Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Importance Of Liverpool

John Lennon, in 1957, on the day he met Paul McCartney
Why would four young, inexperienced musicians from England's fourth largest city, especially one frequently described as a deteriorating and depressing outpost, make such an impact on music and culture across an entire planet? Without discounting their obvious talents, their endearing personalities, and the publicity machine behind them, there has always been another important component to The Beatles' success story that is frequently overlooked: their hometown.

Liverpool is the second largest port in the entire United Kingdom. This resulted in thousands of Americans coming to live and work in the city on the Mersey River. In addition, there was Burtonwood Royal Air Force Base located just a few miles from town. It was home to the largest contingent of American air personnel assigned to the U. K. during World War Two. Even after the war almost 20,000 American armed forces continued to be stationed there. The U. S. military presence was so large that the locals referred to the base as "Little America." Many of the Americans living and working in the region brought their records with them and they freely shared the music with their hosts. All of these factors combined to create an environment that allowed The Beatles and many other Liverpudlians to be influenced more heavily by the American pioneers of rock than the rest of their homeland.

The endless variety of music available to John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr showed up consistently in their Hamburg shows, their residency at the Cavern Club, and later in studio number nine at Abbey Road. Many of the American rock and pop songs that influenced them were first heard by a whole lot of people here at home only after they were recorded by The Beatles and sent back to us across the ocean.

Wikipedia cited the roots of some of the group's more unusual covers. Here are just a few examples. Dr. Feelgood and the Interns' "Mr. Moonlight," from Beatles for Sale, is proof that the band didn't only rely on the big hits of the day. The song was a "B" side of a hit single called "Dr. Feelgood." Another song they performed regularly was "Soldier of Love (Lay Down Your Arms)." This very good cover was the flip side of a 1962 Arthur Alexander single, "Where Have You Been." The Beatles only known version of this tune exists on Live at the BBC. John Lennon was a big fan of American Larry Williams and The Beatles put three of his songs on vinyl: "Slow Down," "Bad Boy," and "Dizzy Miss Lizzy." Who would remember Williams today if The Beatles weren't there to remind us. "A Taste of Honey" became a big hit for Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass in 1965 after the song appeared on Please Please Me, The Beatles' first British LP. The piece was originally written for a 1960 Broadway adaption of an earlier British play of the same name.

It has been said that The Beatles played around 600 songs originally composed and recorded by others before Lennon and McCartney began writing for themselves. The Fab Four's choices of cover versions speak volumes about their wildly eclectic tastes and influences. Much of what they gave the world is because of their deep roots in the city they grew up in.

2 comments:

  1. Great piece. You're quite right - Liverpool was the major port taking trade from the USA. All other ports face Europe so Liverpool always had a steady stream of early RnR coming in during the 50s. Glad we could give something back!

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  2. When we got the Capitol LP "Beatles '65" (one of those made up by carving Brit releases and juggling Brit singles), I fell in love with John's opening vocal riff on "Mr. Moonlight." I've seen over the years other folks' assessments that the track was the worst in the Beatles' recorded catalog. To me, it's still a joy. And knowing where it came from - I found the version by Dr. Feelgood & the Interns a couple of years ago - makes it moreso. (The Beatles' worst recorded track? "Wild Honey Pie" from the White Album.)

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