ELO’s Jeff Lynne kicked off an evening of performances at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Friday with a roaring tribute to Chuck Berry, who died in March at age 90. Lynne remembered Berry by playing “Roll Over Beethoven,” which appeared on Electric Light Orchestra’s 1973 album Electric Light Orchestra II.
Lynne was accompanied by members of his touring band, Jeff Lynne’s ELO; together, the ensemble careened through one of Berry’s most iconic tracks. Two cellos and a violin added light orchestral flourishes in between the guitar-heavy verses.
Berry released “Roll Over Beethoven” in 1956 and it quickly became a rock and roll anthem, an announcement that the genre didn’t give a damn about old-fashioned cultural hierarchies that elevated classical music above all else. The song reached No. 7 on Billboard’s R&B chart.
“Roll Over Beethoven” was subsequently embraced by a younger generation of aspiring rockers. The Beatles recorded a cover version for their second U.K. LP, With the Beatles. The Fab Four stuck closely to Berry’s vision; their “Roll Over Beethoven” was concise and compact, a sub-three-minute wallop.
In a marked contrast, Electric Light Orchestra’s cover of “Roll Over Beethoven” from a decade later transformed the speeding bullet original into something more flowery and ornate. The ELO track opened with snippets of Beethoven’s 5th symphony before moving into a tight, pelting Berry homage. But soon the strings returned, and the song’s final minutes played out as a wild musical struggle between Berry and Beethoven. The whole thing stretches out past the eight minute mark.
Bev Bevan, who served as ELO’s drummer for many years, still remembers the band’s Chuck Berry cover fondly. During a recent interview with Rolling Stone, he proposed the song as a good candidate for the all-star jam that usually occurs at the end of the Rock Hall induction ceremony. “I can imagine Joan Baez singing ‘Roll Over Beethoven,’ absolutely,” he said.