John Lennon – Rock ‘n’ Roll (1975)

History: The Beatles often “borrowed” heavily from their influences when recording songs, and in a couple instances these resulted in lawsuits. “Come Together” was very similar to Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me” even using some of the same lyrics. Berry’s music publisher Morris Levy sued John for it, and a settlement was reached out of court where John would record three songs Levy owned and publish them on his album so that Levy could get the royalties. Production on this album actually started before Walls and Bridges, but shenanigans prevented it from being completed. Lennon was in much better shape by the time recording began again in late 1974, and he used many of the same musicians who had worked on Walls and Bridges to complete this album. He decided to dive into the theme and record all covers of rock and roll songs he had loved growing up.

My own personal history and initial prediction: I’m very familiar with John’s cover of “Stand by Me” from this album and I’ve always been really fond of that album cover. I don’t think I’ve heard anything else off this album though I am quite familiar with most of the original versions of these songs. I like the whole idea behind the album and I’m looking forward to giving it a listen. The Beatles did really well with most of the covers they did in their early days, many of which were sung by John, so this seems a perfect fit.

What I worked on while listening:

Finished!

Review: There’s just something about this early era of rock and roll that I think will always stand the test of time. This isn’t my generation of music, some of it is even too early to be considered my parents’ music, but I know it and love it. My husband makes part of his living singing songs from this era. Which is all to say that I may be a bit biased, but I’d also counter that as long as you have any love for rock and roll at all, you would enjoy this album too.

The majority of the record is upbeat danceable tunes but there’s also a few ballads thrown in, “Stand By Me” being the most obvious. You’ve got songs by a good selection of the greats – Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, Little Richard, and Sam Cooke, along with some folks whose names are not as well known now, but are what I would consider some nice hidden gems. While not every song had me tapping my feet along, they’re all really great tunes.

It’s obvious that this material means a lot to John and that these are songs he truly loves. While I think Paul generally covered the Little Richard songs in the Beatles for good reason, John does a decent job of emulating Richard’s style as well. You’re not going to say these are better than the original, same with Fats Domino or Sam Cooke, but they’re still really strong versions that can hold up. They are almost entirely done in the same style as the originals, with the exception of “Do You Want to Dance” which has been given an almost reggae or jazz feel to it. That song has also had so many different versions recorded and they all sound a little bit different, that it makes sense that he would also do his own version.

“Sweet Little Sixteen” stands in contrast to Ringo’s “You’re Sixteen” because this is a song about a sixteen year old girl who loves to go out dancing. It is mentioned that she’s an object of desire in that all the guys want to dance with her, but I like the fact that the song is mostly about her and her desire to go out and have fun rather than what could be interpreted as an older man’s lust. If there’s any song I’m not as crazy about it’s “Bony Moronie” mostly because of the beginning lines talking about her being skin and bone. But it’s not a bad song, just a little goofy.

Overall, this is a really fun album and one I could see myself returning to a lot, a chance to hear both more of John and some of these great rock and roll hits. I imagine there are some out there who would wish that John had used the last album on his recording contract before his hiatus by doing original songs rather than covers, but of course no one knew what was coming in 1980. This seems like a great way to make Levy happy with that settlement and also something that John clearly loved performing.

Singles released around this time:

“Move over Ms. L” – This was the b-side of “Stand By Me” a song recorded during the Walls and Bridges sessions but not included on that album. It manages to sound like that album but also have a really great retro feel that makes it seem at home alongside the 50s and early 60s songs on this album.

“Fame” by David Bowie – Lennon and Bowie spent a day together jamming in the studio and this song was the partial result of that. I’ve always loved this one, two of my favorite performers singing together, even if John’s contribution is fairly small. But who doesn’t love singing along with him in their best falsetto? I also just really love that riff, such a great groove.

Next Time: Wings’ returns with Venus and Mars.

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