Vincent recorded the song on 4 May 1956 in Nashville, Tennessee. ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ peaked at number seven on the US Billboard chart. In the UK it reached number 16 in August 1956.
‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ made a big impression on the young Beatles. John Lennon claimed to have performed it with the Quarrymen on 6 July 1957 at the garden fete of St Peter’s Church in Woolton, Liverpool, the day he met Paul McCartney for the first time.
After the Quarrymen’s performance, Lennon and McCartney were introduced by band member Ivan Vaughan. McCartney impressed Lennon by playing a range of songs including ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’, Eddie Cochran’s ‘Twenty Flight Rock’, and a medley of Little Richard numbers.
‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ was the very first record I bought. I’d saved up all my pocket money and I went down to the city centre in Liverpool. There was a little shop called Currys and it was really an electrical goods store but in the back there was a little record booth and I knew I could get the record there. So that was it and I took it home and played it to death…
When rock ‘n’ roll came in it was this kind of music, this new kind of music – ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’; Elvis Presley, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’; Bill Hayley, ‘Rock Around The Clock’ – and this started a whole new trend so it was really important to me to have that background, as a kid, hearing it on the radio and hearing my dad play. I can’t imagine growing up without listening to music. I just can’t. I was so lucky, there was a lot of music around.
I had a friend at the Liverpool Institute called Cass [Brian Casser], and he was in a group called Cass and the Cassanovas. He was one of the first guys I knew who got into it semi-professionally. The rest of us played around in our houses, and learnt songs, but he was on a Jim Dale Skiffle Contest at the Liverpool Empire, and me and some other guys from the school went to support him. They came second or third. He was the first rock idol to come from our midst! And at school one day he said, ‘There’s this great record by Gene Vincent, called ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula”, so I wrote it down and went to Currys record shop after school and ordered it. That record is purple in my mind, the whole song is purple, because of the purple Capitol label. It was a 78. We threw that into Unplugged at the last minute: I started doing it at rehearsals and Wix really liked the idea.
Club Sandwich, Summer 1991
‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ became a part of The Beatles’ early stage repertoire, although they never recorded it properly. A live version with Fred Fascher on vocals, recorded in December 1962, was later issued in 1977 on the unofficial Live! at the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany; 1962.
The Beatles had met Gene Vincent in Hamburg in early 1962, and appeared on the bill with him at Liverpool’s Cavern Club on 1 July 1962.
Gene Vincent was top of the bill and knew our kid [Paul] was important. That is why he had his picture taken. He had full leathers and our kid had his full leathers, wow, and there is Gene the master, like Marlon Brando in The Wild One, he is on the Cavern stage and he is going ‘Be bop a lula, echo, echo, echo’ and you can see the fans bored out of their heads. ‘Gene Vincent? Excuse me. We’re waiting for The Beatles.’ The picture tells the story. One of them has a David Frost shirt. Our kid was going down to London and he had a couple of bob, doing well and he would buy David Frost shirts, very thick striped shirts. I got one and the fans got them. The photo is on my website and you will see the girl with the David Frost Shirt.
The Cavern, Spencer Leigh
The Beatles also performed an impromptu version of ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ on 24 July 1969, during a recording session for Abbey Road. While working on ‘Sun King’/‘Mean Mr Mustard’, John Lennon led the band through versions of ‘Ain’t She Sweet’, ‘Who Slapped John?’, and ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’.
The Girl Can’t Help It is still the great music film… Little Richard is singing ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’, and then Eddie Cochran does ‘Twenty Flight Rock’. And Gene Vincent sings ‘Be Bop A Lula’, which was the first record I ever bought. I still love that film.
John Lennon recorded a version of ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ in October 1974, which was released on the following year’s Rock ‘N’ Roll album. Take two from the session was also included on the John Lennon Anthology box set, released in 1998.
‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ was among the eight songs chosen by McCartney on his 1982 appearance on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs.