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Music

Two times The Beatles blatantly ripped off Chuck Berry

@josephtaysom

The Beatles were Chuck Berry obsessives, and his records were one of the main components that bonded the friendships of each member. In their earlier days, the Fab Four were a glorified tribute act to Berry, and their love for him occasionally went too far.

There are only a limited number of chords and melody progressions in the world, and therefore, occasionally, plagiarism will occur. Whether it deliberate or accidental is up for debate, but there’s no doubt The Beatles definitely pinched from Berry on two separate occasions. In one instance, it even ended in a lawsuit.

“If you had to give rock and roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry,” John Lennon once famously said. Meanwhile, after his death, Paul McCartney wrote on his website: “To us, he was a magician making music that was exotic, yet normal, at the same time. We learnt so many things from him which led us into a dream world of rock and roll music.”

It feels almost natural that they would accidentally copy him one day. After all, Berry taught The Beatles everything they knew about rock ‘n’ roll, and his habits subconsciously seeped into their work. However, they didn’t always try to hide it and, on occasion, brazenly boasted about it.

The song Paul McCartney was accused of ripping off John Lennon

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The first time The Beatles slipped up and provided Berry with the biggest compliment of imitation came with ‘I Saw Her Standing There’. The track was one of their earliest recordings and written when they were just kids in Liverpool. “I wrote it with John in the front parlour of my house in 20 Forthlin Road, Allerton,” McCartney once explained. “We sagged off school and wrote it on guitars and a little bit on the piano that I had there.”

The lyrics arrived at the pair quickly, but writing the notes was a more strenuous task for McCartney, and in a moment of desperation, he went to his idol for inspiration.

He began by playing the notes from ‘I’m Talking About You’ by Berry, which The Beatles had previously covered in 1961, and it was the seed that blossomed into ‘I Saw Her Standing There’. “I played exactly the same notes as he did and it fitted our number perfectly,” he later told Barry Miles. “Even now, when I tell people about it, I find few of them believe me. Therefore I maintain that a bass riff doesn’t have to be original.”

A few years later, Lennon would be the guilty party and fall into the same trap as his bandmate. Although the Beatle altered the track before the final recording, he’d made the error of talking about how Berry helped him during the songwriting process publically, and he was greeted with a lawsuit.

“‘Come Together’ is me—writing obscurely around an old Chuck Berry thing,” Lennon explained. “I left the line ‘Here comes old flat-top.’ It is nothing like the Chuck Berry song, but they took me to court because I admitted the influence once years ago. I could have changed it to ‘Here comes old iron face,’ but the song remains independent of Chuck Berry or anybody else on earth.”

In truth, there were likely many more instances where The Beatles deliberately pinched from the talented American, but they just became streetwise enough to keep the information private.

The songs The Beatles stole from Chuck Berry

  • ‘I Saw Her Standing There’
  • ‘Come Together’

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