Elvis Presley left Germany for the last time March 2, 1960, three days before being discharged from the army. Five months later, The Beatles arrived in Germany for the first time for their debut season in Hamburg Aug. 17, 1960.
Presley was an international star. The Beatles were unknown outside of their native Liverpool. But by the end of 1960, The Beatles were firmly on the way to becoming stars themselves. And though the only face-to-face meeting between Elvis and The Beatles, at Presley’s Los Angeles home on Aug. 27, 1965, was to be their most notable interaction, the two legendary acts also crossed paths in various other ways over the years.
‘Before Elvis, there was nothing’
If Elvis was part of the generation that created rock ’n’ roll, The Beatles were part of the first generation to be influenced by rock ’n’ roll — and especially Elvis. Recordings like Lonnie Donegan’s “Rock Island Line” might have inspired The Beatles to take up instruments in the first place, but Elvis Presley made them full-fledged fans of rock ’n’ roll.
“Before Elvis, there was nothing,” John Lennon would say, and it was Elvis’ first national hit, “Heartbreak Hotel,” that provided the turning point. “‘Heartbreak Hotel’ seemed a corny title,” Lennon observed. “But then, when I heard it, it was the end for me.”
Paul McCartney recalled being impressed simply by seeing a picture of Presley in an ad. “Elvis looked so great,” he said. “‘That’s him, that’s him — the Messiah has arrived.’ Elvis made a huge impression on us.”
From the moment John Lennon formed his first group, the Quarrymen, Elvis songs found their way into the set lists: “All Shook Up,” “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” and the songs on Elvis’ first single, “That’s All Right”/“Blue Moon of Kentucky.” But though the Beatles would officially record songs by other rock ’n’ roll artists like Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly, they never recorded an Elvis song for one of their records. The closest they came was recording “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Cry (Over You),” and “That’s All Right” for BBC radio sessions; both appear on 1994’s Live At The BBC.
Though Elvis’ two-year army stint had interrupted his meteoric rise, his first post-discharge years initially brought further success: hit singles and albums like “Stuck On You,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” and Elvis Is Back, as well as his biggest film soundtrack, Blue Hawaii. So he was still the standard against which all other rock acts were judged, resulting in The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, insisting to record companies in 1962 that The Beatles would one day be “bigger than Elvis” in his attempts to get the group a record deal.
For their part, Lennon and McCartney were now writing more songs themselves, and Presley’s music was less of an influence. Lennon would famously say after Presley’s death, “Elvis died when he went in the army,” with McCartney making a similar observation: “I went off Elvis after he left the army. I felt they tamed him too much.”
The Beatles were now on the verge of joining Elvis at the “toppermost of the poppermost,” as Lennon would say. Just two years after first seeing The Beatles at Liverpool’s Cavern Club, Epstein was in New York City, negotiating for their first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
Elvis had famously appeared on the program three times, in 1956 and 1957,