Lately, I have been going back and listening to the band I have always loved, the Beatles. The past few years I have also started to listen to their solo careers as well. I have always liked songs by each of the Beatles, but stubborn me wanted the Beatles to stay together, so I didn’t actually buy any of their solo records until recently. I should have been more open-minded, though, because each of the Beatles had exceptional songs and albums on their own. In order, my favorite Beatles are Paul McCartney, George Harrison, John Lennon and then Ringo. Recently, I began to listen to more songs by John Lennon and have found him to be so talented as a singer and as a songwriter in his own right.
"Old Time Rock and Roll" has always been a favorite song of mine too, and then I saw one of John Lennon’s albums was entitled Rock 'n’ Roll, so I had to check it out. I always thought no one could do better than the original artist in the songs they performed, but I was wrong. Rock 'n’ Roll is such an incredible album. You can hear the joy and love in all the songs that John Lennon sings in this album.
How the Rock 'n' Roll Album Started
John Lennon was feeling a bit nostalgic in the early '70s, the entertainment industry had come out with the film American Graffiti, and according to the booklet for enclosed in the album Rock 'n’ Roll, John Lennon also was having a bit of trouble in the courts. He had recorded the song "Come Together" for the Abbey Road album, but the music publisher Morris Levy, who owned the rights to the song, said it sounded a lot like the song "You Can’t Catch Me". Mr. Levy sued, and in the settlement, it was agreed that John would record three songs by Levy. John thought that the songs wouldn’t sound right in an album with current songs, so he decided to do a nostalgic album and get Phil Spector to produce it.
John Lennon had split from Yoko for a little while and was sowing some wild oats. Spector was making the album with a bunch of studio musicians, and John was in no shape to see what was happening. John was also not getting much done with the album, so Phil Spector took the tapes, and the album was forgotten until 1974. John got the tapes back from Spector, and the record was released in 1975.
The Album's Inspiration
In the book The Beatles Anthology by the Beatles, John stated that in-house, the radio was never on, so he got into pop music much later. He said that he never was into Bill Haley it didn’t do anything for him. The first record he listened to that got him into rock and roll was Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel.” In the book, John said, “I’m an Elvis fan because it was Elvis who really got me out of Liverpool. Once I heard it and got into it, that was life; there was no other thing. I thought of nothing but rock n’ roll, apart from sex and food and money-but that’s all the same thing. Really.”
John’s other musical influences were Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Chuck Berry.
The Artwork Came to Be on Rock 'n’ Roll
John Lennon originally wanted to use original artwork of his drawings, but the album Walls and Bridges came out before the Rock 'n’ Roll album, so the artwork went to that album. John’s assistant May Pang went to a Beatlefest convention and told him about photographs she had seen there from when the Beatles were in Hamburg, Germany. The photographer named Jürgen Vollmer was selling the photographs. John Lennon chose one for the album cover. If you look closely, you can see three figures with their faces blurred out, and they were Paul McCartney, Stuart Sutcliffe, and George Harrison.
The Songs on the Album
"Be-Bop-A-Lu-La" by Tex Davis and Gene Vincent. This song was originally done by Gene Vincent in 1956. This song really impressed the Beatles. On the website, The Beatles Bible, this was the song John and his group the Quarrymen performed in 1957. Paul McCartney was in the audience watching them. He was introduced to John by his friend Ivan Vaughan. Paul impressed John by playing Eddie Cochran’s "Twenty Flight Rock," "Be-Bo-A-Lu-La," and a medley of Little Richard songs. The song was a part of the Beatle’s repertoire, but they never made a recording of it that was good enough to release as a single. John Lennon gives the song his all, and you can tell by listening how much he enjoyed the song then, and the day he recorded it. John is rocking out, and Gene would be proud.
"Stand by Me" was written by King-Leiber-Stoller and was recorded by Ben E. King in 1961. This was the only song to be released as a single on the album Rock 'n’ Roll. It reached number 20 on the Hot 100 charts. John’s version is more rock and roll than R&B. John sings this song with plenty of emotion, and he had emotion to draw from in his life. He had lost his mom when he was a teenager, and he never knew his father, so he probably wished he had them to stand by him in his younger days, though his Aunt Mimi was there to give him love and support. John Lennon and Yoko were separated at the time this album was made, so John’s thoughts were probably with Yoko while he sang these lyrics. This song is a classic and John makes the song sound brand new.
"Medley Rip It Up/Ready Teddy" was written by Robert Bumps Blackwell and John Marascalco. These two songs were originally performed by Little Richard, and the song is one minute and thirty-three seconds long, but you can hear John loving every second of it. Little Richard was one of John Lennon’s favorite performers. John Lennon considered Little Richard to be one of the all-time greats. I am surprised he didn’t stretch the songs out a little longer, but this is one powerful performance.
"You Can’t Catch Me" was written and performed by Chuck Berry in 1956. John Lennon states in Playboy that, "Come Together" is "me, writing obscurely around an old Chuck Berry thing. I left the line in, 'Here comes old flat-top.' It is nothing like the Chuck Berry song, but they took me to court because I admitted the influence once years ago, I could have changed it to 'Here comes old iron face,' but the song remains independent of Chuck Berry, or anybody else on earth.”
John makes the song his own and puts an edge to the song with his vocals.
"Ain’t That a Shame" was written by Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew in 1955. The Songfacts website said that this is the first song John Lennon learned how to play. It is great that John Lennon has that prominent piano and saxophone in the song. He honored the song by keeping it close to the original and giving his own special vocals to it.
"Do You Wanna Dance" written and sung by Bobby Freeman and was released in 1957. John Lennon stayed true to the original versions of the songs he recorded for this album, but this song he tweaked a little bit. He stated he wanted it to sound reggae. He said it made you feel happy, but he didn’t know if it made you want to dance because it is different from the first version by Bobby Freeman. John Lennon would have been better off keeping it sounding more rock and roll.
"Sweet Little Sixteen" was written and sung by Chuck Berry and was released in 1958. Phil Spector influenced this version of the song, and you can hear the wall of sound on the recording. Phil cut the tempo in half, but John Lennon sang it with passion, and his vocals top the wall of sound what a voice. It was perfect for signing rock and roll. He honored the song with his performance.
"Slippin’ and Slidin’" was written by Little Richard, Edwin Bocage, Al Collins, and James Smith. Little Richard released the song in 1956. John stated he heard the song from a friend who got the record from Holland. The song "Slippin’ and Slidin’" was the B side of the song Long Tall Sally. John said he also heard the version Buddy Holly did. The song starts out very much like Little Richard with the piano in the forefront and then all the instruments start to jam, and John gets the song moving with his raspy vocals. A great song then and a great song by John Lennon now.
"Peggy Sue" written by Holly-Allison-Petty and performed by Buddy Holly was released in 1957. John first recorded this song with his group the Quarrymen back in 1958. John and all the Beatles loved Buddy Holly and John said he used to sing every song that Buddy put out. In this version of "Peggy Sue," you can hear the energy in the song. The part of the song where he says “Look Out” shows just how much John got into the song. You can’t blame him; this song will stand the test of time as one of the all-time great songs of rock and roll.
"Melody/Bring it on Home to me/Send Me Some Lovin’," written by Cook/Price-Marascalco is a combination of songs by Sam Cooke and Little Ricard. Sam Cook released the song "Bring it on Home to Me" in 1962, and Little Richard recorded the song "Send Me Some Lovin’" in 1957. John said that “'Bring it on Home to Me' is one of my all-time favorite songs, and in fact, I have been quoted as saying I wish I had written it. I love it that much, and I was glad to be able to do it. 'Send Me Some Lovin’' is a similar kind of song and it was done originally by Little Richard—again one of my favorites—and by Buddy Holly.” John starts out strong and continues all throughout the song. Listening to his emotions you can tell immediately that these songs meant a lot to him.
"Bony Moronie" written and recorded by Larry Williams in 1957. John Lennon liked this song and Be-Bop-A-Lu-La because these were the earliest songs he performed live and that his mother got a chance to see him perform on stage. Singing this song must have taken him back to the beginning of his career. He also stated he liked Larry Williams, the artist who performed it, too.
"Ya Ya" by Robinson-Lewis-Dorsey and recorded by Lee Dorsey in 1961. John did this song because it was part of the agreement that John had to record songs owned by music publisher Morris Levy and because it was a good song. John’s vocals are so light and fun in this song. He puts a bounce into the lyrics and this song just jives all the way to the end of the song.
"Just Because" by Price and recorded by Lloyd Price in 1957. This song was never released in the United Kingdom, and John Lennon wasn’t familiar with it. He only did the song because Phil Spector wanted him to do it. The John Lennon version of this song sounds like he is at a concert. It begins with John talking and being a bit humorous, and it ends with John saying good night and saying basically the show was over.
Rock 'n’ Roll is a great album because you can see the influences on John Lennon, and how that led him to create songs with the Beatles that would take music to the next level. John Lennon makes the listener feel his joy in every note he sings.