There was something ethereal, alien-like and just generally otherworldly about David Bowie. During the iconic Starman’s career, he was so adaptable, evolutionary and revolutionary that trying to place him within one genre, era, or style was almost impossible. When collating his unique looks, his daring attitude and his undeniable charisma to his potent songwriting, the world received a genuine and unimpeachable artist in the guise of a rock star. Like all great artists, Bowie’s work wasn’t derived straight from the veins of gold nestled within his cerebral pits but sometimes plucked like apples from a tree. One such case saw him lean heavily on The Beatles for inspiration.
It’s easy to connect The Beatles to just about any artist who emerged in Britain around the 1960 and ’70s. Almost every performer, singer, guitarist and otherwise were likely actively or passively influenced by the Fab Four of John Lennon, Paul Mccartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr — such was their ubiquitous command of the airwaves. However, Bowie never really offered much in the way of a glowing endorsement of the band aside from the relationships he shared with them after they had split. But one album would see the ‘Changes‘ singer gather some serious inspiration.
The iconic 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band isn’t just Paul McCartney’s favourite Beatles album; it is also widely regarded as one of the greatest LPs of all time, certainly of The Beatles impressive full-length career. Built out of McCartney’s conceptual narrative, created in a bid to escape the band’s pressure, the album has since gone on to become a pivotal moment in the world of pop. This record proved to the mainstream that pop and rock music needn’t be a paint by numbers affair; it could be experimental, it could be daring, and it could be, well, a little bit strange.
Naturally, for David Bowie would arguably embody the latter notion most succinctly in his heyday, he found the album to be a vital source of inspiration. The entire record is a blueprint for how to express oneself within the confines of popular music but one track, in particular, caught Bowie’s attention and even saw the Starman’ copy’ some tricks from the Fab Four.
‘Lovely Rita’ may not have been a song that particularly pleased Lennon, noting it as one of his least favourite from the Fab Four — however, hard it is to dislike a song Paul McCartney made up about a ticket inspector. “There was a story in the paper about ‘Lovely Rita’, the meter maid,” recalled McCartney of the relatively new idea in 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’.” But the wild composition of ‘Lovely Rita’ would inspire Pink Floyd in their pursuit of pop perfection.
It also inspired Bowie if the book The Complete David Bowie New Edition: Expanded and Updated is anything to go by. Within the book, it is reported that Bowie lifted the backing vocals of ‘Lovely Rita’ and employed them within his own song ‘Star’, which would feature on The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust. It’s hard to ignore the apparent similarities between the two vocal takes.
‘Star’ is a super-charged track that sees Bowie not only uses a significant narrative device for the concept of the album, allowing our hero to daydream about delivering his message of youth empowerment but yet another reflection of Bowie, the showman. Rivalling his theatre production Lazarus for ‘musical theatre-ness’, ‘Star’ sees Bowie throw his hips into it and keep the imagery of the intergalactic rock star alive. It’s easy then to see how Bowie would find the inspiration he craved within the grooves of his Sgt. Pepper record. However, it wasn’t just The Beatles that inspired Bowie; he found influence and inspiration everywhere.
“I have to interplay with other writers, because I’ve always been a fan,” Bowie said when acknowledging the inspiration he drew from other songwriters. “If I wasn’t a fan, I’d probably be far more individual — the other kind of individuality where it’s very, very ingrained in the self. Because I’m very involved with society on my level, I have to use the tools that the present society has been created with, musically,” he revealed. “That’s why, I lift from — and use — and am intrigued by — other writers and their music.”
Listen to David Bowie’s ‘Star’ and The Beatles ‘Lovely Rita’ below.