When John Lennon stole from a Chuck Berry song to write "Come Together"

Originally published at: When John Lennon stole from a Chuck Berry song to write "Come Together" | Boing Boing

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Very cool to see John singing with Chuck. But how did Chuck feel about Yoko caterwauling over his song? I just can’t even…


The look on Chuck’s face when she starts up is truly priceless.


It’s only about a second long reaction, but it’s there.


Also known as “Yoko doing the vocalizations she was well-known for as an artist in her own right, for years before that appearance.” Anyone who was surprised didn’t know her work, and hadn’t been paying attention to the New York and London avant-garde scenes. It was intentional, and meant to attack conventional music structure.


At this point Chuck Berry had already successfully sued The Beach Boys for their stealing his song Sweet Sixteen to make Surfin’ USA, so he was pretty good at defending his works against plagiarism. Even if it was by someone that he was otherwise a fan of and friendly with.


Not only do they change the tempo and the bassline, and general feel of the tune, they also use a different chord change from the standard blues change Chuck uses, but it’s that first bit that lifts so hard from Chuck Berry that you can’t hide the origin.


It’s a near quote, to be honest if I were a judge I’d throw the suit out as spurious.

Generic music is generic, even if you copy it. And musically, they really didn’t. That said I couldn’t make it the whole way through the Berry song as it was so tediously generic. I’m not particularly a fan of the Beatles either, particularly when they are doing generic rock and roll. Which was Lennon’s speciality.

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But see, she’s annoying and she broke up the Beatles, so it’s okay to attack her… /s

Weirdly, most people will cheer the men doing that kind of avant-garde work, while rolling their eyes at Ono… I wonder why? :thinking:


I wouldn’t have minded hearing this without Lennon.


That may be true today, but the sped up tempo of a blues shuffle to make rock 'n roll (I’m oversimplifying, but you get the basic point) was still somewhat new and novel at the time.

As far as the claim being spurious…I think you also have to put it in the context of the time. A whole bunch of white British and American artists of the day straight up stole the music of Black artists without compensation or attribution. The Stones were especially guilty of that, but a lot of artists did that, so people like Chuck Berry (who, for the record, was a shitty human) I suspect were a bit sensitive about having their work copied. So while I don’t think this is an example of copyright infringement, I wouldn’t call the suit spurious, even without the nearly identical lyric.


miss jay gif GIF

But they toured with Blues guys!!! /s

[ETA] Relatedly, Idris Elba has a new documentary about how Black artists have historically been exploited in the music industry…


Anyone I know who makes experimental/avant garde/ outré music will always say when asked “favourite Beatle?” Yoko Ono. Man or woman.

While I don’t particularly like the Beatles (I like some of their stuff, mostly avoiding their early and their late oeuvres) I like them a lot more than most people I know!

Is this a suggestion that John wanted Yoko to attack the conventional music structures he was using, while he was using them?

(To be clear, that’s not intended to be an argumentative question - I’m interested in this point of view and speculation about how this was playing out in the there and then.)

Could he have been unaware of what she was well-known for?

I think that @anon33932455 is suggesting that Ono had her own career and cultural goals that are not just a byproduct of her relationship with Lennon. She existed as an artist in her own right, and that her work was connected with the larger performance art movement that was seeking to disrupt conventional music structures that existed prior to the Beatles and outside of the mainstream music industry.

The fact that so many people can ONLY see her via the lens of her husband and via the BS, misogynistic narrative of her “breaking up the Beatles” (BTW, I’m not saying you’re suggesting that, but that many people regularly do this, such as the comment that he was replying to) absolutely erases her own artistic career.

I doubt that. I’m sure he was aware of her work prior to them meeting. I’m sure Lennon was aware of cultural events outside of mainstream pop, since you were already starting to see some cross over during this period. It would later shape movements like the industrial scene and various noise scenes, which were both inspired by older artistic movements and by the slightly more accessible punk scenes and their DIY production.


I’ve got a Chuck Berry live LP where he plays “Sweet Little 16” but it is listed as “Surfing USA” and Chuck as the writer.
Chuck wasn’t above borrowing himself. “Maybellene” is a lot like Bob Will’s “Ida Red”.

Isn’t there a Zeppelin album nicknamed the stolen album for this reason? I think it was II?

Well, he met her by going to one of her art shows. I think it’s safe to say he was aware what kind of artistic space she existed in when he became involved with her.

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No, at the time of this video, Lennon could not have been unaware. As @Mindysan33 notes, she was an established artist in her own right.

ETA timeline of awareness.

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Right - so he was aware enough that it is reasonable to conclude he wanted Yoko to attack the conventional musical structures he was using while he was using them (in the Beatles).

Which would have been fine if the other three Beatles had been ‘in on it’ … I’m not going back to the old ‘Yoko broke up the Beatles’ trope, but I had not considered quite this aspect before and if the above is the case, perhaps Lennon’s larger share of the blame is deserved.

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