Credit: The Beatles

From Chuck Berry to Bob Dylan: 25 songs that inspired The Beatles’ George Harrison

The influence of The Beatles is one notion that underwrites almost everything a musician does in 2020. It’s been nearly 60 years since John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr announced themselves on the world stage and begun their domination of the 1960s. While the allure to liken everything to the Fab Four is one we must all try and get away from, there’s no doubting that the work the band did during their comparatively brief time together is some of the most influential pop music of all time.

But, just like those now influenced by The Beatles, the four members of the Liverpudlian maestros were also as equally influenced and inspired by musicians too. Collectively, you can narrow these main influences down to just a few, when you take a deep dive into the preferences of each member of the group you find a more accurate and wide-ranging set of stars. For the Quiet Beatle, George Harrison, it’s no different.

One of the more reserved members of the group, a shroud of mystery always hung over Harrison. Not as happy to play the fame game as the other three members, Harrison can boast having some of the most eclectic music taste of The Beatles, with likes ranging from Indian classical music to ukelele skiffle and everything in between. That’s why when we found this rarely heard compilation CD title, George Harrison’s Jukebox, we knew we just had to bring it to you.

The compilation is a collection of songs that inspired the great guitarist and helped him, and the rest of the band, become the pop behemoths we know them to be today. While some of the inclusions here are exactly what you’d expect any teen growing up in 1950s Britain to enjoy (Lonnie Donegan’s ‘Rock Island Line’ and Eddie Cochran’s ‘Summertime Blues’ both feature), there are plenty of uniquely Harrison moments too.

One artist who certainly was an inspiration to a whole generation was Chuck Berry. The duck-walking granddaddy of rock ‘n’ roll, Berry’s ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ is included in the list and is just one of many tracks that ruled the radio for teenagers across Britain. The song was also the first track that the band performed on stage together in the US, with Harrison even taking lead vocals.

Equally as integral to The Beatles’ sound when they first broke out was Buddy Holly and The Everly Brothers. With the former’s ‘That’ll Be The Day’ included on the list it’s easy to see the link between Holly and the Fab Four. It was a comparison the group became more than used to. Equally a huge influence on how The Beatles harmonised, with Harrison always being the best at doing so, was The Every Brothers and their wonderful ‘Bye Bye Love’.

Massive influences on the young Harrison were also Carl Perkins, Chet Atkins and of course, Gene Vincent who also all take a spot on the list. But perhaps two men can attest to having some of the largest sways over Harrison and his career—two unlikely heroes too. While the mention of Cab Calloway and his performance of ‘Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’ may seem none-too-silly, when you couple it with George Formby, the ukelele playing novelty act, things get a little odd.

But, aside from guitar, the ukelele was by far Harrison’s favourite instrument. He was known to buy hundreds of the things and give them away at the drop of a hat, often ending dinner parties with all attendees happily strumming away to a George Formby song. Of course, there was a third instrument in Harrison’s life too, the sitar.

When George Harrison made his way to India to not only connect with his own spirituality but to also dive into the Indian classical music scene, he employed a sophisticated teacher by the name of Ravi Shankar. The expertly skilled sitarist helped to coach Harrison through his experimentations with the instrument and saw it employed on more than a few Beatles songs. Even after The Beatles, Harrison and Shankar remained close, personal friends, sharing many joyful times together, continuously picking up moments of inspiration from one another.

The Beatles broke up in 1970 but George Harrison had been feeling restless for sometime before that. His songwriting was vastly improving and he was still unable to find a way through to Lennon and McCartney to get his songs to have equal footing. The duo had dominated for so long that they weren’t keen to let go of the reins just yet, despite Harrison’s growing impatience. It was an impatience fuelled largely by Bob Dylan.

Dylan was a huge fan of Harrison’s songwriting style and felt he was getting a bad deal with the two juggernauts of pop ahead of him. He encouraged Harrison at every turn, writing songs alongside him and even, after The Beatles had split, joining him as part of the huge supergroup known as The Traveling Wilbury’s. As such, Dylan’s song ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ is also included, while Roy Orbison (another Wilbury member) is also noted with his song ‘Love Hurts’.

All in all, it makes for a wonderful playlist. The 25 songs in this list may not necessarily be George Harrison’s favourite songs of all time but we’re certain that every single one of them had a huge impact on his life. Whether they could do the same for you, well, we’ll just have to find out.

George Harrison’s favourite songs:

  • ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’ – Hank Williams
  • ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ – Elvis Presley
  • ‘Rock Island Line’ – Lonnie Donegan
  • ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ – Gene Vincent
  • ‘That’ll Be The Day’ – Buddy Holly
  • ‘Raunchy’ – Bill Justis
  • ‘Rebel Rouser’ – Duane Eddy
  • ‘Hidden Charm’ – Chet Atkins
  • ‘Summertime Blues’ – Eddie Cochran
  • ‘Everybody’s Tryin To Be My Baby’ – Carl Perkins
  • ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ – Barrett Strong
  • ‘Some Other Guy’ – Richie Barrett
  • ‘A Picture of You’ – Joe Brown
  • ‘Green Onions’ – Booker T. & the MG’s
  • ‘You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me’ – Smokey Robinson
  • ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ – Chuck Berry
  • ‘Black Cross’ – Lord Buckley
  • ‘Raga Rageshri, Pt. 3’ – Ravi Shankar
  • ‘Bye Bye Love’ – The Everly Brothers
  • ‘Hong Kong Blues’ – Hoagy Carmichael
  • ‘I Really Love You’ – The Stereos
  • ‘When I’m Cleaning Windows’ – George Formby
  • ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ – Bob Dylan
  • ‘Love Hurts’ – Roy Orbison
  • ‘Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’ – Cab Calloway
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