Roll Over Beethoven - The Beatles

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"Roll Over Beethoven" - The Beatles (1964)

The Beatles were huge fans of Chuck Berry's music. Between 1957 and 1966 they covered more of his songs than any other performer.

John is quoted in rthe Anthology documentary as saying in 1964:

“If they want things like “Roll Over Beethoven,” we can do that standing on our ears.”
The vast majority of The Beatles' Chuck Berry covers were sung by Lennon. Indeed, he sang “Roll Over Beethoven” until 1961, when George Harrison took over on lead and was the lead singer when they recorded it.

Today, “Roll Over Beethoven” is something of a curiosity; for many young listeners the music of Chuck 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.

George uses his crusty-edged voice to showcase difficult, double entendre passages:

“My temperature’s rising and my jukebox is blowing a fuse, hey diddle diddle, come and play my fiddle…”

Meanwhile, McCartney and Lennon provide him with completely infectious back-up.

Says Beatle scholar Alan Pollack:

“The lyric is wordy to an extreme bordering on the "talkin' blues" style, and is quite wryly irreverent. Seen in this perspective, Chuck's performance scans the words against the beat more freely than does George, in a way that anticipates the style of Dylan in some respects.“

Pollack writes that the original features a drumming style that is less splashy than the Beatles cover while the Beatles double track the lead vocal and add their hand-claps to the rhythm track. But these are small details as the Beatles just about rip the whole thing off from Chuck right down to the opening riff and "middle twelve" break.

Adds Russian music critic George Starostin:

“The Beatles cling onto this Chuck Berry classic and work hard on it to suit it to their pop-rock style, and here we also have to thank Ringo whose cymbals, along with George's professional, but derivative guitar, really carry on the energy and all the butt-kicking. It's one of the tightest performances in all of the band's rock'n'roll history and one of the very few moments when in terms of compactness and collected-ness of delivery they could actually compete with the Rolling Stones.”


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