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Why did The Beatles (+ solo careers) sing with American accents?
7 January 2024
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Sea Belt
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My question doesn’t pertain to all their songs — there were a handful that were exceptions (that prove the rule), like She’s Leaving Home , Strawberry Fields, the comical portion of Uncle Albert ; etc.  But overall, they sang with American accents, and Paul’s solo career from what I recall off hand now is fairly thoroughly American, with again minor exceptions.

Van Morrison and Eric Burdon are two other UK artists who sing American; also Tom Jones.  And Mick Jagger of course.  But Al Stewart is a good example of a UK singer who sounds British when he sings his songs. 

Aside from the obvious answer — “Well, they grew up becoming fans of American blues & rock and roll, so they just mimicked the sound” — I wonder what moved them then to expand and continue sounding American even when singing folksy songs, ballads, pure pop that’s not really rock or blues.  Just to take one song at random, Paul’s song “Listen to What the Man Said” — there would be no reason to make that Americanized using the argument of “I was weaned on early American blues and rock & roll artists” since that song is nowhere near those genres.

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7 January 2024
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And from the other end of the question — can anyone name any American rock/pop/folk musician who sang most of his or her repertoire affecting a British accent of any kind?  I can’t think of one.  And wouldn’t that be kind of odd that they would do that?  So why don’t we think it’s odd at all when we see so many UK artists doing the reverse?

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7 January 2024
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While I agree that there’s an element of mimicking the American sound they loved, I actually can hear a Liverpudlian twang in most early Beatles songs. As their accents faded when they got older and spent more time outside of the city, so too did their singing accents.

George in particular I feel always had the stronger Scouse accent when talking and singing, and took longer to lose it than the others – (“There is really nothing else I’d rather doooo” in I’m Happy Just To Dance With You , “No-one alerted you” in While My Guitar Gently Weeps are the first two that spring to mind). 

It’s also worth noting that the Liverpool accent has some similarities to American* (eg. B-a-th and Gr-a-ss, not B-ar-th and Gr-ar-ss as it is in a Southern English accent). It looks like Al Stewart who you mentioned grew up in Dorset, so he would indeed sound different to The Beatles. 

An interesting topic! I’m British; out of interest, where do you hail from @Sea Belt?

 

*I’m generalising the ‘American’ accent while arguing how wildly different British accents can be, but you see my point.

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8 January 2024
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@kelicopter raises some very good points. I’d also argue that the Beatles sometimes would pronounce the post-vowel R in songs even though they normally wouldn’t while speaking (their accent being non-rhotic) simply for clarity’s sake, rather than affecting an American accent, since to my ears they don’t usually sound very American in how they pronounce that R, but rather more like rhotic accents from the south-west of England.

Also, I’m listening to “Listen To What The Man Said” now, and I distinctly hear Paul pronouncing words non-rhotically, most obviously in the line “Solider boy kisses girl, leaves behind a broken world”, which has plenty of R’s after vowels to signify. Since the rest of his vowels are quite casual and not overtly English-sounding (in contrast to songs by singers such as the aforementioned Al Stewart, or David Bowie, or Syd Barrett), I would call his accent in this song sort of trans-Atlantic. It gives the song a very easygoing, clean yet casual feeling which I think suits the lyrical theme and music.

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8 January 2024
3.34am
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Sea Belt
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Beatlebug said
@kelicopter raises some very good points. I’d also argue that the Beatles sometimes would pronounce the post-vowel R in songs even though they normally wouldn’t while speaking (their accent being non-rhotic) simply for clarity’s sake, rather than affecting an American accent, since to my ears they don’t usually sound very American in how they pronounce that R, but rather more like rhotic accents from the south-west of England.

Also, I’m listening to “Listen To What The Man Said” now, and I distinctly hear Paul pronouncing words non-rhotically, most obviously in the line “Solider boy kisses girl, leaves behind a broken world”, which has plenty of R’s after vowels to signify. Since the rest of his vowels are quite casual and not overtly English-sounding (in contrast to songs by singers such as the aforementioned Al Stewart, or David Bowie, or Syd Barrett), I would call his accent in this song sort of trans-Atlantic. It gives the song a very easygoing, clean yet casual feeling which I think suits the lyrical theme and music.

  

On second thought you’re right about “Listen To What The Man Said”; those details do in effect sort of endow it with hints of a British twang, but overall it would be a hybrid, mostly homogenized into an Americanish “vanilla” accent — which I agree suits the song well.  I’d wager most of his solo career songs (more the first 5 albums which I’m more familiar with) are roughly this way.  That faintly British twang also can be detected in Penny Lane for example, but not really in Hey Jude .  Incidentally, the rhotic factor I don’t think is really a telltale for American voices because in my experience there has been a tendency in American pop-rock to avoid Rs. When I hear any American pop singer noticeably pronouncing an R, it always sounds refreshingly rare to me. Just to pluck one example: Stephen Bishop’s “Save It For A Rainy Day” — in this little clip these words:

Avoiding the R:  car, arms, heart, you better

Pronouncing the R: for, more

https://youtube.com/clip/Ugkxv…..FBNatQYjNx

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8 January 2024
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kelicopter said
While I agree that there’s an element of mimicking the American sound they loved, I actually can hear a Liverpudlian twang in most early Beatles songs. As their accents faded when they got older and spent more time outside of the city, so too did their singing accents.

George in particular I feel always had the stronger Scouse accent when talking and singing, and took longer to lose it than the others – (“There is really nothing else I’d rather doooo” in I’m Happy Just To Dance With You , “No-one alerted you” in While My Guitar Gently Weeps are the first two that spring to mind). 

It’s also worth noting that the Liverpool accent has some similarities to American* (eg. B-a-th and Gr-a-ss, not B-ar-th and Gr-ar-ss as it is in a Southern English accent). It looks like Al Stewart who you mentioned grew up in Dorset, so he would indeed sound different to The Beatles. 

An interesting topic! I’m British; out of interest, where do you hail from @Sea Belt?

 

*I’m generalising the ‘American’ accent while arguing how wildly different British accents can be, but you see my point.

  

I think you’re right about the earliest Beatles songs, and over time they seemed to reduce that tendency. There were a few exceptions that pop up — the “alerted you” is a good example; and George does seem to be the one who retained it the most.  Interesting about the Liverpuddlian!

I’m American, born in Virginia, by junior high we moved to Seattle Washington (in between then, from about age 7 to 12 we lived in Mexico City & Acapulco).

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8 January 2024
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This discussion of “R” and rhoticisms reminds me of Paul, (in “til there was you”) and John (in “Day in the life”) and how they both promounce “saw” as “sawr”….

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10 January 2024
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I remember an interview where they were asked why the talked English but sang American, and John simply replied that it sold better.

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10 January 2024
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We had a little discussion of the accent-sound in this thread https://www.beatlesbible.com/f…..ricanisms/ fabforumemily first mentions it in post 7 of the thread. I hope you’ll go check out that thread.

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10 January 2024
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Sea Belt
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Thanks — there’s a lot of interesting convo on that thread.  It leaves two outstanding questions.  One person at that thread posted a video of some northern England band who sing with a thick accent, prompting the question, why didn’t the Beatles sing that way most of the time?  Obviously, they were trying not to — but why?

The other question or challenge: can anyone name even one American pop/rock singer who sings most of his or her songs with any kind of UK accent?  Why can’t we find one, let alone a whole slew of Americans who have done that?

https://www.beatlesbible.com/f…..-2/#p81574

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10 January 2024
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Sea Belt said
 

The other question or challenge: can anyone name even one American pop/rock singer who sings most of his or her songs with any kind of UK accent?  Why can’t we find one, let alone a whole slew of Americans who have done that?

  

The only person I can think of is Nicki Minaj, who sometimes raps in character with a British accent.

I guess the answer to the second part is that we can’t underestimate the impact the USA has had on all culture in the Western world.

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11 January 2024
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Sea Belt
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Thanks @kelicopter — I note Nick Minaj hails from Trinidad, and I looked it up and found this:

“In 1889 the two islands became a single British crown colony. Trinidad and Tobago was granted self-governance in 1958 and independence from the United Kingdom in August 1962″

So that may account for her flirtation with UK accents in song. 

You’re probably right, the prevalence of Americanism in pop may just reflect American influence.  I’m wondering if it also might be something intrinsic to the sound of the American accent making it more “pop-friendly” than other accents.

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11 January 2024
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Sea Belt said

The other question or challenge: can anyone name even one American pop/rock singer who sings most of his or her songs with any kind of UK accent?  Why can’t we find one, let alone a whole slew of Americans who have done that?

Joey Ramone from the Ramones (whose bandname was famously inspired by Paul McC’s pseudonym, of course) affected a bit of an attempted English accent on their early albums; he was supposedly trying to sound like Peter Noone from Herman’s Hermits.

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12 January 2024
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Sea Belt said
You’re probably right, the prevalence of Americanism in pop may just reflect American influence.  I’m wondering if it also might be something intrinsic to the sound of the American accent making it more “pop-friendly” than other accents.  

It might just be because I’m used to it, but I think that’s true. It would also account for why the American accent “sells better”, as John would have it.

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12 January 2024
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They didn’t take Jim McCartney’s lyric suggestion of ‘she loves you, yes yes yes’ after all.

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23 February 2024
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I learned from @Beatlebug the term “rhotic” (see above), and though “non-rhotic” was used (for singers who don’t pronounce the R like Americans do), I guess one could also call it “arhotic”.  Anyway, here’s an example of extreme arhotic singing:  a short clip from Liza Minelli singing “There Goes the Ballgame”.

“Some other player, stands number one…”

of course she does it with “player” — but what is exquisite is when she does it with that R-laden word “error” —

“I made the error…”

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