The phrase "Be-Bop-A-Lula" is almost identical to "Be-Baba-Leba", the title of a # 3 R&B chart hit for Helen Humes in 1945, which became a bigger hit when recorded by Lionel Hampton as "Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop". This phrase, or something very similar, was widely used in jazz circles in the 1940s, giving its name to the bebop style, and possibly being ultimately derived from the shout of "Arriba! Arriba!" used by Latin American bandleaders to encourage band members.
In early 1956, Gene Vincent performed the song on a radio show in Norfolk, Virginia, and recorded a demo version which was passed to Capitol Records, who were looking for a young singer to rival Elvis Presley. Capitol invited Gene Vincent to record the song, and it was recorded at Owen Bradley's studio in Nashville, Tennessee on May 4, 1956. The band comprised Cliff Gallup (lead guitar), "Wee" Willie Williams (rhythm guitar), "Jumpin'" Jack Neal (string bass), and Dickie "Be Bop" Harrell (drums). When the song was being recorded, Harrell screamed in the background, he said because he wanted to be sure his family could hear it was him on the record.
The song was released in June 1956 on Capital Records' single F3450, and immediately sold well. In April 1957, the record company announced that over 2 million copies had been sold to date. The song peaked at # 7 on the US Billboard pop music chart, and also made the top ten on the R&B chart. In the UK, it peaked at # 16 in August 1956.
Gene Vincent also sang "Be Bop A Lula" in the movie The Girl Can't Help It.