This is one of those songs that has a great story behind it that is probably not true. Vincent and his record company circulated the story that he wrote the song during a six-month stay in Portsmouth Naval Hospital, where he was recovering from a motorcycle accident. He played his guitar and came up with the tune inspired by the newspaper cartoon strip Little Lulu.
This story was disputed by Dickie Harrell, who was the drummer with The Blue Caps. Harrell told Mojo in 2000, "Actually the song was written by a guy from Portsmouth named Donald Graves."
According to Harrell, Vincent and his first manager Bill "Sheriff Tex" Davis, bought the song from Graves for $25 bucks. Said Harrell, "It happened a lot in those days. Guys would take the sure money."
Another story has Vincent and Graves writing the song together, with Graves' writing interest being bought out for that $25.
Recorded in Nashville on May 4, 1956, this was released as the B-side of Vincent's first single, a provocative number called "Woman Love." Radio stations in the United States wanted nothing to do with "Woman Love," and the BBC banned it, so Capitol flipped the sides and put out "Be-Bop-a-Lula" as the A-side; for some reason the scandalous "Woman Love" was deemed inoffensive when relegated to a B-side.
Vincent was signed by Capitol Records, who were desperately searching for someone like Elvis Presley. Vincent, who was born 34 days after Elvis, had the rebel image and swagger they were looking for, and their investment paid off when "Be-Bop-a-Lula," which was his debut single, sold 200,000 copies in the first month it was released. The song helped Vincent gain a large cult following, but his rebel image was justified, and he became dependent on painkillers, speed and alcohol. Vincent, who had just three more Top 40 hits, was injured in the car crash that killed his good friend and fellow rocker Eddie Cochran in 1960 (songwriter Sharon Sheeley, who wrote "Poor Little Fool" for Ricky Nelson, was also injured in the crash but survived). He died of an ulcer in 1971 at age 36.
The Blue Caps were named after the hat President Eisenhower wore to play golf.
Many listeners thought it was Elvis Presley singing this the first time they heard it - reports were that even Presley's mother was fooled.
Drummer Dickie Harrell impulsively screamed during an early performance of the song; Vincent approved of the addition to the tune, so he screamed every time the group performed the song -- including in the studio.
Along with "What'd I Say
" by Ray Charles, this is mentioned in the first line of the Dire Straits song, "Walk Of Life
." The line is: "Here comes Johnny singing oldies goldies, Be-Bop-a-Lula baby What'd I Say."
"Be-Bop-a-Lula" was the first record Paul McCartney ever bought. He performed the song on his 1991 MTV Unplugged appearance.