Sunday, January 25, 2009

Roll Over Beethoven

I'm doing my listening a bit later in the day than I'd like to, having spent the weekend on Martha's Vineyard and the Cape consuming quantities of alcohol that make me nostalgic for college, when my stamina was better, and eating many many different kinds of chili. Back now, though, and before I rush off to the rest of my non-Beatles life (which tonight involves choir practice) I'm having a quick listen to "Roll Over Beethoven." I woke up this morning with this song in my head, which seemed as good a sign as any that today was its day. And it's a HarriSunday, I guess, so... off we go.

Originally written and performed by Chuck Berry, of course, this has got to be one of the most covered songs of all time, so what strikes me about the Beatles' version is its faithfulness to the original. They have clearly learned this from listening to the original record thousands of times-- George even sings it as though he's never been able to understand all the lyrics from the 45, which, I mean, I can't understand them all either. But it doesn't matter. It's basically a song about how great rock and roll is, and George's totally kickass guitar playing--itself a spirited imitation of Berry's-- says all that needs to be said about that. The Beatles tended to know when not to mess around with perfection. Their covers are filled with enthusiasm and reverence that makes their audiences love these songs as much as they do. 

The band had played "Roll Over Beethoven" at gigs practically since its inception, with John frequently taking vocal duty, though by the time they recorded it for With the Beatles it had been George's for a while. In the official non-bootleg Beatles catalog, there are three versions, all excellent, though the best might be the one from the first disk of Anthology, from a live performance in Stockholm. George is so freaking ON in that performance, Paul is wailing away in the background, and Ringo is absolutely on fire-- it sounds like the whole thing's going to fall apart at any point, but miraculously doesn't. The Live at the BBC version is another good one.

Of course, with Youtube, there are many unofficial versions too. Here's one from a live performance on English TV. It looks familiar-- I think it might be from the Anthology TV special, but I'm too lazy to doublecheck.

I've listened to all four versions now, dancing in my living room the whole time. ROCK. And now it's off to choir. So I'll just say that though I love this song, I in no way advocate the rolling over of Beethoven. I long for a time when classical and rock music can live together in peace and harmony.

"Roll Over Beethoven," released in the U.K. side B track 1 of With the Beatles, November 22, 1963; in the U.S. side A track 1 of The Beatles' Second Album, April 10, 1964. Excellent live versions to be found on Live at the BBC, December 6, 1994 and Anthology I, November 21, 1995.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

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