It’s hard to quantify the sheer volume of influence The Beatles have enacted over the British public and beyond during their 60 years in the limelight. Not only do you have the plethora of sons John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr who wrote and recorded together, but the countless bands they inspired too.
One such band that may come as a surprise was the incredibly gifted musicians who comprised Pink Floyd, the leaders of acid-rock and the forefathers of prog-rock. The Floyd was once invited into the studio to see the Fab Four record and they were instantly inspired with one song have a serious influence on their own debut album.
It’s 1967, and EMI have signed a brand new experiential band from London who, after various name changes, are called Pink Floyd. Led by the psychedelic stylings of Syd Barrett, the Floyd had a growing reputation for being the men at the forefront of the new acid-rock movement that was hitting Britain in waves. While there’s never much of a summer to speak of, there was certainly a lot of love swinging around London at the time.
Given the opportunity to put out a debut record, Pink Floyd were working in the now-famous Abbey Road studios. Walking into the famed studios must have felt like a real move up towards the peak of pop music. That feeling must have multiplied tenfold when they were given the opportunity to sit in and watch The Beatles work on their song ‘Lovely Rita’. The band were in the middle of recording for Sgt. Pepper and were arguably in their experimental peak.
Pink Floyd’s drummer Nick Mason remembers, “It was such a great moment for us. We were recording our first album in Abbey Road – we were in studio three recording The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and down the corridor, The Beatles were recording Sgt. Pepper’s.” But it was one song that would inspire the band to add to their own sound.
“And there was an invitation to go and visit the gods on Mount Olympus, and they were recording ‘Lovely Rita’ at the time,” Mason continued, “so it’s a sort of reminder of a really, sort of pivotal moment because actually, without the Beatles, we probably wouldn’t have existed.”
‘Lovely Rita’ is a typical Paul McCartney song of the time as it manipulates the ideas of real-life into an untold story. It not only allows a little bit of extra whimsy in the tale but also allows Macca’s concept to flourish. It’s a known technique Lennon once called out as highly inspirational to his own songwriting. When asked about the song he replied: “That’s Paul writing a pop song. He makes ’em up like a novelist. You hear lots of McCartney-influenced songs on the radio now. These stories about boring people doing boring things– being postmen and secretaries and writing home.”
Of course, ‘Lovely Rita’ was written about parking attendants and has a degree of truth to the proceedings, despite McCartney’s protestations. “There was a story in the paper about ‘Lovely Rita’, the meter maid,” a relatively new idea in Britain around 1967. “She’s just retired as a traffic warden. The phrase ‘meter maid’ was so American that it appealed, and to me a ‘maid’ was always a little sexy thing: ‘Meter maid. Hey, come and check my meter, baby.’ I saw a bit of that, and then I saw that she looked like a ‘military man’.”
Sometime later, Meta Davies claimed to have been the woman behind the song and the spark of Macca’s inspiration after giving him a parking ticket in St John’s Wood. Speaking to Steve Truner for Hard Day’s Write, Davies recalled: “His car was parked on a meter where the time had expired. I had to make out a ticket which, at the time, carried a 10 shilling fine. I’d just put it on the windscreen when Paul came along and took it off. He looked at it and read my signature which was in full, because there was another M Davies on the same unit.
“As he was walking away, he turned to me and said, ‘Oh, is your name really Meta?’ I told him that it was. We chatted for a few minutes and he said, ‘That would be a good name for a song. Would you mind if I use it?’ And that was that. Off he went.”
It’s something McCartney has often refuted, claiming, “It wasn’t based on a real person but, as often happened, it was claimed by a girl called Rita [sic] who was a traffic warden who apparently did give me a ticket, so that made the newspapers. I think it was more a question of coincidence.”
What wasn’t a coincidence, though, was the effect the song had on Pink Floyd or, perhaps more accurately, witnessing the song be created had on Pink Floyd. During the recording, The Beatles made a host of sound effects for the track using various groaning, sighing and screaming noises to get their desired sound. The band played paper and combs and added some cha-cha-chas all to grab the attention and promote experimentation.
Many have drawn direct links between these sounds and the ones that would feature on Pink Floyd’s album The Piper At The Gates of Dawn, especially in songs like ‘Bike’ and ‘Pow R. Toc. H’. But the album Sgt. Pepper was another huge draw, too, paving the way for the band’s success, “Sgt. Pepper’s was the album that absolutely changed the face of the record industry,” Mason suggested.
“Up until then, it was all about singles. Sgt. Pepper’s was the first album that actually outsold singles, and that enabled bands like us to have more studio time and more freedom to do what we wanted.”
It can be easy to categorise the influence The Beatles had on their songs and performances, but to do so would be to forget that sometimes a new noise, new technique, or new style can spark another legendary group’s imaginations. The Fab Four can’t claim to have given Pink Floyd any big ideas, but the creativity they placed in their records, and their ability to sell them, was undoubtedly a huge inspiration.
It all started with simple pop songs like ‘Lovely Rita’.