What makes a Beatles song a “Beatles song?”

What makes a Beatles song a “Beatles song?” Why do their songs sound so unique?

Sure, a lot of the Beatles’ special sound can be credited to the production qualities of their recordings: their innovative musical arrangements, their use of special effects, the speeding up and slowing down of tape speed, the doubling of their lead vocals, etc. But their unique quality also has a lot to do with how they wrote their songs.

You can even hear it in a solo piano version of “I Saw Her Standing There:”

Even though this is only piano, with mo studio production magic or special effects, it’s still unmistakably “The Beatles.” Not Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones, or The Beach Boys. It’s The Beatles.


Here are a few reasons:
1. Paul McCartney in particular was well-versed (no pun intended!) in the older music forms of the Swing Era. His father was a jazz trumpeter and as a teenager, Paul would sit at the piano and lead the family in singing standards by Cole Porter, George Gershwin, and their contemporaries. So even though “I Saw Her Standing There” is a straight-ahead rocker, the song has a very traditional musical form: AABA. The beat is pure Chuck Berry, but with a more complex musical form than Berry would typically use. By contrast, the Chuck Berry songs that the Beatles covered, such as “Roll Over Beethoven,” are 12-bar blues.

2. The Beatles used a wider harmonic palette than most pop and rock groups of the time. Most 50s and early 60s pop and rock music used either 3 or 4 chords per song; The Beatles used more. So while “I Saw Her Standing There” is based on the usual I, IV, and V chords of the blues, McCartney unexpectedly goes to the bVI chord near the end of the bridge. This is pure Gershwin or Cole Porter!

3. The Beatles lived “outside the box” creatively. In the early days, they often had to convince their producer, George Martin, to let them put in a jazz chord or other such “anomaly” in their songs. While Martin thought this sounded old-fashioned, the Beatles loved to mix things up and be a little “artsy,” as Paul McCartney once put it. Anything and everything was possible for these creative geniuses.

So the next time you play “I Saw Her Standing There” or any other Beatles song, keep these points in mind and see how unique and special the songs themselves are from a musical point of view.

Good luck with your piano playing!

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