Rock ‘n’ Roll is the sixth studio album by John Lennon. Released in 1975, it is an album of late 1950s and early 1960s songs as covered by Lennon. Recording the album was problematic and spanned an entire year: Phil Spector produced sessions in October 1973 at A&M Studios, and Lennon produced sessions in October 1974 at Record Plant Studios (East). Lennon was being sued by Morris Levy over copyright infringement of one line in his song “Come Together”. As part of an agreement, Lennon had to include three Levy-owned songs on Rock ‘n’ Roll. Spector disappeared with the session recordings and was subsequently involved in a motor accident, leaving the album’s tracks unrecoverable until the beginning of the Walls and Bridges sessions. With Walls and Bridges coming out first, featuring one Levy-owned song, Levy sued Lennon expecting to see Lennon’s Rock ‘n’ Roll album.
The album was released in February 1975, reaching number 6 in both the United Kingdom and the United States, later being certified gold in both countries. It was supported by the single “Stand by Me”, which peaked at number 20 in the US, and 30 in the UK. The cover was taken by Jürgen Vollmer during the Beatles’ stay in Hamburg. It was Lennon’s last album until 1980; with no recording contract obligation, he took a hiatus from the music business to raise his son Sean.
In 1969, Lennon composed the song “Come Together” for the Beatles’ album Abbey Road. Inspired by the Chuck Berry tune “You Can’t Catch Me”, it bore too much of a melodic resemblance to the original—and Lennon took the third line of the second verse (“Here come [old] flat-top”) for the new lyric. Publisher Morris Levy brought a lawsuit for infringement, and the case was due to be heard in a New York court in December 1973. It was later settled out of court, with the agreement that, according to an announcement by Levy, Lennon had to “record three songs by Big Seven publishers on his next album”. The songs [he] intends to record at this time are “You Can’t Catch Me”, “Angel Baby” and “Ya Ya”.” Lennon had the right to change the last two songs to any other songs that were published by Big Seven. In the meanwhile, Lennon had split with Yoko Ono and was living in Los Angeles with his personal assistant, May Pang. Nostalgia was a popular trend on film with American Graffiti, and television was readying the series Happy Days (Lennon and Pang had even visited the set). Lennon, rather than writing his own songs, and partly inspired by his arrangement to include at least three songs from Levy’s publishing company catalogue, Big Seven Music, decided to record an album of oldies as his next release, following on from Mind Games.
Lennon initially teamed up with producer Phil Spector to record the album, letting Spector have full control. Spector chose some of the songs, booked the studio, and the musicians. When news got around that Lennon was in Hollywood making a record, every musician there wanted to be part of the sessions. In mid-October 1973, sessions were booked at A&M Studios, with many of them having over 30 musicians, but the sessions quickly fell into disarray—fueled by alcohol. Spector once showed up dressed in a surgeon’s outfit and shot a gun in the ceiling of the studio, hurting Lennon’s ears. On another occasion, a bottle of whiskey had spilled on the A&M Studio’s mixing console causing future sessions to be banned from the facility. Unknown to Lennon, each night Spector would remove the master tapes from the studio, and move them to his house.
Spector then disappeared with the session tapes and would not be heard from for several months. Spector made one cryptic call to Lennon, claiming to have the “John Dean tapes” from the recent Watergate scandal; Lennon deduced that Spector meant he had the album’s master tapes. When a car accident on 31 March 1974 left Spector in a coma, the project was put on indefinite hold. In mid-1974, Lennon returned to New York with Pang and began writing and recording a new album of original material, Walls and Bridges.
Shortly before these sessions began, Al Coury, then-head of A&R/promotion for Capitol Records retrieved the Spector tapes. Not wanting to break stride, Lennon shelved the tapes and completed work on Walls and Bridges.
With Walls and Bridges coming out first, Lennon had reneged on his deal with Levy, and Levy threatened to refile his lawsuit, but Lennon explained to Levy what had happened, and assured him that the covers album was indeed in the works. Levy gave Lennon use of his farm in upstate New York to rehearse material. Lennon then recalled the session musicians from Walls and Bridges to complete the oldies tracks. Several tracks never made it past the rehearsal stage: “C’mon Everybody”, “Thirty Days”, “That’ll Be the Day” – the band also played a few impromptu jams. On 21 October, Lennon went into Record Plant East, completing the oldies tracks in a few days. Lennon wanted the musicians to stay close to the original arrangements of the songs, apart from “Do You Wanna Dance?”. Mixing and editing lasted until mid-November. To assure him progress was being made, Lennon gave Levy a rough tape of the sessions to review. Levy took the tapes and pressed his own version of the album called Roots: John Lennon Sings the Great Rock & Roll Hits on his record label, Adam VIII, then proceeded to sue Lennon, EMI and Capitol for $42 million for breach of contract. Capitol/EMI quickly sought an injunction. After two trials, in which Lennon had to convince the court of the difference between a rough version and a final take, Levy won $6,795 in damages, and Lennon won $144,700, in February 1976. The album was originally scheduled for release in April 1975; however, in February 1975, Capitol Records rush-released the official Rock ‘n’ Roll as a Capitol “budget” album (prefix code SK—one dollar cheaper than the usual releases) to counteract sales of the Levy album.
Lennon said the following about Rock ‘n’ Roll: “It started in ’73 with Phil and fell apart. I ended up as part of mad, drunk scenes in Los Angeles and I finally finished it off on me own. And there was still problems with it up to the minute it came out. I can’t begin to say, it’s just barmy, there’s a jinx on that album.”
Lennon planned to use some of his childhood drawings for the cover of his oldies album, and production had already begun when Lennon switched gears, so the artwork was used instead for Walls and Bridges. In September 1974, May Pang attended the first Beatlefest convention at Lennon’s behest, and met Jürgen Vollmer, an old friend of the Beatles from Hamburg, Germany, who had photographed the band from their Hamburg days. He was selling some striking portraits, and Pang immediately phoned Lennon to tell him of her find. Reuniting with Vollmer in New York, Lennon chose one of his photos for the album’s cover.
The photo depicts Lennon in a doorway with three blurry figures walking past him in the foreground. Those figures are George Harrison, Stu Sutcliffe and Paul McCartney. It was taken on 22 Wohlwill Street in Hamburg. The album’s working title had been Oldies But Mouldies; no official title had been chosen until Lennon saw the neon sign prepared as cover art by John Uomoto, with Lennon’s name and the words “ROCK ‘N’ ROLL” beneath. This struck Lennon in a positive way, and it became the album title. (by wikipedia)
Although the chaotic sessions that spawned this album have passed into rock & roll legend and the recording’s very genesis (as an out-of-court settlement between John Lennon and an aggrieved publisher) has often caused it to be slighted by many of the singer’s biographers, Rock ‘n’ Roll, in fact, stands as a peak in his post-Imagine catalog: an album that catches him with nothing to prove and no need to try. Lennon could, after all, sing old rock & roll numbers with his mouth closed; he spent his entire career relaxing with off-the-cuff blasts through the music with which he grew up, and Rock ‘n’ Roll emerges the sound of him doing precisely that. Four songs survive from the fractious sessions with producer Phil Spector in late 1973 that ignited the album, and listeners to any of the posthumous compilations that also draw from those archives will know that the best tracks were left on the shelf — “Be My Baby” and “Angel Baby” among them. But a gorgeous run through Lloyd Price’s “Just Because” wraps up the album in fine style, while a trip through “You Can’t Catch Me” contrarily captures a playful side that Lennon rarely revealed on vinyl.
The remainder of the album was cut a year later with Lennon alone at the helm, and the mood remains buoyant. It might not, on first glance, seem essential to hear him running through nuggets like “Be Bop A Lula,” “Peggy Sue,” and “Bring It on Home to Me,” but, again, Lennon has seldom sounded so gleeful as he does on these numbers, while the absence of the Spector trademark Wall-of-Sound production is scarcely noticeable — as the object of one of Lennon’s own productions, David Peel once pointed out, “John had the Wall of Sound down perfectly himself.” Released in an age when both David Bowie and Bryan Ferry had already tracked back to musical times-gone-by (Pin-Ups and These Foolish Things, respectively), Rock ‘n’ Roll received short shrift from contemporary critics. As time passed, however, it has grown in stature, whereas those other albums have merely held their own. Today, Rock ‘n’ Roll sounds fresher than the rock & roll that inspired it in the first place. Imagine that. (by Dave Thompson)
Ken Ascher (keyboards)
Hal Blaine (drums)
Jim Calvert (guitar)
Steve Cropper (guitar)
Jesse Ed Davis (guitar)
José Feliciano (guitar)
Michael Hazelwood (guitar)
Arthur Jenkins (percussion)
Jim Keltner (drums)
Michael Lang (keyboards)
John Lennon (guitar, vocals)
Gary Mallaber (drums)
Eddie Mottau (guitar)
Leon Russell (keyboards)
Klaus Voormann (bass guitar, answer vocals on 10.)
Nino Tempo – Jeff Barry –Barry Mann –Bobby Keys – Peter Jameson – Joseph Temperley Dennis Morouse –Frank Vicari
01. Be-Bop-A-Lula (Davis/Vincent) 2.40
02. Stand By Me (Leiber/Stoller/King) 3.26
03. Medley: Rip It Up/Ready Teddy (Blackwell/Marascalco) 1.35
04. You Can’t Catch Me (Berry) 4.51
05. Ain’t That A Shame (Domino/Bartholomew) 2.38
06. Do You Wanna Dance? (Freeman) 3.16
07. Sweet Little Sixteen (Berry) 3.01
08. Slippin’ And Slidin’ (Bocage/Collins/Penniman/Smith) 2.17
09. Peggy Sue (Allison/Petty/Holly) 2.05
10. Medley: Bring It On Home To Me/Send Me Some Lovin’ (Cooke/Marascalco)Price) 3.42
11. Bony Moronie (Williams) 3.47
12. Ya Ya (Dorsey/Lewis/Robinson/Levy) 2.17
13. Just Because (Price) 4.26
John Lennon Sings the Great Rock & Roll Hits