Harry Styles has come a long way since his initial foray into the music industry with his X-Factor pressed assemblage One Direction. After the release of their debut album, Up All Night, the boy band thrived on the energy of the social media age and was launched into an onslaught of media harassment and hysteria reminiscent of the Beatles’ heyday.
After releasing their fifth album, Made in the A.M., in 2015, the group announced a hiatus to allow them to focus on solo endeavours. As the heartthrobs parted ways for solo studio missions, Styles’ material seemed the most promising, with his 2017 self-titled debut album entering the UK charts in the top spot.
Since then, Styles has consolidated his position as the most successful of the One Direction alumni with his chart-busting follow-up albums, Fine Line and his recently released nod to Joni Mitchell, Harry’s House.
The 28-year-old undoubtedly gleaned some valuable knowledge during his time with One Direction and grabbed the attention of floating voters with his debut acting appearance in Christopher Nolan’s war film Dunkirk in 2017, but what truly placed him at the top of the pop pyramid is his relentless, geeky obsession with pop music old and new.
Styles’ stylish and novel approach to pop music channels his eclectic taste as he puts a contemporary shine on retro fashion both sonically and visually. Over the past few years, the singer has frequently discussed his adoration for legendary pop acts from the decorated recesses of the 20th-century golden era. Styles’ success is rooted in winning over the hearts of older generations, bringing new life to a retro sound and introducing his younger fan base to something a little different.
In a conversation with Rolling Stone in 2019, Styles listed off some of his favourite musicians of generations past and described their impact on him as a modern pop sensation.
Harry Styles’ favourite musicians:
Fleetwood Mac is a name that crops up frequently in Styles’ interviews, not least because he spent much of his youth in awe of the pop masterclass, but he has also found a good friend in Stevie Nicks over the past few years.
In 2019, Styles was given the honour of inducting Stevie Nicks into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with a sentimental cross-generational image that will long linger in fans’ fond memories. The two had performed together some two years prior after realising a mutual appreciation. During Styles’ LA performance in 2017, Nicks was invited to the stage for a guest performance. “One of my favourite-ever musical memories,” Styles remembered. “We sang ‘Landslide’ as a soundcheck, and that was even cooler for me than the show — just me and her, in an empty Troubadour.”
After the release of Harry’s House in May this year, Joni Mitchell took to Twitter to express her approval of the album’s title. Mitchell retweeted the Styles’ album announcement and added the comment: “love the title”. In a later tweet, Mitchell shared the opening verse of her 1975 song ‘Harry’s House/Centerpiece’.
Styles has also long been a fan of the iconic folk singer’s hit 1971 album, Blue. “I was in a big Joni hole,” Styles remembered in an interview with Rolling Stone. “I kept hearing the dulcimer all over Blue. So I tracked down the lady who built Joni’s dulcimers in the ’60s. She still lives around here.” After he had located her, she invited him over. “I went to her house, and she gave me a little lesson; we sat around and played dulcimers.” She built the dulcimer Styles plays on Fine Line. “Blue and Astral Weeks, that’s just the ultimate in terms of songwriting. Melody-wise, they’re in their own lane. Joni and Van, their freedom with melodies — it’s never quite what you thought was coming, yet it’s always so great.”
After his early blues rock stint with Them, Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison launched into a more folk-inspired solo career highlighted by his 1968 album Astral Weeks. After putting Morrison on a songwriting pedestal alongside Joni Mitchell, Styles described his deep love for the album and its creator.
“It’s my favourite album ever,” Styles said to Rolling Stone. “Completely perfect.” Styles also remembered posing with Morrison for a photo backstage and inspiring the famously glum musician to smile. “The grin is so out of character for Van,” Styles jokes. “I was tickling him behind his back.”
It’s never a surprise when a contemporary pop star namechecks one of The Beatles among their greatest influences, but Styles seems to have a very individual penchant for McCartney deep cuts. “While I was in Tokyo, I used to go to a vinyl bar, but the bartender didn’t have Wings records,” Styles told Rolling Stone. “So I brought him Back to the Egg. ‘Arrow Through Me,’ that was the song I had to hear every day when I was in Japan.”
McCartney’s 1971 album Ram was divisive among Beatles purists at the time of its release, but for Styles, it’s an unmissable, if strange, collection of tracks. “I love Ram so much — I used to think it was a mixed bag, but that’s part of its beauty. And the one that’s just called McCartney, with the cherries on the cover and ‘The Lovely Linda’ on it.”
In another show of affection for the late 1960s and early ’70s singer-songwriter era, Styles picked out Paul Simon in his conversation with Rolling Stone. “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,’ that’s the greatest verse melody ever written, in my opinion,” he said. “So minimal, but so good — that drum roll. ‘The Boxer’ is a perfect lyric, especially that first verse.”
With and without his partner in crime, Art Garfunkel, Paul Simon was a constant presence throughout Styles’ childhood as he fell in love with music. “I grew up in a pub for a few years when I was a kid, and Simon and Garfunkel were just constantly playing, always. Every time ‘Cecilia’ started, I’d be like, ‘I think I’ve heard this a hundred times today.’”