John Lennon recorded two versions of Lee Dorsey’s 1961 hit ‘Ya Ya’. The first was a duet with Julian Lennon which closed the Walls And Bridges album in 1974, and the second featured on his Rock ‘N’ Roll collection the following year.
It was recorded as part of an agreement with music publisher Morris Levy, who had threatened to sue Lennon over plagiarism. Lennon had admitted The Beatles’ song ‘Come Together’ was based in part on Chuck Berry’s ‘You Can’t Catch Me’, a song published by Levy.
In order to settle a 1973 lawsuit brought by Levy for copyright infringement, Lennon agreed to record three songs published by Levy’s Big Seven Music for his next release.
‘Ya Ya’ I did because it was Morris’s and it was a good song.
Although Lennon began recording a selection of golden oldies with producer Phil Spector, the project fell apart when the pair’s working relationship fell apart amid the mayhem of the Lost Weekend. Instead Lennon returned from Los Angeles to New York City, where he recorded Walls And Bridges.
During the Walls And Bridges sessions Lennon was visited in the studio by his 11-year-old son Julian Lennon. The pair recorded an amateur version of ‘Ya Ya’ lasting little over a minute, with Julian playing drums with a single stick. Lennon’s opening comment – “Let’s do ‘sitting in the la la’ and get rid of that!” – was presumably in reference to Levy’s threat of legal action.
Levy wasn’t amused when he heard Walls And Bridges, and threatened to refile the lawsuit. Eager to avoid this, Lennon agreed to press on with the earlier project.
‘Ya Ya’ was a contractual obligation to Morris Levy as a result of the court case. It was a humiliation, and I regret having to be in that position, but I did it.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
‘Ya Ya’ was written by Lee Dorsey, Clarence Lewis and Morgan Robinson, although Levy himself is occasionally credited as a songwriter. It was inspired by a children’s nursery rhyme. In the US Dorsey’s recording reached number seven on the Billboard Hot 100 and topped the R&B singles chart.
French and German cover versions, recorded by Dalida and Petula Clark respectively, were released in 1962 as ‘Ya Ya Twist’. Tony Sheridan, who had recorded with The Beatles in Hamburg, released a live version without the group for a 1964 EP.