Photo Credit: Modest Management
From The Beatles To 1D – Britain’s Take On Rock and Roll
When One Direction released their debut hit That’s What Makes You Beautiful in 2011, it’s safe to say that little more was expected from the fresh-faced boy band than pure pop. However, as 1D gained momentum and became the first British band since the 60s to conquer America, their sound subtly shifted with each new album to reflect their rock and roll predecessors. By the time they disbanded – or planned an extended hiatus before the inevitable nostalgia-filled comeback hits in a decade or so – One Direction were arguably making bona-fide rock music, tinged with hints of folk. Their influences ranged from The Rolling Stones to Fleetwood Mac, yet despite the band’s collective constellation of tattoos and no matter how many times Niall Horan touted his guitar on stage, no credibility could come when they were perpetually hounded by hordes of shrieking teenage girls.
But since the aforementioned hiatus began in January 2016, a year has passed and although the Twitter followers remain rabid, its high time to listen to One Direction without the filter of condescension, and examine how they have drawn influence from those who have come before them, and so cemented themselves in Britain’s musical hall of fame.
This hall was built on the first British Invasion, when The Beatles arrived in America on 7th February 1964, with I Want To Hold Your Hand. The Fab Four revolutionised popular music with their skillful song-writing and mop-top haircuts. They were inspired by skiffle, a simplified by-product of the trad-jazz movement in 1950s England that countered the glut of superficial, clean-cut singers in the mould of Buddy Holly who currently dominated the scene. Lonnie Donegan led the British in forming a new take on American jazz and blues imported from across the Atlantic with hits such as Rock Island Line in 1956. A new generation of British musicians imitated the style, including four young men from Liverpool. The Beatles (once christened The Moondogs) made their name performing in local club The Cavern, when they developed their sound and gradually gained a following. In 1963, their song She Loves You, became the highest selling single ever released in the UK. The following year, America beckoned.
The Beatles were quickly followed by a flood of British talent. The Rolling Stones gave the music press of the day a healthy rivalry to chew on with their rougher, raw sound acting as the perfect counterpoint to The Beatles’ more mellow image. Behind them came bands such as The Dave Clark Five, The Kinks and The Who. Decades later, Britain’s rock and roll influence would echo on in the subversive music of Radiohead and the introspective musings of Coldplay.
Then One Direction, the manufactured quintet from the X Factor, released Best Song Ever in 2013. While the song doesn’t do justice to its name, it does take its opening riff from The Who’s Baba O’Reilly. And from here 1D established their new intention: to carve out a recognisable sound for themselves by drawing on influences from a catalogue of British rock bands. Among many examples, the chanting chorus of Rock Me is a clear homage to Queen’s hit We Will Rock You, while the vivid yearning for escapism in Ready To Run lyrically owes its themes to Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run. The unexpected verse/chorus switch in End Of The Day is an echo of Paul McCartney’s song writing on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Little Black Dress sounds like it might once have been crooned by Mick Jagger.
This progression, when considered, isn’t really so surprising. One Direction may have been manufactured on a talent show, but they didn’t come to Simon Cowell as blank slates. Harry Styles sang a Stevie Wonder classic in his audition. Niall Horan sites The Eagles as his favourite band. The drumline of Hey Angel from 1D’s latest album, takes its cue from those used by The Verve, who hail from Northwest England – as do two members of One Direction.
They undoubtedly play the part of the pre-packaged teen idol group, but One Direction stopped making pop music after their second album, learning from the rock and roll pioneers of the twentieth century to make anthems for a new generation. Despite record-breaking album sales, they’ve yet to be recognised for their music more than their hair. But give them time. That comeback can’t be far off.