In 1965, long before Spotify, Pandora and Shazam John Lennon bought himself a juke box to take on tour. It wasn’t one of those ‘wailing wardrobe’ Rock Ola plastic cathedrals of flashing lights and coloured neon tubes that you might have bopped to at your local coffee bar. John’s jukebox was a portable device about the size of a medium suitcase and made in the UK by KB Discomatic. It was basically a portable record player with a storage/loading rack inside for 40 x 45rpm discs, allowing a playing choice of 80 sides… and it was heavy. John filled the machine with his own favourite records and wrote all their titles on the selection panel.
1965 was a good year for the Beatles. They started work on their second film Help some of which was shot in St Margarets. They were each awarded an MBE which Princess Margaret said stood for Mr. Brian Epstein and on the 15th February John passed his driving test! Later that year they played to a capacity crowd of 55,000 at Shea Stadium in New York during a tour of the US, visited the closing night of the Richmond Jazz and Blues Festival at Richmond Athletic Ground in August- well at least John and George did - and Ringo got married to Maureen.
Although in 1965 John was already moving on from the three chord R&B/rock and rock format that had originally inspired him it was clear from the jukebox playlist that he still had a place for the toe tappers he had enjoyed in his youth. In 1968 when John started his new life with Yoko Ono, he left the jukebox at his former home Kenwood near Weybridge and in 1989 it came up for sale at Christies. It was bought for £2500 by a Bristol music promoter John Midwinter who set about restoring and restocking it using John’s playlist as a guide.
In 2004 a double CD compilation “John Lennon’s Jukebox” was released featuring some of the songs found on the original jukebox. Although it contained a number of records released around 1965 many of the songs dated back to the 1950s. There was “Be-Bop-A-Lula” by Gene Vincent and “Long Tall Sally” by Little Richard from 1956, Larry Williams “Short Fat Fanny” from 1957 and “The Walk” by Jimmy McCracklin from 1958. There is some small connection between the jukebox songs and songs that the Beatles covered and sometimes recorded themselves. There is “Twist and Shout” by the Isley Bros that appeared on their first album and “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” by the Miracles that appeared on the second. “Long Tall Sally” by Little Richard was a favourite from their days playing in Hamburg as was “Some Other Guy” by Ritchie Barrett. Also included is “Hey Baby” the 1962 hit by Bruce Chanel, with the harmonica lick that inspired John to use his own ‘gob-iron’ on the Beatles first single “Love Me Do”
It is a predominantly male collection, with only one female singer represented, namely Fontella Bass, whose splendid “Rescue Me” is on the CD. Despite the Beatles having covered the Cookies, the Shirelles, the Marvelettes and others in the first half of their career there are no other girl singers or groups represented.
Since the release of “John Lennon’s Jukebox” in 2004 some musicologists have questioned the authenticity of the tracks selected. Where they all part of John’s original selection? Are the versions used the same as the 45’s in the jukebox itself? Have they been cleaned up or remastered? The other big question is if the original jukebox contained 40 x 45 rpm records totalling 80 tracks and the double CD compilation only contains 39 tracks what records have been left off?
Research by the record reviewer Lozarithm suggests that missing tracks might include Booker T and the MGs’ “Boot-leg/Outrage” (1965); Arthur Alexander’s “You Better Move On/A Shot Of Rhythm And Blues” (1961); Richie Barrett’s original “Some Other Guy/Tricky Dicky” (1962); (the version on the CD is by the Big Three) and another Miracles single, “Ain’t It Baby/The Only One I Love” (1961).
However whatever the failings of the CD compilation and the errors it might contain it is a quasi-collection of John Lennon’s own favourites. Close your eyes and turn up the volume and you might just imagine you’re hanging out with the man himself!
The first recording of Twist and Shout was by the Top Notes in 1961. The Beatles preferred the 1962 version by the Isley Brothers and recorded it themselves in 1963. Here are the Isleys. Take it away boys!
– from Martyn Day