Did The Beatles Ruin American Music?

The band's arrival in the U.S. wasn't fab for everyone.

By JohnLewis. Posted on February 09, 2014


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As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ first trip to the U.S. and recount the waves of hysteria and cultural upheaval it generated, it’s worth noting that some of their fellow musicians—artists The Beatles actually admired—weren’t so thrilled. Call it sour grapes, but I’ve had conversations over the years with numerous soul and r&b greats who just shook their heads at the mention of The Beatles and said something along the lines of, “That changed everything. My career as I knew it was over.”

“I thought they opened up a can of worms, turned all the guitar players loose,” noted Dan Penn, who wrote soul classics like “Dark End of the Street” and “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” in Sweet Soul Music. Penn also claimed The Beatles were “nothing compared to the great black r&b singers.”

In his essay “Hatchet Piece (101 Things I Hate),” r&b aficionado John Waters echoed that sentiment: “I turn on the radio, hoping to hear news of World War III, but instead hear an oldie but baddie by those honkie Beatles, who ruined rock and roll.”

It’s ironic, because The Beatles championed American soul music. They covered songs by the likes of Ray Charles and Little Richard and seriously considered recording at Stax in Memphis. In fact, when the Stax revue went to Europe, the band sent limos to meet the Stax entourage at the airport. And when they met Booker T & the MGs guitarist Steve Cropper, all four Beatles stood in unison and bowed.

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