A trio of new releases will take you back to some of pop rock’s best from the fifties, sixties and seventies — with John Lennon recording his own early rock ’n’ roll favorites, Phil Collins channeling his inner Martha Reeves and one-hit wonder Marc Cohn paying tribute to the era of bell bottoms, M*A*S*H and Nixon.
John Lennon “Rock ’N’ Roll” (Capitol)
Oct. 9 marked what would have been Lennon’s 70th birthday, and Dec. 8 will be the 30th anniversary of his senseless murder outside his apartment building on Manhattan’s West Side. To mark these milestones, the Weinstein Film Company has just released to theaters the critically acclaimed “Nowhere Boy,” about Lennon’s Liverpool childhood, with Aaron Johnson in the lead; BBC Films is about to release on DVD “Lennon Naked,” which chronicles his peak years with the Beatles, with British actor Christopher Ecclestone playing John; and finally, Capitol Records has remastered Lennon’s entire solo album catalog.
One of the albums that’s been reissued is “Rock ’N’ Roll,” originally released in 1975. Back then the critics, who were hoping for fresh songs, panned the LP primarily because it was composed entirely of covers of Lennon’s favorite ’50s singles — some of the tunes that got him to pick up a guitar in the first place.
To be fair, “Rock ’N’ Roll” was far from a masterpiece. Lennon was clearly phoning it in on his dragging renditions of Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” and Larry Williams’ “Bony Moronie.” On the other hand, he clearly gave it his all on Gene Vincent’s “Be-Bop-A-Lula,” Lloyd Price’s “Just Because” and Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me.” It should be noted that “Stand By Me” was just another golden oldie and not the pop standard that we know it as now when Lennon recorded it in 1974. His update on King’s fine work from 14 years earlier helped cement the song in the public’s mind.
Phil Collins “Going Back” (Atlantic)
Like many of us, Collins has always had an affinity for Motown. His take on the Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love” was a Top Ten record in November 1982 and he’s enjoyed throwing in a Motown song or two at most of his concerts.
Freed from the pressure of making hit albums of new songs, Collins recently returned to the studio for the first time in years and the result is his new album appropriately titled “Going Back.”
As expected, Collins relies quite a bit on the Berry Gordy catalog as he puts his stamp on a long list of hits: Martha & the Vandellas’ “Heat Wave,” “Jimmy Mack,” and “In My Lonely Room”; the Temptations’ “Papa Was A Rolling Stone”; Stevie Wonder’s “Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer” and “Uptight” — which sounds as if Phil stole the Motown Funk Brothers’ orchestration; the Miracles’ “Going To A Go-Go”; the Four Tops’ “Standing In The Shadows Of Love;” and Kim Weston’s “Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While),” a tune that the Doobie Brothers also recorded. Oddly enough, the only Supremes song here is “Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone.”
Just as Michael McDonald did a few years ago, Collins shows why all these Motown tunes are ageless. But not every song on “Going Back” hails from Detroit. Collins also channels Phil Spector with his faithful effort on the Ronnettes’ “Do I Love You,” and his salute to Dusty Springfield with “Some Of Your Lovin’” may be the best cut on the album.
“Going Back” is a very pleasant ride on the Nostalgia Express.
Marc Cohn “Listening Booth: 1970” (Saguaro Road)
Cohn is yet another victim of the “Best New Artist” Grammy Award jinx. As has happened all too many times with Best New Artist recipients, Cohn never had another Top 40 hit after winning the award in 1991 for his delightful “Walking In Memphis.”
Despite his failure to come up with another big record, Cohn has remained a popular concert performer over the years. Tragically, he was shot in the head after a concert in Denver in August 2005: the victim of a random carjacking. But he made a full recovery, and his new album, “Listening Booth: 1970,” is ample proof.
The first reaction amongst baby boomers when reading the song lineup has to be that there is no way it’s been 40 years since these tunes debuted on AM radio. Hearing such old friends makes me think that I should be reporting to Russell Sage Junior High tomorrow!
Cohn sounds remarkably like Cat Stevens on “Wild World” while his relaxed take on “Maybe I’m Amazed” is a vast improvement on Sir Paul McCartney’s early post-Beatles hit. Cohn’s throaty vocals mesh nicely with John Leventhal’s acoustic guitar on Bread’s “Make It With You,” Badfinger’s “No Matter What” and Joe Cocker’s “The Letter.”
Let’s hope that Cohn can transport his listening booth to another great year sometime soon.