Some Early Musical Influences On Paul McCartney - Part 1

A quick overview of the music that helped shape his writing and sound

Paul McCartney Run Devil Run
Paul McCartney's nostalgic Run Devil Run LP. MPL Communications Ltd

If you can get hold of a copy of Paul McCartney’s 1999 solo album Run Devil Run it will give you a pretty good insight into some of the songs that played a big role in making him pick up a guitar and turn it into a career.

On it you’ll find Gene Vincent’s “Blue Jean Bop”, which dates back to 1956. McCartney says in the liner notes: “I remember hearing this song on an album that I think John had. The first record I ever had was “Be Bop A-Lula”.

We loved Gene.”

One of Paul’s other very early influences was the music of Lonnie Donegan. Paul started to really focus on playing guitar after attending a Donegan concert and seeing the skiffle music master at work. Paul also says that another skiffle song “No Other Baby”, by British group The Vipers, has stayed with him over the years.“I’ve got no idea how this one got embedded in my memory…I never had the record, still haven’t.”

It wasn't skiffle but rock’n’roll which really took things to the next level. When Paul first met John Lennon he was able to play him “Twenty Flight Rock” by Eddie Cochran, and also Gene Vincent’s “Be Bop A-Lula”. Fifteen year-old Paul had seen Cochran in 1957 (in the film The Girl Can’t Help It  - made in 1956) and it was to be a huge influence on him. McCartney rushed out and bought a copy of “Twenty Flight Rock” immediately after seeing it. Being able to play the song when he first met Lennon impressed his future band-mate.

Paul describes it now as “the song that got me into the Beatles…..”

Of course Buddy Holly has to figure in here.“That’ll Be the Day” was the first song John and Paul learned to play together, and one of the two songs they recorded in 1958 as The Quarry Men at a home studio in Liverpool (along with a Harrison/McCartney tune called “In Spite of All the Danger”).

In a surprising turn of events it is Paul McCartney (through his extensive MPL publishing company) who now owns the rights to the Buddy Holly song.

Another early iteration of the Beatles (which had John, Paul and George going under the name Johnnie and the Moondogs) performed Buddy Holly’s “Think It Over” in a British TV talent quest called Star Search in the UK city of Manchester in 1958. They didn’t win….

We can tell some of the other early influences on Paul by the songs that The Beatles chose to play as covers when they were in Hamburg, and also those they decided to record on their first albums - before Paul started singing Lennon/McCartney exclusively. High up amongst these were Little Richard, notably Paul’s extraordinarily lively version of his song "Long Tall Sally", and Larry Williams. The Beatles covered three Williams tunes: “Bad Boy”, “Slow Down” and “Dizzy Miss Lizzy”, and while these three were all sung by John, Paul says he always intended to do a fourth called “She Said Yeah” – they just never got around to it.

If you want some more insights into Paul’s early rock’n’roll influences you can’t go past two of his other solo releases, his “Russian” LP called Choba B CCCP (issued on vinyl - only in the USSR - in 1988, and then on CD worldwide in 1991), and the live Unplugged (The Official Bootleg) release, also from from 1991.

On these he sings more of the songs that meant a lot to him growing up in Liverpool, including Elvis (of course!): “That’s All Right”, “Just Because“, “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and “Good Rockin’ Tonight” all make an appearance; “Lordy Miss Clawdy”, “Kansas City” and “Lucille” – recorded by Little Richard; and no less than three songs by Fats Domino too: “I’m Gonna Be A Wheel Someday”, “Ain’t That A Shame” and “I’m In Love Again”.   

What’s obvious here is that bands like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, quite consciously acknowledge the early influences in their own writing and performance style. And they very much see themselves as educators, playing a role in turning their fans on to the music that has been in their own collections, songs they’ve listened to and loved.

The wonderful thing about Paul McCartney is that all these influences manifest themselves in tunes as diverse as the wistful and timeless “Yesterday”, but also in out-and-out rockers like “Helter Skelter” -  an early heavy metal prototype!

All McCartney's influences have been subsumed in him to produce one of the consummate composers of the 20th Century. 

Don't forget to read Part 2 next for more.