Of all the past icons of rock and roll, The Beatles founder John Lennon was never one to hold his tongue if he had something on his mind. Here, we’re looking back at what could have been a potential bust-up between two of the most cherished singers in music history. Much like any British band in the early 1960s, The Beatles gained their initial fame through a series of cover versions released to vast fanfare. The Fab Four, in a similar fashion to The Rolling Stones, leant heavily on the rock and roll spewing out from the United States, regurgitating it into a perfectly formed pop hit for the British customer.
Unlike the Stones, however, The Beatles quickly moved on to writing their own songs in a bid for originality. However, that wouldn’t stop them from paying homages to some of their rock music icons like Chuck Berry. McCartney once admitted that he had lifted Berry’s bassline for ‘I’m Talking About You’ and used it for The Beatles’ own track ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, for example. McCartney confessed: “I played exactly the same notes as he did and it fit our number perfectly. When I tell people about it, I find few of them believe me.” The idea of sharing material, therefore, wasn’t a new one. However, that notion didn’t save Rod Stewart from the wrath of John Lennon.
‘I Saw Her Standing There’ wouldn’t be the last time Berry and The Beatles would cross paths. After the Fab Four shared their song ‘Come Together’, Lennon was forced to change a lyric following legal battering from Berry’s publishers. It was clearly a moment that hardened Lennon as he once grew very frustrated when, as he saw it, his material was taken by his contemporaries. His work, allegedly, was used by none other than Rod Stewart in 1976 as, by Lennon’s reckoning, the singer adapted one of The Beatles’ final tracks into his own iconic song ‘Killing of Georgie’.
When talking about the classic tracks ‘Don’t Let Me Down’, the bespectacled Beatle wasn’t shy about sharing his thoughts on Stewart’s pick up of the sound. “By the way,” Lennon later said to David Sheff, “Rod Stewart turned that into ‘[Georgie] don’t go-o-o.’ That’s one the publishers never noticed.”
It didn’t seem to bother Lennon, though, who seemingly understood where Stewart was coming from: “Why didn’t he just sing ‘Don’t Let Me Down’? The same reason I don’t sing other people’s stuff: because you don’t get paid.” It’s a smart assessment from a man who has made a career from the pinching of other people’s material.
In 2016, Stewart responded to the claims via The Guardian, using his cheeky, happy persona – and perhaps the fact that it was now 40 years down the road from the song’s release – to offer his assessment: “It does sound like it,” he said. “Nothing wrong with a good steal.” It’s a flippant remark but one we imagine Lennon would have let Stewart away with.
“I’m sure if you look back to the ’60s, you’d find other songs with those three chords and that melody line,” he added.
Listen to both songs below and make your mind up.