Elvis Presley was someone whose influence knows no bounds, and he was loved by artists all over the world. John Lennon and his cohort in The Beatles were major fans of Elvis, and even got the chance to meet him when they became famous. But The King was not able to influence them in the same way other artists could, thanks to some surprising laws.
In an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk, Paul Endacott of Music Heritage London spoke on how Elvis Presley’s music did not quite penetrate The Beatles’ psyche until slightly late in their careers.
The 1960s music expert described how Sir Tommy Steele, the British entertainer, listened to American artists thanks to his time in the USA, when such bands were not allowed to be played in the UK.
He said: “Tommy Steele is one of our great exports… the skiffle music may have its roots in America, the word skiffle was used over here, probably as much it was its folk music. Yeah.
“Now, when, as an example, Tommy Steele, who was in a merchant seaman, when he was a teenager, he used to go over to America and listen to Elvis.
“Elvis songs weren’t played until the late 1950s over here because the BBC would never play that sort of stuff.
“It was, you know, Matt Monroe and all the crooners so Elvis went over there as a prime example.
“He’d [Tommy Steele] listened to Elvis, he’d come back and busk outside The 2I’s coffee shop in Soho… which a lot of people say was the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll…”
Elvis’ music had an influence on such artists as Sir Tommy, despite the fact it was not even allowed in the UK until the late 1950s.
And this is where things get interesting, and The Beatles come into play.
Paul continued: “The Beatles were a skiffle band when they started, the skiffle music was so instrumental in a parallel way to the blues coming over from America in the late 1950s…
“And they had a massive audience for it.”
So, in a similar way to Sir Tommy, The Beatles were a skiffle band who, on hearing Elvis, began playing rock ‘n’ roll and the blues, showing how strongly Elvis was an influence in their lives.
John Lennon did address this himself, as he was reported as saying Hunter Davies’ The Beatles: “Nothing affected me until I heard Elvis. Without Elvis, there would be no Beatles.”
As well as this, John has also been reported as saying: “When I heard [Heartbreak Hotel], it was the end for me…
“Once I heard it and got into it, that was life, there was no other thing. I thought of nothing else but rock ‘n’ roll.”
He expanded on this in a 1975 interview, recorded in Geoffrey and Brenda Giuliano’s collection The Lost Lennon Interviews.
John said: “When I first heard Heartbreak Hotel, I could hardly make out what was being said. It was just the experience of hearing it and having my hair stand on end.
“We’d never heard American voices singing like that. They always sang like Sinatra or enunciate very well.
“Suddenly, there’s this hillbilly hiccuping on tape echo and all this bluesy stuff going on. And we didn’t know what Elvis was singing about…
“It took us a long time to work what was going on. To us, it just sounded as a noise that was great.”
While it may be hard to pin down, for John, Elvis’ music was instrumental for him and for the band, along with other major artists, even if they were prevented from hearing it until they were already starting their own bands.