Friday, February 1, 2019

John Lennon - Oldies But Mouldies

John Lennon – Oldies But Mouldies

(soniclovenoize reconstruction)

Side A:
1.  Here We Go Again
2.  You Can’t Catch Me
3.  To Know Her Is To Love Her
4.  Be My Baby

Side B:
5.  Bony Moronie
6.  My Baby Left Me
7.  Angel Baby
8.  Sweet Little Sixteen
9.  Just Because

This is a reconstruction of the unreleased 1973 John Lennon/Phil Spector collaboration album Oldies But Mouldies, recorded in the midst of Lennon’s infamous “Lost Weekend”.  Put on hold when Phil Spector mysteriously disappeared with the mastertapes, the album was later recovered, mostly rerecorded and released as the Rock ‘n’ Roll album in 1975.  This reconstruction attempts to not only present a more listenable product, but to present what the album would have sounded like before it became Rock ‘n’ Roll. 

After being literally inseparable for five years, Yoko Ono sensed John Lennon’s wondering eye and questioned if he was able to remain loyal to her.  Her solution was to kick him out, allowing him to “sow his wild oats” and get “it” out of his system.  Accompanied by his assistant May Pang (who was essentially authorized by Yoko to be Lennon’s mistress), Lennon departed to Los Angeles in September 1973, looking for a good time... and more.  What was supposed to be a two-week stay became fourteen months of chaos and debauchery—both in the clubs and the recording studio.

The seeds of the Oldies But Mouldies album—which was also provisionally titled Back To Mono—were apparently two events: Lennon meeting his heroes Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino, and a lawsuit by music publisher Morris Levy.  Lennon had nicked a line from Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me” for The Beatles classic “Come Together” and an out-of-court settlement stipulated that Lennon was to cover three songs from Levy’s Big Seven publishing catalog, earning royalties for Levy in lieu of any further litigation and the embarrassing co-writing credit to the Lennon/McCartney song.  Drunkenly giving in, Lennon decided to make a party of it and record an entire album of 1950s rockers and ballads that had influenced him as a teenager.  To top it off, he invited legendary producer Phil Spector to oversee the project, promising him complete creative control and even allowing Spector to choose the songs!

Sessions began in mid-October at A&M Studios with Spector creating his recognizable “Wall of Sound”, using an absurdly large group of the top session musicians in LA.  But the combination of Lennon’s destructive, drunken antics, Spector’s insane eccentricities and the revolving door of studio musicians, celebrities and hanger-ons, more lunacy was recorded than actual music.  Spector famously arrived with bodyguards, armed with a handgun, dressed alternatingly as a surgeon, karate master or a priest.  One night Spector even fired his gun in the studio, causing Lennon to dare to scream back at Spector, in fear of losing his hearing.  Other nights Lennon would go into violent, drunken fits, many believing in anguish over his separation from Yoko.  And of course, the backdrop to the proceedings was always a studio ridiculously full of musicians and a control room full of celebrities along for the ride—and the open bar. 

Throughout October and a final session in late November at A&M, eight songs were recorded: Larry Williams’ “Bony Moronie”; The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”; Rosie & The Originals’ “Angel Baby”; Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen”; Lloyd Price’s “Just Because”; Martha & The Vendellas’ “A Love Like Yours”; The Chordettes’ “Born To Be With You”; and The Teddy Bears’ “To Know Her Is To Love Her”.  Additional sessions at The Record Plant Los Angeles in December produced three more tracks: Arthur Crudup’s “My Baby Left Me”; the song that started this whole mess—“You Can’t Catch Me”; and John Lennon’s only original composition during this period, “Here We Go Again”, co-credited to Phil Spector.  With the backing tracks to eleven songs more or less in the can, the album came to a crashing halt when Phil Spector mysteriously disappeared after telling Lennon the studio had burned down.  With rumors that Spector had suffered a serious car injury and might not even be in the country anymore, Lennon resolved to finish the album himself… Until he found that Spector had stolen all of the master tapes!  Oldies But Mouldies was officially on hold until further notice.

As 1974 rolled in, Lennon went on to work on different projects during his “Lost Weekend”.  Firstly, producing an album with his old friend Harry Nilsson that spring, Pussy Cats.  Secondly, Lennon began preproduction on his follow-up to Mind Games, demoing newer compositions.  Suddenly (and appropriately in the midst of the Watergate scandal), Lennon received a mysterious phone call from Spector, claiming that he “had the James Dean tape.”  For a sum of $90,000 Lennon was able to secure the masters to nine out of the eleven songs recorded; Spector chose to hold on to the masters of “A Love Like Yours” for Cher & Nilsson and “Born To Be With You” for Dion. 

After reviewing the Back To Mono/Oldies But Moldies/James Dean Tapes that summer, Lennon concluded that the recordings accurately reflected the actual sessions—they were a catastrophic, drunken mess.  Spector’s "Wall of Sound" was overblown and Lennon’s scratch vocals were over the edge.  Setting the tapes aside, Lennon instead focused on his new batch of songs, using much of the same session musicians as on Oldies But Mouldies.  This album, called Walls and Bridges, seemed to be a return to form for Lennon after a series of forgettable albums, songs that largely concerned his longing for Yoko.  With the fate of Oldies But Mouldies in question, Lennon used it’s intended cover art for Walls and Bridges instead: a drawing he had made in 1952, when he was 11 years old. 

Since Lennon felt that the Oldies But Mouldies tapes were basically unusable, he chose to appease Levy’s original lawsuit by including a short, impromptu cover of the Levy-owned “Ya Ya” to conclude Walls and Bridges.  Levy was not amused—nor satisfied.  Having to return to finish the Oldies But Mouldies project, Lennon and his backing band relocated to Levy’s own Sunnyview recording studio in order to sober up and focus on the project.  With Levy approving of the rehearsed material from his songbook, Lennon and his band entered The Record Plant New York in October 1974—one year from the start of the project—to record the additional songs intended to round out the salvageable material from the Spector sessions.  Nine songs were completed: Gene Vincent’s “Be-Bop-A-Lula”; Ben E King’s “Stand By Me”; a medley of Little Richard’s “Rip It Up”/”Ready Teddy”; Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame”; Bobby Freeman’s “Do You Wanna Dance”; Little Richard’s “Slippin and Slidin”; Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue”; a medley of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me” and Little Richard’s “Send Me Some Lovin”; and a proper version of Lee Dorsey’s “Ya Ya”. 

Now titled Rock ‘n Roll, Lennon used the leaner and sober 1974 New York sessions as the basis of the album.  Additional work was needed to some of the LA sessions: “Sweet Little Sixteen”, “Bony Moronie” and “Just Because” received new vocals; an edit was made in “You Can’t Catch Me” to reprise the first verse, extending the song’s length; likewise “Angel Baby” was edited to lengthen the track, although it did not make the final cut for the album; conversely, the intro to “Be My Baby” was cut short and an entire verse removed to shorten the song by over a minute, although it too did not make the album. 

Finally, a reunification between Lennon and Ono, orchestrated by none other than Elton John, put an end to “The Lost Weekend”.  Choosing to focus on promotion for Walls and Bridges, Lennon provided a rough mix of the assembled Rock ‘n’ Roll album to Levy in good faith, promising a release later in 1975.  Not satisfied to wait a year, Levy proposed to release the album in advance through his own mail-order service, Adam VIII, believing that would circumvent EMI’s ownership of the master recordings.  Initially approving of the idea, Lennon gave his consent and Levy issued his own cut of the album—Roots: John Lennon Sings The Great Rock & Roll Hits, using his tape of rough mixes.  Of course EMI did not approve, and with Lennon quickly switching sides, slight alterations were made to the master and Rock ‘n’ Roll was rush-released in February.  Levy was later sued for breach of contract.  Lennon and EMI ultimately prevailed but not after 1,270 copies of Roots made their way into the market, making it one of the most valuable Lennon collector’s items.  A curious effect of these competing albums was that they each had different edits of the same songs.  But did either represent the original Spector-helmed Oldies But Mouldies album? 

This is a tricky reconstruction, because the existent rough mixes of the Phil Spector sessions simply do not sound very good; to that extent, both Roots and Rock ‘n’ Roll are neither great sounding albums in the first place!  Relying on purely the rough mixes found on Roots or The Lost Lennon Tapes bootlegs reveals a tiring listen, based on Spector’s overblown production and Lennon’s drunken rambling; the original rough mix of “Just Because” is really all you need to hear to understand this point!  Thus, we will choose to generally utilize the more sensible and sonically palatable remixes found on the 2004 reissue of Rock ‘n’ Roll, commissioned by Yoko Ono.  While the mix itself is not historically accurate—using the new vocals Lennon cut in 1974—the result is a much more enjoyable listen! 

Side A begins with Lennon’s sole composition, the lush but lackluster “Here We Go Again” taken from Gimme Some Truth.  Following is the culprit “You Can’t Catch Me’, taken from the 2004 remix of Rock ‘n’ Roll but re-edited to match the original rough mix of the song, effectively removing the extra verse.  Next is “To Know Her Is To Love Her”, taken from the 2004 Rock ‘n’ Roll, although it is apparently in its original mix.  The side closes with what exemplifies the album’s madness and excess: “Be My Baby”, using the most refined mix of the full nearly-six minute version, taken from Phil Lip’s Delux Rock n Roll bootleg.   

Side B begins with the ruckus of “Bony Moronie” taken from the 2004 remix of Rock n Roll, a highlight of the album featuring a Lennon vocal teetering off the edge.  Following is “My Baby Left Me”, the remix also taken from the 2004 Rock ‘n’ Roll.  “Angel Baby” from the 2004 Rock ‘n’ Roll follows, again re-edited to match the original rough mix, effectively removing the extra bridge.  The remixed “Sweet Little Sixteen” follows, and the album concludes with the rambling weak-link “Just Because”, using the 2004 remix just because, to put it simply, the original rough mix from 1973 is unlistenable due to Lennon’s drunk ramblings.  

Sources used:
Gimme Some Truth (2001 CD)
Rock 'n' Roll (2004 CD Remix/Remaster)
Rock 'n' Roll Delux (2018 fanmade bootleg, Phil Lip)

flac --> wav --> editing in SONAR Pro & Goldwave --> flac encoding via TLH lv8
*md5, artwork and tracknotes included