Monday, December 1, 2008

John Lennon 7: Rock ‘N’ Roll

The existence of this album necessitates some background. By the time Mind Games had come out, John was already in LA drinking heavily and trying to record his favorite moldy oldies with Phil Spector. After that went badly, he wrote the songs that became Walls And Bridges and moved back to New York. The oldies project was more or less in limbo, and this album probably wouldn’t have come out when it did if not for some further odd turns of events. But once he’d decided to finish it for good, the remainder of the recordings went relatively quickly. The result was a surprisingly cohesive mix of the LA debacle and the NY fix-it job.
“Be-Bop-A-Lula” kicks us off fairly simply. (It also happens to be one of the songs John was singing the day he met Paul.) “Stand By Me” follows; it’s this version of that has become the pop standard most people know and love. His trademark reggae-strumming style (see “A Day In The Life”) sets the pace, and he turns in one of his greatest vocals ever, cementing his as one of the best voices in rock. “Ain’t That A Shame” and “Slippin’ And Slidin’” are fantastic, and the two medleys are effective yet faithful juxtapositions, but it’s the other twisty ones that still raise eyebrows. Most, but not all, of these tracks can be blamed on Spector, who thought it would be a good idea to slow down these tunes to dirge tempo. The percussion effects, like the cowbells and that thudding sound straight out of “Rock On” by David Essex, may have worked in the ‘70s, but only annoy ears today. “Do You Want To Dance” sounds like Bette Midler, and that’s not meant kindly. “Bony Moronie” just doesn’t work at anything less than top speed. “Just Because” was Phil’s idea (John hadn’t heard it before the first sessions), but John finished it at the New York sessions, effectively saying goodbye to that crazy show business.
Rock ‘N’ Roll doesn’t get as much play as his others, mostly because it’s so disjointed and partly because it’s not insightful lyrically. But his heart is in every note, which makes it above average. He probably could have recorded five more albums’ worth of his favorite songs from his youth, but again, this didn’t turn out like he’d envisioned it, and was essentially released to combat a marginally legal bootleg. (The 2004 CD reissue boasts improved sound, a handful of photos, nothing more in the way of liner notes, and dubious extra tracks: three songs from side one of the 1986 compilation Menlove Ave. and an faded-in reprise of “Just Because” seemingly included for name-checking the Other Three.)

John Lennon Rock ‘N’ Roll (1975)—3
2004 remaster: same as 1975, plus 4 extra tracks

1 comment:

  1. This is the only solo Beatle album to feature other Beatles on the cover. According to the photographer of this picture that is George and Paul walking by during the Hamburg days.

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