John Lennon
Rock 'N' Roll
(Capitol 46707)

Rock 'N' Roll is the perfect album to play for people who insist that John Lennon was a genius, and brought all the "edge" to the Beatles. It's a pretty pedestrian album that shows Lennon having run out of ideas and seeking redemption in the rock classics of his youth. He definitely sounds committed to the songs, in the same way that Paul McCartney does on the Choba B CCCP album, but the question you need to ask yourself is: how much do I like John Lennon? Enough to hear him doing 50s songs that I would otherwise want locked away in my mom's hazy sock-hop memories?

John recorded this album during his "lost weekend" separation from Yoko – and in my opinion he'd have been better off doing some Two Virgins-style experimental albums with May Pang. Well, it's the world's loss that there was no May Pang solo career. Oof, can you imagine the scorn those albums would have received? Yoko Ono made incredible music in the 70s and people just hate it – how about May Pang/Plastic Ono Band? Well, anyway, suffice it to say that John was a bit lost at this point in his life and career, and it's not a bad thing that he decided to quit showbiz right after releasing this album. Nothing good would have been forthcoming anyway, and besides, it would have cut into his cocaine and bulimia binges.

The first indication that the well was running dry is the cover, which is awesome, but which features a classic Hamburg shot of Lennon leaning against a wall – that's another thing to point out to people who fiercely defend Lennon at the expense of McCartney: Lennon was far, far quicker to trade off his Beatle reputation than Paul was. In fact, Paul really didn't start getting truly cheesy until like Give My Regards to Broad Street, in terms of the whole "Hey, I was a Beatle" thing. Lennon, of course, always had a better sense of humor about that – hence the cover of Chuck Berry's "You Can't Catch Me," which Berry had successfully sued Lennon over for plagiarism. Lennon actually does the song with a similar arrangement to "Come Together," which had plagiarized the song in the first place. It's a hilarious move, though not necessarily a good song. Better are "Stand By Me" (the single) and a nearly punk medley of "Rip it Up" and "Ready Teddy" which clocks in at a tidy 1:34. Some of the songs are simply ones that I would not want to hear performed by anyone – "Be-Bop-a-Lula," "Ain't That a Shame," "Bony Moronie" The arrangements are very mid-70s, which doesn't help – really, there's a fine line between this and, say, a Sha Na Na album. Some Phil Spector-produced tracks aren't as cool as they should have been, but you can blame the cocaine for that. But DON'T blame the bulimia.

For all its faults, it's a record with a lot of heart – Lennon obviously is enjoying himself, no doubt due to some truly Celestial fellatio courtesy May Pang. (Don't you love how I just start rumor after rumor? It's so called for, too.) Some of the tracks are really good ("Peggy Sue," "Bring it On Home to Me") but it doesn't really feel like a Lennon album. The McCartney Russian album from '88 is a bit more solid just because it's so tossed off – the Lennon rock album suffers from having been slaved over, which is thoroughly pointless considering the material. Still, you can't really write it off, as it is a John Lennon album, and no matter what you think of him, you can't deny he's an interesting fellow. Honestly, a Yoko Ono album of rock covers from '75 would interest me a whole lot more. Or a May Pang album of rock covers from '99, for that matter.

It's really a shame Lennon made virtually no good solo albums, but it's a bigger shame that people never admit that.

Review by Red-Red Richards