Day 203: “Roll Over Beethoven”

When was it recorded?   Jul. 30, 1963

When was it first released, and on which album?   Nov. 22, 1963 on “With the Beatles”

Who wrote it?   Chuck Berry

Have I heard this song before?   Just the original

What my research dug up:

Quoth the Beatles Bible, “Today, ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ is something of a curiosity; for many young listeners, the music of Berry and The Beatles is as far removed in time as the great classical composers. At its time of writing, however, the song neatly summarized the ‘us and them’ attitude of teenagers towards their parents’ music.”

Writing “Roll Over Beethoven,” Chuck Berry was reportedly venting his frustration not with his parents but with his sister Lucy, who was “always using the family piano to play classical music when Berry wanted to play popular music” (Rolling Stone).

While namedropping classics like Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, Berry also referred to contemporary composers Louis Jordan (“Early in the Mornin’”) and Carl Perkins (“Blue Suede Shoes,” duh) in the lyrics. As a number of sources note, the opening guitar solo and the overall sheet music for “Roll Over Beethoven” is very similar to Berry’s other big hit, “Johnny B. Goode” (which I talked about on Day 139).

Berry recorded “Roll Over Beethoven” Apr. 16, 1956 and released it as a single one month later. Quoth Wikipedia, “It peaked at #7 on the Billboard R&B chart and #29 on the pop chart.”

Rolling Stone ranked “Roll Over Beethoven” #97 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and in 2003 the Library of Congress added it to the National Recording Registry for having cultural/historical importance.

To quote the Beatles Bible again, “The Beatles were huge fans of Berry’s music; between 1957 and 1966 they covered more songs written by him than by any other writer.” John sang most of these covers, including “Roll Over Beethoven” until 1961, when George took over the track. It was a staple of their live shows until Sept. 1964 – here’s a version recorded two years earlier in Hamburg.

For “With the Beatles” the Fab Four recorded “Roll Over Beethoven” in five takes on Jul. 30, 1963, adding overdubs onto the last track. According to Wikipedia, the song “was considered for a single release by Capitol until George Martin convinced Capitol Records to release ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ as the new single instead.” Interesting.

Not quite as rocking, but still good.

According to the Beatles Bible, “The Beatles also recorded ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ seven times for BBC radio.”

A version recorded for Sept. 3, 1963’s “Pop Go the Beatles” appeared on last year’s “On Air — Live at the BBC Vol. 2.”

The final version recorded Feb. 28, 1964 for Mar. 30’s “From Us to You” appeared on “Live at the BBC.”

Lastly, a live performance recorded at Oct. 24, 1963’s show at the Karlaplansstudion in Stockholm, Sweden appeared on “Anthology 1.”





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