Friday, September 24, 2010

The Endless Search for Material

September 1960

Instead of playing for perhaps a couple of hours a week in Liverpool and knowing exactly what kinds of songs were expected of them, the Beatles had been thrown into a place where they were expected to play for many hours every day.  To keep both themselves and the audience, such as it was, from becoming bored with their repetoire, they started on a quest for more material.  As incongruous as it seems for a rock band, one of the sources coming readily to hand was popular music from their parents generation.  They would have heard these songs since they were babies and simply had to work out a more upbeat arrangement to include them in their shows.  One reason for the Beatles great success later lay in their great facility for making wonderful arrangements of their songs as well as songs written by others.  Here in Hamburg was where they started learning that craft in earnest.

Here are links to a few of the songs, in earlier incarnations, that they incorporated into their Hamburg set list.  And two of their versions of old songs.  (Each will reward a listen in wildly different ways.)

Hoagy Charmichael - Darktown Strutter's Ball
Marlere Dietrich - Falling in Love Again (especially appropriate given the German connection, nicht wahr?)
Gracie Fields - Red Sails in the Sunset
Compare to the Beatles version
Gene Kelly - You Were Meant for Me
The Beatles - Sheik of Araby (written by Harry B. Smith, Francis Wheeler and Ted Snyder in 1921 in response to the sensational popularity of the movie The Shiek starring Rudolph Valentino)

Thanks to Another Girl for compiling this list of their Hamburg Songs.


  1. Mike, I think that the point you make about them learning their craft is absolutely correct. These days many young people think that there is no need to do this. One result is that much music is bland and appeals to the lowest common denominator. Another is the all pervasive use of samples rather than creating music (but that is a whole new subject and I could bang on about that for hours - if not days).

  2. I'm always astonished at the many beautiful little details of their arrangements, especially since I've gotten CD copies of their remastered albums. What genius! All you can do is listen amazed.