May 12, 2005

John Lennon's Jukebox

I loved this Great Performances special on PBS (it will run and be rerun at different times -- check the PBS website for local listings).

They had me at the premise: find and interview as many of the musicians as possible who had a 45 in John Lennon's personal jukebox. Some, such as Gene Vincent, aren't alive. Others (probably Chuck Berry is in this camp) didn't care to appear. But so many articulate and good-humored folks do, including Gary U.S. Bonds, Leiber and Stoller, Fontella Bass, Steve Cropper of Booker T and the MG's, Donovan, and many more. They talk about the inspiration for their songs, and often betray a little resentment that their contributions weren't more recognized.

My favorite moment was when John Sebastian demonstrates how the chord progression of the Lovin' Spoonful's first hit, Do You Believe in Magic was inspired by Martha and the Vandellas' Heat Wave. The show confirms (sometimes in the Beatle's own voice) Lennon's love of early rock and roll and rhythm and blues, and how, despite his deeply personal lyrics, his inspiration was musical rather than thematic.