In December 1965, at the height of Beatlemania, John Lennon was invited to review some of the best single releases of the winter. Here, we’ll be taking a look at some of the comments he made about the likes of Joan Baez, The Beach Boys and more.
By the winter of ’65, The Beatles had broken America and were just about to embark on their second tour of the music-mad nation. It had been one hell of a year for the Beatles, but also for the world in general. While Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr had just made history by performing the first-ever stadium show in New York’s Shea Stadium, in Selma, peaceful Civil Rights protesters had just been murdered by police, and in Vietnam, a war was still raging. All of this formed the backdrop of what was turning out to be one of the most explosive decades in recent memory — and John Lennon was there for it all.
The first single John Lennon was handed on that day in 1965 was The Beach Boys track ‘The Little Girl I Once Knew’, a record that would later find its way on to the group’s most beloved album, Pet Sounds, which would be released a year later in ’66. The Beatles and The Beach Boys always had an affection for one another’s music, and this is evident from Lennon’s words on the single. “This is the greatest,” he began. “Turn it up, turn it right up. It’s got to be a hit because it’s the best record I’ve heard for weeks. It’s fantastic. It’s all Brian Wilson, he just uses the voices as instruments. he never tours or does anything, he just sits at home thinking up fantastic arrangements out of his head,” Lennon concluded, with no small hint of jealousy.
Next up, Joan Baez’s ‘Farewell Angelina Colours’. Housed in a beautifully illustrated blue, black, and white sleeve, the single was originally an outtake from recording sessions for Bob Dylan’s fifth studio album, Bringin’ It All Back Home. It never made it onto that album, however, and was later used as the title track and lead single for Baez’s 1965 album after Dylan gave it as a gift. Unfortunately, Lennon wasn’t impressed. “Oh, It’s granny Baez,” he began. “Isn’t this on an LP? I think I’ve heard it before. If you meet her, she sings you everything she knows anyway.” Lennon clearly didn’t like the next record on the list – The Walker Brothers and ‘My Ship Is Coming In’ – all that much either. “That’ll do, I’ve heard it before. Take it off,” he said, just a few moments into the first verse. “I think The Walker Brothers are good, but I’m not keen on this type of song. I don’t listen to them, really. Their voices are good, but they overdo the big-voice approach”.
By this point, Lennon had really hit his critical stride, ripping into the next track, Chris Farlowe’s cover of ‘In The Midnight Hour’, with a vengeance. “The backings missed it,” he began. “It’s just an impression of the real thing. It’s so like the original to be not good enough”. Unfortunately, Lennon’s enthusiasm went a little too far with the next record. Listening to a cover of ‘Eight Days A Week’ by Alma Cogan, he was clearly not aware that a good friend of his was about to start singing. “I hate these beginnings, they sound like concertos,” he said. “Probably have a Roger Williams piano or impersonation of Roger Williams coming in a moment”. Then, as Alma’s vocals began, Lennon leapt from his seat and shouted: “Oh Its Alma! I’ve had it now. Sorry, Alma”. Quickly backtracking, Lennon said: “You’d better stick that in, it’s one of those embarrassing ones. She’s played it to me before. I like her voice though, it’s good when it gets going. I hope it’s a hit, she deserves it”.
Lennon had practically nothing to say about Bing Crosby’s 1965 Christmas single ‘The White World Of Winter’ other than that it was “a lousy song and a lousy arrangement. I thought it was Val Doonican. They’ll release anything at Christmas. I wonder what they do in Russia, there’s no Christ in Russia.” Likewise, the last two records Lennon was given to listen to also failed to win the singer’s heart. Unit 4’s ‘You’ve Got To Be Cruel To Be Kind’ had “some nice bits on it” but didn’t have much else going on, while The Applejacks’ record had that Roger Williams piano that Lennon oh-so loathed. “That’s enough, thank you sir,” Lennon concluded.