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"Roll Over Beethoven" is a 1956 hit single by Chuck Berry originally released on Chess Records, with "Drifting Heart" as the B-side. The lyrics of the song mention rock and roll and the desire for rhythm and blues to replace classical music. The song has been covered by many other artists and Rolling Stone ranked it #97 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[2]

ContentsEdit

 [hide*1 Inspiration and lyrics

Inspiration and lyrics[edit]Edit

According to Rolling Stone[3] and Cub Koda of Allmusic,[4] Berry wrote the song in response to his sister Lucy always using the family piano to play classical music when Berry wanted to play popular music.

In addition to classical composers Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, the lyrics mention or allude to several popular artists. "Early in the Mornin'" is the title of a Louis Jordan song and "Blue Suede Shoes" refers to the Carl Perkins song. Finally, "Hey Diddle Diddle" which comes from the nursery rhyme, "The Cat and the Fiddle", is an indirect reference to Berry's Chess stablemate Bo Diddley, who was an accomplished violin player. Although the lyrics mention rockingand rolling, the music that the classics are supposed to step aside for is always referred to as "rhythm and blues" (R&B). Arthur Alexander appropriated the lyric "a shot of rhythm and blues" for the title of his later song.

Later in the song, a "rhythm revue" describes the old style R&B show with many featured artists appearing on one bill in front of a big band.

Release[edit]Edit

Berry's version was originally released as a single by Chess Records in May 1956 with "Drifting Heart" as the B-side.[5] It peaked at #7 on the Billboard R&B chart and #29 on the pop chart. "Roll Over Beethoven" and three other Berry songs appeared on the Rock, Rock, Rock album, ostensibly a soundtrack to the film of the same name, but only four of the twelve songs on the album appeared in the film.

There have been many subsequent releases on compilation albums.

Critical acclaim[edit]Edit

Berry's single was one of 50 recordings chosen in 2003 by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry. In 2004, "Roll Over Beethoven" was ranked number 97 on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". In the accompanying review, they wrote that it "became the ultimate rock & roll call to arms, declaring a new era".

However, some Chuck Berry fans claim that the intro sounds similar, if not identical, to Chuck Berry's most famous hit, "Johnny B. Goode". The sheet music itself is very similar.[6] Koda calls it a "masterpiece" that helped to define therock and roll genre.[4]

Cover versions[edit]Edit

"Roll Over Beethoven"
Song by The Beatles from the album With the Beatles
Released November 22, 1963
Recorded July 30, 1963
Genre Rock and roll
Length 2:48
Label Parlophone
Writer Chuck Berry
Producer George Martin
With the Beatles track listing

"Roll Over Beethoven" is one of the most widely covered songs in popular music – "a staple of rock & roll bands" according to Koda[4] – with notable versions by Jerry Lee LewisThe Beatlesand the Electric Light Orchestra. Other covers were recorded by MountainTen Years AfterRaul SeixasLeon RussellStatus QuoThe Rolling StonesThe ByrdsThe 13th Floor Elevators,The SonicsWes PaulGene VincentQuartzJohnny WinterUriah Heep, Kickhunter, Johnny RiversM. WardIron Maiden, and Margaret Lewis.

The Beatles[edit]Edit

"Roll Over Beethoven" was a favorite of John LennonPaul McCartney and George Harrison even before they had chosen "the Beatles" as their name, and they continued to play it live right into their American tours of 1964. Their version of "Roll Over Beethoven" was recorded on July 30, 1963 for their second British LP, With the Beatles, and features Harrison on vocals and guitar.[7][8] In the United States, it was released April 10, 1964 as the opening track of The Beatles' Second Album.[9] and May 11, 1964 as the opening track of the second Capitol EP "Four by the Beatles". It 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.

In 1994, the Beatles released a live version of "Roll Over Beethoven" on Live at the BBC. This live version was recorded on February 28, 1964 and broadcast on March 30, 1964 as part of aBBC series starring the Beatles called From Us to You.[10] This version of "Roll Over Beethoven" was used in the film Superman III directed by Richard Lester who also directed the Beatles' first two films, Help! and A Hard Day's Night.

The Rutles' song "Blue Suede Schubert" is based on the Beatles' cover of this song.

Personnel[edit]Edit

Electric Light Orchestra[edit]Edit

"Roll Over Beethoven"
[1]
Single by Electric Light Orchestra
from the album ELO 2
B-side "Queen of the Hours"
Released 12 January 1973 (UK)

27 January 1973 (US)

Format 7" single
Recorded 1972, at Air Studios
Genre Rock and rollart rock
Length 8:09 (US album version)

7:03 (UK album version) 4:32 (single) 3:42 (US promo single)

Label Harvest
Writer(s) Chuck Berry/Ludwig van Beethoven
Producer(s) Jeff Lynne
Electric Light Orchestra singles chronology
"10538 Overture"

(1972)

"Roll Over Beethoven"

(1973)

"Showdown"

(1973)

ELO 2 track listing

Electric Light Orchestra's (ELO) elaborate eight-minute reworking of "Roll Over Beethoven", appearing on the album ELO 2 in 1973, included an opening musical quote from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and clever interpolations of material from the symphony's first movement into Berry's song. This became ELO's signature song and was used to close all of their concerts.[citation needed] "Roll Over Beethoven" was the second single released by the band in January 1973, and became their second consecutive top ten hit in the UK, as well as a hit in the United States when an edited version of the track was taken from ELO 2.

Chart positions[edit]Edit

Chart (1973) Peak

Position

Australian Kent Music Report Singles Chart[11] 53
Dutch GfK chart[12] 19
German Media Control Singles Chart[13] 22
UK Singles Chart[14] 6
U.S. BillboardHot 100[15] 42
U.S. Cash Box Top 100 Singles 48
U.S. Record World Singles[16] 31

Iron Maiden[edit]Edit

Iron Maiden included a cover of the Berry song on the B-side of their single "From Here to Eternity", called "Roll Over Vic Vella". The song features different lyrics (written by Steve Harris) about the band's long-time tour manager, Vic Vella.

Narvel Felts[edit]Edit

Narvel Felts covered the song in 1982. His version went to #64 on the Hot Country Singles charts in 1982.[17]

In pop culture[edit]Edit

  • The song, covered by Paul Shaffer, serves as the theme song for the 1992 family film Beethoven and its sequel Beethoven's 2nd.
  • Carl Sagan originally planned to have "Roll Over, Beethoven" as one of the songs to be included on the Voyager Golden Record, attached to the Voyager spacecraft. When he asked for input from his college students, they convinced him to choose "Johnny B. Goode" instead.
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