Sam Taylor-Wood’s hotly-anticipated film Nowhere Boy traces the teenage years of John Lennon as he progressed from the Quarrymen to The Beatles, from Liverpool to the dark clubs of Hamburg and beyond, and the influence of his mother Julia and aunt Mimi upon his life.
Integral to the tale is the early rock ‘n’ roll music that enthralled a generation of teenagers – not least of all Lennon, his schoolfriends and Liverpool contemporaries who would, in time, help change the world.
Nowhere Boy’s two-CD soundtrack album contains a mixture of classics that inspired the pre-Beatles Lennon, along with a handful of his original compositions. There are also several new recordings by the actors who play the Quarrymen in the movie, here credited as The Nowhere Boys.
The sense of excitement and newness that rock ‘n’ roll instilled in teenagers in 1956 is established early on. Dickie Valentine’s easy listening Mr Sandman harks back to the innocent days of the BBC Light Programme, music hall and variety entertainment, before Rocket 88, Hound Dog and other musical milestones kicked the doors wide open for a generation of enthralled teenagers.
The six Nowhere Boys songs, and a solo recording by Aaron Johnson, who plays Lennon in the film, are mostly monophonic, rough and ready throwbacks to the skiffle era. Among them is Maggie May, the traditional Liverpool song which the 16-year-old Lennon sang on the day he first met Paul McCartney, and which The Beatles recorded 12 years later for Let It Be.
Eddie Cochran’s ‘Twenty Flight Rock’, famously the song McCartney played to impress Lennon on their first meeting, is included. Another key song in Beatles lore, Raunchy – which George Harrison was persuaded to play to prove his worth in the group – is also here, in a new recording by The Nowhere Boys.
The soundtrack includes a new recording of ‘In Spite Of All The Danger’, the McCartney-Harrison song that became the first to be recorded by the Quarrymen, and a rendition of Lennon’s first composition ‘Hello Little Girl’ – a choice that, given the film’s subject matter, could scarcely be more fitting:
I remember some Thirties or Forties song which was [singing] ‘You’re delightful, you’re delicious and da da da. Isn’t it a pity that you are such a scatterbrain.’ [Laughing] That always fascinated me for some reason or another. It’s also connected to my mother. It’s all very Freudian. She used to sing that one. So I made Hello Little Girl out of it.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
The first CD ends with John Lennon’s 1970 song Mother. In contrast to the stark Plastic Ono Band version, this is a lesser-heard session version with Lennon on guitar, previously released on the Lennon Anthology box set. The song had never before been licensed for cinematic use; Taylor-Wood successfully persuaded Yoko Ono that its message was important for Nowhere Boy. On the soundtrack, however, it sits slightly uneasily amid the 1950s skiffle and rockers.
The second CD contains songs that proved an inspiration to Lennon, although none were used in the film. Some, however, were covered by The Beatles, among them ‘Twist And Shout’, ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ and ‘Long Tall Sally’. A line from Elvis Presley’s Baby Let’s Play House became the inspiration for Rubber Soul’s ‘Run For Your Life’; The Del Vikings’ Come Go With Me, meanwhile, was the song Lennon was singing at the Woolton fête when Paul McCartney first set eyes on him on that fateful day in July 1957.
Taken separately from the film, the Nowhere Boy album is at the very least a great collection of early rock ‘n’ roll songs. The second half alone would make a fine introduction for anyone curious about the sounds that lit up the airwaves in the late 1950s. When linked to the life story of a figure as beguiling as John Lennon, however, it helps illuminate a part of The Beatles’ early history which has rarely been brought to life.
Wild One – Jerry Lee Lewis
Mr Sandman – Dickie Valentine
Rocket 88 – Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats
Shake, Rattle & Roll – Elvis Presley
Hard Headed Woman – Wanda Jackson
I Put A Spell On You – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
Maggie May – The Nowhere Boys
‘That’ll Be The Day’ – The Nowhere Boys
Rockin’ Daddy – Eddie Bond & The Stompers
‘Twenty Flight Rock’ – Eddie Cochran
That’s All Right Mama – The Nowhere Boys
Movin and Groovin – The Nowhere Boys
Raunchy – The Nowhere Boys
Hound Dog – Big Mama Thornton
‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ – Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps
Hello Little Girl – Aaron Johnson
In Spite Of All The Danger – The Nowhere Boys
Mother – John Lennon
Baby Let’s Play House – Elvis Presley
Twist & Shout – The Isley Brothers
Rebel Rouser – Duane Eddy
She Loved Everybody But Me – Charlie Rich
Putting on the Style – Lonnie Donegan
Peggy Sue – Buddy Holly
These Dangerous Years – Frankie Vaughan
Susie-Q – Dale Hawkins
Money (That’s What I Want) – Barrett Strong
Come Go With Me – The Del Vikings
Rock Around the Clock – Bill Haley
Stagger Lee – Lloyd Price
Rip It Up – Little Richard
See You Later – Alligator Charles
Long Tall Sally – Little Richard
‘The Hippy Hippy Shake’ – Chan Romero
Party Doll – Buddy Knox
Let the Good Times Roll – Shirley & Lee
‘Ain’t That A Shame’ – Fats Domino
Bye, Bye Love – Everly Brothers
I Fought The Law – Bobby Fuller Four
I Got A Rocket In My Pocket – Jimmy Lloyd