|John Lennon:The Roots of Rock 'N' Roll
By William McCoy and Mitch McGeary
"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. I can't begin to say, it's just barmy , there's a jinx on that album." -John Lennon
On September 26, 1969, Apple Records issued Abbey Road, the last and most popular album the Beatles recorded. The LP opens with Come Together, a Lennon-McCartney composition that was actually written entirely by John. The first line, "Here come old flat top, he come grooving up slowly" is suspiciously close to, "Here come old flat top, he was grooving up with me," a lyric from the 1956 Chuck Berry single, You Can 't Catch Me. John admitted being influenced by Berry while writing Come Together but denied plagiarizing his work. Nevertheless, Morris Levy, president of Roulette Records and the head of Big Seven Music Corporation (publishers of You Can't Catch Me), filed suit against John for copyright infringement. As with most legal action, the case took years to come to trial and months to settle.YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN THERE
In the fall of 1973, John and Yoko were living in New York City at the Dakota, a Gothic-styled apartment building on West 72nd Street across from Central Park. John had entered the United States with Yoko in August 1971 on a non-immigrant visa. He soon found he liked being in the country so much that he wanted to stay. Unfortunately, his visa expired on February 29, 1972 and could not be renewed. John petitioned the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to obtain a "green card," which would enable him to enter and leave the country as he pleased, but all of his requests were denied. The official reason given was that he was ineligible for such status due to his November 28, 1968 conviction in London for possession of one ounce of cannabis resin. However, years later it was revealed that the Nixon administration had illegally intervened in John's case after members of the Committee to Re-elect the President became worried that John would participate in a massive peace demonstration outside the 1972 National Republican Convention that was then scheduled to be held in San Diego.
Nineteen months of legal maneuvering and court appearances caused friction between John and Yoko. John's unrelenting desire to live in America coupled with Yoko's wish to locate Kyoko, a daughter by a previous marriage who had disappeared with her father, Anthony Cox, all took its toll on their personal life. Then, one afternoon in early October 1973, John walked out of their seventh-floor apartment to buy some cigarettes and a newspaper and did not return. Instead, he caught a plane to Los Angeles and began his fifteen month "lost weekend."
To avoid dwelling on his separation from Yoko, whom he still loved and needed, John tried to bury himself in his work. He moved into a Santa Monica beach house and talked to producer Phil Spector about working on an album of rock n' roll "oldies." The idea dated back to the days of Let It Be when the Beatles toyed with the notion of doing a similar project.
John spent three weeks trying to convince Spector he would be given complete control of the album. He promised not to come into the booth between takes and co-produce as he'd done on John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, Imagine and Sometime In New York City.
John was not lacking for material. His just-completed Mind Games had yet to be released. John just wanted to have some fun in the studio singing some of the rock n' roll songs he had performed as a teenager. He did not want to be bothered with arranging the tunes, hiring the musicians or mixing the tapes.
Work on the album finally commenced in mid-October 1973. John sang and played rhythm guitar while Phil dictated orders from the control room. The sessions took place in Los Angeles at A&M Studios and Record Plant West. They quickly gained legendary status among the city's top session men as Phil was using up to twenty-eight musicians on a single track, all playing "live" (and often out-of-tune).
Although not credited on the album, those participating in the sessions included Hal Blaine, Larry Carlton, David Cohen, Steve Cropper, Jesse Ed Davis, Jose Feliciano, Jim Gordon, Nicky Hopkins,
Jim Horn, Jim Keltner, Bobby Keys, Barry Mann, Harry Nilsson, Dan Phillips, Mac Rebennack (alias Dr. John), Leon Russell, David Scott, Phil Spector, Nine Tempo, Klaus Voorman and Charlie Watts.
Shortly after the sessions began, the copyright infringement suit between Morris Levy and John came to an end. Levy was victorious although John still maintained he had not plagiarized anything.
According to the first part of the settlement, John agreed to record three Big Seven Music songs on his next LP. The Big Seven catalog consists primarily of rock and pop tunes from the late fifties and early sixties. Since John was already working on an "oldies" collection, it would be easy to include several Big Seven numbers without it being obvious that he was bound to record them.
The second part of the agreement called for John, as part owner of Apple Music Publishing Company, Inc. (U.S.) to let Big Seven license any three of the following seven Apple Music titles: Those Were The Days and Goodbye (Lennon-McCartney), the first two international hits by Mary Hopkin; Carolina In My Mind and Something's Wrong, both sides of James Taylor's 1970 Apple single; Come And Get It (McCartney) and No Matter What, the first two Top Ten hits by Badfinger, plus their final A-side, Apple Of My Eye.
On October 29, Apple Records released Mind Games b/w Meat City in America (Apple 1868), followed on November 2 by Mind Games (Apple SW 3414). Both records sold quite well and showed a marked lyrical change from John's political sloganizing on Sometime In New York City. To the public, it was ex-Beatle John Lennon playing straight ahead rock music for the seventies.
Back in Los Angeles, rumors were running rampant in the music trade about the wild goings-on at the Spector sessions. According to drummer Jim Keltner, Phil had fired a gun inside Record Plant West although studio representatives denied it. Rolling Stone reported that Spector had drawn two guns on Stevie Wonder, a guest one evening, in protest of Wonder supposedly hiring away an engineer Spector wanted to use. John later told BBC Radio's Andy Peebles that he once heard a loud noise, possibly gunfire, coming from the men's room of the Record Plant. Harry Nilsson also recounted how Spector had John tied to a chair during one session and then left him in the studio at the end of the night. Fortunately, John managed to free himself and called a friend to come get him out of the building. According to Anthony Fawcett, John's personal assistant, much of this lunatic behavior was caused by those in the studio consuming considerable amounts of brandy while they worked.
By late December 1973, Spector had eight tracks "in the can," including three that satisfied John's settlement with Morris Levy.
Below is the list of songs along with the performers who made them famous:
Bony Moronie (Larry Williams)
Sweet Little Sixteen (Chuck Berry)
My Baby Left Me (Arthur Cruddup/Elvis Presley)
Just Because (Lloyd Price/Larry Williams)
Be My Baby (The Ronettes)
Angel Baby (Rosie and the Originals; John's all-time favorite single and a Big Seven song)
You Can't Catch Me (the Chuck Berry hit that caused the lawsuit)
Ya Ya (Lee Dorsey; not actually a Big Seven title but it was co-written by Levy)
(The changing credits to Ya Ya is a story in itself. In the sixties, the songwriter was listed as Morris Robinson. By the early seventies, the credits expanded to Morris Robinson/Clarence Lewis/Lee Dorsey. Then in the late seventies, they changed again to Morris Levy/Clarence Lewis.)
After these eight tracks were completed, Spector quit coming to the sessions. One evening, he called John and told him not to bother driving into the studio because it had burned down. A little skeptical, John had one of his companions phone the Record Plant where they found business as usual.
A few days later, Spector disappeared altogether and, as John soon learned, he had taken the master tapes with him. It was standard procedure for EMI Records to pay all the production costs for any Beatles or solo Beatles project. Expenses for these marathon sessions were now over $200,000. Apple Records discovered that Phil had been paying for the sessions himself through his Warner-Spector affiliation and therefore had been taking the tapes home with him each night.
With the Watergate scandal front page news, Phil called John a week later and told him he had "the John Dean tapes." Phil said he was the only one who could tell if they had been tampered with. What he was actually saying was that he had John's "oldies" tapes and there was no way John was going to get them back.
Knowing Spector's eccentric habits, John decided to wait around Los Angeles for Phil to turn up but months passed and no one could locate him.
By January 1974, John's mental state was anything but healthy. After the sessions broke down, he became increasingly depressed over his separation from Yoko. It was the first time he had been without her since 1968. He phoned her constantly and tried to get her to take him back but she refused, saying he was not ready to move in with her yet. Then there was the loss of the Spector tapes. John needed them to fulfill his agreement with Morris Levy. He had never left an album unfinished before and had certainly never had anyone walk off with his work. John's immigration status was also shaky at best, with the possibility of him being deported at any time. In England, legal proceedings were in full swing to dissolve the Beatles partnership.
WHATEVER GETS YOU THROUGH THE NIGHT
In November 1973, John started hanging out with an old friend, singer Harry Nilsson. Harry had wandered into A&M Studios one night not knowing who was recording and ended up working on John's album for the next month. The two of them soon became drinking buddies and together they started putting away Brandy Alexanders "like milkshakes."
By March 1974, John was fed up waiting around for the Spector tapes so he decided to produce a Harry Nilsson album for RCA Records, Pussy Cats (US: RCA CLP 1-0570). John figured the best way to pull this project together in a hurry was to have everyone involved move into his Santa Monica beach house. Living under one roof were John, Harry, Harry's fiancee Una, Ringo Starr, Klaus Voorman and Keith Moon.
Reports of John and Harry's drunken antics became a staple of the Hollywood gossip columns. In March, the two of them were thrown out of the Troubador club in Los Angeles for heckling during a reunion performance by the Smothers Brothers. John finally had to lock himself in his bedroom for several days to give up booze so he could settle down to some serious recording with Harry and friends at Record Plant West.
About a month before the sessions started, Harry's voice became hoarse. Most of his friends attributed it to hard living and figured it would clear up in time. Others thought the problem was psychological. It turned out he was actually suffering from a ruptured vocal chord that was bleeding every time he sang.
During the sessions, rumors started to circulate about what had happened to Phil Spector. In April, Spector's secretary, Judy Sakawye, issued a statement that said Phil had been in a serious automobile accident somewhere between Los Angeles and Phoenix around February 10 and had received numerous head and body injuries. Sakawye said she got her information by phone from Spector's personal aide and bodyguard, George, but that no one she knew had actually seen Phil. (Phil's New York attorney, Martin Machat, later told Rolling Stone that the accident happened just outside Phoenix.)
Then on March 31, Spector was supposedly involved in a second accident, this time definitely in Los Angeles. Phil himself said he was thrown through the armor-plated front window of his car and suffered multiple facial cuts and severe burns when the automobile caught fire. According to Phil, he was almost pronounced dead on the way to the emergency hospital.
Spector later told Roy Carr of New Musical Express that he received 380 stitches in his face and 480 stitches on the back of his head, that his nose had to be sewed back on after it was completely torn off the bridge and that his hair turned white overnight from shock. Phil also said that after being on the critical list for seventy-two hours, he underwent complete plastic surgery on his face.
Whatever the circumstances, Spector was released from the hospital the week of July 8. His first public appearance was in a Santa Monica courthouse where he was trying to keep ex-wife Veronica Bennett (Ronnie Spector of the Ronettes) from getting visitation rights to see the youngest of their three adopted children, five-year old Dante. The Spectors divorced earlier in 1974 and Phil was awarded custody of all three kids.
In August 1974, John finally gave up waiting to hear from Spector even though Phil was back in the studio producing an album for Dion. John flew back to New York to finish remixing Pussy Cats. He had also written a new song, Nobody Loves You (When You're Down And Out), and was anxious to record a new album of his own.
John had a court appointment to keep in New York as well. As of July 17, the U.S. Justice Department had given him sixty days to leave the country voluntarily or face deportation. John appealed the ruling.
Before leaving Los Angeles, John wrote the title track for Ringo's next album, Goodnight Vienna, and joined Ringo, producer Richard Perry and a host of familiar session men, including Jim Keltner, Jesse Ed Davis and Bobby Keys, at Sunset Sound studios to play piano on the cut.
Back in New York, John moved into the Hotel Pierre on Fifth Avenue, where he wrote ten more songs. In late August, he booked the tenth-floor studio of New York's Record Plant East, on 44th Street, and started work on a new album, Walls And Bridges. From Los Angeles, John flew in Ken Asher (keyboards), Jesse Ed Davis (guitar), Nicky Hopkins (piano), Jim Keltner (drums), Bobby Keys (sax) and Klaus Voorman (bass), all of who played on the Spector sessions. From New York, John hired Arthur Jenkins (percussion) and Eddie Mottau (acoustic guitar) plus additional horn players and back-up singers.
One night, John got quite a surprise when Elton John dropped by the sessions. Tony King of Apple Records had introduced the two giants of the music industry during the Spector sessions and Elton later participated on both Pussy Cats and Goodnight Vienna. In New York, he ended up singing and playing piano on the up-tempo Whatever Gets You Through The Night. (John returned the favor by singing back-up and playing rhythm guitar on the A-side of Elton's next single, a cover version of the Beatles' Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, and by playing guitar on the B-side, One Day (At A Time), a Lennon song off of Mind Games.)
Two days before the sessions began, John regained possession of the Phil Spector material. Rather than using studio time to sort through the ten boxes of tape, John decided to go ahead and record his new album and put the Spector tracks aside for the time being. To get the tapes back, John had to have Capitol Records sue Phil, yet in the final settlement, it was Capitol president Al Coury who paid Spector $90,000 in cash for their return.
On September 23, Apple Records released Whatever Gets You Through The Night b/w Beef Jerky in America (Apple 1874), followed on September 26 by Walls And Bridges (Apple SW 3416). John's friends thought the album might sound negative, since the songs dealt with his L.A. "lost weekend," but the record turned out to be refreshing and alive and marked the return of some of the magic that surrounded John when he was a Beatle.
STEEL AND GLASS
Unfortunately, the release of Walls And Bridges before the "oldies" album posed a serious problem. All the songs were John Lennon originals. (Old Dirt Road was co-written by John and Harry Nilsson.) The only acknowledgment to Morris Levy was the inclusion at the end of Side two of a snippet of Ya Ya recorded during a break by John, with John's then eleven-year-old son Julian playing drums. John's settlement with Levy called for three complete Big Seven Music songs to appear on his "next" album.
Levy phoned Lennon's attorney, Harold Seider, and insisted on talking to John face-to-face. On October 8 the three met for lunch at New York's Club Cavaliero on 58th Street. John explained what had happened to the Spector tapes and that he had indeed recorded three Big Seven songs for what he thought would be his "next" LP.
At the end of the Walls And Bridges sessions, John listened to the eight Spector tracks but found that only four were suitable for release. He debated what to do with them. He thought of issuing the four cuts on an EP but American record companies were not pressing EPs in 1974. He also considered putting them out as successive singles but did not feel the individual tracks were strong enough for that. Finally, he decided to go back to the Record Plant and re-record enough material to make a full album using many of the same musicians who played on Walls And Bridges.
During lunch, John also told Levy he was considering marketing his "oldies" album through television. John figured the public might have lost interest in the nostalgia craze that swept the entertainment industry following the 1973 release of George Lucas' blockbuster motion picture, "American Graffiti", Putting out an "oldies" collection seemed like a good idea in 1973, but after a year of problems it now sounded stale. The hard-core rock community's expectations of what John and Phil would produce together had now eclipsed anything John could hope to salvage from the already finished tracks.
After John explained that he was going back into the studio to re-record most of the cuts, Levy let John spend a weekend rehearsing at his upstate New York farm. Levy later claimed that while there, John gave him permission to sell the finished "oldies" album through TV on his Adam VIII Ltd. mail-order label.
Before going back into the studio, John also spent some time with Mick Jagger at Mick's summer home in Montauk, Long Island. One afternoon, the two of them went out on a sailboat with their guitars and played through all of the old rock 'n' roll classics they could think of. According to Jagger, John was trying to "pick (his) brains" over what material to record for his "oldies" album, which John now referred to as "Old Hat."
Eventually, John typed a list of the songs he intended to put on tape:
Be-Bop-A-Lula (Gene Vincent)
Peggy Sue (Buddy Holly) That'll Be The Day (Buddy Holly)
Breathless (Jerry Lee Lewis)
Slipping And A Sliding (sic) (Little Richard and Buddy Holly)
Come On Everybody (Eddie Cochran)
Rip It Up (Little Richard)
Reddy Teddy (sic) (Little Richard)
Do You Wanna Dance (sic) (Bobby Freeman)
Bring It On Home To Me (Sam Cooke and Carla Thomas)
Send Me Some Loving (sic) (Little Richard, Buddy Holly and Sam Cooke)
Stand By Me (Ben E. King)
Also included, but crossed out, were:
(30) 40 Days (Chuck Berry and Ronnie Hawkins)
Ain't That A Shame (Fats Domino)
Summertime Blues (Eddie Cochran)
Between October 21 and October 25, John and his crew of seven studio musicians recorded nine new tracks at Record Plant East:Be-Bop-A -Lula
Stand By Me
Ready Teddy/Rip It Up
Ain't That A Shame
Do You Want To Dance
Slippin' And Slidin'
Bring It On Home To Me/Send Me Some Lovin'
John re-recorded Ya Ya, the Morris Levy number, despite having a finished version "in the can" from the Spector sessions. He probably wanted to make sure he had a clean take for release since he had angered Levy by using a one-minute practice tape of the tune on Walls And Bridges.
It's possible that John also re-recorded Bony Moroney. Tom Panunzio, an assistant engineer at Record Plant East who started working there only a few weeks before John's "oldies" sessions began, said he "stretched a finished tape" of the song one evening, thereby destroying it. Since the commercially released version came from the Spector sessions, the tape Panunzio ruined must have been a second recording of the number made in New York.
The last track to be completed was Just Because, a Lloyd Price song that Phil had suggested John record. Phil produced the basic track in Los Angeles but John redubbed his lead vocals in New York. As the track fades out, you can hear John saying: "This is Doctor Winston O'Boogie saying goodnight from Record Plant East, New York. We hope you had a swell time. Everybody here says 'hi', good-bye." Several years later, John wondered whether saying "good-bye" at the end of the number was his unconscious farewell to the recording industry, since that word turned out to be the last thing he put on tape for five years.
During the making of the "oldies" album, John, George and Paul were involved in a lawsuit against Apple Corps Limited manager Alien Klein. It's ironic that John then went ahead and recorded Sam Cooke's Bring It On Home To Me. Although John described it as "one of my all-time favorite songs," the publishing rights were held by Kags Music Corporation, a company owned in part by Klein. By releasing the track, John was actually putting money back into Alien Klein's pocket.
In a similar situation, John was also earning money for Paul McCartney. As a teenager, John had been a die-hard Buddy Holly fan and later said he had performed everything Holly released. When it came time to pick a particular Buddy Holly song for his "oldies" collection, John chose Peggy Sue. Prior to the release of the album, Paul McCartney purchased the Buddy Holly Music publishing company. That meant the publisher's royalties for John's recording of Peggy Sue went to McCartney Music.
In mid-November 1974, Morris Levy persuaded John to send him a rough mix of the "oldies" album. Since Levy controlled three of the songs and since John's recordings of those three titles served as the final settlement between them, John gave Levy a 7-1/2-ips stereo dub of the fifteen tracks.
On November 28, 1974, John made his first public appearance in two years when he turned up as a surprise guest with the Elton John Band at Madison Square Garden. John had promised Elton that if
Whatever Gets You Through The Night became a Number One hit in America, he would join him on-stage in New York to sing it. John remained true to his word and together the two of them romped through a rousing version of the song before an ecstatic, sold out crowd. They also performed Elton's current single Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds and delighted everyone by closing with another Beatles number, I Saw Her Standing There, which John had never sung lead on before.
(A "live" recording of I Saw Her Standing There was issued as the B-side of Elton's next single, Philadelphia Freedom. Shortly after John's death, Elton's record company, DJM, released all three "live" cuts, both on a 7-inch and 12-inch maxi-single, and as part of a "live" album of highlights from Elton's highly acclaimed New York performance).
As time passed, John began to have his doubts about the "oldies" album. The initial tracks that Spector produced sounded lethargic and overblown and the nine additional cuts he had recorded in New York had been churned out at the rate of two-a-day with little time spent on arranging or overdubbing. The idea of an "oldies" album seemed good in 1973, but now it would be at least spring of 1975 before the record could be in the stores. John thought about shelving the whole project but he had never left an entire LP "in the can" before and had no desire to start now.
He played some of the tracks for his friends and for executives at Capitol Records. They all said they liked them so eventually he decided to go ahead and release the album.
At the end of December, John took his son Julian and secretary May Pang to Florida for a combination vacation and business trip. While there, they shared an apartment with Morris Levy and spent much of their time relaxing in Disney World.
A few days after arriving in Florida, John met with his attorney, Harold Seider, to sign the necessary papers for the final dissolution of the Beatles partnership. John found it more than a little amusing that the tangled business affairs of the group should finally be settled amid Disney World's fantasy atmosphere.
Before leaving Florida, Morris Levy tried to persuade Seider to speak to Capitol Records about getting him the necessary clearances to sell John's "oldies" album via television on his own Adam VIII Limited label. According to John, Levy expected to earn between one and two dollars profit per album. This would net John and EMI Records only twenty-three cents per LP after expenses.
When Capitol learned that Levy might indeed get John's tapes, tapes that they had spent $90,000 to recover, they were furious. After all, neither Capitol Records nor John Lennon had given Levy the right to market John's recordings, his name nor his likeness. Several weeks later, Seider, acting on behalf of Capitol and John, told Levy he would not be able to issue any John Lennon records.
January 1975 was a good month for the Lennons. Most important was John's reconciliation with Yoko. The two had met backstage at Madison Square Garden after John's appearance with Elton John and found they were still very much in love. With the start of the new year, John moved back in with Yoko at the Dakota.
Another relief was the announcement in London on January 9 that the Beatles partnership was now officially dissolved. It brought to an end four unpleasant years of court battles.
Even John's immigration fight was starting to go his way. On January 2, John and his attorneys won the right to inspect his U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service files in an attempt to prove that the Nixon administration had interfered in John's case.
John also spent several days in the studio with David Bowie, where he played guitar on Bowie's cover version of the Beatles' Across The Universe and co-wrote the A-side of Bowie's next single, Fame, with Bowie and Carlos Alomar.
With everything else in John's life improving, his problems with Morris Levy were far from over. In early February 1975, Levy took the rough tape John had given him and pressed it into an album, John Lennon Sings The Great Rock & Roll Hits/Roots (US: Adam VIII A8018). The jacket and record labels said, "Produced from master recordings owned by and with permission of John Lennon and Apple Records, Inc.," even though the LP had been transferred from a 7-1/2-ips dub. Naturally, the sound quality was inferior.
The album's front cover featured a cheaply reproduced cut-out photo of John taken by Ethan Russell during the Let It Be sessions. It bore little resemblance to the way John looked in 1975. The back cover had the list of song titles plus illustrations of two other Adam VIII TV compilations.
The running order of Roots is as follows:(Side One) Be-Bop-A -Lula/Ain't That A Shame/Stand By Me/Sweet Little Sixteen/
Rip It Up/Angel Baby/Do You Want ToDance/You Can 't Catch Me
(Side Two) Bony Moronie/Peggy Sue/Bring It On Home To Me/
Slippin' & Slidin ' (sic)/Be My Baby/Ya Ya/Just Because.
Levy left himself vulnerable to a lawsuit from Venice Music, Incorporated for failing to credit two of its songs on the album. On side one, Rip it Up is actually a medley of Ready Teddy and Rip It Up. Here there is no real problem since both numbers were written by Robert Blackwell and John Marascalco and published by Venice Music. On side two, Bring It On Home To Me turns out to be a combination of that song and Send Me Some Lovin'. Levy made no mention on the cover or label of the latter tune, its writers (Lloyd Price and John Marascalco) or Venice Music.
When Capitol Records learned that Levy was getting ready to release Roots, it rush-released an authorized version of John's "oldies" album, Rock 'N' Roll (US: Apple Records SK-3419). Besides being pressed from the original master tapes, Rock 'N' Roll also featured cover art selected and approved by John. The front of the jacket bears a striking black-and-white photo of a young John Lennon leaning against a doorway in downtown Hamburg. This shot was taken by Jurgen Vollmer, one of the Beatles' few close German friends, during their second trip to Hamburg in the spring of 1961.
John also re-sequenced the songs and eliminated two of the rougher tracks, Angel Baby and Be My Baby, both from the Spector sessions.
Angel Baby was a Big Seven Music song and was one of three numbers John recorded as a settlement to Morris Levy's copyright infringement suit. By omitting it, John was openly disregarding the terms he'd agreed to and was leaving himself wide-open for further legal action.
Below is the running order of Rock 'N' Roll:(Side One) Be-Bop-A-Lula/Stand By Me/Medley:Rip It Up-Ready Teddy/You Can't Catch Me/
Ain't That A Shame/Do You Want To Dance/Sweet Little Sixteen/
(Side Two) Slippin' And Slidin' /Peggy Sue/Medley: Bring it On Home To Me-Send Me Some Lovin'/
Bony Moronie/Ya Ya/Just Because.
On February 7, Capitol Records shipped out the first copies of Rock 'N' Roll. The album featured thirteen tracks and carried a list price of $5.98. On February 8, Adam VIII television ads for Roots appeared on many independent stations in the eastern United States. Roots had fifteen cuts and was selling for $4.98.
Capitol immediately informed TV and radio stations that Roots was not an "official" John Lennon album and that anyone who continued to advertise and sell it would be liable for criminal prosecution. Capitol was able to force Adam VIII to stop production on Roots but not until after 3,000 copies had been pressed. John later said he had ordered several copies for himself and waited over three weeks for the records to arrive.
Capitol's initial pressing of Rock 'N' Roll was 2,444 LPs and 500 eight-track tapes, but after its first month in the stores only 1,270 LPs and 175 eight-track tapes had actually been purchased. In 1985, ten years after its release, Rock 'N' Roll ranked as the second-worst-selling music album by John Lennon, just ahead of Sometime In New York City, John and Yoko's strongly political LP, which by then had
sold less than 175,000 copies in the United States.
Once Capitol removed all copies of the Adam VIII album from the market, Morris Levy sued John for breach of an oral agreement and asked for $42 million in damages. Surprisingly, Levy made no mention of John's failure to comply with their original settlement.
John promptly filed a countersuit against Levy for his unauthorized use of John's recordings, his name and his likeness. John also asked for damages, claiming his reputation as a recording artist had been harmed due to the "shoddiness" of the Roots packaging.
On October 7, 1975, the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the Immigration and Naturalization Service's order to deport John. In September, the INS had given John temporary non-priority status due to Yoko's pregnancy but his attorneys told him not to expect a decision in the case for at least two months. The INS had officially denied John the right to live in America because of his 1968 marijuana conviction in London, but the Court of Appeals determined that under U.S. law John's guilty plea to possession of one ounce of cannabis resin couldn't be used as grounds to prevent him from obtaining permanent residency, and therefore John had been prosecuted unjustly. In its thirty-page decision, the court called "Lennon's four-year battle to remain in our country...a testimony to his faith in this American dream."
Then on October 9 (John's thirty-fifth birthday), an even more joyful event occurred in John and Yoko's lives: the birth of their son Sean. Since Yoko had already suffered three miscarriages, both were concerned about the well-being of their child, but Sean, delivered by cesarean section, turned out to be a healthy, eight-pound, ten-ounce baby boy. An elated John told reporters, "I feel higher than the Empire State Building."
WHAT YOU GOT
In January 1976, the Morris Levy suit finally came to trial in U.S. District Court in Manhattan with Judge Thomas Griesa presiding. John had excellent legal counsel and was prepared to fight to the end. Ultimately, John may owe thanks to Levy's attorney, William Schurtman, for the direction the case took.
John contended that the tape Levy had used to manufacture Roots was only a 7-1/2-ips dub (and a rough mix at that) and therefore, the resulting records could only be of substandard quality. Schurtman attempted to disprove this by showing that if both Roots and Rock 'N' Roll were played on an ordinary record player, no one could hear any difference between the two. To demonstrate this, he brought his daughter's portable stereo into the courtroom along with copies of both LPs. He first put on Roots and played the opening cut, Be-Bop-A-Lula, but he had neglected to check the speed of the turntable and the record played back at 45rpm. After a quick adjustment, he tried to play Be-Bop-A-Lula again, but something else went wrong. Finally, Judge Griesa volunteered to take the two LPs to the nearby apartment of his law clerk and compare them at a later time.
John also argued that the cover photo on Roots, an early 1969 shot of him in shoulder-length hair, could damage his credibility as a recording artist because it neither reflected how he looked when the record was made nor was it a conceptual design, as on Rock 'N' Roll, created to evoke the spirit of the material on the album. Prior to the trial, John had gotten his hair cut quite short and now looked nothing like the photo in question. Schurtman put John on the stand and tried to intimidate him by maintaining that he had had his hair cut just for the trial.
"Rubbish," John replied. "I cut it every 18 months."
Everyone in the court, including Judge Griesa, broke into laughter. Schurtman eventually caused a mistrial. It happened one afternoon when, for no apparent reason, he began examining the front cover of John and Yoko's Two Virgins (with both of them nude) in full view of the jury. To top it off, once Judge Griesa ended the proceedings, Schurtman walked over to John and asked him to autograph the album.
Following the mistrial, both parties again presented their case to Judge Griesa but this time without a jury. The second trial lasted until February 5.
On February 20, Judge Griesa issued his twenty-nine-page opinion. He said he had no doubt that John had made a "tentative verbal agreement" with Morris Levy concerning Levy's right to issue John's "oldies" album on Adam VIII Records, but pointed out that John was never in a legal position to negotiate any deal related to his recordings because he was under an exclusive contract to EMI
In March 1976, John's counterclaim against Levy went to trial. John Lennon, Capitol Records and EMI Records were asking for reimbursement of lost income due to the release and sale of Roots. John was also asking for punitive damages for any harm to his career suffered because of the poor quality of Adam VIII's packaging
On July 13, Judge Griesa set the damages in Levy's original suit, awarding Big Seven Music Corporation $6,795 for John's breach of an oral agreement. In John's countersuit, Judge Griesa ruled that John, Capitol Records and EMI Records should receive $109,700 to compensate for lost income from the sale of Roots. John was also awarded an additional $35,000 in punitive damages.
Levy appealed but John was victorious again. However, the second judge reduced the amounts of the damages. In the opening of his opinion, the judge chose several lines from John's Nobody Loves You (When You're Down And Out) to comment on the circumstances of the case: "Everybody's hustlin' for a buck and a dime/I'11 scratch your back and you scratch mine.../All I can tell you is it's all show biz."
After the trial was over, John told Rolling Stone's Chet Flippo, "The reason I fought this was to discourage ridiculous suits like this. They didn't think I'd show or that I'd fight. They thought I'd just
settle, but I won't."
Collectors should also be aware that about six months after Capitol Records stopped Adam VIII from distributing Roots, excellent-quality counterfeit copies surfaced in the United States and were later available in Canada, Great Britain, and Europe. While the color printing and quality of the vinyl were quite good, the lettering on the record label was below-par compared to genuine Adam VIII albums. Some of the
counterfeits used the word "Greatest" instead of "Great" on the spine title, while others did not. ALL originals have the word "Great". Originals also had printed inner sleeves while the fakes used white sleeves. A good way to tell originals from counterfeits is on the back of the LP. On the ad for the LP
Soul Train, the text printing is readable on originals but blurred on the fake copies.
In March 1975, Apple Records issued a single from Rock 'N' Roll, Stand By Me b/w Move Over Ms. L (US: Apple 1881). The B-side was a previously unreleased John Lennon song recorded October 23, 1974, in New York during the Rock 'N' Roll sessions. In 1980, Capitol Records in America deleted the original Apple pressing and re-released Stand By Me as a double A-sided single b/w Woman Is The Nigger Of The World (US: Capitol Starline 6244), leaving Move Over Ms. L out-of-print at the time. However, the track was available in most other countries, including Australia, England, Germany, and Japan.
Apple had also planned to put out a second Rock 'N' Roll single in America. At the last minute the record was withdrawn, but not before many major radio stations received special mono/stereo promotional copies of both titles: Ain't That A Shame m/s (Apple P-1883) and Slippin' And Slidin' m/s (Apple P-1883).
In 1986, Yoko compiled Menlove Ave, a collection of John Lennon outtakes, which EMI
issued worldwide in November. Side one is made up of tracks recorded during the Rock 'N' Roll
sessions, while side two features John's original studio runthroughs of five songs from Walls And
The Rock 'N' Roll tapes originate from the legendary Phil Spector sessions in Los Angeles.
An excellent quality version of Angel Baby is included after being deleted from Rock 'N' Roll by
John. The number first surfaced illegally in the United States on Roots. The other rarity from
John's cover of the Ronettes' Be My Baby remains "in the can". This collection also contains the
only other known outtake from the Spector sessions, My Baby Left Me, the Arthur Crudup number.
Yoko managed to unearth two songs not known to exist: John's version of Spector's first
hit, To Know Her Is To Love Her, plus an unreleased song written in the studio by John and Phil,
Here We Go Again. The tracks are rounded out by John's original recording of Rock And Roll
People, a song he gave to blues guitarist Johnny Winter in 1974 for his LP,
As we have already pointed out, the covers of these two albums are completely different. Roots features a color cut-out photo of John taken during the Let It Be sessions. Rock 'N' Roll offers one of Jurgen Vollmer's black-and-white portraits of a young John Lennon in Hamburg, Germany, circa 1961. The running order of the two Lps is also slightly different and Roots contains two more tracks (Angel Baby and Be My Baby) than Rock 'N' Roll.
Ain 't That A Shame (Antoine Domino-Dave Bartholomew)
The original version on John Lennon Sings The Great Rock & Roll Hits/Roots (US: Adam VIII A8018)
runs 2:34; on Rock 'N' Roll the track is only 2:31. The difference is in the length of the fade-out.
Do You Want To Dance (Bobby Freeman)
The original version on Roots (US: Adam VIII A8018) runs 3:02; on Rock 'N' Roll the cut is only 2:53. Again, the difference is in the fade-out.
Slippin ' And Slidin' (Richard Penniman-Edwin J. Bocage-Albert Collins-James Smith)
The original version on Roots (US: Adam VIII A8018) runs 2:20; on Rock 'N' Roll the track is only 2:16. In the latter version, John ends the song by saying, "I won't be your fool no more, honey"; on Roots, he continues with, " ... you done got hip to your jive."
Stand By Me (Ben E. King-Elmo Click)
The American single (Apple 1881) has strings added to the introduction and the entire track is mixed a little differently from other pressings.
You Can't Catch Me (Chuck Berry)
The original version on Roots (US: Adam VIII A8018) runs 4:03; on Rock 'N' Roll the cut was artificially lengthened to 4:51 by editing the first verse back into the middle of the song.
We would like to update this article to include all of the vinyl and CD bootleg releases issued related to the Rock 'N' Roll sessions, including details about each song, sound quality, and other comparisons. If you are interested in doing this for our page, please contact us.
See Lennon vs Levy - The Roots Lawsuit for a well written and detailed article that examines the second case brought by Morris Levy against Lennon, and Lennon's counterclaim, both at the federal district court level and on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.
Carr, Roy, "The Phil Spector Story", New Musical Express, March 6, 1976
Charlesworth, Chris, "Rock On!," Melody Maker, March 8, 1975
Cott, Jonathan and Christine Doudna, eds., The Ballad of John and Yoko (New York: Rolling Stone, 1982)
Fawcett, Anthony, John Lennon: One Day at a Time (New York: Grove Press, 1976)
Flippo, Chet, "Lennon in Court Again: $42 Million of Old Gold," Rolling Stone, # 210, April 6, 1976
Hamill, Pete, "Long Night's Journey into Day," Rolling Stone # 188, June 5, 1975.
"Phil Spector in Mystery Mishap," Rolling Stone, # 158, April 11,1974.
Sheff, David and G. Barry Golson, ed., The Playboy Interviews with John Lennon & Yoko Ono (New York:
Playboy Press, 1981)
Copyright 1990, 1996 Mitch McGeary and William McCoy
From the book, "Every Little Thing", copyright 1990 by Mitch McGeary and William McCoy.
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