John Lennon — Rock ‘n’ Roll

In the midst of my well-documented Beatlemania, a state that possessed me, and my roommate, from near the middle of my freshman year at college until well into junior year, and given that I loved a lot of those early covers by The Beatles, it’s only natural that I would buy, and love, Lennon’s 1975 release (1973 recording) of Rock ‘n’ Roll. This feels like something I picked up around 1979, and I’m pretty sure I bought it new, a rarity then, even for Beatles records.

Rock 'n' Roll front cover
Rock ‘n’ Roll front cover – love the choice to use this great early photo of John for the cover.

Widely known as Lennon’s legal obligation record, its recording was forced by a settlement against a plagiarism suit brought by music publisher Morris Levy, who owned the rights to Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me,” when Lennon’s “Come Together” veered too far into the original song’s lane. While only required to record three songs owned by Levy on his next album, he decided to go full American Graffiti and record an entire album of oldies and, having learned nothing, to give production control to Phil Spector. And this was the result.

When I bought this, I loved it. I did wish, and always will wish, he hadn’t recorded the whole thing in an echo chamber. For an album called “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” the vocals are subdued and echoed to death, killing any sense of immediacy. But I liked it and played it a lot, and particularly enjoyed his jocular little introduction to “Just Because” to close out the album – that part felt intimate and fun.

I made what was a classic cassette way back then where I started to play Lennon’s lugubrious version of “Do You Want To Dance,” and just as it started in, dragged the record to a stop, spun it backwards, and replaced it with The Ramones’ version, which is precisely eight million times better.

“Rip It Up/Ready Teddy” and “Just Because” made tapes as well. And it certainly sounds like Lennon is relaxed and having fun on what would be his last solo album – his next release would be 1980’s Double Fantasy, and well all know what happened then.

Nowadays, I find the production to just be phenomenally grating, the slapback echo on everything murdering and muddying the vocals. I do think I’d love to hear this remixed and remastered, if the echo effects could be taken out and the record made to sound cleaner. But absent that, I don’t play it anymore.

Rock 'n' Roll back cover
Rock ‘n’ Roll back cover – the neon look maintaining the nostalgic ’50s feel, and frankly not dissimilar from the nostalgic evocations of the kinda bizarre Beatles “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music” compilation album cover.
Rock 'n' Roll label
Rock ‘n’ Roll label

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