Lennon jukebox reveals Beatles' musical debts

Fab Four borrowed from host of Sixties artists

David Smith
Sunday March 7, 2004
The Observer

Their sound defined a decade and spawned a thousand imitations, but a long lost jukebox owned by John Lennon has revealed that, when it came to musical inspiration, even the Beatles got by with a little help from their friends.

The 15 kg portable jukebox, owned by Lennon around 40 years ago, was bought by the late Bristol music promoter John Midwinter for just 2,500 at a Christie's sale of Beatles memorabilia in 1989. He then spent years restoring it to working order and researching its 41 discs. Listed in Lennon's handwriting, they are effectively the Desert Island Discs which helped shape his musical genius.

Among the collection of rock and roll, rhythm and blues and soul, Midwinter traced an intriguing influence on the Beatles' output. Blues performer Bobby Parker's guitar lick was 'borrowed' by the Beatles for 'I Feel Fine'. Delbert McClinton's harmonica inspired Lennon's own on 'Love Me Do'. And the high-pitched scream on 'Twist and Shout' and other tracks was copied from the Isley Brothers.

A team from The South Bank Show took the jukebox, which they dubbed 'the original iPod', across America to track down Lennon's musical heroes. Many were gratified and none accused the Beatles of plagiarism. But one said he felt his contribution deserved greater recognition.

The two surviving Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, declined to take part, to the frustration of the programme's makers.

Lennon is believed to have bought the Swiss-made KB Discomatic jukebox in 1965 but some of the records date from several years earlier. He is thought to have left it behind when he moved to America, possibly at the Abbey Road studios. It passed through private hands before reaching Midwinter, who played it each year on the anniversary of Lennon's death. Midwinter died of throat cancer at the age of 57, just two days before he could be told his ambition of a TV documentary about the jukebox would be realised.

Artists featured on the jukebox include the Animals, Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Smokey Robinson and Gene Vincent. There are no Beatles records and only one sung by a woman, Fontella Bass's 'Rescue Me'. In Lennon's rough and ready scrawl, with gaps and crossings out, The Lovin' Spoonful become 'The Lovin's Spoonfuls' and Otis Redding is 'Ottis Redding'.

John Sebastian of The Lovin' Spoonful, whose 'Daydream' is on the jukebox, says: 'A few years ago a friend of mine sent me this recorded tape of the Beatles rehearsing, and there is this fragment where John is working his way through "Daydream". There were a couple of problems, and if you listen carefully you can hear him say, 'Damn tunesmiths!'

'Sir Paul graciously said that "Daydream" played heavily in the creation of "Good Day Sunshine", so to have influenced those boys is a wonderful thing for a songwriter because of course they influenced me, they influenced all of us.'

Folk musician Donovan tells the programme: 'In May 1965 amazing things were happening. The folk music world would soon infiltrate the pop culture, and it moves me because on the jukebox is my third single, "Turquoise".

'When we were in India, John said: "How do you do that?" I said, "What?" He said: "That stuff with your fingers." I said, "It's a pattern." Three days later he had learnt it and a whole new world opened up for his songwriting. "Dear Prudence, won't you come out to play..." Prudence was Mia Farrow's sister.'

Another track is the Isley Brothers' 'Twist and Shout', which the Beatles covered. Lennon admitted: 'The "Oooooooh!" was taken from the Isley Brothers on "Twist and Shout", which we stuck in everything - "From Me to You", "She Loves You"... they all had that.'

In radio interviews, some of which have not been heard for decades, Lennon admits: 'Especially in the early years I would often write a melody, a lyric in my head to some other song because I can't write music. So I would carry it around as somebody else's song and then change it when I got down to putting it on paper or tape - consciously change because I knew somebody's going to sue me or everybody's going to say "what a rip-off".'

Melvyn Bragg, editor of The South Bank Show, said: 'The musicians are surprisingly amiable. If they'd been ripped off by somebody they thought was second rate, that would have been different. But they really admired the Beatles, so it's OK. On the film I saw no resentment, only a bit of ruefulness. But who wouldn't be?'

Midwinter's widow and son have refused to cash in on the jukebox and plan to give it to Lennon's widow Yoko Ono for possible display at Lennon's childhood home in Liverpool. The family will also publish a posthumous book by Midwinter on the subject. A double CD, John Lennon's Jukebox, is released by Virgin/ EMI tomorrow (March 8th., 2004).