Origins of the song[edit source | edit][edit | edit source]
The writing of the song is credited to Gene Vincent and his manager, Bill "Sheriff Tex" Davis. There is evidence that the song was started in 1955, when Vincent was recuperating from a motorcycle accident at the US Navy hospital in Norfolk, Virginia. There, he met Donald Graves, who supposedly wrote the words to the song while Vincent wrote the tune. (Cf. "Money Honey" by the Drifters, 1953). The song came to the attention of Davis, who allegedly bought out Graves' rights to the song for some $50 (sources vary as to the exact amount), and had himself credited as the lyric writer. Davis claimed that he wrote the song with Gene Vincent after listening to the song "Don't Bring Lulu", and Vincent himself sometimes claimed that he wrote the words inspired by a comic strip, "Little Lulu". "Be-Bop-A-Lula" is #103 in the list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.
"I come in dead drunk and stumble over the bed. And me and Don Graves were looking at this bloody book; it was called 'Little Lulu'. And I said, "Hell, man, it's 'Be-Bop-a-Lulu.' And he said, 'Yeah, man, swinging.' And we wrote this song." Gene Vincent, 1970.
The phrase "Be-Bop-A-Lula" is almost identical to "Be-Baba-Leba", the title of a # 3 R&B chart hit for Helen Humes in 1945, which became a bigger hit when recorded by Lionel Hampton as "Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop." This phrase, or something very similar, was widely used in jazz circles in the 1940s, giving its name to the bebop style, and possibly being ultimately derived from the shout of "Arriba! Arriba!" used by Latin American bandleaders to encourage band members.
Recording by Gene Vincent[edit source | edit][edit | edit source]
In early 1956, Gene Vincent performed the song on a radio show in Norfolk, Virginia, and recorded a demo version which was passed to Capitol Records, who were looking for a young singer to rival Elvis Presley. Capitol invited Vincent to record the song and it was recorded at Owen Bradley's studio in Nashville, Tennessee on May 4, 1956. Cliff Gallup (lead guitar), "Wee" Willie Williams (rhythm guitar), "Jumpin'" Jack Neal (string bass), and Dickie "Be Bop" Harrell (drums) comprised the band. When the song was being recorded, Harrell screamed in the background, he said because he wanted to be sure his family could hear it was him on the record.
The song was released in June 1956 on Capitol Records' single F3450, and immediately sold well. The song was successful on three American singles charts: it peaked at #7 on the USBillboard pop music chart, #8 on the R&B chart, and also made the top ten on the C&W Best Seller chart peaking at #5. In the UK, it peaked at #16 in August 1956. In April 1957, the record company announced that over 2 million copies had been sold to date.
Vincent recorded a new version of the song in 1962 which appeared on the flip-side of the single "The King of Fools".
Other versions[edit source | edit][edit | edit source]
- The 77s
- The Beatles
- Carl Perkins
- David Cassidy
- Demented Are Go
- The Everly Brothers
- Gene Summers
- Jerry Lee Lewis
- John Lennon
- Paul McCartney
- Raul Seixas
- Stray Cats
- ZZ Queen
Eric Burdon also performed it at some of his concerts from 1982 and 1983. The song is mentioned in Dire Strait's 1985 hit "Walk of Life." George Harrison's famous "Rocky" Stratocaster guitar has the phrase "Bebopalula" painted on it. In 2011 german producer Frank Farian released extravagant version of this song on the album Boney M. Goes Club (bonus track with ZZ Queen).