When all else failed, John Lennon always looked towards rock ‘n’ roll for answers. There was a lot of pain in his life when he was a child; he lost both his mother and aunt at a young age, a factor that shaped his life for years to come.
Rock ‘n’ roll was what Lennon was going to do for the rest of his life and even later towards the end of his career, he still listened to rock n’ roll like it was the first time he was ever hearing it.
Around 17-years-old, he started the Quarrymen that would eventually blossom into The Silver Beatles, and then just The Beatles. With his Liverpool group, Lennon took what the classic rock n’ roll musicians were doing in the ’50s and ran with it. People like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, and of course, Jerry Lee Lewis, all had a part to play in shaping the Lennon we have come to know and love.
In 1971, in an interview with Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone magazine, Lennon was asked about what he thought of the current hits at the time. Lennon replied that he wasn’t too interested in contemporary pop music; up until the day he died, he got inspiration from looking back instead of forward.
“That’s the music that inspired me to play music. There’s nothing conceptually better than rock ‘n’ roll. No group, be it the Beatles, Bob Dylan, or the Rolling Stones, has ever improved on ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’ for my money. Maybe I’m like our parents, that’s my period. That’s my period and I’ll never leave it,” Lennon mused.
Of course, he is referring to ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’ by Jerry Lee Lewis. The piano rocker recorded his take on the classic rock song in 1957. If anything, it says a lot about the kind of person John Lennon was, to remark that even his band couldn’t improve upon Jerry Lee Lewis. No matter how hard he tried, once remarking in 1968: “You can give me a guitar, stand me up in front of a few people. Even in the studio, if I’m getting into it, I’m just doing my old bit… not quite doing Elvis Legs but doing my equivalent. It’s just natural.”
Perhaps he was hyperbolic for effect; it wouldn’t be so farfetched to hear one or two people today say the same thing about The Beatles. Lennon was also famed for making such outlandish remarks in interviews for the pure ‘shock factor’, but considering the singer’s noted loved of the rockers of the past, this one stands up. There’s every chance that the leader of the band preferred someone else.
As the years roll on, it seems to become more and more likely that rock ‘n’ roll had its heyday in the ’50s and into the ’60s. Perhaps it is a thing of the past, or maybe we just need a new hero.
Listen to the classic right here: