The secrets of the dead Beatle's suitcase-sized iPod revealed...
If ever an album deserved to be packaged alongside an aural time machine it would be these 41 songs ‘inspired by’ John Lennon’s mid-’60s KB Discomatic portable jukebox. How fantastic would it be to hear [a]Otis Redding[/a]’s ‘My Girl’ or [a]Bob Dylan[/a]’s ‘Positively 4th Street’ and not have their ecstatic inventions clogged with lazy over-familiarity, their innate beauty chipped away at by a million half-listens coughed-up through TV adverts, retro radio and shit films? Imagine how great it would be to hear the truly awesome Fontella Bass lean into
the chorus of ‘Rescue Me’, particularly the part where she half-moans, half-cries “I’m lown-lee!” and not immediately think of the cretinous Whoopi Goldberg and her crucifyingly unfunny flick ‘Sister Act’. You might, for a moment, feel a little of what Lennon felt and the effect might be so strong you, like him, might try and match its pleading tone.
You could call your composition, I dunno, ‘Help’.
What’s immediately apparent is what a huge
soul fan Lennon obviously was. Alongside the aforementioned Bass and Redding, there’s Smokey Robinson, Wilson Pickett, The Contours (whose spectacularly cold-hearted ‘First I Look At The Purse’ could teach [a]50 Cent[/a] plenty about casually funky misogyny) and [a]Isley Brothers[/a]. While, sadly, Lennon’s legacy is now almost exclusively held in the sweaty hands of lumpen white blokes aping 40-year-old folk-rock riffs, this was a man whose tastes ran to Detroit blues, gospel-tinged rock’n’roll and super-funky soul. He had his eyes and ears open to much varied and wonderful music and, crucially, because he was actually in The fucking Beatles, he obviously didn’t think it necessary to treat them like the unimpeachable gods they so patently weren’t.
But perhaps more surprisingly there’s nothing that sounds anything remotely like [a]Beatles[/a]
as they were in 1965, supposedly when Lennon bought the jukebox, although there’s plenty that Lennon took inspiration from – the guitar riff from Bobby Parker’s ‘Watch Your Step’ isn’t a million miles – in fact it’s barely three feet from – ‘I Feel Fine’. UK folkie Donovan himself has noted how Lennon admired his hit ‘Turquoise’ so much he asked him how he wrote it and promptly knocked out ‘Dear Prudence’, while Dylan’s effect on Lennon was so all-encompassing the clearly star-struck Beatle started wearing the same hat.
But there’s nothing here that sounds like it’s
in hock to the Fab Four – probably the album’s greatest gift of all. Pre-Fabs heroes like Little Richard – unquestionably the star of this year’s SXSW according to one NME staffer – and Buddy Holly both appear on incredible form, the latter’s version of Eddie Bo’s ‘Slippin’ And Slidin” so full of oddball sex-vibes and ludicrous, hiccupping in-toe-nay-shee-un it’ll banish forever the image of Holly the bespectacled geek and make you think again about artists you may have long since written off. One dead man’s passion shines through and you will hear ancient, over-played songs with totally fresh ears. In compilation world, this is job done.
Now, 39 years on, the contents of ‘John Lennon’s Jukebox’ are going on Rob Fitzpatrick’s iPod, may they live happily ever after.