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Comparing The Beatles to Elvis and Other Rock Bands

Updated on June 2, 2012

This could be a divisive topic.There are legions of hard core fans in both camps, across all age groups. Then, there are those born much later who truly feel The Beatles and Elvis really were not that great and people think Beyonce, Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey and rap music are legendary artists.

I liked early Elvis, his rawness and bad boy look, even though, he was for a previous generation of teens. But past 1958-9, he stunk. He failed to be creative, evolve, relied on the old standards. I call this stage, "the Sinatra of rock". By 1964, he was history. All previous entertainers copied him. Yes, even The Beatles up until 1960. Elvis inspired teens for the next rock wave. The Beatles, like Elvis in 1956, were unique in 1963, when Beatlemania blew up in England. Then, in 1964, in America and the rest of world's youth population. Unlike Elvis, The Beatles had phases of real musical development, in appearance. These are easily heard in their records, their albums, their photos. There is no question of when they were in the "early" stage or their "mid or final" stage. As they got older, their music evolved in ways even they had no way to know. Elvis seldom wrote any original songs and used the guitar more as prop in later years. The Beatles were the original songwriters and always performed with their instruments. They defined the basic elements for a any rock band then and since: a lead guitar, a rhythm guitar, a bass and drums. They taught others why a band must interact with the audience to develop fans and why it was necessary to be open to all kinds of musical influences as they learned from their 1960-62 Hamburg days. They showed why harmony is vital to a song, any song, because it enhances it 100%. By being original, they taught future songwriters to be that way, don't copy, do your own song. They also brought in various recording techniques with the help of George Martin, their engineer.

Elvis did none of this. Elvis was one. The Beatles times four. Four separate but vital parts to their band and each member complimented the other, and without the other component, the sum was far less (simply listen to their material post-Beatles).

Because of all these items, The Beatles were more important to rock, but, without Elvis, there would never had been The Beatles. Elvis was the slap in the face for teens in the mid-50's. He was so different in hair and clothes and music. Ditto for the Beatles, eight years later. Elvis fell prey to promoters making deals that later he regretted. Musically, Elvis was far more shallow in style and originality. He sung blues and black music for the whites and brought in rock and roll. Ironically, the Beatles would also cover a lot of black artists music as well, but greatly improved upon it for their white audiences. Listen to Shout!, Mr. Postman, Money. They put the English twist on American rock and evolved it into "art" with Sgt. Pepper.

The Beatles sparked so many other now legendary bands because those kids were teens when they came out. They all rushed to get a guitar, get in a band, and have that famous Beatle hair style that is still all over world. It is now a default hairstyle. In 1964, it was so revolutionary. Bands like Cream, Eric Clapton, Traffic, Steve Winwood, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, Bad Finger, Foo fighters, Green Day, Sheryl Crow, Tom Petty. They inspired the first all girl bands of the late 1970's like Joan Jett and The Bangles, even Madonna.

Elvis was an earthquake to teens in the mid-50's. Things rocked, got all shook up, the word "teenager" was new vocabulary eventually, the shaking stopped. The Beatles were like a mammoth tsunami impacting not just English speaking countries, but everywhere. Their records were released in Japan, Mexico, Spain, Germany, France, Brazil. Along with the record that was imported was the fashion of their culture. The records were not in their language, but English, yet they bought them for the music that was different. The Beatle tsunami rippled into the most unsuspecting places- the workplace, where by the 1970's, it was okay to have longer hair and dress casual. No more getting dressed up with a tie.

Even bands that are new today will frequently cite The Beatles for their own music, their inspiration, the reason why they play. They seldom cite Elvis. The Beatle influence in rock permeates all over the airwaves, usually in the way harmonies are done or create the "beatle sound". Their song, Paperback Writer, is a great example.

The one thing most bands lacked in the wake of The Beatles, and it still is, is variety. Hamburg forced them to play 6-8 hours a night, Instead of playing the same old rock, they learned songs they would never had done, in their own manner. They were willing to try anything to fill the time. It was this that had influence on their own songs later. Any LP from 1965+ of theirs will give quality songs, some better than others, but also variety in styles. Their 1968 White LP, showcases this with 30 diverse songs that cover the gamut of music, from symphonic, to heavy metal, to bizarre.

All rock bands should strive to emulate them in diversity and style for their own original material.


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    • perrya profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      @JP-Ditto for me! My now 13 yr old was 3 when the first song she sang was Yellow Submarine, she knows most of their songs. It is funny, when she mentions them to friends, they ask, who are the Beatles?. She is now more embarrassed to admit she likes them, probably just sick of them because of me.

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 

      6 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      I discovered music because of The Beatles and learned to play the guitar singing their songs. Their earlier style used simple chord patterns and they eventually explored into more complex instrumentation. They were not afraid to be different. I sing to my daughter Beatles songs and it makes her calm. I'd like to think it's my voice but I'm sure every dad will say that. lol

    • perrya profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Yes, it was good to see Elvis adopt some greaseless hair and he did have some decent songs then, none that I would buy.

    • Marty Wombacher profile image

      Marty Wombacher 

      6 years ago from New York City

      I agree that the Beatles rule in the world of rock 'n' roll and beyond, but Elvis did have a decent comeback with his '68 TV Special. Certainly not up to Beatles standards, but a good show and good tunes. This was a great article.

    • perrya profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      I cannot disagree, my 13 yr daughter listens to them all the time, in fact. I like Nikki's songs and many others because of her. But, as soon as I stick a Beatle CD in the car, she starts singing their songs. Many her age do not know who the even are, yet all her teachers are Beatle fans. AS far as Michael, while their music was different, he was a Beatle fan, which is why he owns the rights to many of their songs. There are great artists and legendary ones, elvis, beatles, madonna, micheal jackson come to my mind who will be remember 100 yrs from now. Beyounce and Carey, simply lack the impact. They did not change society or culture.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Great article perrya.

      The beatles are centainly one of the greatest musical acts of all time. I enjoy their music and greatly respect their talent. The beatles were true innovators, just timeless. I am only 27 so, I must admit that I am a huge fan of Michael Jackson than Elvis, in my opinion he was the greatest musical talent the world has ever known. Elvis was talented but Michael was the true mega star and king of music. He made American pop culture global, he also changed radio formats, elevated dance and live performances, and reached millions of music fans on 6 continents of the world. He is deserving of much respect. I also admire Mariah and Beyonce. Mariah writes all of her own music and her voice is one the ages. She has also sold more than 200 million records. Beyonce is a great live performer. She has sold over 100 million records. No one in today's music world can top her live. I think both Mariah and Beyonce are two of the greatest female talents in history just like the Queen Madonna, they are timeless. I don't think young artists such as Justin Bieber, Nikki Minaj, Chris Brown and Taylor Swift are all that talented but kids love them anyway. Just my opinion though. Again interesting hub and voted up.

      Best C

    • perrya profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      I am with you all the way.


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