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Music

The Beatles song John Lennon says inspired Jimi Hendrix and The Who

@jackwhatley89

Few artists would dare to claim that The Beatles had not influenced, inspired or affected their lives somehow. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were such behemoths in the world of music, cinema and pretty much every facet of the popular culture during their heyday that to try and avoid their songs would have been a full-time job in the 1960s. Even today, six decades later, the presence of the Fab Four is inescapable.

No matter your musical leaning, there’s a good chance that the band has affected your favourite genre’s direction in one way or another. Be it their ability to infiltrate the mainstream with the power of psychedelia on pop music or the rough claim that the band invented heavy metal with their song ‘Helter Skelter‘, a claim can be made that those lads from Liverpool have had their fingers in most pies. One song could have inspired two other giants of the period, Jimi Hendrix and The Who.

One of the greatest guitarists of all time and a huge inspiration for all who witnessed his power, Jimi Hendrix was never shy about his love for The Beatles. He not only covered their song ‘Sgt. Pepper’ with the group in attendance but paid tribute to the band whenever given the opportunity. The Who, and their songwriter and bandleader, Pete Townshend, weren’t quite as accommodating to the band when they broke into the business. The guitarist of that outfit was much keener on lambasting the band, once denouncing them as “lousy”. However, in 1964, Lennon and The Beatles released a song that undoubtedly inspired them both — ‘I Feel Fine’.

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Released on Beatles for Sale in 1964, ‘I Feel Fine’ was mainly composed by John Lennon and read like one more of the footsteps taken by the group to break out of their boyband image. But the real point of interest comes from one of those beautifully spontaneous moments of creative ingenuity. Speaking in 1994 about the song, Paul McCartney noted: “John had a semi-acoustic Gibson guitar. It had a pick-up on it, so it could be amplified. We were just about to walk away to listen to a take when John leaned his guitar against the amp. I can still see him doing it. and it went, ‘Nnnnnnwahhhhh!” And we went, ‘What’s that? Voodoo!’ ‘No, it’s feedback.’ Wow, it’s a great sound!'”

It’s a moment that few can recall as the recorded birthplace of guitar feedback as a part of a song or musical piece. “George Martin was there so we said, ‘Can we have that on the record?’,” recalled Macca. “‘Well, I suppose we could, we could edit it on the front.’ It was a found object — an accident caused by leaning the guitar against the amp.” It would be a moment of musical history that would shape sounds of the golden age of rock. Throughout the 1960s, bands and artists such as Jimi Hendrix and The Who would use the alien sounds they had heard on this song, to breathe new life and dynamism into rock and roll.

Later, John Lennon would claim the landmark as a part of The Beatles rich legacy, “This was the first time feedback was used on a record. It’s right at the beginning,” he told Hit Parade in 1972. Lennon clearly understood that he and the band had captured something seismic during that session as he “tied together” the song around the opening, feedback-laden riff.

During Lenon’s notorious 1980 interview with Playboy, Lennon went one further to suggest that the song had inspired the likes of Hendrix and The Who, “That’s me completely. Including the guitar lick with the first feedback anywhere. I defy anybody to find a record – unless it is some old blues record from 1922 – that uses feedback that way. So I claim it for the Beatles. Before Hendrix, before The Who, before anybody. The first feedback on record.”

Lennon is likely correct to add a caveat to his claim. Feedback usually being an accidental occurrence while using such equipment means there are arguably many records that captured pieces of feedback before. However, The Beatles recognised the sound as an innovative piece of expression, and this was the influence and inspiration they shared when the group decided to keep the electrical interference as part of the song and album.

The Beatles can be put in the middle of many musical Venn diagrams. Their sound has now drifted into so many spheres of creativity that it has been a tapestry that few could unpick. However, if there’s one claim that deserves more time and consideration, it is this one. The Beatles took a sound that most people would polish out of pop music and made a song out of it. While most would have cast the tape to the dustbin, The Beatles saw gold and left a map to the treasure in the form of ‘I Feel Fine’.