"Be-Bop-A-Lula" is a rock 'n' roll song first recorded in 1956 by Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps. The Beatles performed the song live from 1957-1962. The first time John Lennon played the song on stage was on July 6, 1957 at the Woolton Fete (the day that he met Paul McCartney).
Origins of the song
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. 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".
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
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 Gene Vincent to record the song, and it was recorded at Owen Bradley's studio in Nashville, Tennessee on May 4, 1956. The band comprised Cliff Gallup (lead guitar), "Wee" Willie Williams (rhythm guitar), "Jumpin'" Jack Neal (string bass), and Dickie "Be Bop" Harrell (drums). 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 Capital Records' single F3450, and immediately sold well. In April 1957, the record company announced that over 2 million copies had been sold to date. The song peaked at # 7 on the US Billboard pop music chart, and also made the top ten on the R&B chart. In the UK, it peaked at # 16 in August 1956.
Gene Vincent also sang "Be Bop A Lula" in the movie The Girl Can't Help It.
The song's popularity steadily grew over the years, and it became a rock standard, with live and recorded cover versions by artists including Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Beatles, Suicide, David Cassidy, The Everly Brothers, Foghat, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Gene Summers, Carl Perkins, Raul Seixas, Demented Are Go, Stray Cats, Queen and 77. Eric Burdon also performed it at some of his concerts from 1982 and 1983.