Roll Over Beethoven is not Chuck Berry’s first single, so it’s arguably not his most groundbreaking one. It is not his most famous either, with that honor belonging to Johnny B. Goode. But, as is the case with most of his 50s hits, it pretty much sums up all you need to know about that rock ‘n’ roll era with its every element – from the attitude, to the energy, to the guitar-playing, to the lyrics and to the production.
Released in 1956 after the success of Maybellene, the story goes that Berry’s main inspiration was his sister playing classical music on the piano. “Roll over Beethoven” was the phrase that he would tell her, anxious to get his turn and play some rock ‘n’ roll. When eventually put into the song, the line became nearly an anthem onto itself, announcing the arrival of the new genre in all its might. It is an imperative directed at the listeners to forget all they thought they knew about music and open their minds and ears to this new sound. Lyrics such as “I got the rocking pneumonia / I need a shot of rhythm and blues” are instantly memorable, as is the chorus melody, and the references to other rock ‘n’ roll songs (“Don’t you step on my blue suede shoes”) show Chuck’s awareness of the fact that he was not alone in this musical and cultural revolution.
That’s not to say that the words are all that matters here, it’s just that sometimes we tend to overlook just how clever of a lyricist Chuck really was. But the thunderous guitar intro and driving beat are just as important to the delivery of the message – and while rock ‘n’ roll may not be the leading force in music today anymore, Roll Over Beethoven remains timeless. Plus, you can always read it as a metaphor for new waves of music dismissing the old ones while replacing them, regardless of the time period.
Categories: Song Reviews