Given the pop-culture spectacle the Beatles became, it’s easy to forget the band’s real legacy: creating a musical style (often labeled power-pop) that has forever changed pop music. The Beatles additionally inspired numerous bands that, while partially being Beatles knockoffs, are remarkable talents in their own right.
Whether you’re only into the Beatles’ radio hits or their druggier songs, you’re bound to love something on this list of Beatles-esque bands.
(I highly recommend looking for these bands on vinyl. Given most of this music was recorded on analog, it makes a world a difference when you play it back that way.)
Big Star — #1 Record, Radio City
They may only be known for the theme of That ’70s Show, but when Big Star is on (particularly with #1 Record), they truly surpass the Beatles’ greatness. Big Star seem to share many of the Beatles’ musical tricks, only the vocals and lyrics have an earnestness one rarely hears on the Beatles’ albums.
While the Beatles are basically a sunshine-pop band, Big Star is a more haunting and visceral take on the power-pop sound. If you dig Big Star, check out the solo album I am the Cosmos by original member Chris Bell. Big Star and Chris Bell are probably what the Beatles would have sounded like if they — instead of becoming the biggest band on the planet — had to juggle their music career with a managerial position at a fast food joint (like Chris Bell did).
The Pretty Things — S.F. Sorrow, Parachute
These guys are a heavier, substantially more psychedelic version of the Beatles. Indeed, their masterpiece S.F. Sorrow was recorded in Abbey Road Studios at the same time Sgt. Pepper’s was. S.F. Sorrow’s fuzzy guitars, creepy vocal effects and lush studio production are the perfect complement for that joint you were rolling.
I recall discovering the Pretty Things — and marijuana — one glorious summer in high school. And on many a warm night those months, I would bike home stoned, listening to the Pretty Things, thinking to myself, “This is amazing, but why does the music seem to be taking so long?”
The Byrds — Turn! Turn! Turn!, Younger than Yesterday
The Byrds are mellower and folkier than the Fab Four. While the Byrds’ individual voices are rather gentle, together they make some of the richest, most powerful harmonies heard in pop music. For some reason, they did countless Bob Dylan covers, which gives the listener a good idea what Dylan’s songs would sound like if the Beatles had recorded them.
Sloan — Never Hear the End of It, The Double Cross
Power-pop was making a comeback in the ’90s and the Canadian rock band Sloan was hoping to become a modern-day Beatles. Then the genre slid back underground. Fortunately, after 20 years, Sloan has remained.
While Sloan never strays too far from the three-minute power-pop of the Beatles, they have an instantly recognizable sound all their own. Partly influenced by shoegaze and hardcore punk, Sloan is noisier and more aggressive than the Beatles. And all three of Sloan’s main songwriters have voices as memorable and idiosyncratic as those of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison.
Yes — Close to the Edge, The Yes Album
What would the Beatles sound like if they were classically-trained musicians? Something like Yes, I imagine. The title track of Yes’s Close to the Edge is, to my ears, the high point of the ill-fated genre now dubbed progressive-rock. In their prime, Yes was completely beyond the awkward and aimless musical rants their prog-rock peers were spewing out.
The nearly 20-minute epic “Close to the Edge” is a shining example of what progressive-rock should have been. On this track, Yes seamlessly ties the fluid structures of pop with the wildly imaginative ideas of prog.
Just try to ignore the lyrics.
Badfinger — Straight Up, No Dice
Signed to Apple Records, and occasionally being produced by George Harrison, it’s no wonder Badfinger has a Beatles vibe. Playing in the ’70s, Badfinger basically picked up where the Beatles left off: grittier guitars and heavier drumming, while generally sticking to the Beatles songwriting blueprints.
Badfinger albums are a superb mixture of testosterone filled rock ’n’ roll and sentimental make-out ballads. And if you like the rockin’ love songs of Badfinger, check out their saccharine musical relatives, the Raspberries, whose frontman Eric Carmen went on to record the unbelievably self-pitying hit “All by Myself.”[box type=”info” style=”rounded” border=”full”]For a playlist featuring all the songs on this page, plus a flew more real humdingers, click here.[/box]