love" in January 1969 during the Get Back sessions.
Perkins' ultimate strength as a musician was as a guitarist. He helped define the Rockabilly guitar sound with his solos. It is no surprise, then, that despite influencing all four Beatles, Perkins was ultimately more influential on the Beatles' lead guitarist, George Harrison, than the other band members. George plays a Nashville-esque, Perkins-style solo on "All My Loving". Harrison's enthusiasm and respect for Carl Perkins can also be seen from the stage names adopted by the Beatles during their 20-28 May 1960 tour backing Johnny Gentle. Quoting Paul: "Now we were truly professional, we could do something we had been toying with for a long time, which was to change our names to real showbiz names. I became Paul Ramon, which I though was suitably exotic. ... George became Carl Harrison after Carl Perkins" (Anthology, page 44). Where Little Richard primarily influenced Paul McCartney, and Gene Vincent primarily influenced John Lennon, Carl Perkins primarily influenced George Harrison.
Beatles. The Beatles Anthology. Chronicle Books LLC, San Francisco, CA, 2000.
Lewisohn, Mark. The Complete Beatles Chronicle. Pyramid Books, an imprint of Octopus Publishing Group Limited, London, UK, 2006.
This blog is a workshop for developing my analyses of The Beatles' music.