For a while now I've noticed the phrase "the beat goes on" is referenced more often in daily conversations, by radio announcers and TV commentators and I'm starting to notice it more in both new and old pop, rock and rap songs. Inspired by the many episodes of Lexicon Valley I've been consuming, I decided to so some research online to see if I could find out how many times the phrase is referenced, since when it has been referenced and in what contexts.
"The Beat Goes On" was a Sonny & Cher hit in 1967, a song written by Sonny Bono officially. Wrecking Crew's bassist Carol Kaye takes credit for the bass line, which in no small part made the song a hit. But Sonny is the only credit for the lyrics and the phrase itself, which since the mid-70s has been gaining steam as an idiom in its own right.
I decided to start with online references to what people think the phrase means.
- https://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=9789 (trivia about the song)
There's a consensus that the title means the fact that time keeps marching forward, no matter what fads come and go. The beat itself could be a heartbeat or a musical beat. The word is vague. Some have argued that the word 'beat' is borrowed from beatnik culture, but that explication isn't directly supported by the lyric content, despite the contemporary details listed, which could be read as 1960s hippie-things.
Many poets and song writers have created similar metaphors for this same idea, my favorite variation being this one: "Time keeps on slippin, slippin, slippin into the fuuuuture."
Then, after hearing Eminem use the phrase in the song "Lose Yourself," I decided to see if there was a lyric database that would track all references to the phrase. There was such a thing and I used it to gather the list below. Note the variety of the music genres and how they use the phrase in the lyric.
|Soul / Alt Rock||The Temptations (1970) / Love and Rockets (1985)||"Ball of Confusion" by Barrett Strong, Norman Whitfield, Norman J. Whitfield||Cities aflame in the summer time, and oh the beat goes on
Eve of destruction, tax deduction,
City inspectors, bill collectors,
|Rock||Elvis Presley (1973)||"Raised On Rock" by Mark James||
I thought it was a fad, thought that it would pass
|UK Alt Rock / Art Pop||Roxy Music (1975) / Grace Jones (1980)||"Love is the Drug" by Andrew McKay, Bryan Ferry||Showing out, showing out, hit and run,
Boy meets girl and the beat goes on
|Folk||Harry Chapin (1978)||"Somebody Said" by Harry F. Chapin||But the Emperor has got no clothes
As the passion dies
But the beat goes on
|Rock/New Wave/Jazz||Joe Jackson (1979)||"Geraldine and John" by Joe Jackson||Geraldine and John
See the happy couple, so inseparable
And the beat goes on
And for better or worse
They are married but of course
Not to each other
|Progressive Rock||Frank Zappa (1979)||"Dancin’ Fool" by Frank Zappa||
The beat goes on 'n' I'm so wrong He mentions as part of the reason for his bad dancing ...
|Multi-genre/rock||John Hiatt (1982)||"My Edge of the Razor" by John Hiatt||Booked and printed for young lovers
Even as I write out of this song
The ink wears off but the beat goes on
|R&B||Pointer Sisters (1982)||"American Music" by Parker McGee||Well the rock still rolls
The beat goes on
After all this time
|Progressive Rock||Utopia (1982)||"Hammer in My Heart" by John Wilcox, Kasim Sulton, Roger Powell, Todd Rundgren|| So short quote in full:
There's a hammer in my heart
Pounding out your name
There's a hammer in my heart
Here it comes again
I hear a certain sound
And it just won't go away
It sends a message out
What's it gonna be today?
It wakes me up at dawn
And as the day goes on
I try to turn it off but the beat goes on
It never lets me rest
I can't get a minute's peace
I lay awake in bed
Wondering will it ever cease?
It's like a top ten song
I hear it all day long
I try to turn it off but the beat goes on
|Synthpop||Erasure (1986)||"Pistol" by Andy Bell and Vince Clarke||
Blue boy go get your gun
|The Nylons (1989)||"Another Night Like This" by Paul Cooper||Time has a way of going by
Tomorrow becomes today
If the beat goes on
When the song is gone
Harmony finds her way
|Rap||Big Daddy Kane (1991)||"Troubled Man"||And the beat goes on until the thrill is gone|
|Rock||Jet (1994)||"Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is" by Christopher James Cester, Nicholas John Cester, Cameron Thane Muncey||
When the beat goes on
|Synthpop||Erasure (1995)||"Angel" by Andy Bell and Vince Clarke||
And the beat goes on.
|German Dance||Scooter (1995)||Faster Harder Scooter||Album Title: And The Beat Goes On|
|Rap||Jay-Z (1996)||"Can’t Knock the Hustle (Remix)" by Shawn Carter, Jerome Foster, Marcus Miller||Need cash to live with, the beat goes on
Everyday is a hustle, the beat goes on
|Rock/Rap||Think About Mutation (1996)||"Lucky Time" by Writers Unknown||mathematics ... line toxic station radiations signs of our lucky time...and the beat goes on move on.|
|Rock, Soul, Blues||Steve Winwood (1996)||"Running On" by Jackie Edwards
(Not to be confused with The Spencer Davis Group's 1965 song "Keep on Running")
All over the night, the beat goes on Can you hear it?
|Rock||Limp Bizkit (1997)||"Nobody Loves Me" by John Everett Otto, Samuel Robert Rivers, Wesley Louden Borland, William Frederick Durst||
All I know is that the beat goes on and on (beat goes on)
|R&B||Usher (1997)||"My Way (Remix)" by Dupri Seal Usher||
The beat goes on/the beat goes on/the beat goes on (intro shadow lyrics)
|Boy Band||Five (1999)||"Sunshine" by Stannard, Gallagher, Breen, Brown, Conlon||
Just another song while the beat goes on.
|Hip Hop||Tru (1999)||"The Tank Goes On" by O'dell Vickers, V. Miller, C. Miller, P. Miller, W. Shelby, S. Shockley, C. Stephens, L. Sylvers, K. Watkins||
So uh when that bus come
|Eurodance||Aqua (2000)||"Goodbye to the Circus" by Claus Norreen, Soren Rasted||
The band played on, from dusk till dawn
|Hip Hop||Dungeon Family (2001)||"On & On & On" by Erin G. Johnson, Robert Terrance Barnett, Andre Benjamin, Sonny Bono, Cameron F. Gipp, Willie Edward Knighton, Antwan Patton, David A. Sheats||
And the beat goes,
|Country||George Strait (2001)||"Good Time Charleys" by Jerry Chesnut||Well, the beat goes on, there's a hardwood floor
And the sound of laughter runnin' out the door
|Rap||Eminem (2002)||"Lose Yourself" by Jeffrey Irwin Bass, Luis Edgardo Resto, Marshall B Mathers||So the soap opera is told and unfolds, I suppose it's old partna, but the beat goes on
Da da dumb da dumb da da
|Pop||S Club/S Club 7 (2002)||"Secret Love" by Thomas Nichols, Tim Laws, Tina Barrett||Dark Latin heats up as the beat goes on|
|Hip Hop||Will Smith (2002)||"How Da Beat Goes On" by Lance Nathan Bennett, Lemar Errol Bennett, Lennie Bennett, Maurice Benjamin Cenac, Rico Anderson, Willard C Smith||
It's all night
|Girl Group||Girls Aloud (2003)||"You Freak Me Out"||
And the beat goes on when i get back home
|Folk Pop||Jewel (2003)||"Yes U Can" by Jewel Kilcher, Rick Nowels||You got on your money rags
And Papa's got a brand new bag
And Mama's got her hot pants on
While in the back, the beat goes on
Would you like 2 come along?
Then shut up and sing this song
|French DJ||Bob Sinclar (2003)||"The Beat Goes On"||
The beat goes on
|UK Soul||Lemar (2004)||"Don’t Give It Up" by Wirlie Morris and Writers Unknown||
Let the beat roll on and on and on,
|Rock||The Reason (2004)||"The Joke and the Gentleman"||Suck it up and chill, the beat goes on and on, my friend.
I know reality is a bitch, but buddy,
where were you when she needed you then?
Do I even have to say?
|Pop Punk||The Starting Line (2005)||"Autography" by The Starting Line||This parade still marches on
Louder than it ever was
Right, left, right, c'mon
C'mon get up and just follow that sound bow
When streets filled with people
Sing on and on and on through the town
The beat goes on
|R&B/Hip Hop||R Kelly (2009)||"Number One" by R. Kelly, Keri Hilson, Roy "Royalty" Hamilton, Raphael "Riffraph" Hamilton||
And I'm in your mix like a number one record.
|Pop||Madonna (2012)||"The Beat Goes On" by Madonna Ciccone, Kanye West, Pharrell Williams||On and on, on the beat goes
On and on, on the beat goes
On and on, on the beat goes
|Pop||Madonna (2012)||"B-day Song" by Mathangi Arulpragasam, Madonna L. Ciccone, Martin Solveig||And the beat goes on, I'm a happy girl
It's my birthday song, in my happy world
|Rock||Icon for Hire (2013)||"Pop Culture" by Adam Michael Kronshagen, Amy V Ariel Jump, Shawn Michael Jump||
And the beat goes on, drone drone like a metronome
I couldn't find a single song reference to the phrase before 1967, the date Sonny & Cher's song peaked at number 6 in February and spent 11 weeks on the Billboard charts.
Then I did an Internet search of the phrase. Some examples below. Note the types of usage: heart and health stories, newsletter titles, music reviews, beatnik references, stories about the passage of a life.
The L-type calcium channel in the heart: the beat goes on
The Beat Goes on & Theraputic Hypothermia
The Beat Goes On – Circulation Research
And the Beat Goes On! Missouri Water Environment Association Newsletter Title
I searched exclusively for "the beat goes on" in the New York Times:
Phoenix's New Album Arrives in a Darker World, but the Beat Goes On ...
The Rebirth, and the Beat, Goes On - The New York Times
Life, Interrupted: The Beat Goes On - The New York Times
For a Master of Sound, the Beat Goes On - The New York Times
And the Beat Goes On, but at Different Speeds - The New York Times
Jack Kerouac: The Beat Goes On - The New York Times
Drum Circles: Where the Beat Goes On - The New York Times
New York Today: The Beat Goes On - The New York Times
As Recordings Languish, The Opera Beat Goes On - The New York ...
The Beat Goes On, Minus a Virtuoso - The New York Times
Beat Goes On for Eppy Epstein of My Father's Place - The New York ...
That's probably and infinitesimal fraction of the articles that reference the phrase.
Amazon.com (Books, Albums, Movies, Tshirts)
Then I did a search for the phrase in book titles on Amazon.com. There were 55 pages of results. Here's a sampling below. There are novels, music anthologies and non-fiction books about health and heart wellness.
The Beat Goes On (2004) bu Adele Minchin
Bite Club Vampire Crime Unit #2: The Beat Goes On (2006) Comic Book
The Beat Goes On: Bass (2007) by Kenny Smith
The Beat Goes On (2008) by Jim Schlosser
The Beat Goes On: Your Heart and Arteries (2009) by Mehmet C. Oz
Popular Music in America: The Beat Goes On (2011) by Michael Campbell
And the Beat Goes On (2011) by Tracy Krauss
Rock & Roll…And the Beat Goes On (2011) by Morrow and Maloof
The Beat Goes On: Humorous Police Stories (2014) by Stuart Leishman
And the Beat Goes On (2014) by Abby Reynolds
Getting’ Played II: The Beat Goes On (2014) by T.C. Littles
The Beat Goes On…talking bout my generation (2014) by David Clark
And The Beat Goes On (2015) by Renee E. Jones
The Beat Goes On: The Complete Rebus Stories (2016) by Ian Ranki
The Beat Goes On (Dennison Family Saga) (2016) by Pamela H. Bender
The Beat Goes On (2016) by Lynn Regudon
The Beat Goes On: a book for young adults living with a pacemaker or ICD (2017) by Prichette and Hull
The Beat Goes On (2005) by Blacklisted
The Beat Goes On (2008) by Vanilla Fudge
And The Beat Goes On (2013) by The Whispers
This Beat Goes On (2013) by The Kings
Beat Goes On (2015) by Super Junior / D&E
Beat Goes On (2017) by Lizzy Land
The Beat Goes On/Soul Bossa Nova (2017) by Emilie-Claire Barlow
The Beat Goes On (movie) (2012)
And The Beat Goes On: Ibiza (movie) (2012)
And The Beat Goes On Heart Attack Survivor T-Shirt
And then, because I work at a college, I have access to academic databases like JSTOR. I searched this for additional references and found these below. Note the versatility and variety of academic disciplines using the phrase.
"And the Beat Goes on: An Introduction to French Techno Culture" by Nigel E. Smith, The French Review, 2004
"And the Beat Goes On: An Introduction to Popular Music in America 1840 to Today" Review by: Wayne Schneider, College Music Symposium, 1996
"And the Beat Goes on: Defining Postmodernism and Its Other Narrating Postmodern Time and Space" by Joseph Francese
"Literary Theory and the Claims of History: Postmodernism, Objectivity, Multicultural Politics" by Satya P. Mohanty
"A Primer to Postmodernity" by Joseph Natoli
"The Beat Goes On: Music Education, Identity and Lifelong Learning" by Alexandra Lamont, Music Education Research, 2011
"The beat goes on, even for newborns," New Scientist, 2009
"The Beat Goes On For New Hybrids" by S. McGee, The Investment Dealers' Digest, 2006
"The Beat Goes on-and on and on" by Gerald E. Marsh, USA Today, 2015
“The Beat Goes On”: MPLP, RDA, Digitization, and Archivist as Historian" by Thomas J. Frusciano, Journal of Archival Organization, 2010
"The beat goes on: ciliary proteins are defective in Meckel syndrome" by Gibson WT, Clinical Genetics, 2006
"The Beat Goes on for Solidarity Work with the New South Africa" by Nesbit Crutchfield, The Black Scholar, 2015
"Beat goes on: Carp heart keeps pace when fish lacks oxygen" by Susan Milius, Science News, 2004
"The Beat Goes On: Does choreographing to pop music hold traps or triumphs?" Dance magazine, 2010
"The beat goes on: New antiarrhythmic aims to bring rhythm back to the heart" Drug Topics, 1999
"The beat goes on: a commentary on Kelley's ‘Expanding the analysis of social orientations…’ by John Schopler, European Journal of Social Psychology, 1997
"The beat goes on as the federal shutdown ends. Sort of. For a while" U.S. News and World Report, 1996
"The Beat Goes On, And Business, Too: Lawrence Ferlinghetti is Still Rebelling as a Bookman" by P. Wilner, Publisher's Weekly, 2007
"The Beat goes on: Carolyn Cassady, wife of Neal and lover of the road man" by N. West, New Statesman: London, 2007
"The Beat Goes On. Whitewater isn't over yet" U.S. News and World Report, 1997
"Beat goes on - The downturn has not dampened festival crowds, leaving the way open for brands to capitalise." Marketing, 2009
"The Beat Goes On - The Chiefs pounded the slumping Raiders for the 13th time in their last 14 meetings" by Michael Silver, Sports Illustrated, 1996
"The Beat Goes On Operating room report: Surgeons now mend broken hearts without making big incisions or even, in some cases, stopping the heart" Popular Science, 2000
"The Beat Goes On: You might think the Supreme Court's Riegel decision was the death knell for heart device cases. The state of the law is unclear" by H. Shkolnik, M. Breit, Trial, 2010
"The beat goes on The need for customized training hasn't gone away despite the downturn" by S. Arnoult, Air Transport World, 2002
"The Beat Goes On: Consolidation isn't going anywhere, but the same can be said for some beer wholesalers" Beverage World, 2002
"The Beat Goes On but there's a lot more to cable music networks than just videos. MTV is redefining itself for a new generation" by K. Zimmerman, Cablevision (Denver), 2000
"Learning...The Beat Goes On" by Mary Ann Davies, Childhood Education, 2000
"Biomedicine: The intestinal beat goes on" Science News, 2009
"INSIDE IMAGING - The beat goes on" Laser Focus World, 2008
"Latin Beat: The Beat Goes On" by C. Kroll, Global Cosmetic Industry, 2006
"Tissue engineering: The beat goes on" by Zandonella C, Nature, 2003
"Artificial heart: the beat goes on." by Marshall E, Science, 1991
"HLA in Liverpool: the beat goes on" by Travers PJ, International Journal of Immunogenetics, 2012
"Clinical problem-solving. The beat goes on" by Britton KA, Stevenson WG, Levy BD, Katz JT, Loscalzo J, The New England Journal of Medicine, 2010
"Evidence vs experience: The beat goes on" by Martin G.I.,Journal of Perinatology, 2008
"Family Limited Partnerships: The Beat Goes On" by W. D. Schwidetzky, Tax Lawyer, 2007
"The global merger boom The beat goes on" Economist (London), 2007
"Midwest: Beat Goes on in the Heartland" The Practical Accountant, 1999
"Forum: And the Beat Goes On...and On" by C. Kronemer, American Fitness, 2009
"GLOBAL MONITOR - The beat goes on in Brazil" Power, 2004
"The Beat Goes On/And the Beat Goes On" Newsletter Titles:
Journal of Forestry column 2014-2015
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 1997-2015
The New England journal of medicine 2010
Phi Delta Kappan 2010
Check out the images that use the phrase.
Finally, I tried to search databases of idioms to see if this particular one was attributed anywhere. I couldn't find anything on it. So I contacted Russell from The Etyman Language Blog: https://etyman.wordpress.com. This is what he had to say:
From what I can find out, the phrase "the beat goes on" does indeed seem to stem from the use by Sonny and Cher. It's possible that it was used orally prior to that but I haven't found anything to suggest it appeared in text prior to the song.
As to how I research these things, the first (and quickest) step is to do what everyone else does - internet search. If there are conflicting stories, I fall back on the Oxford English Dictionary (full version) and the Merriam Webster. The OED often gives the first recorded use of a word in print although it's at its best with words that have been around a long time, and phrases are not always included. "The beat goes on" is not in the OED or MW. Another resource is the online Dictionary of American Regional English, which cost about $70 per year but some local libraries have free access. [ Mine at CNM did not. :-( ]
At some point, I sometimes have to make use of more obscure books such as "Liddell & Scott's Greek Lexicon," Shipley's "The Origins of English Words: A Discursive Dictionary of Indo-European Roots," Ayers' "English Words from Latin and Greek Elements," and any number of poplar "word origin" books.
I have yet to track down some of those sources. The next step will be to see if this was a phrase verbally spoken prior to 1967. I can easily picture some official beatnik or proto-hippie using this phrase at some hipster's hootenanny.
To be continued...
Meanwhile, Cher is still singing the song in live shows (with Sonny):
Cher singing the song through time:
Other verbiages from the pop music lexicon: