The Next Beatles. It’s a phrase that has gotten tossed around a lot since the breakup of the world’s most famous band. For those bestowed with this accolade, it was a considerable compliment. Sometimes, it was also a curse. After all, who could possibly match the songwriting and musicianship of The Beatles, let alone their humor, camaraderie, and cultural influence? There never will be another Beatles, but there are bands that are “Beatlesque.” What makes a band “Beatlesque?” Almost every rock group (not to mention modern jazz and classical musicians) has been influenced by The Beatles, so we need to narrow the criteria. First of all, let’s eliminate other British Invasion bands that were coming up around the same time as The Beatles. That leaves out The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, The Zombies, and numerous others. Second of all, they’ve got to be a band — not just a singer/songwriter with a backing band. We’re looking for multiple songwriters and multiple vocalists. Three guitars and drums are ideal, although we’ll accept the occasional keyboard.
A few Beatlesque songs doesn’t get you on the list (sorry Tears for Fears). The band needs to have a history of harmonically rich, melodic, singable songs with lyrics that lean towards the optimistic with flashes of humor. More serious lyrics, including the political and romantic kind, are also welcome. The music can be reminiscent of The Beatles’ early music or it can draw from the orchestral and psychedelic touches of The Beatles’ later music. Aside from their musical talent, we’re looking for bands that like to experiment and evolve. But just because a group is experimental doesn’t necessarily make them Beatlesque (I’m talking to you Radiohead). And although one can make the point that the Beatles helped to birth progressive rock, there’s no place for poetry, extended drum solos, or album-side suites here. (Goodbye Yes, Pink Floyd, and The Moody Blues.) Finally, we give out bonus points for a specific connection to The Beatles.
Here then are some of our choices (in alphabetical order) for bands that could be considered The Next Beatles:
Badfinger began as a cover band called The Iveys, playing the hits of the day, including songs by The Beatles. At one point, Ray Davies of The Kinks offered to produce them, but nothing came of that. After Beatles’ roadie Mal Evans saw them perform at the Marquee Club in January, 1968, he played their demos for each of The Beatles. Later that year, they became the first non-Beatles artist signed to the new Apple record label, and they were given the name Badfinger courtesy of Apple Corps’ Neil Aspinall.
Badfinger sounded so much like The Beatles, many listeners mistook one group for the other. Although Badfinger’s first hit, “Come and Get It,” was written and produced by Paul McCartney, singer/songwriter Pete Ham (with occasional help from his bandmates) composed their other hit songs, including “No Matter What” and “Baby Blue.” Despite their early successes, they ultimately left Apple, and their album sales plummeted. After repeated disappointments, Ham committed suicide in 1975, and his bandmate Tom Evans followed in 1983. Badfinger is definitely an example of “The Next Beatles” label acting as a curse.
Sample Beatlesque Song: “Day After Day” (produced by George Harrison) from the 1971 album Straight Up.
Beatles Connection: In addition to being discovered and produced by various Beatles, members of Badfinger played on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, John Lennon’s Imagine, and Ringo’s “It Don’t Come Easy.”The entire band backed up George Harrison and others at the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh.
2. The Bangles
The Bangles, the only female band on this list, formed in Los Angeles in the early 80s. From their guitar/bass/drums structure to the poppy songwriting of Susanna Hoffs, Vicki and Debbi Peterson, and Mikki Steele, The Bangles sounded like a female version of The Beatles in their pre-psychedelia days. No surprise since the group was obsessed with The Beatles, according to Hoff. Although their first album received good reviews, it was their second album Different Light that propelled them to stardom with the Prince authored “Manic Monday” and “Walk Like An Egyptian” written by Liam Sternberg. Friction led the band to break up soon after the release of their third album, 1988’s Everything. Since reforming in 1998, they have produced two excellent albums, 2003’s Doll Revolution and 2011’s Sweetheart of the Sun (the latter album without Micki Steele).
Sample Beatlesque Song: “Here Right Now” from 2003’s Doll Revolution.
Beatles Connection: After ten years without appearing together, The Bangles reunited at the request of George Martin for a Beatles tribute at the Hollywood Bowl in June of 1999.
3. Big Star
Another group saddled with the “Next Beatles” label, Big Star formed in 1971 as a power pop band that sounded like a 70s version of The Beatles. Alex Chilton and Chris Bell were Big Star’s Lennon and McCartney, writing catchy hooks and clever lyrics in songs like “In The Street” and “When My Baby’s Beside Me.” There were psychedelic touches, too, as in tracks like “The India Song.”
Tensions in the band were high from the very beginning, exasperated by increasing drug use and disappointing record sales. Bell left the band after their first album, and Chilton led the group through two more albums before the group disbanded. Although there were several partial reunions, Big Star never again reformed with their initial line up.
Big Star was a great band that never received the attention it deserved. Today, numerous artists point to them as an influence.
Sample Beatlesque Song: “September Gurls” from 1974’s Radio City.
4. The Byrds
Often referred to as the American Beatles, The Byrds started out as a folk trio formed by Jim “Roger” McGuinn, Gene Clark, and David Crosby. Soon after becoming enamored with The Beatles, the Byrds released their 1965 debut, Mr. Tambourine Man. On that album, they married the folk songs of Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger (along with songs written by Clark and McGuinn) with electronic guitars and stacked vocal harmonies. In doing so, they helped to birth the sound of folk rock that would in turn influence The Beatles on their album Rubber Soul.
Like The Beatles, The Byrds seemed to progress with each album — from the folk rock of their first two albums to the psychedelia of 1966’s Fifth Dimension, 1967’s Younger Than Yesterday, and 1968’s The Notorious Byrd Brothers. Although the lineup shifted for each album as various band members left and returned, it was the addition of Gram Parsons for 1968’s Sweetheart of the Rodeo that moved The Byrds into country rock, becoming one of the first bands to pioneer this new sound.
Sample Beatlesque Song: “Have You Seen Her Face” from 1967’s Younger Than Yesterday.
Beatles Connection: It was Roger McGuinn’s 12-string purchased after seeing George Harrison play one in A Hard Day’s Night that helped create the sound of The Byrds, and it was The Byrds’ version of “The Bells of Rhymney” that inspired George Harrison’s “If I Needed Someone” on Rubber Soul. Most importantly, it was McGuinn who first exposed The Beatles to the sounds of sitarist Ravi Shankar, influencing Harrison’s lifelong love of Eastern music.
5. Cheap Trick
Another contender for the American Beatles, Cheap Trick took The Beatles’ sound and turned it up to eleven! Singer Robin Zander’s voice could deliver the full spectrum of McCartney’s vocals, from tender ballad to full-throated shouting, while drummer Bun E. Carlos held down the beat with his Ringo-influenced drumming. Along with guitarist Rick Nielsen and bassist Tom Peterson, Cheap Trick built a strong following overseas with their first three albums. It was 1979’s multi-platinum Cheap Trick At Budokan, a live album that was not even planned for a U.S. release, that ultimately helped them conquer America.
Cheap Trick’s songs, like “I Want You To Want Me,” “Surrender,” and “Dream Police,” paid tribute to the hooks and harmonies of The Beatles, adding lyrics that caused one to smile. They worked with Beatles producer George Martin on 1980’s All Shook Up and with Beatles disciple Todd Rundgren on 1983’s Next Position Please. After losing focus in the late 80s with a series of disappointing albums, they regained their footing with 1997’s self-titled album and continued with a string of excellent recordings through their latest, 2016’s Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello. In 2016, Cheap Trick was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Sample Beatlesque Song: “I Can’t Take It” from 1983’s Next Position Please.
Beatles Connection: Besides working with George Martin, members of Cheap Trick were part of John Lennon’s backing band for the recording of Double Fantasy, although their contributions were later replaced by other musicians. In 2009, Cheap Trick released a recording of their live performance covering the entire Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
6. Crowded House
From the American Beatles to the Australian Beatles — Crowded House. Formed as a trio in Melbourne, Australia in 1985 by former Split Enz members Neil Finn and Paul Hester along with bassist Nick Seymour, they produced four critically acclaimed albums between 1986 and 1993, often with the addition of other musicians, including Neil’s brother Tim. Neil Finn, the primary songwriter, composed catchy songs with clever lyrics and beautiful chord changes that were reminiscent of Lennon and McCartney’s songs. Singles like “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” “Better Be Home Soon,” and “Something So Strong” helped the band achieve huge success worldwide.
Finn and Seymour reformed Crowded House in 2008 shortly after Hester’s suicide in 2005. Since then, the band has released two albums, 2007’s Time On Earth and 2010’s Intriguer.
Sample Beatlesque Song: “Not the Girl You Think You Are” from 1996’s Recurring Dream.
7. Electric Light Orchestra/The Move
Jeff Lynne, a member of The Move and a co-founder of the Electric Light Orchestra, wears his Beatles influence on his sleeve. He joined The Move for their second album and helped create funny, poppy, psychedelic songs that could have been outtakes from later Beatles albums. With bandmates Roy Wood and Bev Bevan, Lynne dreamed of a group that would combine strings with a traditional rock band in the style of songs like “I Am The Walrus.” The result was the Electric Light Orchestra. Wood left after ELO’s first album, and Lynne continued on, producing a series of classic albums, including 1975’s Face The Music, 1976’s A New World Record, and 1977’s double album Out Of The Blue. Acting as the band’s main songwriter, Lynne created Beatlesque songs with string arrangements that would make George Martin proud. Throughout his long career, Lynne and ELO have dabbled in disco (1979’s Discovery), concept albums (1974’s Eldorado), and the American songbook (1990’s solo album, Armchair Theatre).
Lynne has recorded and produced albums since the 1970s — with ELO and solo. Lynne recently embarked on a tour performing ELO songs, including songs from their most recent release, 2015’s Alone in the Universe.
Sample Beatlesque Song: For The Move: “Beautiful Daughter” from 1970’s Shazam. For ELO: Almost anything, but I’ll pick “Shangri-La” with its lyrical reference to “Hey Jude” from 1976’s A New World Record.
Beatles Connection: Many. Lynne played with George Harrison in The Traveling Wilburys. He produced The Beatles “reunion” songs, “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love.” And he played on albums with Paul, George, and Ringo.
8. The Flaming Lips
The Flaming Lips sound like The Beatles if they had been set loose in the studio with an unlimited collection of electronic instruments and an inexhaustible supply of L.S.D. There is no doubt that the Lips are one of the most ambitious groups still making music today.
The Lips were formed in 1983 in Oklahoma City by brothers Mark and Wayne Coyne and bassist Michael Ivins. After releasing their self-titled debut, Mark left the band, and Wayne took over as lead vocalist. When drummer and multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd joined in 1992, the band began releasing a series of critically acclaimed albums beginning with 1993’s Transmissions from the Satellite Heart through 2013’s The Terror. They have deliberately avoided any attempt at mainstream success, which allows them to do whatever they want live and in the studio. Among their more unusual experiments are 1997’s Zaireeka, four compact discs meant to be played simultaneously on four separate CD players, and 2011’s Gummy Song Skull EP released on a flash drive buried in (you guessed it) a seven-pound gummy skull.
Flaming Lips songs range from beautiful, textured ballads (“Do You Realize?” “All We Have Is Now”) to poppy (and sometimes bizarre), psychedelic voyages through distorted electronic sound (“The Sparrow Looks Up At The Machine,” “Turn It On”). Humor is ever-present, starting with their song titles, such as “Guy Who Got a Headache and Accidentally Saves the World” and the Grammy Award-winning instrumental “Approaching Pavonic Mons by Balloon (Utopia Planitia).”
Sample Beatlesque Song: “Race for the Prize” from 1999’s The Soft Bulletin.
Beatles Connection: In 2014, the Flaming Lips along with a series of guests (including Miley Cyrus) released With A Little Help from My Fwends, one of the strangest takes on The Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
9. Fountains of Wayne
The songwriting team of Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood formed Fountains of Wayne in 1995. Together with lead guitarist Joey Porter and drummer Brian Young, the band performed hook-filled songs that sounded like they could have come off of a Beatles album.
Fountains of Wayne are best known for their one hit, “Stacy’s Mom,” but that song doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the band’s songwriting. Schlesinger and Collingwood wrote lyrics that were clever and humorous (“Leave the Biker,” “Red Dragon Tattoo”), as well as romantic or deeply moving (“Someone’s Gonna Break Your Heart,” “Action Hero”). Their songs are studies in near-perfect songwriting filled with clever musical twists. (Like Lennon and McCartney, Schlesinger and Collingwood gave each other co-writing credits on all their songs even though some were written largely or entirely by one or the other.)
After releasing five albums between 1996 and 2011, the band has no current plans to reform. Schlesinger and Collingwood have gone on to other projects — Schlesinger is currently writing songs for the CW series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend while Collingwood recently released a new album, Look Park.
Sample Beatlesque Song: “The Summer Place” from 2011’s Sky Full of Holes.
Beatles Connection: FoW performed a cover of “Help!” for the 2003 movie Cheaper By The Dozen.
10. The Knack
The Knack falls into the category of band’s cursed with the “Next Beatles” label. The Knack’s original members, singer/guitarist Doug Fieger, lead guitarist Berton Averre, bassist Prescott Niles, and drummer Bruce Gary, met in 1977 and 1978. Within months of their first live performance, The Knack were greeted as the Next Big Thing and were being accompanied on stage by superstars like Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty.
Their first album, Get the Knack, burst on the scene in 1979 along with their smash hit, “My Sharona.” The Knack were positioned to become The Beatles of the 1980s. Not only was the album’s name and cover a take off on Meet the Beatles, but the album’s songs (written by Fieger and Averre) imitated the early Beatles pop sound (complete with harmonica) with slightly more lascivious lyrics. Unfortunately, their quick rise to the top was followed by a critical backlash exacerbated by The Knack’s refusal to talk to the press, and the band never again achieved the success of their debut.
Get the Knack sounds like a 1980s update to Meet the Beatles. After the disappointing follow-up …But the Little Girls Understand, the band tried for a comeback in 1981, moving into Revolver territory with Round Trip and more complex songs like “Africa” and “Art War.” Although it was produced by Jack Douglas, fresh off of producing Lennon’s Double Fantasy, the album was another flop. Subsequent albums fared no better. Yet, Get the Knack still stands as one of the greatest Beatlesque albums.
Sample Beatlesque Song: “Good Girls Don’t” fromGet the Knack.
11. The Monkees
The Monkees were basically manufactured to be like The Beatles. The idea was to create a fake rock band with four zany personalities that would appeal to teenagers and grownups alike. The band would star in a TV show documenting their crazy antics while performing songs written by some of the finest songwriters available, including Carole King and Gerry Goffen, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, and Neil Diamond. When The Monkees hit the airwaves in 1966, they were an instant success, and their singles and albums topped the charts for the next two years.
What no one expected was that Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork, and Davy Jones would go on to become fine musicians and songwriters in their own right. Although their original recordings featured studio musicians, including the famous Wrecking Crew, The Monkees played on their later recordings. Nesmith was contributing songs from the beginning, and the other three Monkees would also became songwriters. During the late 60s, The Monkees tried to leave behind their “made-for-TV” image by making darker and more psychedelic music, as well as starring in 1968’s satirical film Head. Unfortunately, this caused their popularity to decline.
Soon after Head, Nesmith would leave the band and have a successful career as a solo artist (one of the founders of country rock) and a pioneer of home video. Although they never again achieved the success of their heyday, Nesmith and the other Monkees continued to tour and record in different combinations even after Jones’ death in 2012. Their recent album, 2016’s Good Times!, has received excellent reviews (including one from CultureSonar!).
Sample Beatlesque Song: “Mary, Mary” from 1967’s More of the Monkees.
Beatles Connection: Despite starting out as a blatant Beatles rip-off, the four Beatles enjoyed the four Monkees and generally had nice things to say about their music. Nesmith was with Lennon when he purchased the circus poster that influenced “Being for the Benefit of Mister Kite,” and he attended the orchestral recording session for “A Day In The Life.” Peter Tork played on Harrison’s Wonderwall album. And Micky Dolenz hung out with Lennon and Starr during Lennon’s notorious Lost Weekend.
When brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher formed Oasis in 1991, they made no secret of their Beatles obsession. Oasis songs like “Don’t Look Back In Anger,” “She’s Electric,” “All Around the World,” and many others sounded like heavier versions of songs that might be found on The Beatles’ later albums.
Unlike The Beatles, the relationships among the members of Oasis were fraught with tension — no more so than between the two founding brothers. Oasis became more recognized for their appearances in the British tabloids than for their music, and they eventually split up in 2009. Still, Oasis ended up becoming Britain’s most popular band since The Beatles.
Sample Beatlesque Song: “Champagne Supernova” from 1995’s(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?
Beatles Connection: Oasis covered many Beatles songs during their career, including “I Am The Walrus” (a live version of the song appears on the B-side of the 1994 “Cigarettes & Alcohol” single) and “Within You, Without You” (recorded for BBC Radio 2’s 40th anniversary tribute to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band).
Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook are the John Lennon and Paul McCartney of Squeeze and two of the finest songwriters in popular music. The two guitarists formed Squeeze in 1974. As other band members came and went, Difford and Tilbrook created a string of great albums and hit singles.
Difford and Tilbrook’s songs mimic the songwriting techniques that made the songs of Lennon and McCartney so admired. Catchy melodies accompany sing-a-long choruses that never outstay their welcome. The mood of a song can suddenly shift on a surprising chord change. Lyrics are funny, charming, angry, romantic, and poignant — often all in the same song. These songs are brought to life on near-perfect albums like 1980’s Argybargy, 1981’s East Side Story, and 1982’s Sweets from a Stranger.
Squeeze continues to make great music today, most recently on their 2015 album, Cradle to the Grave.
Sample Beatlesque Song: “Some Fantastic Place” from the 1993 album of the same name.
Beatles Connection: Squeeze covered “Please Please Me” in 2013 on BBC Radio 2’s 50th anniversary tribute to the Beatles first album.
If we were allowing solo artists on this list, then Todd Rundgren would be a shoe in. Although Todd can’t join the list, his band Utopia can.
Utopia began as Todd Rundgren’s Utopia and featured a variety of band members performing music that leaned towards progressive rock. By the time of 1976’s Ra, the band (now called just Utopia) had become a four piece with Kasim Sulton on bass, Roger Powell on keyboards, and Willie Wilcox on drums. All four members were songwriters, and all four were top notch players and singers. By 1977’s Oops! Wrong Planet, the band was writing and performing shorter, more poppy songs with often humorous lyrics. That album featured two songs about love that could have come straight off a Beatles album, “Love in Action” and “Love Is The Answer.”
It was 1980’s Deface the Music that took the band’s Beatles influences to another level. The album was a direct parody of The Beatles music with songs so similar that they might be mistaken for Beatles songs. Although they were never again so blatant in their Beatles tributes, Utopia continued to write and perform Beatlesque songs through their final album, 1985’s P.O.V.
Sample Beatlesque Song: “I Just Want To Touch You” from 1980’s Deface the Music.
Beatles Connection: Rundgren recorded several covers of Beatles songs and taught a college course on The Beatles. Today, he is a frequent member of Ringo’s All Starr band.
In some ways, XTC is the band on this list that best exemplifies everything that made the Beatles great — superb melodies and songwriting, humorous and poignant lyrics, creative arrangements, and a steady evolution from one album to the next.
When XTC released their debut album White Music in 1977, it was filled with short, angular, punk-influenced songs about science, music, and the sexiness of the Status of Liberty. The two main songwriters, Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding, had a knack for melody and a innate ability to write clever lyrics. Still, they might have faded away like many of their new wave contemporaries.
Instead, XTC moved forward with each album they produced, just as The Beatles progressed from their “punk” Hamburg days to Please Please Me and then to Rubber Soul and Revolver. By 1982’s double album English Settlement, Partridge and Moulding’s songwriting was becoming more complex and ambitious in songs like “Melt the Guns,” “Jason and the Argonauts,” and their biggest hit, “Senses Working Overtime.” Then, like The Beatles, they gave up touring while continuing to create excellent albums — from 1983’s Mummer to their last album, 2000’s Wasp Star. Throughout their catalog, one can find perfect pop songs, such as Skylarking’s “Earn Enough for Us,” lushly orchestrated landscapes, such as Oranges & Lemons’ “Chalkhills and Children,” and creative arrangements, such as Nonsuch’s “My Bird Performs.” In between, XTC formed an alter ego called The Dukes of Stratosphear and released two psychedelic albums in the style of the 1967 Beatles (as well as Pink Floyd and other psychedelic rock bands).
Sample Beatlesque Song: “Mayor of Simpleton” from 1989’sOranges and Lemons (and “Vanishing Girl” from the 1987 Dukes of Stratosphear album Psonic Psunspot).
Beatles Connection: Andy Partridge covered The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” on the 1990 compilation 1967: Through the Looking Glass.
That’s our list. Who did we miss? Post a comment with your favorite Beatlesque band.
– Scott Freiman
Photo credit: Fountains of Wayne photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images
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