Saturday, 29 September 2018
John Lennon - Some Time In New York City (1972)
Released June 1972
A much-derided album, but one with incredible passion and depth of feeling, this was John Lennon and Yoko Ono in full-on protest mode. They take on a myriad of causes - sexism, feminism, the prison system, unfair incarceration, legal and governmental corruption, Northern Ireland, drugs laws and civil rights. Phil Spector produced the album - badly in my opinion, for such a genius ten years earlier. The sound is muddy and indistinct throughout.
The opener “Woman….” Is incredibly hard-hitting, particularly in 1972, but it is bang on the money. The sound is muffled and dull, like that produced by Phil Spector for both George Harrison and later for Leonard Cohen. It has that blaring saxophone sound and damp uncrisp-sounding drums.
The feminist anthem, “Sisters, Oh Sisters”, has its moments. Some catchy saxophone and a rocking feel to it, though Yoko’s input is a bit grating. The singalong “Attica State”, about the New York prison, reworks the refrain from “Yellow Submarine” - “we all live in an Attica State”. Yoko’s similarly-themed “Born In A Prison” is one I have always liked. Some great saxophone on it too.
“New York City” is a marvellous, vibrant number, almost ruined by the awful production, but its good enough to still ride over that. It has some great cynical Lennon lyrics, killer guitar and saxophone too. It pulsates, from beginning to end. Quite why Lennon lived in New York is a mystery. He loved it, but the authorities were hounding him on a daily basis at this time. He should have come home.
“Sunday Bloody Sunday” needed to be sung, as indeed did “Luck Of The Irish”. However passionate and totally justified, they both sound more than a little naive in Lennon and Yoko’s hands, particularly the latter. The former was hard-hitting, as it should have been, and works the better of the two.
“John Sinclair” was about a man unfairly jailed for a (comparatively) minor marijuana offence, while “Angela” was about black human rights campaigner Angela Davis. The effervescent "We're All Water” explores the Dylanesque concept of everyone being the same, naked, even the President. It is a madcap romp, with Yoko wailing for all she’s worth, but I can’t help but like it.
The live set that formed the second disc of the original double album is an appealingly raw affair. “Cold Turkey” burns with a pure, visceral energy. The rambling Led Zeppelin-esque “Don’t Worry Kyoko” has a few good points - namely the heavy riff and the overall groove, but Ono’s incessant screaming makes it pretty unlistenable for most of it. Thankfully, some blues is on the menu next with “Well (Baby Please Don’t Go)”. It features some searing guitar but Ono still manages to get some screaming in there somehow.
The remains three tracks were recorded at Fillmore East in New York City with Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention. “Jamrag” (aka “King Kong”)" is an interesting instrumental, funky in places, but once more blighted by Ono’s vocals. “Scumbag” is a lively, organ-driven rhythmic with some inventive lyrics (not). The title is repeated incessantly. It segues straight into "Aü" which is basically Yoko wailing again and Lennon and Zappa sending their guitars into feedback mode. It is pretty much unlistenable.
Overall, this is undoubtedly Lennon’s worst album but, despite that, worthy of an occasional listen, and it certainly has its chronological and cultural importance.
- September 29, 2018