There is a famous Chuck Berry song titled Roll Over Beethoven. The overall meaning was telling a DJ to stop playing classical music and play rock and roll. But when I looked up for the definition of the phrase "roll over", I can't find a meaning suitable for here. Can you explain what does "roll over" mean here?

  • 12
    I'm so old I remember when the Beatles released the song. At the time I interpreted it to mean "Move out of the way, you've had your time, you've been replaced." – Michael Harvey Sep 29 '20 at 6:41
  • 5
    (Though younger) I agree with the comment above. It think it simply means 'step aside', not 'turn in your grave', as suggested by Wikipedia. The song was written and recorded in 1956, when, certainly the phrase 'to turn in one's grave' existed, but was little used. – Strawberry Sep 29 '20 at 12:53
  • 2
    @Schmuddi - FWIW, the usual phrase is turning in [his/her/their/the] grave or spinning in [his/her/their/the] grave. "Rolling over" in [his/her/their/the] grave is more modern. Ngrams: books.google.com/ngrams/… – T.J. Crowder Sep 29 '20 at 16:33
  • 2
    We Brits tend to say "turn in one's grave". There is the old joke about the woman who dies, and upon reaching heaven, wishes to be reunited with her husband, who predeceased her. His name is John Smith. Saint Peter says 'Do you know how many of those we have here? We would locate him if you could remember his last words'. The woman says 'He said, "If you're unfaithful to my memory, I'll turn in my grave"'. 'Ah!, says Saint Peter! 'Turbine John Smith'. – Michael Harvey Sep 29 '20 at 19:06
  • 2
    Like some comments above, I always assumed that it meant that Rock & Roll would make Beethoven turn over in his grave. I have never even imagined that it could possibly have any other meaning. – Mawg says reinstate Monica Sep 30 '20 at 7:17

From wikipedia

The lyric "roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news" refers to how classical composers would roll over in their graves upon hearing that classical music had given way to rock and roll.

further details:

(Enough to make one) "turn in one's grave" is an idiom to describe an extreme level of shock or an intense level of surprise and is expressed as the vicarious sentiment of a deceased person. ... Other forms or "fanciful variants" of this idiom includes: "Roll over in one's grave"

  • 27
    Due respect to the random Wikipedia editor, I don't buy it. Note that the claim is unsourced. I find Michael Harvey's "get out of the way" interpretation much more believable. Also, "rolling over" in the grave is a relatively modern modification of earlier phrases; more here. – T.J. Crowder Sep 29 '20 at 16:34
  • 2
    @T.J.Crowder The part "and tell Tchaikovsky the news" is a, well, dead giveaway that he's to roll over in his grave, isn't it? As is often the case with natural language the "make space" meaning admittedly may also hang in the air; since it's Rock'n'Roll there may also be a third meaning in the background: Mr. Beethoven was a rebel at his time as well and may not be able to keep his feet still when he hears Chuck Berry! [Sorry, I wanted to add the third meaning and had to rewrite the comment, now your answer is above it] – Peter - Reinstate Monica Sep 30 '20 at 9:12
  • 3
    @Peter-ReinstateMonica - :-) It isn't to me, no. I'd really want sources to back it (or any other interpretation) up before stating something definitively as the Wikipedia article does. I think the Tchaikovsky thing (which isn't always the next line) is just a follow-on to broaden it to classical music in general. But people should enjoy whatever interpretation they like. :-) – T.J. Crowder Sep 30 '20 at 9:21
  • 3
    Chuck Berry's own words do not back it up: "In fact most of the words were aimed at Lucy instead of the Maestro Ludwig Van Beethoven." Lucy was his elder sister, and he's telling her and her music to move out of the way because she "would monopolize the piano at home during our youthful school years" playing classical music. – JdeBP Oct 1 '20 at 8:50
  • 2
    @T.J.Crowder bit.ly/2EOe2mM – Strawberry Oct 1 '20 at 12:57

I agree with the comment by @Michael Harvey although I can't quote a source.

For me, "roll over" means "move over" or "move out of the way"

There's an old children's rhyme

There were ten in a bed and the little one said

"Roll over, roll over"

So they all rolled over and one fell out

There were nine in a bed and the little one said

"Roll over, roll over"

So they all rolled over and one fell out

There were eight in a bed and the little one said

"Roll over, roll over"

So they all rolled over and one fell out



Rolling over is something that a dog does to acknowledge domination by another dog. This is likely to mean the same. Beethoven, roll over on your back, and acknowledge the dominance of Rock’n’Roll.


It seems short for "Roll over and play dead", meaning to submit or comply without any action, resistance, or protest. It is similar to what animals do when feigning death when faced with some predators. As explained here.


"Roll over" simply means to give way to pressure.


In this context Chuck Berry is telling classical composers (Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, etc) to "give way, rock and roll is here".

There could be a "roll over in his grave" interpretation (the normal terminology is "turn in his grave" though), but without a reference to Berry's intent, the standard definition seems to be the simplest explanation.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.