It was in the first week of March, 1975, that I next interviewed John and beforehand I watched and listened as from an office at Capitol Records he talked on the phone to no less than 35 different disc jockeys simultaneously at radio stations across America. “I like ‘Stand By Me’ and ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ is one of my all-time favourites,” he said, before going on to discuss the problems he had in making the album. “There’s been more trouble with this album than soft mick,” he stated, using an expression that I’m sure 99% of his listeners had never heard before.
When he put the phone down, he grinned at me and muttered something about how great it was to speak to so many people at once. I wonder now what he would have made of the internet. John had opinions about everything and wasn’t afraid to share them regardless of the consequences, so the internet would have like manna from heaven to him. I’m pretty sure John would have blogged and tweeted like crazy.
I began by asking him about the background to the Rock’n’Roll album.
“... I just finished Mind Games when I started the new album and I just wanted to have some fun. It was so soon after Mind Games that I didn’t have any new material. I wanted to just sing and not be the producer. I thought, ‘Who’s the one to do it with?’ and I thought of Phil Spector. We went down to the Record Plant and started cutting and, well, it got pretty crazy... it really got wild at times. But we managed to cut seven or eight in the end before it collapsed... which is the only way to put it.
“Next thing Phil had apparently had an auto accident. Only he knows whether he did or didn’t, but that’s what the story said. That was the end of it then, because he’d got the tapes and I didn’t get them back until two days before I went into the studio to cut Walls And Bridges. I went on to do the Harry Nilsson thing [Pussycats] and I tried everything to get them [the Rock ’N’ Roll album tapes] back, even just hanging around LA to see if Phil would get better. I couldn’t think what to do, so I did the album with Harry while I was waiting. When I got the tapes, I couldn’t get into them because I was all geared to Walls And Bridges. When I did get into them, I found that out of the eight, there were only four or five that were worth using. The sessions had 28 guys playing live and a lot of them out of tune, which is too much, even for rock and roll. So I didn’t know whether to forget it or carry on, but I hate leaving stuff in the can. I thought about putting out an EP – remember them? But they don’t have them in America, and thought about a maxi-single. In the end I decided to finish it off and produce the rest myself.
“I did ten tracks in three days in October, all the numbers that I hadn’t got around to with Phil. I had a lot of fun and mixed it all down in about four or five days. My one problem was whether it would sound weird going from the Spector sound to my sound, from 28 guys down to eight. But they match pretty well I think. So there it was, I suddenly had an album.”
I mentioned to John that Paul now owned the publishing rights to ‘Peggy Sue’, the Buddy Holly song that John included, and would therefore profit from the album. “What a clever move that was,” he replied. “I hope he gives me a good deal. I don’t care who gets the money. With Paul it’s cool, ‘cos we’re pals, and even Klein’s all right really. I’m not gonna get much money from this album anyway.”
John seemed happier with his Beatle past than at any time since 1970. “I’ve lost all that negativity about the past and I’d be happy as Larry to do ‘Help!’ I’ve just changed completely in two years. I’d do ‘Hey Jude’ and the whole damn show, and I think George will eventually see that. If he doesn’t, that’s cool. That’s the way he wants to be.”
John also told me he was back with Yoko. “I’m happy as Larry,” he beamed, “and she is... I hope. We’ve known each other for nine years. I met her in 1966. We had a sort of breakdown last year, one way or another, but we called each other often even when I was going crazy out on the West Coast, and I probably said a lot of balmy things to her which I’ll regret.”
Regrettably I don’t have a complete transcription of this interview, so that’s all I can post. I’ll conclude my thoughts on knowing John tomorrow.