Lennon's troubled homage to the music he grew up with
John lennon’s infamous “Lost Weekend”, spanning autumn 1973 into 1975, is one of rock’s most intriguing legends. Separated from Mrs L, John raises hell with Harry Nilsson, Keith Moon and Ringo. Their Brandy Alexander-swilling exploits may have made the headlines but, creatively, it fired Lennon up. He recorded two albums, produced another for Nilsson and collaborated with Ringo, Elton John and Mick Jagger besides. A veritable workaholic binge compared to his output during the years either side, it gives the lie to the notion that Lennon had lost anything. Walls And Bridges (released 1974) alone is one of Lennon’s most compelling records, fuelled by the bottle but with penetrating songs like “Steel And Glass” and “Bless You”. Nilsson’s Pussy Cats (also 1974) is equally fascinating.
Initially, Lennon gave full rein to Phil Spector on his “Oldies But Mouldies”project, but the winter ’73 sessions proved disastrous. Every party animal in LA turned up to bang a tambourine or shake a maraca in the wall of sound. Meticulous as ever, once Spector was eventually ready for him each day, Lennon was a drunken, wasted wreck. Having realised only nine tracks in two months, the great producer absconded with the tapes. Lennon retrieved them six months later, but they were virtually unusable? especially his spent, rasping vocals. Reassembling the Walls And Bridges band, Lennon substituted new recordings and vocals on the Spector tracks?over just four days.
In a settlement with Chuck Berry’s publishers for plagiarism over “Come Together”, Lennon had agreed to record three songs they owned, including a version of the offending “You Can’t Catch Me”. They were also allowed to put out a pre-release mail-order version of Rock’N”Roll (aka Roots), albeit hastily withdrawn. The official release, bizarrely, discarded two of the best cuts?”Angel Baby” and the dazzling cacophony of “Be My Baby”.
This latest version also omits the Ronettes cover, but does include “Angel Baby”plus “To Know Her Is To Love Her” and “Since My Baby Left Me” (already on the posthumous Menlove Avenue). A pointless reprise of “Just Because”, name-checking the ex-Beatles, hardly makes amends for the missing “Be My Baby”, but the remastering beefs up and sharpens the sound, thankfully leaving Lennon’s vocals untouched. Rock’N’Roll is a ramshackle triumph over disaster: rough and ready, loose but tight. Lennon remains rock’s greatest singer, even though the irrefutable proof of this lies in Beatles’ recordings?the raw power of “Twist & Shout” or the sheer relish he brings to Larry Williams’ “Bad Boy”. Those are the performances of a young man with something to prove, whereas Rock’N’Roll is Lennon belting out old numbers from his youth and simply having a ball. As he says on the sleeve: “You Should Have Been There.”If only.