Cultural impact of the Beatles

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For cultural depictions of the Beatles, see The Beatles in popular culture.
Fans and media swarm the Beatles at Schiphol Airport in 1964 during the height of Beatlemania.

The cultural impact of the Beatles includes many effects on popular music and fashion. After the group was subject to Beatlemania, their continued commercial and critical success assisted many cultural movements—including a shift from American artists' global dominance of rock and roll to British acts (British Invasion), the proliferation of young musicians in the 1960s who formed new bands, the album as the dominant form of record consumption over singles, the term "Beatlesque" used to describe similar-sounding artists, and several fashion trends.

In 1999, the Beatles were collectively included in Time magazine's compilation of the twentieth century's 100 most influential people. As of 2009, they are the best-selling band in history, with estimated sales of over 600 million records worldwide.[1][2] As of 2015, they hold the record for most number-one hits on the Hot 100 chart with twenty.[not verified in body] The Beatles have had myriad cover versions from a variety of artists, while "Yesterday" is one of the most covered songs in the history of recorded music.[3]


Photographed in Sweden, 1963

Writing for AllMusic, music critic Richie Unterberger recognises the Beatles as both "the greatest and most influential act of the rock era" and a group that "introduced more innovations into popular music than any other rock band of the 20th century".[4] In Rolling Stone magazine's Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (2001), the editors define the band's influence as follows:

The impact of the Beatles – not only on rock & roll but on all of Western culture – is simply incalculable … [A]s personalities, they defined and incarnated '60s style: smart, idealistic, playful, irreverent, eclectic. Although many of their sales and attendance records have since been surpassed, no group has so radically transformed the sound and significance of rock & roll. ... [they] proved that rock & roll could embrace a limitless variety of harmonies, structures, and sounds; virtually every rock experiment has some precedent on Beatles record.[5]

While the Beatles are often credited for sparking a musical revolution, research conducted by the Queen Mary University of London and Imperial College London suggests that the changes sparked by the band were already developing long before they set foot on American soil. Professor Armand Lero argues that their innovations have been overstated by music historians: "They didn’t make a revolution or spark a revolution, they joined one. The trend is already emerging and they rode that wave, which accounts for their incredible success. The United States was already becoming rockier and more energetic, and moving away from mellow sounds like doo wap [sic]. You can already see that by the beginning of the 1960s."[6] Before the Beatles reached America, bands like the Beach Boys and the Top Notes were already in record charts with "Surfin' U.S.A." (1963) and "Twist and Shout" (1961), respectively. McCartney is quoted before the Beatles left for the United States in 1964: "They've got their own groups. What are we going to give them that they don't already have?"[6]

Beatles biographer Mark Lewisohn disagreed with the research by Queen Mary University, saying it "[doesn't] stack up ... Speak to anyone who was a young person in the US when The Beatles arrived and they will tell you how much of a revolution it was. They were there and they will tell you that the Beatles revolutionised everything."[6] Author Bill Martin responds to oft-repeated criticisms that say the Beatles never did anything that was truly "new": "Rock music is synthesis and transmutation ... What was original about the Beatles is that they synthesized and transmuted more or less everything, they did this in a way that reflected their time, they reflected their time in a way that spoke to a great part of humanity, and they did all of this really, really well."[7] Unterberger adds: "they were among the few artists of any discipline that were simultaneously the best at what they did and the most popular at what they did. Relentlessly imaginative and experimental, the Beatles grabbed hold of the international mass consciousness in 1964 and never let go for the next six years, always staying ahead of the pack in terms of creativity but never losing their ability to communicate their increasingly sophisticated ideas to a mass audience. Their supremacy as rock icons remains unchallenged to this day, decades after their breakup in 1970."[4]


Main article: Beatlemania

Influence on music[edit]

Recording and songcraft[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Lennon–McCartney and The Beatles' recording technology.
Paul McCartney and John Lennon, the principal songwriters of the Beatles

Rolling Stone editors elaborated: "One of the first rock groups to write most of its own material, they inaugurated the era of self-contained bands and forever centralized pop ... Their music, from the not-so-simple love songs they started with to their later perfectionist studio extravaganzas, set new standards for both commercial and artistic success in pop."[5]

Album format[edit]

Further information: Album Era

The dominance of the single as the primary medium of music sales changed with the release of several iconic concept albums in the 1960s, such as A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector (1963), the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds (1966), the Mothers of Invention's Freak Out! (1966), and the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967).[8][page needed] In January 1966, Billboard magazine cited the initial US sales of the Beatles' Rubber Soul (1.2 million copies over nine days) as evidence of teenage record-buyers increasingly moving towards the LP format.[9] According to author David N. Howard, the standard of the all-original compositions on Rubber Soul was also responsible for a shift in focus from singles to creating albums without the usual filler tracks.[10]

Use of twelve-string[edit]

A Rickenbacker 360/12 identical to the 12-string guitar used by Harrison

George Harrison was the first person to own a Rickenbacker 360/12, a guitar with twelve strings, the low eight of which are tuned in pairs, one octave apart; the higher four being pairs tuned in unison. The Rickenbacker is unique among twelve-string guitars in having the lower octave string of each of the first four pairs placed above the higher tuned string. This, and the naturally rich harmonics produced by a twelve-string guitar provided the distinctive overtones found on many of the Beatles' recordings.[11] His use of this guitar during the recording of A Hard Day's Night helped to popularise the model, and the jangly sound became so prominent that Melody Maker termed it the Beatles' "secret weapon".[12][nb 1]

Genres and movements[edit]

British Invasion[edit]

Main article: British Invasion

Beat groups and garage bands[edit]

Main articles: Beat music and garage rock

The Beatles' impact on the US was particularly strong, where a garage rock phenomenon had already begun, with hits such as "Louie Louie" by the Kingsmen, but was about to receive a major lift. On 9 February 1964, during their first visit to the United States, the Beatles made a historic appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show watched by a record-breaking viewing audience of a nation mourning the recent death of President John F. Kennedy.[14][15][16] Bill Dean writes: "It's impossible to say just how many of America's young people began playing guitars and forming bands in the wake of The Beatles' appearance on the Sullivan show. But the anecdotal evidence suggests thousands – if not hundreds of thousands or even more – young musicians across the country formed bands and proceeded to play ..."[17]

Tom Petty, who played in two garage bands in Gainesville, Florida during the 1960s, is quoted mentioning the Beatles' appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show and how it influenced him to be in a band. According to him: "Within weeks of that, you could drive through literally any neighborhood in Gainesville and you would hear the strains of garage bands playing ... I mean everywhere. And I'd say by a year from that time, Gainesville probably had 50 bands."[17] For many, particularly young baby boomers, the Beatles' visit reignited the sense of excitement and possibility that had been momentarily taken by Kennedy's assassination.[14][17][18][19] Much of this new excitement would be expressed in music, sometimes much to the chagrin of parents and elders, as kids raced to start bands by thousands, and this proliferation of new groups was not limited to the United States.[14][17][18][20]

Group Sounds[edit]

Main article: Group Sounds

Psychedelic music[edit]

Main article: Psychedelic music

The Beatles, along with the Beach Boys, were the only acts to have high-charting psychedelic rock songs at the end of 1967.[21]

Raga rock and Indian rock[edit]

Main articles: Raga rock and Indian rock

Although the Kinks, the Yardbirds and the Beatles themselves (with "Ticket To Ride") had incorporated droning guitars to mimic the qualities of the sitar, "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" is generally credited as sparking a musical craze for the sound of the instrument in the mid-1960s – a trend which would later be associated with the growth of raga rock, Indian rock, and the essence of psychedelic rock.[22][23][verification needed]

Progressive rock and art rock[edit]

Main articles: Progressive rock and Art rock
See also: Progressive pop

Power pop[edit]

Main article: Power pop

Live concerts[edit]

The Beatles were the first entertainment act to stage a large stadium concert.[citation needed] At Shea Stadium in New York City on Sunday, 15 August 1965, the group opened their 1965 North American tour to a record audience of 55,600. The event sold out in 17 minutes.[24] It was the first concert to be held at a major outdoor stadium and set records for attendance and revenue generation, demonstrating that outdoor concerts on a large scale could be successful and profitable.[citation needed] The Beatles returned to Shea for a highly successful encore in August 1966.[citation needed]


ELO in 1978. The band was formed with the intention of "picking up where the Beatles left off".[25]

Beatlesque /ˌbtəlˈɛsk/ is a loose term which refers to music which sounds like the Beatles. It is widely used to an inconsistent degree, as the Toronto Star notes: "[some people's] notion of that sound includes everyone from Panic! at the Disco to Billy Joel to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. With those reference points, it's debatable whether the Beatles themselves would qualify for the adjective their music has spawned."[26] After consulting radio producer Kevin Howlett, music professor Rob Bowman, and Klaatu drummer Terry Draper for the true meaning of the word, the three formed eight potential answers: "Penny Lane"-inspired piano; "the big ending"; bluegrass-influenced harmonies; "I Am the Walrus"-inspired cellos; the stylistic contrast between Lennon and McCartney; the left-handed, right-handed drumming; the listener's perception; or a simulacrum of the Beatles' reputed sound that ultimately means nothing.[26]

Associated artists[edit]

Influence on fashions[edit]


The mop-topped Beatles in 1964.

The Beatle haircut, also known as the "mop-top" (or moptop), because of its resemblance to a mop, or "Arthur" among fans,[nb 2] is a mid-length hairstyle named after and popularised by the Beatles, and widely mocked by many adults.[27] It is a straight cut – collar-length at the back and over the ears at the sides, with a straight fringe (bangs).[citation needed][nb 3] Because of the immense popularity of the Beatles, the haircut was widely imitated worldwide between 1964 and 1966.[citation needed] Their hair-style led toy manufacturers to begin producing real-hair and plastic "Beatle Wigs". Lowell Toy Manufacturing Corp. of New York was licensed to make "the only AUTHENTIC Beatle Wig". There have been many attempts at counterfeiting, but in its original packaging this wig has become highly collectible.[citation needed]

Mikhail Safonov wrote in 2003 that in the Brezhnev-dominated Soviet Union, mimicking the Beatles' hairstyle was seen as highly rebellious. Young people were called "hairies" by their elders, and were arrested and forced to have their hair cut in police stations.[full citation needed]

Beatle boots[edit]

Main article: Beatle boot
A pair of Beatle boot replicas.

Beatle boots are tight-fitting, Cuban-heeled, ankle-length boots with a pointed toe. They originated in 1963 when Brian Epstein discovered Chelsea boots while browsing in the London footwear company Anello & Davide. He consequently commissioned four pairs (with the addition of Cuban heels) for the Beatles to complement their new suit image upon their return from Hamburg, who wore them under drainpipe trousers.[28]

In popular culture[edit]

Cover versions[edit]

See also: Ferry Aid

In May 1966, John Lennon said of people covering their songs, "Lack of feeling in an emotional sense is responsible for the way some singers do our songs. They don't understand and are too old to grasp the feeling. Beatles are really the only people who can play Beatle music."[29]


  1. ^ Roger McGuinn liked the effect so much that it became his signature guitar sound with the Byrds.[13]
  2. ^ At a press conference at the Plaza Hotel in New York, shortly after the Beatles' arrival in the United States, Harrison was asked by a reporter, "What do you call your hairstyle?" He replied "Arthur". The scene was recreated in the movie A Hard Day's Night with the reporter asking George Harrison, "What would you call that, uh, hairstyle you're wearing?"[original research?]
  3. ^ As a schoolboy in the mid 1950s, Jürgen Vollmer had left his hair hanging down over his forehead one day after he had gone swimming, not bothering to style it. John Lennon is quoted in The Beatles Anthology as follows: "Jürgen had a flattened-down hairstyle with a fringe in the back, which we rather took to."[full citation needed] In late 1961, Vollmer moved to Paris. McCartney said in a 1979 radio interview: "We saw a guy in Hamburg whose hair we liked. John and I were hitchhiking to Paris. We asked him to cut our hair like he cut his." McCartney also wrote in a letter to Vollmer in 1989: "George explained in a 60s interview that it was John and I having our hair cut in Paris which prompted him to do the same. ... We were the first to take the plunge."[full citation needed]


  1. ^ "Beatles' remastered box set, video game out". 9 September 2009. Retrieved 1 December 2011. 
  2. ^ Hotten, Russell (4 October 2012). "The Beatles at 50: From Fab Four to fabulously wealthy". BBC News. Retrieved 28 January 2013. 
  3. ^ "Most Recorded Song". Guinness World Records. 2009. Archived from the original on 10 September 2006. Retrieved 12 May 2009. 
  4. ^ a b Unterberger, Richie. "The Beatles". AllMusic. Retrieved 19 March 2016. 
  5. ^ a b George-Warren 2001, p. 56.
  6. ^ a b c Knapton, Sarah (5 May 2015). "The Beatles 'did not spark a musical revolution in America'". The Telegraph. 
  7. ^ Martin 2015, pp. 13–14.
  8. ^ Oliver 2013.
  9. ^ Staff writer (15 January 1966). "Teen Market Is Album Market". Billboard. p. 36. Retrieved 18 March 2016. 
  10. ^ Howard 2004, p. 64.
  11. ^ Everett 2001, pp. 134–135.
  12. ^ Babiuk 2002, p. 120: "secret weapon"; Leng 2006, p. 14: Harrison helped to popularize the model.
  13. ^ Doggett & Hodgson 2004, p. 82.
  14. ^ a b c Lemlich 1992, pp. 2–3.
  15. ^ Kauppila, Paul (October 2006). "The Sound of the Suburbs: A Case Study of Three Garage Bands in San Jose, California during the 1960s". San Jose State University SJSU Scholar Works. San Jose, California: San Jose State University Faculty Publications: 7–8, 10–11. 
  16. ^ Spitz 2013, pp. 5, 39, 42–49.
  17. ^ a b c d Dean, Bill (9 February 2014). "50 Years Ago Today, The Beatles Taught a Young America to Play". Scene. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  18. ^ a b Gilmore, Mikal (23 August 1990). Wenner, Jann, ed. "Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and the Rock of the Sixties". Rolling Stone. No. 585. Retrieved 9 July 2015. 
  19. ^ Spitz 2013, pp. 5–6.
  20. ^ Spitz 2013, pp. 55–59.
  21. ^ Shephard & Leonard 2013, p. 182.
  22. ^ Bellman 1998, p. 292.
  23. ^ Howlett, Kevin (2009). Rubber Soul (CD booklet). The Beatles. Parlophone Records. 
  24. ^ The Beatles Off The Record. London:Omnibus Press p193. ISBN 0-7119-7985-5
  25. ^ Picking up where the Beatles left off ... Jeff Lynne and ELO. Photograph: Andre Csillag/Rex Alan McGee (16 October 2008). "ELO: The band the Beatles could have been". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 December 2014. 
  26. ^ a b c d e f Sakamoto, John (1 November 2013). "What do we really mean by 'Beatlesque'?". Toronto Star. 
  27. ^ Gilliland 1969, show 27, track 4.
  28. ^ Sims, Josh (1999). Rock Fashions. Omnibus Press. pp. 151–152. ISBN 0-7119-7733-X. 
  29. ^ "Flip Magazine, May 1966". Archived from the original on 20 May 2005. Retrieved 25 October 2014. 


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