John Lennon traversed all manner of musical styles, but classic disco isn’t one that typically springs to mind, which is strange when you consider that The Beatles’ debut LP Please Please Me was jam-packed with covers from US R&B artists like The Isley Brothers (‘Twist And Shout’) and The Shirelles (‘Boys’). This passion for American dance music didn’t fade over time; far from it in fact. While the groups themselves may have changed, their sound remained grounded in the R&B tradition that Lennon had grown up with, and by 1975, five years after the Beatles split, the musician was getting excited about the inheritor of that tradition.
Describing one of the earliest number one hits of the disco era, Lennon told Spin Magazine that he would have done anything to have written George McRae’s ‘Rock Your Baby’. Although it was McRae who put the track on the map in 1974, ‘Rock Your Baby’ was originally written by Harry Wayne Casey and Richard Finch of KC & The Sunshine Band, forming the basis of what would turn out to be a wildly successful writing partnership which resulted in no less than five Number One disco hits in the US.
Finch once recalled how the mid-1970s club scene became a huge source of inspiration for the new dancefloor-ready disco sound: “Back then you could sneak into a club and they didn’t check your ID, so Harry and I would once in a while go sneak into the local clubs. There was one on Southwest 8th Street in Miami, Florida, that played dance music. We’d go in there for about an hour or two until it got to be way too late for us to be there. And we’d pay attention to what brought the people to the dance floor, and what made them sit down. So we started gearing ourselves to writing more in that direction. ‘Rock Your Baby’ was inspired by the gathering of all that information.”
On release, the track established McRae as a pioneer of the disco sound. The first single bearing his name, ‘Rock Your Baby’ topped the Billboard Hot 100 just a few weeks after its release. John Lennon was one of the many listeners for whom the track struck a chord. Speaking to Spin the year after the song came out, he revealed that it made him regard his own songwriting differently. “‘Rock Your Baby,’ I’d give my eyetooth to have written that,” he said, adding that Casey and Finch’s style didn’t come naturally to him. “I am too literal to write ‘Rock Your Baby. I wish I could. I’m too intellectual, even though I’m not really an intellectual.” Make sure you check out Lennon’s favourite track of the disco era below.