The Beatles play the blues

The musical structure and arrangement is part of the songwriting process to create the feel and style of the song, common forms include verse-chorus form, 32-bar form, and 12-bar Blues. Sections and song elements can include verse, chorus, bridge, hook, break, intro and outro. Though song writing is an art form and not restricted to hard rules, however, having a grasp on elements of song structure will help a musician write more successful hits.

One of the most popular groups of all time, The Beatles, are not only known for their timeless hits but also their use of creative interpretation of chord-progressions, lyrical content, and structure. Although The Beatles music mostly fall into the rock and pop genres, they were heavily inspired by American Blues. 27 songs in The Beatles discography use at least some elements of the 12-bar Blues. The blues progression has a particular form in lyrics, chord structure, duration, and phrase mostly based on the I-IV-V chords of a key.

Below is an exploration of The Beatles and their bluesified melodies, including some of their most popular and fascinating songs.


  1. “Roll Over Beethoven”

Originally recorded by Chuck Berry in 1956 “Roll Over Beethoven” was one of The Beatles favorite Chuck Berry songs. Berry had a massive influence on the group, The Beatles were covering his songs even before they were officially ‘The Beatles’. Their version of the song, also in 12-bar blues format, was first recorded on July 30, 1963 for their second LP and then released in April 10, 1964 as the opening track of The Beatles Second Album and as the opening track of Four by The Beatles. The Beatles added sevenths to every chord and replaced the second chord from D7 to a G7 and reversed the 9th and 10th bars. The lyrics are monumental to the time, explaining how Ludwig van Beethoven would roll over in his grave at fact that rock and roll, as well as rhythm and blues, was replacing classical music.


  1. “12 Bar Original”

This instrumental jam track was The Beatles journey into a more traditional blues track, this song is one of the very few songs in their entire catalog that include all four members, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Richard Starkey as writers. The song, structured in a complete 12-bar Blues format and one of the first instrumental songs they had recorded, was originally recorded at Abbey Road Studios in November 4th 1965 in only two takes but scrapped until 1996 when it was edited down and released on The Beatles Anthology 2.


  1. “Can’t Buy Me Love”

The verses on “Can’t Buy Me Love” are 12-bar blues, only deviating by using an F chord in bar 11 instead of the typical C.  The flat thirds and sevenths are used heavily in the melody, which give it even more of a blues sound. This song is note-worthy of the fact that even though so much of The Beatles earlier music contained 12-bar Blues structures, “Can’t Buy Me Love” is one of only nine of The Beatles originals containing a 12-bar Blues structure.

When The Beatles producer, George Martin, first heard the track he decided to adapt it with an intro, so he took the first two lines in the chorus and changed the ending by alternating the second phrase to get back into the verse quicker. The first recordings of the song also included background vocal harmonies, but after listening back to it The Beatles decided the song was better off without them and “Can’t Buy Me Love” became the first single without their staple background harmonies.


  1. “Birthday”

Another original from The Beatles is “Birthday,” written by Lennon and McCartney, the song follows the 12-bar blues format for through the versus. This was one of the last songs the two Beatles collaborated on, later songs were credited to the both of them but most of it was written separately. This fun song includes a vintage rock-and-roll vibe and a memorable guitar riff, as well as Pattie Harrison and Yoko Ono singing in the chorus. The song was heavily inspired by Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” and Little Richard’s “Lucille.”


  1. “Day Tripper”

“Day Tripper” was the start of The Beatles experimentation, both musically and in the spirit of the 60’s counterculture. Lennon wrote this song and admitted its references to LSD. The Beatles pushed musical barriers and infiltrated them into commercial successes, concreting The Beatles as innovators. “Day Tripper” is an ode to weekend hippies and even the great Jimi Hendrix would cover the song during some of his live performances. The first eight measures in the song are identical to the 12-bar Blues, but then the pattern is broken and unrelated to the structure. Both the F#7 and G#7 in the song are very unconventional for a song played in  E major, much less in a 12-bar Blues format, though The Beatles were able to perform it in a way where the listener feels at ease and proving that The Beatles progressive songwriting skills were completely unique.


For more on the 12-Bar Blues Click Here.

– Devon Alexis
J&R Adventures

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