The members of the Beatles fell under the spell of rock and roll early on. When the new sound first broke in 1955 and 1956, it caught the attention of Ringo Starr, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison. The lads bought rock and roll records and went to movies where they could see rock and roll stars perform.
As a band, the Beatles are often regarded as being second-generation rock and rollers, but as kids and as players, they were very much inspired by rock's first generation. They fell in love with rock's “big bang” moment; artists like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly and other artists that would be key to their sound and genesis as a band. As the formative Beatles coalesced, they covered songs by the artists they liked, adding early rock and roll cuts to the set lists as they honed their group dynamic.
Sometimes the Beatles are said to have saved rock and roll. However, at the time the group landed stateside in 1964, Motown had already been cranking out hits, Sam Cooke was breaking barriers with the new sounds of soul, girl group music was flourishing out of the Brill building in New York City, and surf music was emerging. They generated unprecedented energy and a whole new look and hipness, but America's music scene was already brimming with creativity and excitement.
Still, the Beatles arrived in New York City with a unique sound. They combined a lot of their influences from American music of the 50s in a really exciting and fresh way. They had great style, great clothes, long hair and attitude. They were seasoned performers, too. They knew how to captivate an audience.
In the year leading up to their arrival in America, the Beatles recording many soul and girl group songs. Some were big hits, like the Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman” and some were more regional or obscure songs, like the Donays’ great “Devil In His Heart.” These performances show how important African-American music was to the development of the Beatles performance and songwriting.
Featured on the Beatles' first two UK LPs, Please Please Me and With the Beatles, as well as their regular performances on the BBC, the Fab Four recorded a number rock classics. Here, in no particular order, are 12 songs covered by the Beatles in 1963, paying homage to their rock and soul heroes.
“Roll Over Beethoven” (Chuck Berry) (May 1956: Chess)
“Twist and Shout” (Bert Russell, Phil Medley) – The Isley Brothers (June 16, 1962: Wand)
“Please Mister Postman” (Georgia Dobbins, William Garrett, Freddie Gorman, Brian Holland, Robert Bateman) – The Marvellettes (August 21, 1961: Tamla)
“Money (That’s What I Want)” (Janie Bradford, Berry Gordy) – Barrett Strong (August 1959: Tamla)
“Boys” (Luther Dixon, Wes Farrell) – The Shirelles (November 1960: Scepter)
“Till There Was You” (Meredith Wilson) – Anita Bryant (May 1959: Carlton Records)
“Devil in Her Heart” (Richard Drapkin) – The Donays (1962: Correc-Tone)
“Anna (Go to Him)” (Arthur Alexander) – (September 17,1962: Dot Records)
“Chains” (Gerry Goffin, Carole King) – The Cookies (November 1962: Dimension)
“Baby It’s You” (Mack David, Barney Williams, Burt Bacharach) – The Shirelles (1961: Scepter)
“Keep Your Hands Off My Baby” - Little Eva (1962: Dimension)