The mid-’70s were a chaotic period in the life of John Lennon. On the one hand, his marriage to Yoko Ono had broken down, and his personal life was suffering, but professionally, he was excelling. His art was prospering even though Lennon was going through the most reckless period of his life, suddenly making music for himself wasn’t enough anymore — he wanted to sit behind the mixing desk. The former Beatle had a shortlist of just two names he wanted to coax the best out of as a producer, and he reached for the stars.
Lennon’s ‘Lost Weekend’ saw him and Harry Nilsson cram more wild antics in a brief spell than most manage in a lifetime. This hedonistic groundhog day that the two singers found themselves trapped within did see them come together creatively for Pussy Cats — Nilsson’s solo album, produced by the bespectacled Beatle. Fittingly, the front cover included an inside joke with the children’s letter blocks’ D’ and ‘S’ on either side of a rug under a table—to spell out “drugs under the table” as an Easter Egg for fans. It gave Lennon a taste for production.
The album came after Lennon had shrugged off Phil Spector and started acting as the sole-producer on his albums, beginning with 1973’s Mind Games. As he got older, he felt more confident in trusting himself as a producer and was revelling in being in complete control of his destiny.
Pussy Cats began in Los Angeles, but Lennon ultimately finished producing it in New York, and the process wasn’t without the occasional bump in the road. During recording, Nilsson ruptured one of his vocal cords but chose to keep this from Lennon, a factor which caused his voice so much strain that many believed it never quite recovered. Half of the album’s original ten tracks were covers which included a delicious cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’.
Speaking about his pivot into production with Rolling Stone in 1975, Lennon revealed who else he would like to work with as a producer, and unsurprisingly Dylan’s name cropped up along with another member of musical royalty.
“Dylan would be interesting because I think he made a great album in Blood on the Tracks but I’m still not keen on the backings,” Lennon boldly stated. “I think I could produce him great. And Presley. I’d like to resurrect Elvis. But I’d be so scared of him I don’t know whether I could do it. But I’d like to do it. Dylan, I could do, but Presley would make me nervous.
“But Dylan or Presley, somebody up there… I know what I’d do with Presley. Make a rock & roll album. Dylan doesn’t need material. I’d just make him some good backings. So if you’re reading this, Bob, you know…”
Lennon never shied away from the admiration that he held for both men, and they both played a pivotal part in shaping the work of The Beatles. However, the bohemian singer-songwriter, Dylan, famously wasn’t best pleased with Lennon’s quasi-Dylan effort, ‘I’m A Loser’, which probably meant his wish to guide the freewheelin’ troubadour to a hit record was a non-starter.
It remains a crying shame that we never got the chance to hear what a record by Elvis or Dylan produced by John Lennon sounded like and will have to leave to our imaginations. But there’s no doubt that it would have been a spectacle that guaranteed commercial success.