‘If You Wanna Dance With Me . . .’

Originally posted October 7, 2008

In this blogging lark – as darcy of the blog feel it once called it – we find our inspirations where we can, even in the bits and pieces left on another blog’s floor, if need be. So it was this morning when I stopped by The Great Vinyl Meltdown and pondered what caithiseach had to say in last Saturday’s post about Chuck Berry’s “Little Marie.”

Discussing Berry’s 1964 sequel to his own “Memphis, Tennessee” and the early rock ’n’ roller’s influence on the music we love, caithiseach noted a couple of covers of Berry tunes that did pretty well: the Electric Light Orchestra’s take on “Roll Over Beethoven” went to No 42 in 1973, and the Beach Boys’ version of “Rock and Roll Music” went to No. 5 during the Bicentennial summer of 1976.

I blinked. And I thought of two other Berry covers, neither of which was released as a single. The Beatles put their very good version of “Roll Over Beethoven” on their second LP, With the Beatles, released in Britain in late 1963. In the U.S., “Roll Over Beethoven” showed up on The Beatles’ Second Album, which came out in the spring of 1964. And the Fab Four’s version of “Rock and Roll Music” was released in Britain on Beatles For Sale in December 1964.

Here in the U.S., “Rock and Roll Music” was included on the first Beatles LP I ever owned: Beatles ’65.

One of our family traditions at Christmas during my childhood was that just before we left St. Cloud for the three-hour drive to my grandparents’ home, either my mom or my dad would go back into the house to check on something. While in the house, Mom or Dad would pull from a closet two additional gifts, unwrapped, and place one on my bed and one on my sister’s bed, evidence we’d find when we came home from Grandpa’s that Santa Claus had not overlooked us just because we’d been out of town.

The gifts we found on our beds were generally toys and games, standard 1960s childhood fare. Twice, my sister and I shared gifts: One year, we each found the end of a ribbon on our beds, and found the ribbons attached to the game Geography, a game we enjoyed for many years. In December of 1965, we each found an envelope, containing pieces of a note that had been cut up. We quickly realized we each had only half a note and combined our pieces. The note read:

We come to thee from across the sea
With melodies quite rare.
Which you will find if you look
There or there.

We looked at each other, digesting the meaning of Dad’s bit of doggerel.

“It’s a record!” we said, nearly simultaneously, and we ran downstairs to the living room, where the RCA stereo and our household’s few LPs were kept. There, in the front of the stack of records, was a crisp, new copy of Beatles ’65. As soon as we unpacked a little, we were allowed to open the record and play it for the first time.

Beatles ’65 was one of those records that Capitol – which issued Beatles’ recordings in the U.S. – created piecemeal, in this case by pulling some songs from Beatles For Sale, one track from the British version of A Hard Day’s Night and adding the single “I Feel Fine/She’s A Woman,” which was not released on an album in the UK at the time.

I don’t know how well my sister liked the record. She never seemed to be too interested in the Beatles. As for me, I was still a few years from being a rock ’n’ roll boy. But I liked some of it: the opener “No Reply,” the feedback-triggered “I Feel Fine,” the sweet folk rock of “I’ll Be Back” and “I’ll Follow The Sun.” But my favorite track of all – and thus the first rock ’n’ roll cover I loved – was the Beatles’ take on Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music.”

It took years before I got around to listening to Berry’s version, which is – and I find myself feeling silly damning one of the fathers of rock ’n’ roll with faint praise – a good one. There is joy in Berry’s delivery of his classic, which was released as Chess 1671 in late 1957 and went to No. 8 on the combined charts of the time. Had I heard Berry’s original first, it might be my favorite.

But I heard the Beatles’ version first, that December night in 1965. The swift introductory chords, John Lennon’s urgent vocal, the driving accompaniment of the other Beatles behind him and the amazing piano triplets (Paul McCartney’s work, according to Geoff Emerick in Here, There and Everywhere) all made for one of the first rock recordings that I really loved. I wasn’t ready to give up on Al Hirt and Herb Alpert and my soundtracks yet, but man, did I love “Rock and Roll Music”!

Then there was the Beach Boys’ version a little more than a decade later, at a time when, to me, the Beach Boys were utterly irrelevant. I’m not the only one who thought so. In The Great Rock Discography, Martin C Strong writes about the band in 1976: “At this point, the Beach Boys abandoned even the slightest attempts to push their own musical boundaries, Instead [sic] relying upon tired retreads of their earlier sound.”

And when I heard the Beach Boys’ 1976 cover of “Rock and Roll Music,” released as Brother/Reprise 1354, I thought it was flabby and never gave it another thought until today.

There are other versions of Berry’s classic song, of course. All-Music Guide lists versions by the Ballroom Band, the Bay City Allstars, former Beatle Pete Best, Bingo Kids, Gary Busey (!), the Everly Brothers, Bill Haley, Ray Hamilton, Humble Pie, Jan & Dean, Tom Jones, the Manic Street Preachers, REO Speedwagon, Showaddywaddy and Tenpole Tudor, to mention only a few.

I don’t think I’ve heard any of those versions, but I know they’d have to be better than I can almost imagine to improve on the versions by Berry and the Beatles, offered below. I’m also posting the Beach Boys’ version. Enough people liked it in 1976 that it went to No. 5. I’ll just note that the Beach Boys’ version reminds me of H.L. Mencken’s comment: You’ll never go broke underestimating the taste of the American public.

Chuck Berry – “Rock and Roll Music” [1957]

Beatles – “Rock and Roll Music” [1964]

Beach Boys – “Rock and Roll Music” [1976]

Advertisements

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: