"Roll Over Beethoven" was a Chuck Berry hit covered by the Beatles and one of the most popular songs from the Beatles' early period. The song was part of the Beatles' performing and touring repertoire from 1956 to 1964 and established George Harrison as a regular vocalist even if he didn't sing as many songs as Lennon and McCartney. One Beatles fact that not many fans are aware of is that John Lennon sang lead until 1961, at which time the lead vocal was given to George. The song was featured in the Beatles' 1964 concerts at the Washington Coliseum and Carnegie Hall.
The song was recorded by the Beatles at Abbey Road studios on July 30, 1963. Harrison sings the double-tracked lead vocal and plays lead guitar. Lennon played rhythm, McCartney bass, and Starr drums. Lennon, McCartney, and Starr all did handclaps for the track. The song was considered for release as a single, although George Martin decided to release "Can't Buy Me Love" in its place.
The song was written by Chuck Berry and released as a single for Chess Records on May 14, 1956, with "Drifting Heart" as its B side. (This release date shows how avidly the Beatles were listening to classic rock and roll while growing up in Liverpool.) The song stayed in the Top 40 for only one week and peaked at number 29.
According to several sources, the song's lyrics mirror Chuck Berry's home life while growing up. He wrote the song because his sister always monopolized the family piano in order to play classical music, including compositions by famous classical composers such as Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. Berry worked many other references into the song, such as the phrases 'blue suede shoes" (a Carl Perkins song) and "hey diddle diddle" from the nursery rhyme. The "cat and the fiddle" refers to Berry contemporary Bo Diddley, who was an accomplished violin player. The line "shot of rhythm and blues" was later used as a song title by composer Arthur Alexander (and another song covered by the Beatles).
The song is now considered to be a rock classic and is rated number 97 on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time." It has been covered by numerous artists such as Jerry, Lee Lewis, Leon Russell, Johnny Rivers, The Rolling Stones, Johnny Winter, Electric Light Orchestra, and many others. The Beatles cover, however, remains the most popular (and perhaps eclipsing Berry's original version in terms of recognition).
The Beatles obviously loved the song since it was representative of an early fast-paced rock and roll song by one of their favorite composers. The song was featured on the Parlophone release With the Beatles and as the opening track of the Capital release of The Beatles' Second Album. In 1994, Apple released a live version recorded on February 28, 1964 as part of the CD Live at the BBC. Director Richard Lester also inserted the song into the first two Beatles' films, A Hard Day's Night and Help!
Beatles Albums: Background and History
Beatles Connections: Official Websites for the Beatles Inner Circle
Beatles General Discussion Topics
Beatles Roadies: Neil Aspinall and Mal Evans
Beatles Solo Discography
Beatles Songs Discussed on BeatlesFacts.org
Beatles Songs - Solo
Beatles Trivia Quiz
Books About the Beatles
Books by John Lennon and George Harrison
Sites Related to Beatles History
Songs Covered by the Beatles
The Beatles Official Website
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