Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Beatles and musical history: "Movin' and Groovin'" and "Ramrod"

As far as I know, these two are the only instrumental covers the Beatles performed besides "Raunchy". All others from their early days I'm aware of were original compositions- "Cry For a Shadow", "Catswalk", "Hot As Sun", "Winston's Walk", and "Looking Glass" are the ones I can name off the top of my head. But still, it just goes to show that instrumentals were a sizable part of their repertoire before they became famous.

Duane Eddy, as I mentioned before, is one of the biggest names in early instrumental rock. Because of his frequent use of low notes on his guitar, tremolo effects, and later baritone guitar, I think of him as the father of the spaghetti western theme. You know, that low twangy sort of sound you might associate with high noon duels and ghost trains? Duane Eddy released "Movin' and Groovin'" and "Ramrod" on two separate singles in 1958.
The Beatles did their versions of these two songs in 1960. They seem to be played right after the other, which is why I'm putting them in the same article. Unfortunately, I can't find any videos of their versions, so anyone who's interested will have to search for a download of a bootleg. Try Demonoid, and look for Purple Chick's Strong Before Our Birth.

In the meantime, here's the original version:

What's interesting about the Beatles version- and take my word for it here- is that George clearly doesn't have a vibrato to make those signature low notes bend downward like the original, so he has to make do and play the riff an octave above the original and simply slide the notes with his fingers.

Unfortunately, the only version of "Ramrod" I could find is this live version from 1974. Still, it's Duane Eddy playing it.

Proving once again that when studying music you can keep going back further and further, Duane Eddy actually pretty much stole the riff for "Movin' and Groovin'" from Chuck Berry's "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man" from 1956 (which, incidentally, Paul would later cover for his Run Devil Run album, although he was more familiar with Buddy Holly's version). I'll be writing about this song later.

And subsequently The Beach Boys would rip off both these guys, taking the riff from "Movin' and Groovin'" (although I wouldn't be surprised if they took it from "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man"), and the melody from "Sweet Little Sixteen". Chuck Berry would eventually successfully sue, as he should.

Hey, you didn't think The Beach Boys were totally original, did you? They're both really good performances, though...

Jan & Dean stole it too, apparently.

The Shadows are certainly very different from Duane Eddy, stylistically, since the latter is twangy and low and the former is slick and polished like a greased-back pompadour. Duane's style is rooted directly in the Southwest (which is probably why he sounds like a western movie), but The Shadows style reflect their tidy matching suits. So in my mind they reflect two different veins of instrumental rock, and the Beatles (remember those guys?) seemed to be familiar with both.


  1. Carl Wilson: A lot of it was stuff I came up with. On "Surfin' U.S.A.," for example, Brian wanted an opening lick and I just did this Duane Eddy riff. I was worried that it had been on another record, but what the hell.

  2. I'm not sure I understand what your point is.