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Album: Chuck Berry Is On TopReleased: 1956Charted:
This song is about the rock 'n' roll craze that was taking over America. Beethoven and Tchikovsky were classical composers who were being bumped aside by rock. At the time, many critics dismissed rock music as a passing fad.
Berry was careful to write lyrics that told a coherent story, which in this case follows a young many as he pursues his favorite music. Berry also took care to deliver his lyrics clearly so a wider audience could understand them. This helped him avoid the fate of many Little Richard songs: more popular, but sanitized covers by Pat Boone.
Berry started writing this song to rib his younger sister, Lucy, who played classical music on the family piano. Chuck was telling her to yield the instrument so he could play rock and roll. The song ended up taking a different turn, but that's where the title came from.
The line, "Early in the mornin' I'm a givin' you a warnin'" is a tribute to Louis Jordan's 1947 track "Early In The Mornin'."
Jordan, a jump-blues innovator, certainly earned the tribute: his 1946 song "Ain't That Just Like A Woman
" has a guitar intro (played by Carl Hogan) that Berry lifted for "Roll Over Beethoven."
The Beatles released a version of this song in 1963, which they played at most of their early live shows. The following year, The Beach Boys released "Fun, Fun, Fun
," which copied the intro to "Roll Over Beethoven
" nearly note for note.
This was used in the 1992 movie Beethoven, which is about a Saint Bernard.
The Electric Light Orchestra covered this in 1973, mixing in some of Beethoven's music. It was their biggest hit at the time, going to #6 in the UK and #42 in the US.
For a February 4, 1977 primetime special celebrating 25 years of American Bandstand
, Berry performed this song joined by Seals & Crofts, Gregg Allman, Junior Walker, Johnny Rivers, the Pointer Sisters, Charlie Daniels and Doc Severinsen. This was one of the first "all-star jams" that would later become commonplace. This performance served as a showcase for the musicians, who were introduced as they performed by Paul Williams
Iron Maiden spoofed this on their song "Roll Over Vic Vella," which was used as the B-side to the single for "From Now to Eternity" It's one of the few singles that featured a photograph of the band performing as cover art.