Monday, July 27, 2009

MUSIC: John Lennon "iPod"

This is an essay that went with a PBS show. I edited it down, but you can read the whole essay here. - OlderMusicGeek

By Ed Ward

From the very first song we heard, no matter when we dropped into the Beatles story, it sounded like they were doing something utterly original. But they weren't, not entirely.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney, their young friend George Harrison, and, later, drummer Pete Best, along with John's art school friend Stu Sutcliffe, were actually rock and roll fans. Like lots of British kids, they idolized Gene Vincent, Little Richard, and the "girl group" sound coming from New York's pop factory, the Brill Building. They listened to what the British called "Tamla Motown" and to early soul singers like Arthur Alexander. These were the sounds they worked into their repertoire as the Silver Beatles, and the songs they played night after night during their arduous sojourns at the Star Club in Hamburg.

But as the Beatles searched for new stuff to copy, they began to write their own material. Try as they might, they couldn't come up with rock and roll songs that sounded like the ones they'd been hearing. Their songs sounded better, because they were their own.

This is what makes artists artists: they take little bits of things from here and there and put them together in unexpected combinations that seem new and original. Some of them are pretty obvious: one of Little Richard's trademarks is the "Ooooo!" he interjects into a lot of his hit songs. Richard got it from the world of gospel, where it's a standard of Alex Bradford, among others. The Beatles grabbed this little trick for themselves, and it's all over their first recordings: girls went wild when Lennon and McCartney stepped up to a single microphone, shook their mop tops, and went "Ooooo!".

Other borrowings aren't so obvious. JOHN LENNON'S JUKEBOX will introduce most people to a singer-guitarist named Bobby Parker. I'd never heard of him until watching this program, and all I can discover about him is that his record "Watch Your Step" was on the pop BILLBOARD charts for six weeks in 1961 and got as high as number 51. It was released on V-Tone Records, a label I'd also never heard of. The guitar lick Parker plays on this record morphed into "I Feel Fine," but also, I think, "Day Tripper." Watching Parker demonstrate it, I realized that John Lennon probably had trouble playing it: it's simple, but not nearly as simple as Parker makes it seem. And of course, Lennon had no way to watch Parker's fingers. So because John couldn't play that lick, it became another song, "I Feel Fine," which went to number one.

But it would be a mistake to assume that the music in John Lennon's jukebox was there only to be copied. Especially in pop music, it's essential that the greatest innovators remain fans, enthusiasts, explorers of the past and present.

Ditto the Lovin' Spoonful. By the time their records started appearing, the Beatles were established and deeply involved in creating their own music. The Spoonful were doing music that was similar, but different enough that John could listen to it and imagine that here was a bunch of Americans who had understandably wanted to imitate the Beatles -- but they'd gotten it wrong, just wrong enough that what they did was completely right.

In the end, the records in John Lennon's jukebox simply confirm that he was a rock and roll fan -- as if there could have been any doubt about that! -- and that he wasn't averse to lifting a little something here and there to further his own art, even if he couldn't imitate it perfectly.


In 1989, a Bristol music promoter purchased at auction an old Discomatic jukebox owned by John Lennon in the 1960s. Its track list, written in Lennon's own hasty handwriting, catalogued 41 remarkable discs of American soul, R&B, and rock 'n' roll -- a collection that shaped his musical education and became the musical style source from which the Beatles sound derived. Below is a complete list of all the 45s included in the jukebox.

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Some of the songs are missing on this, and a couple of songs are by artists different than the ones on John Lennon's jukebox.

1. "In the Midnight Hour"
Wilson Pickett

2. "Rescue Me"
Fontella Bass

3. "Tracks of My Tears"
Smokey Robinson

4. "My Girl"
Otis Redding

5. "1, 2, 3"
Len Barry

6. "Hi Heel Sneakers"
Tommy Tucker

7. "Walk"
Jimmy McCracklin

8. "Gonna Send You Back to Georgia"
Timmy Shaw

9. "First I Look at the Purse"
The Contours

10. "New Orleans"
Gary "U.S." Bonds

11. "Watch Your Step"
Bobby Parker

12. "Daddy Rollin' Stone"
Derek Martin

13. "Short Fat Fannie"
Larry Williams

14. "Long Tall Sally"
Little Richard

15. "Money (That's What I Want)"
Barrett Strong

16. "Hey! Baby"
Bruce Channel

17. "Positively 4th Street"
Bob Dylan

18. "Daydream"
The Lovin' Spoonful

19. "Turquoise"

20. "Slippin' and Slidin'"
Buddy Holly

21. "Be-Bop-A-Lula"
Gene Vincent

22. "No Particular Place to Go"
Chuck Berry

23. "Steppin' Out"
Paul Revere

24. "Do You Believe in Magic"
The Lovin' Spoonful

25. "Some Other Guy"
The Big Three

26. "Twist and Shout"
The Isley Brothers

27. "She Said "Yeah""
Larry Williams

28. "Brown Eyed Handsome Man"
Buddy Holly

29. "Slippin' and Slidin'"
Little Richard

30. "Quarter to Three"
Gary "U.S." Bonds

31. "Ooh My Soul"
Little Richard

32. "Woman Love"
Gene Vincent

33. "Shop Around"
The Miracles

34. "Bring It on Home to Me"
The Animals

35. "If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody"
James Ray

36. "What's So Good About Goodbye"
The Miracles

37. "Bad Boy"
The Miracles
Couldn't find this on Blip.fm or YouTube!

38. "Agent Double O Soul"
Edwin Starr

39. "I've Been Good to You"
The Miracles

40. "Oh I Apologize"
Barrett Strong
Couldn't find this on Blip.fm or YouTube!

41. "Who's Lovin' You"
The Miracles

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This is a fairly good sampling of some of the music I listen to. It's missing a few genres I like - such as cajun. I'll work on that later. But it does contain most of my favorite artists. I tried to steer away from the better known songs to give you a better idea of what kind of music the artists play, but I was limited by the songs the website - Project Playlist - had available. But if you want to get an idea of what I listen to, just hit the play or arrow button. - OlderMusicGeek

The internet station that does the best of playing my music is Last.fm. Here's my station if you're interested.

This website, OlderMusicGeek Radio on Pandora.com, does a fairly decent job of playing what I like, although they do occasionally play stuff I don't care for, but overall they're pretty good.