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Saturday, 2 September 2017

Great Popular Songs (1): Roll Over Beethoven

Chuck Berry (1926 - 2017) wrote Roll Over Beethoven in 1956 and it became one of the definitive songs of rock 'n roll and one of the most recorded songs of all time. Cover versions include those by Cliff Richard, ELO, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chas & Dave, Status Quo and most famously, The Beatles.
Three of the many recordings of Roll Over Beethoven
The song contain many references. The title itself points us to the fact that a new brand of music is going to unceremoniously replace the old classics. Beethoven is prompted to roll over in his grave and "tell Tchaikovsky the news"! There is a story that his sister played classical piano and he wanted to use the family piano to play rock and roll which is how the song was born.
Several contemporary song titles are incorporated into Chuck Berry's always poetic lyrics; Early in the Morning is a title from both Louis Jordan and Buddy Holly, Blue Suede Shoes was a classic written by Carl Perkins and also a hit for Elvis Presley. The familiar guitar intro to Roll Over Beethoven, which became a Berry trademark, is in fact lifted from Louis Jordan's 1946 song Ain't That Just Like a Woman. Berry never made a secret of that.
Arthur Alexander lifted the title of A Shot of Rhythm and Blues from this song although it's not really a rhythm and blues song. 
The title of the nursery rhyme Hey Diddle Diddle (The Cat and the Fiddle) is a reference to Bo Diddley, who was actually an accomplished violin player.
The original musicians on the Chess Records session when the song was recorded were:
Chuck Berry, guitar and vocals
Willie Dixon, bass guitar
Johnnie Johnson, piano
Fred Below, drums
All of them were top musicians in their own right. Johnnie Johnson played with Berry on very many of his famous recordings and Willie Dixon was a famous blues singer and songwriter.
Chuck Berry was always took care to write intelligible lyrics and to make sure they could be heard properly. He wanted to avoid the fate of Little Richard's records which were covered in sanitised versions and provided bigger hits for Pat Boone.
      Roll Over Beethoven lyrics:
Well I'm-a write a little letter,
Gonna mail it to my local DJ
It's a jumpin’ little record
I want my jockey to play
Roll Over Beethoven, I gotta hear it again today

You know, my temperature's risin'
And the jukebox blowin’ a fuse
My heart's beatin' rhythm
And my soul keeps a-singin' the blues
Roll Over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news

I got the rockin' pneumonia,
I need a shot of rhythm and blues
I caught the rollin' arthritis
Sittin' down at a rhythm review
Roll Over Beethoven, they’re rockin' in two by two

Well, if you feel it an’ like it
Go get your lover, then reel and rock it
Roll it over and move on up just
A trifle further and reel and rock with one another

Roll Over Beethoven and dig these rhythm and blues

Well, early in the mornin' I'm a-givin' you my warnin'
Don't you step on my blue suede shoes
Hey diddle diddle, I am playin' my fiddle,
Ain't got nothin' to lose
Roll Over Beethoven, tell Tchaikovsky the news

You know she wiggles like a glow worm,
Dance like a spinnin' top
She got a crazy partner,
You oughta see 'em reel and rock
Long as she got a dime the music won’t never stop

Roll Over Beethoven, Roll Over Beethoven,

Roll Over Beethoven, Roll Over Beethoven,
Roll Over Beethoven, dig these rhythm and blues
      Listen to Roll Over Beethoven HERE
And you can hear the Louis Jordan song where the famous guitar riff originated HERE


Hels said...

Chuck Berry was very smart in taking care to write intelligible lyrics, words that could be heard clearly. I may not have appreciated the importance of this skill back in 1956, but it became more and more important as rock and roll developed.

Parnassus said...

Hello Bazza, Songs like these are doubly impressive because they introduce a new era and a new way of thinking. I like to search for the same nascent quality in books, for example Darwin's The Origin of Species or Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.

bazza said...

Hels: Absolutely right! There was a long-term reluctance from the previous generation to credit the real talent of some of these early stars. It was ever thus....
Mind you, I did come back to Beethoven and Tchaikovsky later on.

bazza said...

Jim: That's a very interesting comment. We don't always recognise real talent or heroes in our midst until it can be seen retrospectively.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bazza - I used to love the song ... but had no idea of the references etc - so you've opened a lot of doors here for me. So many musicians were so talented as musicians and so often as poets/lyricists too ... I'd no idea so many songs were subsequently covered by others ... but oh how we still love a great many of them today - thanks for this I've learnt a lot - cheers Hilary

bazza said...

Hilary: You are always very generous with your comments. I wonder how any of the next (several) generations view a song like this. To me, it's appeal is indestructible!

Penny the Jack Russell dog and modest internet superstar! said...

Ah human, Barry,

Another informative pawst by your fine human self. Intelligible lyrics are certainly a good idea.

Of course, at first I thought, Roll Over Beethoven, was a rufference to a big, dopey dog. And no, I don't mean my human dad.

As you were, old human chap.

Pawsitive wishes,

Penny 🐶

bazza said...

Hi Penny. I'm sure you know that ELO's version of Roll Over Beethoven was used in the film about a big fluffy to which you allude. Good girl. Sit!