Thursday, January 13, 2011

Elvis v. Beatles

In my last post, I talked briefly about a deleted scene from Pulp Fiction that claimed you are either an Elvis Fan or a Beatles Fan. You can’t be both. I acknowledged that I am an Elvis fan.

A friend of mine read that post and commented on FaceBook that she’s a Beatles fan, so what does that mean?

That got me thinking. What is the difference between Elvis fans and Beatles fans?  What’s the difference between Elvis and the Beatles?

I think that the difference comes down to approach. Elvis in some ways draws heavily on an African-American aesthetic, especially in terms of the role of the voice. In Rhythm and Blues the voice is almost of an instrument in and of itself. Lyrics are not necessarily the focus. Emotion comes from the performance.

The Beatles, on the other hand, were master lyricists. From a song craft standpoint they are probably second to none. They draw from a more mainstream pop aesthetic with Rhythm and Blues mixed in.  Emotion comes more from lyrics rather than the performance.

I can’t believe I’m going to do this, but I’m going to use Otis Redding to highlight the difference. (Yes, I’m eventually going to get out of Memphis at some point. I’m just not sure when.)

Here is Otis’ version of The Beatles “Day Tripper”:

Here is The Beatles original:

In Otis’ cover, the lyrics were essentially ad libbed by Otis. He took the melody and ran with it.  With Otis, like Elvis, it’s more about the performance and the emotions, than the lyrics.

Here is Otis’ “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”:

This was the last song that Otis wrote and recorded before he died. It was influenced by his experience performing at the Monterey Pop festival and signalled a new direction for him.  His vocals are restrained, with a greater emphasis on lyrics.

“Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” is closer to a Beatles song than anything Otis had ever done.

Elvis fans ultimately care about the performance, the personal expression of the singer and the emotions that are stirred by the music.  Beatles fans are more intellectual. Personal expression comes more from the lyrics and the composition than from the performance.

Although there was a different approach between Elvis and The Beatles, I’m not saying that one is superior to the other. I may be an Elvis fan, but I appreciate strong lyricism.  In an odd little quirk, more of the music I love is influenced by the Beatles rather than Elvis.

Finally, here`s an interesting take on “Day Tripper” from The Budos Band.  The Budos Band is an instrumental band from Staten Island and play what they describe as Afro-Soul a melange of African Jazz, American Funk and Soul. They are signed to Daptone Records and two members are also Dap-Kings.  They are one of the best live acts I've seen.  I will write about them at some point.

P.S.: I made a mistake in my last post.  Elvis did in fact record at Stax in July and December 1973.  Here is one of the songs from the July sessions: “I’ve Got a Thing About You Baby” which it to number 4 on the Country charts.

As always, comments are welcome and appreciated.  Especially with this post, please let me know if this is just BS.


  1. Really neat - I had never thought about it this way!!!

  2. I'm glad you found it interesting. Leave it to me to find a way to shoehorn Otis Redding (my favourite singer, ever) into a post about Elvis and the Beatles, LOL!