John Lennon was sued for stealing the guitar riff and the line "Here comes old flat-top" from Chuck Berry's "You Can't Catch Me
." The lawsuit did not come from Berry, but from Morris Levy, one of the music industry's most infamous characters (see our interview with Tommy James
for more on Levy). He owned the song along with thousands of other early rock songs that he obtained from many poor, black, and unrepresented artists. Levy sued the Beatles, or more accurately, John Lennon, over the song around the time the Beatles broke up.
For years, Lennon delayed the trial while he and the Beatles tried to sort out all the legal and business problems that plagued Apple Records. Finally, in an attempt to avoid the court room as much as he could (Lennon felt like he was appearing in court more often than not), he settled with Levy. Lennon agreed to record his Rock N Roll
album, which was just a series of cover songs, including three songs Levy owned (including "You Can't Catch Me") on the tracklist.
The deal made sense: Lennon always wanted to make a covers album, and Levy wanted the value of his songs to increase (when a Beatle re-records a song, that is just what happens). To make a long long long story
short, Lennon recorded the album over the Lost Weekend, a year-or-two period when he was separated from Yoko Ono and lived in Los Angeles. During that time he was often drunk or high, and was rather sloppy and useless. Levy was getting frustrated with the lack of progress. Phil Spector was the producer, but in a fit of madness (which was not too unusual for Spector) he ran away and stole the recording session tapes. Levy invited Lennon to his upstate New York recording studio, and that is where he finally recorded the album, which ended up with only two Levy songs: "You Can't Catch Me" and "Ya Ya."
Matthew - New York, NY