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Beatle inspirations?
Little musical borrowings by (and from) the Beatles

Some of these little "discoveries" turned out to be already quite well known, but some appear to be undocumented. Some might even be figments of my imagination, so buyer beware!

Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia vs. Strawberry Fields Forever

The Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia is the most well-known selection from the ballet Spartacus by Aram Khachaturian. Very near the beginning of the Adagio is a slow, dreamy, descending passage that brings the opening of Strawberry Fields Forever right to mind, mine at least.

If there's any connection at all, I'm not suggesting John Lennon pinched a bit from Khachaturian. In fact, I wonder if it may have been the other way around. Although Khachaturian started to work on the ballet in 1950 - some years, it may be noted, before the Sgt. Pepper sessions even began - he didn't finish it up until 1968, by which point, it's safe to say, that only deaf hermits and liars hadn't heard the Beatles' Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever on the airwaves.

It would be interesting to compare this finalized Adagio with any version that Khachaturian had set down prior to 1967. Can anyone with access to earlier versions shed any light on this?

UPDATE, Nov 2007: Ok, you all; you're not doing your job! Someone should have written long before now that the dreamy intro to the Adagio definitely was in place long before 1967. I've just heard a 1962 recording of it. So now it seems the best possibilites are that any similarity is just coincidental; or George Martin had a hand in shaping the Strawberry Fields Forever intro and had Khachaturian in the back of his mind at the same time.

Not relevant to the theme of this page, but I'll mention it anyhow, is that the Adagio has a very familiar melody. All the references say the same, one thing, that it gained its renown as the theme for a 1971 BBC tv series called The Onedin Line. So why is the melody so darn familiar to me? I've never heard of The Onedin Line; never been to England, even. When I hear the tune, it's almost as if the words to some pop song are trying to come to mind, but can't quite break through.

UPDATE, Nov 2007: Stormy Weather?

True Love vs. Here Comes The Sun

I do declare I hear the signature bit of George's Here Comes The Sun in the intro to True Love by Cole Porter. Listen about 8 seconds into this sample. Then, the same material returns at the end of the song.

Cole Porter's True Love appeared in the movie High Society, released in 1956. It was performed by Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly, and went to No. 3 on the pop charts. This version is by Larry Holmes and his Orchestra and was probably recorded not long after the movie since it's from an album called Music From The Modern Screen. I haven't been able to get my ears on the Bing Crosby original to see if it uses the same introduction. If not, it would be very hard to argue a connection with George's song that isn't pure coincidence. But if so, it makes one wonder. George must have become a big fan of True Love somewhere along the way since he recorded it on his 1976 solo album, Thirty Three & 1/3.

In a total spirit of "for what it's worth", it sounds to me like Good Night from the The Beatles white album came right out of the True Love mold.

September Song vs. The Inner Light

About George's song The Inner Light, Paul McCartney is quoted as saying, "Don't you think it's a beautiful melody? It's really lovely." Other people, from Mark Lewisohn to myself, have felt the same way.

One time I heard just such a lovely melody emerge from my radio tuned to a beautiful music station. "Great!" I thought, "The Inner Light done muzak style!" But a few seconds later I was listening to the familiar strains of September Song. Hmmm? Later, I came across the sheet music to September Song which confirmed my memory of the similarity. Here is the opening to the version recorded by opera singer Jan Peerce.

What do you think? Right from the first note, just chant along, "Without going out of my door, I can know all things on earth. Without looking out of my window . . ." Jan gives the tune his personalized interpretation; the straight sheet music notes are even closer to The Inner Light.

Is this similarity just a coincidence? How familiar was George with September Song? It's interesting to note that September Song might have been one of the first three songs the four Beatles - John, Paul, George, and Ringo - ever recorded together. This was on October 15 1960 at Akustik Studio, Hamburg. They backed a singer from the Hurricanes called Wally on some or all of these three songs: Fever, Summertime, and September Song. Memories differ. Everyone agrees they did Fever, although there is no surviving evidence of that. On the other hand, Wally himself is adamant the other two can be "totally discounted" - in spite of the hard evidence of a photo of the Summertime 78 rpm record with the credit "Beatles and Wally" written on the label. (Sure, I can't prove it's not a forgery, but if that's how you choose to think, you wouldn't believe anything.) Here's an interesting run-down of the available information on the Beatles recording at Akustik Studio, Hamburg, in 1960.

Whether or not the Beatles recorded September Song in Hamburg in 1960, Mark Lewisohn has reason to list it as part of the Beatles' performance repertoire in 1960. In a September 1962 Mersey Beat, Paul recalls the Beatles backing a stripper named Janice in the early days. (Allan Williams calls her Shirley.) She showed them sheet music for Beethoven and the "Spanish Fire Dance" (presumably Falla's Ritual Fire Dance from El Amor Brujo.) They told her they couldn't read music, but they offered alternatives, such as Moonglow or September Song instead of the Beethoven. Paul remembers, "She seemed quite satisfied anyway."

More evidence that September Song was firmly planted in George's consciousness is that he helped Jeff Lynne record it in later years. Was George the one to suggest it? Jeff Lynne's version lacks the introductory section, though - it would have been fun to hear George playing on that.

September Song vs. Dear John

Another indication that September Song was bouncing around Beatle brains is its emergence in a John Lennon home recording (1980?) called Dear John. When John gets to what I would call the B-section or chorus or refrain (or middle 8? - I've never nailed down the terminology for the different sections of pop songs) he notices himself copping September Song, chuckles about it, and even starts singing the words.

I also supplied John's second go-round of that section. Although it starts out just like September Song once again, you can hear John making a conscious effort to get away from it.

This is interesting as an example of John's freely-admitted compositional technique of taking a favorite song and twisting and bending it and shaping it into something new. For example, John took George's Here Comes The Sun and turned it into Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird Of Paradox) for his Walls And Bridges album. On KSAN radio John said: "We're gonna play track 2, side 2, called Surprise Surprise. And, yeah, believe it or not, when I first started writing this it sounded like 'Little darling, didididooo didoo.' But listen, and you'll hear it's nowhere near it."

I'd even say this issue relates to the Free As A Bird/Remember (Walkin' In The Sand) debacle. I have no doubt the "Whatever happened to..." section started with Remember (Walkin' In The Sand). Whether it was unconsciously done, or whether John had intended to continue working on it, I have no way of knowing. In any case, what a trick to play on your old bandmates from the great beyond!

Stewball vs. Happy Xmas (War Is Over)

Perhaps the most glaring example of a tune that John did not forge into something original is his Happy Xmas (War Is Over). He uses the melody of Stewball almost directly:

This similarity has already been well-discussed and documented. Here is some interesting history of the Stewball melody.

In spite of being old hat, I leave this section in for those who haven't heard Stewball. (I hadn't until years after Happy Xmas.) This performance is by Peter, Paul & Mary. It reached No. 35 at the end of 1963.

If you'll permit me a short rant, just who are these people that we send forth to interview artists, always asking the most cosmic questions, but never anything interesting? Imagine the tons of hours of John Lennon interviews - and no one ever brought up Stewball. Paul, if you ever tune in here, how about explaining to us the Beatles' running in-joke on BBC radio about Harry and his box?

Domino vs. I Me Mine

While working up George's I Me Mine during the Get Back sessions, Paul noticed a resemblance to a song called Domino. This is documented on the well-known, early bootleg set called Sweet Apple Trax. Back then I just figured Paul was taking George's rhythm and chords and making up a little ditty on the spot. The bootleggers must have figured the same thing; they listed the track on the cover as Da De Da.

I got one of the musical surprises of my life when, years later, I heard the real Domino as an interpolation into a "gala performance" of Johann Strauss' operetta Die Fledermaus (conducted by Herbert von Karajan, London records, 1960.) It is sung here by Fernando Corena.

Now I see that Domino was popularized by Tony Martin in 1951, and it was also recorded separately by Bing Crosby and Doris Day. There I was thinking I was maybe the first person to discover what Paul was singing (besides Paul, of course) - and now I'm wondering if I was the last! There are no mentions of Domino in my library of Beatle books, which used to be quite impressive, but has been going more and more out of date with each passing month for years now. However, there are web pages that do list Domino among the songs the Beatles played or diddled with during the Get Back sessions. Still, I don't see any of them making any sort of connection between Domino and I Me Mine.

Belshazzar's Feast vs. Live And Let Die

This is a neat one. When I went to the web to double-check that no one has noted this similarity, one of my own pages came up. I'd forgotten I mentioned it in my book report on Nicholas Schaffner's The Beatles Forever.

Now you get to hear it. Listen for pre-echoes of Live And Let Die in this brief passage from Belshazzar's Feast by William Walton. It's part of a passage in which the Jews in Babylon wail, "They that carried us away captive required of us a song. Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?"

George Martin provided the "explosive orchestration" for Live And Let Die, and I maintain it would have been utterly impossible for Martin, with his classical music background, to not know Walton's cantata Belshazzar's Feast - a great favorite among England's 20th century works.

I looked up William Walton in George Martin's autobiography, All You Need Is Ears, and found a significant - and humorous - anecdote. Martin accepted the challenge of writing a signature tune for the BBC's new Radio One in 1967:

"The music had to be very English, very contemporary, with classical overtones, and strikingly unusual. It was a fairly tall order; but I went away and thought about it, and came up with Theme One."

Later, when the head of the BBC Record Library first heard it, she exclaimed, "Good God, it sounds like William Walton gone mad!"

There's also a funny little Grammy coincidence. The same year, 1973, that George Martin picked up a Grammy for "Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist" for Live and Let Die, a recording of Belshazzar's Feast won a Grammy for "Best Choral Performance, Classical". You'd think some old gent with a bowler and a foot in both the pop and classical worlds would have jumped up exclaiming, "I say, old chaps . . ."

Don't Worry Baby vs. (Just Like) Starting Over

When John's song (Just Like) Starting Over came out in 1980, I remember everybody remarking on the same thing - the familiar part in there that sounded like something from a Beach Boys' song. Trying to name the exact tune was sort of a running brain teaser, just beyond the typical pop music fan's mental reach. Even now, putting this web page together, I couldn't remember which Beach Boy song it was, and had to dig it out. (It's Don't Worry Baby, from 1964.)

In more recent years, when I brought up this subject among friends I consider more musical than myself - and one a Beach Boy fan - I got totally blank stares. This got me wondering if back in 1980 we were all tricked somehow into thinking that two unrelated tunes were the same.

Well, half a second of web searching shows that Lennon's lift has been well-documented, indeed. Still, here's a sound clip for anyone who wants to hear the Beach Boy and John Lennon passages side by side.

Notice how Lennon even used many of the same and similar words: but/but when/when love/love see/eye. No wonder I can't even tell which is which when divorced from the performer's voice!

For what it's worth: I also think the Beach Boys themselves retooled this musical idea for Wouldn't it Be Nice, which was a hit a couple of years later. I hear a similar musical contour at the words, "You know it's gonna make it that much better...", for example.

Here is one of the more surprising little coincidences of my life, although it couldn't be too exciting to anyone else. (That's a warning!) Back in 1981 I was with a friend in a car. The radio was set to some adult contemporary or light rock station (or something equally painful) and they played an oldie, which was uncharacteristic. The oldie was some upbeat Beach Boy song, which was doubly uncharacteristic. My friend and I noted this, and while a commercial was playing, we got back to the running brain teaser about which Beach Boy song John Lennon had borrowed from. She knew the answer, but I hadn't figured it out yet. As we were discussing this the commercial ended and (Just Like) Starting Over came on. What a coincidence! I remember that was also a very surprising selection, although the reasons have faded over the years. While we were still talking about that coincidence, the song ended - and another Beach Boy song came on! That was two out of three, when you wouldn't expect to hear a single Beach Boy oldie on that station! And as I'm remarking on this coincidence Karen says, with understated bemusement (you can guess it), "This is the one." Yes, it was Don't Worry Baby. Amazing! (Guess you had to be there.)

(Name that tune) vs. Pithecanthropus Erectus

I've stonewalled the song title in question thinking you might like to see if you can identify it yourself.

A radio show called Dave's Record Collection on the University of Maryland station WMUC presented a top-notch Martin Luther King, Jr., tribute every January. (I'm sure it still does. As of 2007, the Dave's Record Collection is still broadcasting, so check out his MLK special, at least.) Some of it was in the form of sound collage with, for instance, musical selections played behind spoken word. On one show I have on tape, from either 1995 or 1996, at the end of a spoken passage by Malcolm X, I heard some very familiar guitar strumming.

If you're a Beatle fan, did you catch it? I'll push the answer off the screen so you can think about it if you'd like.
























What came immediately to my mind was the opening to Party Seacombe on George Harrison's Wonderwall album - a major favorite of mine.

When Dave listed what he played in the previous half hour, I found that spot monumentally confusing. But with a few words to search on, the web can solve anything (at least, related to pop music, whoopee). After Malcolm X, Dave played two consecutive selections from an album with the mind-boggling title Hal Willner Presents: Weird Nightmare: Meditations on Mingus - a tribute to Charles Mingus by various artists. The two tracks were Pithecanthropus Erectus and Freedom. (My best guess at what Dave said was "mithicampus".) So, assuming I got this right, and Dave didn't mix in anything else at that transition, it seems the guitar strums belong to the track called Pithecanthropus Erectus.

Obviously, the Party Seacombe intro does not go on as long as the strumming in Pithecanthropus Erectus. But that could be explained by a repeating loop, and, in fact, you can hear audible evidence of this. There is a tiny gap of silence between each 2-measure segment of strumming in Pithecanthropus Erectus.

Nowadays (writing in 2007) every knucklehead (including me) has more sound editing power at his fingertips than he can shake a baton at, so I sat down to "prove" that these simple guitar strums - with a touch of "phase shifting", I think - were lifted from the Party Seacombe recording.

It was straightforward. I timed the 2-measure segment of Pithecanthropus Erectus (6.34 seconds) and the first two measures of Party Seacombe (5.48 seconds). I sped up the former to match the latter, and, lo and behold, it brought them into the same key. Here's the 2-measure segment presented three times: (1) as heard on Pithecanthropus Erectus; (2) sped up; (3) the original from Party Seacombe.



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Some full names, credits and helpful keywords not in the main text: beatles inspiration plagiarism; once upon a time there were two balloons called Jock and Yono; John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr; Rory Storme and the Hurricanes, Wally = Lou Walters. The Inner Light: music by George Harrison, words by George Harrison based on a Japanese poem in the Tao te Ching, translated by Juan Mascaro. True Love: words and music by Cole Porter. September Song: music by Kurt Weill, words by Maxwell Anderson. Happy Xmas (War Is Over) by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Domino: music by Louis Ferrari, words by Plante. Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia by the Halle Orchestra, conducted by Maurice Handford, EMI records. WMUC dj Dave Sisson. "Explosive orchestration" word pair quoted from The Beatles Forever by Nicholas Schaffner.

Thanks to Steve Williams (near Penny Lane!) for reminding me of Paul's little piece in Mersey Beat about backing Janice in the early days.

Parents, if you're considering tutoring or supplemental education for your child, you may be interested in my observations on Kumon.