Lennon’s infamous utterance, “Before Elvis there was nothing”, can be consigned to the bin once and for all, now that we have his letter to Craig McGregor of the New York Times of September 1971. The reporter had filed the common charge against the Beatles, as Davies puts it, of “ripping off Black American music”. They didn’t sing their own songs in the early days, John wrote to McGregor, because they weren’t good enough, really – the one thing we always did was to make it known that there were black originals, we loved the music and wanted to spread it in any way we could. In the ’50s there were few people listening to blues – R&B – rock and roll, in America as well as Britain. People like – Eric Burdon’s Animals – Mick’s Stones – and us drank and ate and slept the music, and also recorded it, many kids were turned on to black music by us. As for the Rolling Stones, as Mick said in a recent television programme marking fifty years of existence, an achievement both admirable and absurd, they came from being the band that everyone hated to the band everyone loves. It was, after all, only rock and roll.
more from James Campbell at the TLS here.