Rock and Roll Music - The Beatles

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"Rock and Roll Music" - The Beatles (1964)

The Beatles cover of Chuck Berry’s 1957 hit “Rock And Roll Music” was one of John Lennon's early great vocal performances- and a thrilling rendition by the group as a whole.

The song was a staple in their live performances, they recorded it in just one take. It would become one of a very small number of songs they did not write which would be revered as The Beatles’ emblematic "anthem” songs. Although it probably bothered Chuck Berry, the Beatles’ version of the song eventually became as well known as the original.

It was recorded with drums and bass on track one, two guitars on the second, and Lennon's vocals on track three. Afterwards Lennon, McCartney and George Martin all overdubbed a piano part on a Steinway together.

It could be argued that their version has more energy than Berry's original, mostly due to John, who screams his vocal all the way through. Notably absent is the boogie-woogie delicate piano ornamentation of the original.

Beatle scholar Alan Pollack points out that The Beatles follow the formal outline of the original, but both the arrangement and John's vocal performance suggest a harder-driven interpretation of the song rather than a stylized impersonation:

“Once having gotten used to the Beatles' version as the default, I find myself a bit "surprised" to rediscover how much more melodic and laid back the original sounds in comparison.”

A controversy has developed over the issue of who is playing piano on the song. In the original Beatles for Sale liner notes it states that “George Martin joins John and Paul on one piano," implying an overdub by all three that was added after the basic take.

Yet in Beatle historian Mark Lewisohn’s 1988 research study on the recording sessions of The Beatles, he described  a single take with no overdubs, with "all The Beatles on their familiar instruments" and Martin on piano.  Engineer Geoff Emerick provided yet another account in his 2006 autobiography when he recounts that McCartney played piano while Harrison covered on bass, and that the only overdub was for double-tracking Lennon's vocal.

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