No other recording artist influenced the young Beatles quite as much as Elvis Presley. In Lennon's own words: "[W]hen I heard ["Heartbreak Hotel"], it was the end for me. ... Once I heard it and got into it, that was life, there was no other thing. I thought of nothing else but rock 'n' roll" (Anthology, page 11). Paul concurs: "[T]here was an advert for 'Heartbreak Hotel'. Elvis looked so great: 'That's him, that's him - the Messiah has arrived!' Then when we heard the song, there was the proof. That was followed by his first album, which I still love the best of all his records. It was so fantastic we played it endlessly and tried to learn it all. Everything we did was based on that album" (Anthology, page 21).
Throughout the Quarrymen/Beatles' existence, they played a total of at least 31 Elvis Presley tunes during in their live shows (as dictated in Lewisohn, page 361-65).
The sheer quantity of Presley covers in the band's stage repertoire (at least twice as many as any other recording artist) is a clear illustration of just how important and influential Elvis was to the band members. However, despite the huge number of covers, only a handful were ever recorded; and only a handful more have been unofficially released.
Paul sang about a minute of "All Shook Up" during a session on 03 January 1969.
Despite horrendous sound quality, a home made recording of The Quarry Men playing "Baby Let's Play House" on 06 July 1957 (the day John Lennon and Paul McCartney met) has survived.
A substantially better-quality recording (even if maybe not a substantially better-quality performance) of "Baby Let's Play House" was made on 27 January 1969.
The Beatles recorded "Blue Suede Shoes" twice during the Get Back session in January 1969. The first was made on 03 January, and the second on 26 January as part of a medley/jam along with "Rip it Up" and "Shake Rattle and Roll".
During that same month, the band also made a single recording of "Don't Be Cruel (To a Heart That's True)" on 10 January, with Lennon delivering a particularly sarcastic lead vocal.
"Good Rockin' Tonight" was first recorded and released by Roy Brown in 1947, but Presley's 1954 cover was likely the one the Beatles knew and imitated. They recorded two versions during the Get Back sessions: the first on 09 January 1969; the second on 22 January. In addition, Paul performed "Good Rockin' Tonight" throughout his 1993 world tour.
Somewhat surprisingly given that both Lennon and McCartney named it specifically as a major influence, no recording of the Beatles playing "Heartbreak Hotel" exists of any kind. They apparently never played it during the Get Back sessions.
A recording of the Beatles covering "I Forgot to Remember To Forget" was made on 01 May 1964, released on the album Live at the BBC.
Likewise, the band's recording of "I Got a Woman" (actually written and originally recorded by Ray Charles, but the Beatles' version is more like Presley's 1956 cover)
was made on 16 July 1963 and released on the album Live at the BBC.
The same day the Beatles recorded "I Got a Woman" (16 July 1963), they also recorded "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Cry", which was also released on the album Live at the BBC.
The band played through "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" during the Get Back sessions on 26 January 1969 as part of a medley with "Kansas City" and "Miss Anne".
A recording of "Love Me Tender" that may or may not actually be the Beatles from around 1960 is available (I found it as an MP3 download on Amazon.com) that supposedly features the lead vocals of Stuart Sutcliffe. What is known is that Stu did sing "Love Me Tender" as part of the Beatles stage repertoire. In fact, he would sing it to his girlfriend/fiancee Astrid Kirchherr. So whether or not this clip is actually authentic is anybody's guess, but regardless it definitely was "Stu and Astrid's song".
The Beatles recorded three versions of "That's All Right (Mama)". The first was on 02 July 1963 for Pop Go The Beatles. This recording was released on Live at the BBC.
They recorded it twice more (and with very different character from their 1963 recording) on 06 January 1969 as an instrumental, and on 21 January 1969 with Lennon's lead vocals, both during the Get Back sessions.
The only Beatles recording of "That's When Your Heartaches Begin" is from a 1960 home recording the (then Silver) Beatles made at Paul McCartney's house.
"True Love", despite being written by Cole Porter and recorded in 1956 as a Grace Kelly/Bing Crosby duet, the Beatles were mostly likely exposed to the song through Elvis Presley's 1957 cover. The only recording the Beatles ever made of the song dates from 08 January 1969, as part of the Get Back sessions. Although you can barely call it a recording, because it's only a few seconds long and it's just Paul singing one line of lyrics. It's probably not worth mentioning except to be thorough in my catalog.
In addition, many of the former Beatles covered Presley songs in their solo careers, which includes but are certainly not limited to:
The influence of any given musician on another, however, is hardly limited to covers (although that is obviously the most clear such example). And in the case of Elvis Presley's influence on the Beatles, that influence is extended to the Beatles' original compositions in addition to their Presley covers.
Paul McCartney has further cited Elvis as an influence on the Quarry Men's first professionally made original recording, "In Spite of all the Danger", which McCartney described as "a self-penned little song very influenced by Elvis" (Anthology, page 23). He also stated, "It's very similar to an Elvis song. It's me doing an Elvis ... but I'm a bit loathe to say which!" (Lewisohn 1988, page 7). Some have suggested the song "Tryin' To Get To You" as the inspiration, and indeed that's as good a guess as any. But I don't hear Elvis' influence at all - the two-part vocals are much more like the Everly Brothers than Elvis Presley. Regardless, in Paul's mind perhaps he was trying to sound like Elvis, and in that respect Elvis did indeed influence not only "In Spite of All the Danger" but also many other early attempts at songwriting, even if the end results are quite different from what the young composer was attempting to emulate.
There is also at least one very obvious instance of Elvis' lyrical influence on the Beatles. "Baby Let's Play House" inspired the opening lyrics of Lennon's "Run for your Life", the concluding track of Rubber Soul: "I'd rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man" is word-for-word identical. Of course, Elvis was an interpretive artist and not a creative one, so he didn't actually write those lyrics himself, but it was his singing of them that influence Lennon's lyrics on "Run for your Life".
Most importantly, though, the influence of Elvis Presley was in attitude, not in music. Lennon's childhood friend Pete Shotton sums it up: "We all automatically wanted to dress like Elvis, look like Elvis, swagger, strut, and sneer like Elvis - and every snide remark from Aunt Mimi, our teachers, or the newspapers only served to reinforce our new idol's grip" (Shotton, page 79). In fact, Presley's music can be seen as the way by which he presented and conveyed that infamous teenager attitude. In that sense, the attitude is actually more important and more fundamental to Elvis Presley and what he symbolized than the music itself. This is no doubt as true for the Beatles specifically as it was for 1950's adolescent culture at large.
Presley's career is often divided into two parts: before the army, and after the army. I've heard these periods described variously as "Gold Lame Elvis and White Jumpsuit Elvis", or "Thin Elvis and Fat Elvis". But regardless of terminology, the earlier period is what influenced the Beatles. Quoting Paul: " I like him best around 1956, when he was young and gorgeous and had a twinkle in his eye; when he had a sense of humor, plus that great voice" (Anthology, page 22). By contrast, the later period Elvis was a turn-off. "I went off Elvis after he left the army. I felt they tamed him too much. It was all wrong - GI Blues and Blue Hawaii. ... [H]e went to Hollywood and the light had gone out of his eye" (Anthology, page 21-22).
Elvis' conversion from the young, handsome singer to gaudy Hollywood sellout, then, is why the Beatles never released any Presley covers on their albums. Because by the time the Beatles started making recordings (their first single, "Love Me Do"/"P. S. I Love You", was released on 05 October 1962, two years after the release of GI Blues), their respect for The King of Rock 'n' Roll had diminished. Even so, there can be little doubt that Elvis Presley was the single biggest influence on the Beatles.
Beatles, The. The Beatles Anthology. Chronicle Books, San Francisco, CA, 2000.
Lewisohn, Mark. The Complete Beatles Chronicle. Pyramid Books, an imprint of Octopus Publishing Group Limited, London, UK, 2006.
ibid. The Beatles Recording Sessions. Harmony Books, New York, NY, 1988.
Shotton, Pete. The Beatles Lennon and Me. Stein and Day Publishers, New York, NY, 1983.
This blog is a workshop for developing my analyses of The Beatles' music.