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John Lennon

Apple 3419
Released: March 1975
Chart Peak: #6
Weeks Charted: 15

John LennonIt's kind of amazing when you think about it, but I don't know anyone who will admit to liking any of John Lennon's albums since Imagine (I certainly don't) and yet everybody still loves him, despite the continuing, boring saga of John and Yoko and their various public misadventures. Part of it is probably due to the still powerful Beatle mystique (witness his overwhelming success at the recent Elton John concert in New York), but I suspect it's mostly because, despite his erratic songwriting of late, he still has the pipes. Consider, if you will, the poll conducted by one of the British pop papers not long ago, in which sixty famous rock artists, from Little Richard to Alice Cooper, were asked to name their favorite singers, John finished a overwhelming first.

At any rate, hot on the heels of his generally undistinguished Walls and Bridges, John has now delivered that long-promised Oldies album, and I am happy to report that it is his first consistently listenable work in ages. Rock 'n' Roll, as it is succinctly titled, is, in fact a joy. John runs down a host of classic Fifties and early Sixties numbers, all the kind of thing he must have ruptured his lungs on during the Beatles' sojourn in the cellars of Hamburg way back when, and he obviously hasn't lost his touch; the singing is so alive, so full of fun, that I defy any but the most jaded progressive types not to be absolutely charmed by it. There are no surprises in the song selections, but John and his sometime producer Phil Spector are not afraid to play around with the arrangements: for example, Chuck Berry's "You Can't Catch Me" is slowed down so that it reveals its obvious parentage of John's own "Come Together." I am also especially impressed by the massive Spector-ization of Buddy Holly's "Peggy Sue," which comes off simultaneously as completely authentic and as a roar of heavy metal thunder the likes of which we simply have not been privileged to hear before.

John Lennon - Rock'n'Roll
Original album advertising art.
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I might also add that although John clearly takes not of these bits of sublime nonsense any more seriously than he has to, nowhere on this album are we subjected, in Robert Christgau's phrase, to "the sweet stink of a Bryan Ferry parody." In other words, although the times have changed, certain essential values in rock have not, and John, bless his heart, understands this. If someone hadn't beat him to it, Rock 'n' Roll could just as easily have been called "Bringing It All Back Home." It's that good, and therefore most heartening news for any Beatles fan.

- Steve Simels, Stereo Review, 5/75.

Bonus Reviews!

All the advertisements scream "you should have been there." Oh, John, I really wish I could have been there. This is nostalgia exactly the way it should be handled, with careful thought and impeccable performance.

Side One starts with "Be Bop-A-Lula." I close my eyes and sit back in my chair and think of how it must have been in 1961 and 1962, the first times that John Lennon and his band (you remember them?) got on the stage of the Jacaranda or The Cavern or the Star Club in Hamburg and played those songs. I can almost feel the closeness of the girls who waited in queues all day pushing towards the stage to see better as the walls sweat with the intense body heat of the crowd. I can see the other bands standing under the archways of the Cavern Club marveling at the amazing dexterity of this band, a group of guys from the streets of their own town making music the way they imagined only black American groups could make it.

John Lennon has taken a collection of his favorite rock and roll songs and interpreted them beautifully. It's Lennon's answer to Bowie's Pin Ups album. These are the songs Lennon grew up listening to. This is the music he learned from, the music he had to play, the songs that drew him into a rock and roll band. He has included "Stand By Me" (his latest single), "Ready Teddy/Rip It Up," "You Can't Catch Me," "Ain't That A Shame," "Peggy Sue," "Slippin' and Slidin'" and "Ya Ya."

You can tell Lennon really enjoyed this album. He's one gentleman who seems to have come to complete terms with his past and he's done it all beautifully.

- Janis Schacht, Circus, 6/75.

Lennon returns to the music he's always been most at home with -- good, solid rock from the '50s, the kind of music he and an awful lot of the rest of us grew up with. Unlike most LPs of this type, however, Lennon does not simply copy the old songs. They're certainly recognizable, but they are his. And they sound as contemporary and relevant today as the years in which they were hits, which is a tribute to both Lennon and the greats of early rock like Gene Vincent, Ben E. King, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Larry Williams, Lloyd Price and others. Fine production throughout from Lennon (at times with help from Phil Spector) and quite possibly the best and most emotional singing Lennon has come up with in years. In short, the record is exactly what the title says: the kind of rock music that will always stand. Expect immediate play on all fronts. Incidentally, LP is far better than other oldies Lennon has cut. Best cuts: "Be-Bop-A-Lula," "Stand By Me," "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Peggy Sue," "Bring It On Home To Me," "Just Because."

- Billboard, 1975.

No doubt mysteries of emotional and rhythmic commitment (soul and groove) determine why this runs out of gas after "Be Bop-a-Lula" and "Stand by Me." But it's also true that covering Gene Vincent and Ben E. King is considerably less perilous than covering Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Fats Domino, whose songs follow. Which may be why "Ya Ya" (Lee Dorsey) and "Just Because" (Lloyd Price) work. Too bad he didn't go for more esoterica -- this could have been another Moondog Matinee. B-

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

It was a common practice in the early 1970s for artists to satisfy record companies' demands for frequent LP releases by recording albums of cover songs (e.g., the Band's Moondog Matinee and David Bowie's Pinups). The story of John Lennon's covers album is a little more complicated, but the result is the same, with the artist tackling songs from the '50s by many of his favorites, from Gene Vincent to Lloyd Price. Of course, these are the kinds of songs that turned up on early Beatles albums, and while Lennon doesn't reinvent them as strikingly as his old group did, he gives them an affectionate, knowing treatment. * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Rock 'n' Roll is a splendid collection of rock favorites done in a relaxed manner by Lennon, who's in great voice. * * * *

- Roger Catlin, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

The remixed, remastered version of Lennon's 1975 Rock 'n' Roll (expanded by four bonus tracks) depicts the man at his most freewheeling. A tribute to the Fifties giants Lennon worshipped -- Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly among them -- Rock 'n' Roll is a genre exercise gone mad. As Lennon and producer Phil Spector spun into a haze of alcohol and drugs, the sessions descended into chaos. Orchestras full of musicians crowded into the studio to play on tunes such as "Be Bob A Lula" and "Bony Moronie," and Spector even fired a gun one night. After Lennon objected to his excesses, Spector ran off with the master tapes. An unauthorized version of the album came out, litigation ensued, and Lennon eventually finished the album on his own.

Amazingly, freed of his zany history, Rock 'n' Roll now plays exactly as it was intended to in the first place. It's a touching, heartfelt tribute to the music that made John Lennon who he was. It's not the album anyone will most remember him for, but these songs may well have meant the most to him. * * * *

- Anthony DeCurtis, Rolling Stone, 11/11/04.

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