When John Lennon Stole a Chuck Berry Song to Write “Come Together”

When John Lennon Stole a Chuck Berry Song to Write “Come Together”

John Lennon was sued in 1969 by the publisher of Chuck Berry’s 1956 song “You Can’t Catch Me”, claiming he infringed that copyright while writing his Beatles song” Come Together” in 1969. Lennon settled out of court.

The songs share a similar blues melody and structure, although the song written by Chuck Berry has a more upbeat tempo. And Lennon even used a line straight from Berry’s song, which was about driving a fast car, “Here come a flat-top / He was movin’ up with me”, modifying it slightly and opening his song with it, “Here come ol’ flat-top / He comes grooving slow.”

Here is “Come Together” by the Beatles.

And here is “You Can’t Catch Me” by Chuck Berry.

A significant difference between the two songs can be attributed to Paul McCartney’s bassline for the song. In October 2022, on the “Fly on the Wall with Dana Carvey and David Spade” podcast, McCartney told the story of Lennon initially bringing the song to him.

“He came in and he basically brought a Chuck Berry song. Chuck Berry did a song called ‘You Can’t Catch Me’, which starts with ‘Here come old flattop, He go…’ That’s the line d exact opening.

“So John brings it, we’re in Abbey Road Studio 2, and John walks in there. He goes, ‘Oh, listen to this one! (singing along to a catchy beat) Boom-chicka- boom-chicka-boom, here come old flattop!” And I say, ‘John! Stop! It’s “You Can’t Catch Me” by Chuck Berry.

“He’s like, ‘Yeah, I know! That’s good though, isn’t it?’ I said, ‘No, you have to do something about it.’

“So that was the case that we had to get him out of that Chuck Berry tempo. And you know, you couldn’t change that opening line, it’s such a good opening line. John had to pay Chuck Berry to use it. …

“(I said) ‘No, no, how about slowing down?’ (Sings the bassline.) And all of a sudden, we got this swampy groove, and John…starts singing on top of that.

There was apparently no hard feelings between Lennon and Berry. Here they play together and talk (with Yoko Ono) on The Mike Douglas Showonly three years later, in 1972. It was the first time they had met, and Lennon said before introducing Berry: “I think he’s the greatest. I really like him. He’s an honor to be here, to support him.”

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