I was a teenager in the sixties so naturally I’d have a fascination with The Beatles, more so than, let’s say, someone ten to fifteen years younger than myself. Occasionally I’ll run into one of these people and the conversation will roll around to The Beatles and their contributions to the music scene. They’ll usually say something about how The Beatles were overrated or hyped beyond reality or some other comment meant to minimize the accomplishments of these lads from Liverpool. Well, being the Beatle enthusiast that I am, this is one topic where I can debate intelligently with just about anyone. Just so we can put this subject to rest once and for all, I’ll present this column to all you naysayers so you will have the facts before you try to put down the most successful rock group of all time. For example…
The Beatles were the first band to take their concerts from theaters to stadiums. Their first venture into this area was at New York’s Shea Stadium with more than 50,000 fans attending.
The Beatles had stopped touring in 1966. To meet demands for concerts, they opted to send out videos, inventing the first music videos. Their first videos were of “Paperback Writer” and “Rain” back in 1965. They were also first to issue standard videos in color. They also created the first album video with Magical Mystery Tour in 1967.
The first time a satellite was ever used to broadcast anything worldwide was for The Beatles’ live performance of “All You Need Is Love,” in 1968. The Beatles were putting the finishing touches on their “Sgt. Peppers” album when they were invited to be featured in “Our World,” the first television program transmitted live around the world via satellite. The 125-minute program would be broadcast to 26 countries. The Beatles were asked to write a simple song that would be understood by viewers of all nationalities. In a matter of weeks, both John and Paul wrote songs for the show, agreeing that the best song would be performed. Paul’s song, “All Together Now,” was rejected, and Lennon’s song was chosen. “All You Need is Love” was first introduced live to a worldwide audience estimated at 400 million and quickly became the anthem of a generation.
The Who and Jimi Hendrix were using feedback in concerts, but The Beatles were the first band to use feedback in a recording. John Lennon once set his acoustic electric guitar down against his amplifier and the ‘A’ string started feeding back through the amp causing an ear catching distortion. That ‘A’ string distortion was used purposely at the beginning of “I Feel Fine,” marking the first time distortion was used in a recording.
Speaking of recording techniques, The Beatles were the first to record with headphones as monitors and not just open sound everywhere. They were also the first band to use electric keyboards and synthesizers in their music, including a mellotron as featured in “Strawberry Fields Forever.”
The Beatles were basically the first to use any sort of sampling in their songs. For example, they were the first recording artists to use the grunt of a pig on one of their songs (“Piggies” from the White Album.) They were also first to use the sounds of several different barnyard animals, as evidenced in “Good Morning, Good Morning.” They also used jet engine sounds (“Back In The U.S.S.R.”) and the sounds of the singer inhaling (“Girl” from the Rubber Soul album).
They were the first artists to use backwards recordings on a record. John Lennon had taken the tape home from that day’s recording session and when he put it on his machine at home he was a bit stoned and put the tape in the machine backwards. When he played it, he liked what he heard and came back to the studio to announce that he had found an ending for that song—”Rain.”
Others had used the backward tape procedure before. There was a song called “Scratchy” from 1964 that used spoken words backwards, but “Rain” used backwards vocals first in any song. The sound of backwards guitar can be heard on “I’m Only Sleeping” while the sounds of backward cymbals was used on “Baby You’re A Rich Man.”
Buddy Holly had used a string section in the late 1950s when he recorded, “True Love Ways,” but The Beatles were the first group to use a full orchestra in popular music. The band Chicago was influenced by a 1966 recording from the Revolver album called “Got To Get You Into My Life,” which featured a horn section with a rock band. Chicago even played that particular tune in their concerts.
The Beatles were the first to use a sitar in popular music. George had become interested in the Eastern religion, culture and music while filming “Help!” in 1965 and decided to incorporate the sound of that Eastern stringed instrument in the “Rubber Soul” album. He did so in the song, “Norwegian Wood.”
The Fab Four were the first band where you heard more than one singer. Most bands had a lead singer with maybe some backup singers, but The Beatles had every member of the group singing lead.
They were the first band to have a record go over the standard 2 –3 minute mark for length when they released “Hey Jude” at more than 7 minutes total length.
Other Beatle firsts include having the drummer sit higher than the others in concert, with Ringo and his drum set up on a riser. They were the first band to simultaneously take a bow after the end of the song. They were first to have one song run into another, an uncommon practice of the era. They had the first rock-concept album (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band).
They were the first artists to say informal things like “yeah” or “turn me on” in a song. They were the first to release an album with a completely blank cover (The White Album.) They were the first band to incorporate subliminal messages in their songs. Listen closely to the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever” and you’ll hear John say “I buried Paul,” a reference to one of the many hints or so-called clues they planted to further the rumors that Paul was dead. Turns out he wasn’t. Go figure. In the song, “Glass Onion,” John sings, “Here’s another clue for you all. The walrus was Paul.”
These four lads from Liverpool conquered England in 1963 before setting their sights on the United States. Unlike other British performers before them, they took America by storm. On February 9, 1964, 73 million television viewers witnessed the Beatles’ first live performance in the US on The Ed Sullivan Show. According to Neilson ratings, an astounding 43 percent of all television sets in the country were tuned in. There were no recorded crimes in the whole United States during the whole time they were on.
In early 1964, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was number one on the US Top 100. Two months later, on April 4, 1964, the Beatles occupied all five top positions on Billboard’s Top Pop Singles with “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Twist and Shout,” “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and “Please Please Me.” This phenomenal feat was a first for rock and roll, and the record still stands in the twenty-first century.” The next week, they held 14 positions on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, beating Elvis’ record of nine.
Although many British acts had attempted to crossover to America, the Beatles were the first to hit it big in the States. Between 1958 and 1964 there were probably around 500 different bands in the Merseyside area. The Beatles were the first to rise to the top. The rest is history.
The American and British singles of “A Hard Day’s Night” as well as both the American and British albums of the same title all held the top position in their respective charts for a couple of weeks in August 1964, the first time any artist had done this.
The American single began its 13-week chart run five days after release, and on August 1st started a two-week long run at the top, setting a new record—nobody before had ever held the number one position on both the album and singles charts in the United Kingdom and the United States at the same time. The Beatles were the first to do so, and continued to be the only ones who had done this until 1970 when Simon and Garfunkel achieved the same feat with their album Bridge Over Troubled Water and its title track.
The Beatles were the first to debut in the US top 10 with their ‘68 hit, “Hey Jude. And their 1964 single, “Can’t Buy Me Love” was the first record to sell a million copies before its release. This tune is one of the first songs ever to start with the chorus, as opposed to most other songs that began with a verse.
On a non-musical note, a report revealed the presence of a chemical in 12 to 14-year-old girls that causes them to get extremely agitated when a musical idol is onstage. The Beatles were the first to cause scientists to study this phenomenon.
Until the days of The Beatles, almost all sales were a single with a B-side, more normally referred to the 45 or the 78 before it. They were first to have million-selling 45s with TWO A-sided hits, as evidenced with “Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever.”
The Beatles were the first to make an album so interesting musically as to have people want it all. Until this time most albums contained one or two hits from that artist with the rest of the tunes as “fillers” to round out the album. When you think about it, there are no “obscure” Beatle tunes. Even lesser played album cuts are instantly recognized. No other band can claim that distinction.
So the next time to run into someone who wants to argue the importance (or overrated status) of The Beatles, you will be well-armed with this information to fill them in and shut them down. Turn me on, dead man.
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Comment from: William [Visitor]
I too was an avid Beatles fan and though I was familiar with many of their songs and performances the insights and research shared here are intriguing and eye-opening. This certainly was an exceptional band on all counts. Thanks for the history and details of their accomplishments, -interesting and well written.
Comment from: Tory [Visitor]
This is definitely a well researched topic!! Kudos for for finding all of these interesting and true facts. The only correction I offer is that John did not say “I buried Paul” at the end of “Strawberry Fields". He actually says “Cranberry Sauce".
Check it out. Of course, his intonation, timing and, of course, the true meaning of his phrase is open to interpretation.
Rock on Beatles fans!!!!!
Comment from: Richard [Visitor]
Good article although even as a big Beatles fan I think some of the things you list aren’t significant (Ringo being on a riser for example, true but not really important in terms of the history of music!) One correction, at the end of Strawberry Fields John actually says “Cranberry sauce, cranberry sauce, my mother makes it for me.”
On the released version you can just about hear the first “cranberry sauce", on some bootleg versions which fade out later you can hear it quite clearly. It’s fairly clear on this version:
This really is a great way to completely nullify those claims that the Beatles were over-rated, Great work. I also have one correction though. The first use of Indian instruments (sitar) was on “Norwegian Wood” from Rubber Soul, not “It’s Only Love” which was on Help! and did not contain a sitar track.
Comment from: Brian [Visitor]
Have been searching for some time for a comprehensive list of Beatles “firsts". My wife downplays the group and I needed ammunition for my argument. However, I do feel like one correction is necessary. “Hey Jude” was not the first record to break the mold of a standard three minute pop song. “Like A Rolling Stone” by Dylan clocked in well over six minutes and was released over three years in advance of “Hey Jude,” eventually topping out at #2 on the U.S. charts.
Comment from: Jim [Visitor]
All I have to ask is were The Beatles
the first to play musical instruments?
Comment from: Songjockey [Visitor]
Other firsts: They invented audio delay and duplicate lead vocal tracks – both which are normal practices in music today.
I can never understand why Beatles fanatics feel the need to justify their god like fixation for ” The Fab Four", to the point of fabricating their achievements.
I myself, am not a Beatles naysayer. I do respect and admire what they achieved along with other musicians and artists of the time. They were part of a movement, and to disregard the input from other great artists of the time only belittles them. With that sort of attitude it’s no wonder there’s so many Beatles critics about these days.
Were the Beatles overrated? If you believe everything in this article then certainly yes. Whether Sgt. Peppers or Revolver are the greatest albums of all time is down to personal opinion. The Beatles repertoire ranges from the superb to the downright awful. A bit like any other band I’d say.
However, if you’re so keen on making it a competition, let’s see how you score! I’ll give you 1 point for every correct ‘Beatles First", and 0 for every incorrect one.
1. Yes the Beatles were the first band to play a stadium = 1
2. The Beatles did not invent the music video. One example would be Elvis Presley’s promo for “Jailhouse Rock". Also, the Animals did a colour studio promo for “House Of The Rising Sun” in 1964 = 0
3. Yes the “Our World” broadcast was the first live satellite transmission around the world. Several countries were involved as were several international artists such as Maria Callas and Pablo Picasso. The Beatles were contributors to this. It wasn’t “their” show, so this can hardly be counted as a first for them = 0
4. Yes the Beatles were probably the first to use feedback on a recording = 1
5. The Beatles were not the first to use headphones for monitoring in studio. It’s well documented that Phil Spector used headphones regularly in studio on much earlier recordings = 0
6. The Beatles were not the first musicians to use electronic keyboards. Graham Bond used a Mellotron on “Baby Can It Be True” in 1965. The Moody Blues were also early users = 0
7. As for the use of samples in recording, ever heard of “Leader Of The Pack” by the Shangri-Las. Is that a motorcycle I hear? = 0
8. The Beatles probably were the first to use backward recording for singing in recordings. Not sure of the significance = 1
9. The Beatles were not the first to use orchestration in popular music. Have a listen to “Pet Sounds” by the Beach Boys = 0
10. The Beatles were the first to release a pop record with sitar, however they were not the first to use one. The Yardbirds recorded unreleased tracks with sitar before them. It was on “Norwegian Wood” not “It’s Only Love".For that I’ll give you half = .5
11. The Beatles were not the first band where you heard more than one singer. The Beach Boys were well known for this = 0
12. They were not the first to record a hit song over the normal 2-3 minutes. “Like A Rolling Stone” ring a bell? = 0
13. First to have the drummer sit higher on the riser? I’ll give you that. Hardly significant though = 1
14. First to simultaneously take a bow? So what? = 1
15. First to have a one song run into the other? There’s no way of knowing that, and I actually doubt it anyway. Won’t include this.
16. First concept album? Not a chance. There are several examples, most notably Frank Zappa’s “Freak Out” from 1966 = 0
17. First to say informal things like “Yeah"? How about “Ain’t That A Shame"? = 0
18. The White Album? Would’ve preferred a little more, however = 1
19. Subliminal messages. “I Buried Paul". Pleeaasse! = 0
20. Yes they were on Ed Sullivan. There’s absolutely no way I believe the crime thing though. There’s no way to substantiate this = 1
21. Chart records. I won’t refute this = 1
22 . The Beatles were the first British pop band to break America = 1
23. “A Hard Days Night” was top of the charts both sides of the Atlantic = 1
24. Topping album and singles charts on both sides of the Atlantic = 1
25. First to debut in the top 10 with “Hey Jude"? Not sure what you’re saying here so I’ll leave it out.
26. “Can’t Buy Me Love” first to sell 1 million copies = 1
27 . First to start with a chorus? “Hound Dog” for instance = 0
28. Science and music don’t mix. Left out.
29. Double A side singles? Like “Surfer Girl” / “Little Deuce Coupe"? = 0
30. The first to make an album interesting enough for people to want it all? Ever heard of an album called “Freestylin With Bob Dylan” or “Songs For Swinging Lovers". C’mon! = 0
31. There are many obscure Beatles songs. Just ask how many people know Dr. Robert = 0
So there. You score 12.5 out of 31. Back to the books Billy Boy!!
Further to my last comment, I’ve since discovered that one of your “Beatles Firsts” that I disagreed with may in fact be true. It relates to the Beatles and their use of subliminal messages, and in particular, the “I buried Paul” statement by John Lennon at the end of “Strawberry Fields”. Many people claim that he said “cranberry sauce”, but I can hardly believe a man of his literary talents would say something so prosaic!!
Therefore, in the fairness of honesty, I’ve decided to revise your score up by half a point to 13 out of 31, or 13.31. I’m sure you’ve noticed the significance of the reversible numbers, or that when added together they make 44……….however, I digress!!
I’m hoping that in light of my honesty, and my generosity in increasing your score, that you’ll help me with a small favour, which will be beneficial to both of us as researchers of musical history, and explorers of the truth.
I’ve recently discovered some interesting new information regarding the “Paul is dead conspiracy”. To fully understand these new clues, we have to hark back to an earlier time, and to a fact based biographical film (can’t remember the name) about the adolescent Judy Garland and her dog, and their life on a Kansas farm. These were merry times for Judy and the dog, and much has been written about how Judy’s life was later mired in tragedy until her untimely death in 1969.
Our concern here however, is with the dog. I’ve heard he resurfaced in San Francisco some time later, and hooked up with some able, but not very adventurous session musicians. I understand they released some albums under the dog’s name (can’t remember what it is), and they were quite successful, receiving a substantial amount of airplay on top 40 radio stations around the globe. This newfound prosperity was not to last though, as the dog soon became disillusioned with his band mates and their slick, but somewhat boring sound. This drove a wedge between the band, with the dog desperate to create more original music, and fulfill his burning desire to ‘rock-a-little’. Eventually the dog could no longer ‘Hold The Line’, and parted ways with the session musicians, calling them a bunch of talentless w@&kers!! The band continue to use his name to this day.
The last I heard (although this cannot be confirmed), the dog relocated to ‘Africa’ with his new owner ‘Rosanna’, and became a shaman, tirelessly conjuring up spells to battle droughts that are common ‘down’ in that part of the world.
There have been some unconfirmed sightings of the dog. One in a city pound in Florida, which I believe to be bogus, and another more significant sighting at a K9 convention in Las Vegas, where a dog matching his description was seen peeling an apple with a pocket knife. This is very odd, as we all know dogs don’t eat apples!!
Now for the ‘piece de resistance’, a dog was recently entered in the Crufts Dog Show, and was registered by an owner with the initials RM!!
By now Bill, I’m sure your inquisitive mind has put two and two together, and we’re now working from the same page, so I’ll share with you my conclusion………………………………………………………………………………..
I think the dog is Paul.
Perhaps Crufts is his way back onto the world stage!!
It would certainly explain a lot, like why Paul’s songwriting with the Beatles was so poor in the latter stages of the bands career. Think about it, would a songwriter of Paul’s obvious talents have written such trivial ditties as “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road”, or “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”, or “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”? I think not!! And it certainly explains his post-Beatles quest to fill the world with ‘Silly Love Songs’.
For the Beatles to find a replacement that looked exactly like Paul, and played bass guitar left handed, was a miracle, but alas, finding a man with his songwriting talents proved a bridge too far!!
Now, armed with his overwhelming new evidence, I’m hoping you’ll grasp the nettle and dig deep to unearth the truth about this most tawdry of cover-ups!!
A discovery like this is exactly what’s needed to silence those Beatles naysayers for good!!
Good luck and godspeed!!
PS. I sincerely hope you share with us your progress in this exciting journey of discovery.
Comment from: Flash [Member]
Woah Dave, you gotta chill out a bit there :)
All in good humour:)
Comment from: CB [Visitor]
Ob-La-Di is not a “trivial ditty!” It is the first British ska song. It is also a political song. Racial tension in 1968 England was reaching a boiling point in regard to immigrants from the former colonies of the British Empire …immigrants like Desmond & Molly Jones in Paul’s song. Paul had many musician friends from the immigrant community.In fact, this is where he learned the West Indies slang phrase, Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da (Life goes on).
Comment from: Joe [Visitor]
I have to comment on David response.
As for the use of samples in recording, ever heard of “Leader Of The Pack” by the Shangri-Las. Is that a motorcycle I hear? =
That is called a sound effect not a music sample.
“The Beatles were the first to release a pop record with sitar, however they were not the first to use one. The Yardbirds recorded unreleased tracks with sitar before them. It was on “Norwegian Wood” not “It’s Only Love".For that I’ll give you half = .5
Well since the Yardbirds didn’t release the song with the sitar and the Beatles did counts. Plus George is the rock gutiarist to play one a rock record.
The Beatles did not invent the music video. One example would be Elvis Presley’s promo for “Jailhouse Rock". Also, the Animals did a colour studio promo for “House Of The Rising Sun” in 1964 =
Elvis was not a promo but a scene from a movie. The Beatles made full promo films seperate from a musical or live performances.
I actually don’t care to correct Bill on the other things but some of the points on the article is wrong but really not that many.
Comment from: Bill [Visitor]
Elsa Popping and Her Pixieland Band - Delirium In Hi-Fi
Comment from: Charles [Visitor]
How about Hugh Le Caine sampling a drop of of of water and creating Dripsody (1955).
Jim Fasset - Symphony of the Birds and
Strange to your Ears have more effects
than the complete Beatles catalog.
Comment from: Tim [Visitor]
Doubting David…my son, why do you have no faith in Beatles firsts? Just a few thoughts:
1. Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock” video was taken from the movie and used as a trailer in movie theatres to promote the film. The Beatles were first to shoot music videos to promote songs.
2. The significance of “Hey Jude” making it’s debut in the Top 10?
Before a single record went on sale to the public, orders by record dealers made it a Top-10 seller before the records even went on sale! Additionally, “Can’t Buy Me Love” sold a million copies to record dealers before a single record was sold to the public.
3. Subliminal messages: Dog whistles inaudible to humans (McCartney) and slowed down messages done on purpose (Lennon). Yes, subliminal.
Additionally, the Beatles were:
* The first group to use Automatic Double Tracking Sound recording;
* The first pop song to begin with a fade-in ws “Eight Days a Week";
* The first artist to release an album with all lyrics of all songs printed on the album sleeve (Sgt. Peppers);
* The first rock-n-roll performers to be immortalized in London’s Madame Tussaud’s waxwork museum;
* First pop band to use classical touch of strings and keyboard instruments.
Last but not least, to use the term “obscure Beatles songs” is like saying “semi-boneless ham". There is no such thing.
Every song on every album, every single and many of their outtakes fromthe studio used in “Anthology” including Lennon inventing “Strawberry Fields” on his couch at home on an acoustic guitar, have been played millions of times. If you know the Beatles, you know “Dr. Robert". If it’s obscure to you, “you weren’t there".
Comment from: tom keefet [Visitor]
Great Job Bill, I too Loved them. That’s when I knew I wanted to learn to play guitar,still do all these years later. I actually got to meet them and shake their hands except for Ringo, thanks to my father who had a suite down the hall from them in the Rockerfeller Plaza. they just got back from a meeting with JFK in Washington. Great memory.
Comment from: Michael K [Visitor]
Well done to David on debunking some of these over-hyped firsts.
The Beatles had enough ACTUAL firsts without zealots inventing them.
A couple more debunks.
The first sitar on record IS by The Yardbirds on ‘Heart Full of Soul’
The Beatles NEVER used a full orchestra because George Martin was all too aware of the expense (and knew EMI would grill him on it) and there were no records they made which warranted a full 100 players.
In fact, George was adept at hiring sections and then double-recording them.
The biggest orchestral presence is the 40 players on ‘A Day In The Life’.
David is also right about the first purpose-made ‘video’ having been made for The Animals in 1965 and it was this which inspired Brian Epstein to commission what are known as the Intertel promos in the same year.
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