|May Pang Talks About John Lennon's
Classic Album Rock 'n' Roll
Exclusively for Absolute Elsewhere
May Pang played an important role, both personal and professional, in the recording of John Lennons classic album, Rock n Roll. With the release of the newly remastered CD set for November 2, May talked to me about the experiences she and John shared during that time, in and out of the studio. The following interview was conducted exclusively for Absolute Elsewhere on September 23, 2004. ~ Jean Teeters
On the eve of its re-release, Jean Teeters reminisces with May on the legendary oldies sessions.
May Pang played an important role in the recording sessions for John Lennons classic album, Rock n Roll. She was credited on the cover as Production Coordinator and Mother Superior, because John wanted to make it clear that she had given her all during some quite difficult times, in and out of the studio, during the long process of getting the record made. May shares her memories about the album, track by track, along with some inside information about the recording of the album. This interview was conducted on September 23, 2004 by freelance writer, Jean Teeters.
Q: WHAT INSPIRED THE RECORDING OF ROCK 'N' ROLL?
A: Well, when John and I first got together, we thought we'd leave New York for a while and go to Los Angeles. John loved the sun, the water, so he began to relax and he felt rejuvenated. He saw a lot of Ringo, and the lines of communication were open once again with Paul and George, so he was also feeling nostalgic. He'd tell me, "I feel like a kid again!" so it was almost a natural progression -- or regression, as it were -- to go back to what inspired John to make music in the first place. It was an homage to rock 'n' roll, his past, and was fun -- for the most part (laughs).
Q: IT TOOK OVER A YEAR TO COMPLETE AND WAS COINCIDENTALLY RELEASED THE DAY JOHN WENT BACK TO YOKO. WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?
The album was important to John, and we'd gone through the whole year-long saga together, so I'm glad it came out. It had to be rush-released because of the unauthorized Morris Levy Roots album that was being sold on television, so I know the album wasn't packaged as nice as John had planned. It would've taken weeks just to credit all the musicians on each track!
Q: HAVE YOU HEARD THE NEW REMIXED ALBUM YET?
A: I havent heard Rock n Roll, but Ive heard the others and they sound great. John wouldve loved digital technology and I think hed approve.
Q: LETS GO OVER THE ALBUM, TRACK BY TRACK:
BE BOP A LULA*
MP: By one of John's favorites, Gene Vincent. John loved the skiffle sound, the echo. This is the song he was playing when he met Paul McCartney at the Woolton Church Fete in 1957. Since this was the song that started everything, he chose it to kick off the album.
STAND BY ME*
MP: It is certainly one of the all-time classics. It's been covered hundreds of times, but the song's originator, Ben E. King, said he liked John's version the style and the arrangement.
JT: How did John feel about that song? That was a really strong performance.
MP: Yeah, it was, but every song on the album was a song he really wanted to do. Actually, it was Phil (Spector) who suggested Just Because, but John loved the idea. In his head, he heard the sequencing. He knew the album would open with Be Bop A Lula and close with Just Because.
RIP IT UP / READY TEDDY*
MP: Really sounds fabulous, particularly the drumming. Both songs were recorded in their entirety, but John decided on the powerhouse medley for the album. John was such a Little Richard fan. He was in great voice on these two.
YOU CANT CATCH ME**
MP: This is the song that started the lawsuit with Morris Levy. Levy heard John's line here come old flat top from Come Together and thought it sounded a little too similar . A judge agreed, and as part of the settlement in a plagiarism lawsuit, John agreed to record three Levy-published tunes. John cleverly redid this song in the flavor of Come Together. The original recording was too short, lasting only two minutes. So Spector did a Strawberry Fields type edit -- the song actually starts all over again to give it more length. In those days, before everything became digital, all tape splicing was done by hand.
AINT THAT A SHAME*
MP: This was the first song John learned to play on guitar. His mother taught him on the banjo. He, in turn, tried to teach me how to play it on guitar. Obviously the song had a lot of fond personal memories for John, and it was important for him to record. It has fond memories for me as well.
DO YOU WANT TO DANCE*
MP: It was a bit of throwaway -- or filler track. A bunch of us, including me, were singing the chorus. John liked to slow songs down, and this was a bit slower than the original -- better for slow dancing. There's also a bit of a reggae feel to it, another of John's loves.
SWEET LITTLE SIXTEEN**
MP: Chuck Berry was another of John's idols. There were so many of his songs to choose from and it was hard decision. We had been hanging out with Chuck just as the sessions were beginning, so we knew Chuck would be listening.
SLIPPIN AND SLIDIN*
MP: Another great Little Richard song. These were the kind of songs that he loved singing when he first started out in the band. This is real rock n' roll, like in his teddyboy days. This was also the single-that-never-was. Promo copies of this were pressed, the flipside was to be Ain't That A Shame. But it was pulled at the last minute. I think it would've been a hit.
MP: Buddy Holly was another of John's idols -- and Paul's, who bought all of Buddy's publishing catalog and holds annual 'Buddy Holly parties' to this day. What John loved about that song was the echo and the Buddy Holly style vocal: the stutter ah-ah-ah thing. He did this one very close to the original.
BRING IT ON HOME TO ME / SEND ME SOME LOVIN*
MP: No one knows who that second voice is that's answering Yeah' on the chorus of Bring It On Home To Me. On the original Sam Cooke recording it was Lou Rawls. But the person who sang that on John's version was Klaus Voorman. John liked the transition from the first song to the second. During rehearsal everybody was throwing in their two cents about the song, and John loved the idea of making it a medley with Send Me Some Lovin'.
MP: That was the first song recorded for the Rock 'n' Roll sessions. John dedicated it to me. He called me out of the control room to sit at his feet as he sang it to me. It was wonderful. But I was wondering, What does he want me out there for?" I was thin, but hardly a boney moronie.
MP: This was another of the "settlement" songs from Morris Levy's catalog. It's a good, fun track. He actually put out a version of Ya Ya on Walls and Bridges as a joke. You can hear John say at the beginning of that one, "Ok, let's do sitting in the la la and get rid of that" which was a joke to Morris Levy, who was not amused. The Walls & Bridges version was special because of the drummer, John's son Julian.
MP: This is the only song on the album that John didn't choose. Phil Spector wanted it, but John loved the idea and heard it as the big closing number. The dialogue as the song fades was intentional. It was the last song on the album, but it wasn't a 'goodbye to the world' as it's been interpreted over the years. He was just playing around as John always liked to do. It was all adlib. It actually lasted a lot longer, too, and included hellos to Paul, George and Ringo which showed his true state of mind back then. But, he saw himself as a DJ on the radio back in the 50s and he was signing off for the night. It just fit the moment, there wasn't really any more to it than that.
BONUS TRACK: ANGEL BABY**
MP: John really loved that song. It was actually John, not Phil, who wanted to do that one. He couldnt believe that this was one of my favorite songs as well. He was surprised that I liked Rosie and the Originals. It was fascinating how the two of us had the same likes when it came to the old rock and roll. That was one of Johns all-time favorite songs, and he said so on the track.
*Produced by John Lennon
**Produced by Phil Spector
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