Saturday, 29 September 2018

John Lennon





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The albums covered are:-

The Plastic Ono Band (1970)
Imagine (1971)
Some Time In New York City (1972)
Mind Games (1973)
Walls And Bridges (1974)
Rock 'n' Roll (1975)
Double Fantasy (1980)
and Double Fantasy Stripped Down

Scroll down to read the reviews chronologically.

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THE PLASTIC ONO BAND (1970)

1. Mother
2. Hold On
3. I Found Out
4. Working Class Hero
5. Isolation
6. Remember
7. Love
8. Well Well Well
9. Look At Me
10. God
11. My Mummy's Dead         

This is a raw, edgy and angst-ridden solo album from John Lennon, his first "proper" solo piece of work. Lennon explores all sorts of mother and parental issues, anxiety about relationships and some cynical, political protest thrown in.

It is musically basic - guitar, bass and drums for the most part with occasional piano and keyboards. Its sparse sound adds to its appeal for me, I always found parts of Imagine to be somewhat over-orchestrated. Old mate Ringo Starr is on drums throughout, giving it considerable gravitas.

Mother is a yearning, heartfelt opener with anguished vocals and a great backing sound to it. Hold On has an absolutely sumptuous bass on it from the talented Klaus VoormanI Found Out is bluesy and confrontational and has Lennon shocking the world when he sings of "some of you sitting there with your cock in your hand...". This was pretty racy stuff for 1970. This was Lennon at his most scathing and world-weary. Working Class Hero continues the mood brilliantly, as Lennon channels his inner Dylan and produces are superbly cynical protest song. There is no doubt by now the Lennon's world is not a particularly happy one, despite his apparent bedroom bliss with Yoko Ono. The bleak ballad, Isolation, only serves to reinforce that feeling. The album's cover shows a pastoral, peaceful scene, much like WingsWild Life. This was anything but a relaxed album.

  

Remember is musically upbeat, with a pounding drum sound, augmented by a clunky piano. Again, though, it is a questioning song, one of disillusion. It actually has hints of McCartney about it, for me.  As indeed does the tender Love, the first chilled-out love song on the album. The buzzy guitar-driven Well Well Well has echoes of The White Album in some ways. Maybe it is Ringo's muscular but rhythmic drumming. It is supposed to be a song about Lennon's daily life with Yoko. It ends with him screaming. Read into that what you will about his state of mind. He was always an impossible person to read.

Look At Me is acoustically beautiful, Beatles-esque, but is deeply self-analytical once more. Having questioned his entire existence and his life, there can be only one more thing to question - God. The track bearing the deity's name is a marvellous slice of Lennon cynicism sung over a stark piano, bass and drum backing. "God is a concept by which we measure our pain...". Heavy stuff Lennon then proceeds to list everything he doesn't believe in, incredibly convincingly and aggressively, eschewing, amongst other things, all the guru stuff, then Elvis and Dylan, until finally saying "I don't believe in Beatles...". This was possibly Lennon's most powerful, post-Beatles song of all. "I was the walrus, but now I'm John...". What a great line. What a moving song.

Personally, I find the short, painful My Mummy's Dead to be unlistenable, so I do not include it when playing the album digitally, replacing it with the two chanting protest songs, Power To The People and Give Peace A Chance. So, for me, God is followed by the fist-pumping unity of Power To The People. I find that quite apt. I do understand, though, Mummy's vital position on the original album, ending it on a starkly disturbing, anguishing note.

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IMAGINE (1971)

1. Imagine
2. Crippled Inside
3. Jealous Guy
4. It's So Hard
5. Don't Want To Be A Soldier Mama
6. Gimme Some Truth
7. Oh My Love
8. How Do You Sleep?
9. How
10. Oh Yoko!    

I have to say, initially, that I much prefer the 2002 remaster to the 2010 one, which I found far too weak and trebly for my taste. I like a full, warm, bassy sound and the 2002 remaster certainly delivers that. Klaus Voorman played bass on this album and I want to hear him. Thankfully on this version, I can, loud and clear.
                                                       
Imagine is what is is - iconic. It needs no further comment. Crippled Inside is an enjoyable slice of lively, country-ish rock. It has received a fair few criticisms over the years, but I have always quite liked it. It is catchy and lightweight but still carries enough of Lennon’s cynicism to fit in with the album’s overall mood. Jealous Guy is another one known to everyone, Lennon’s original version being far more stark than Roxy Music’s big, full-sounding eighties cover of it.

It's So Hard is a pulsating, bluesy-based number. Personally, I feel it would work better without the lush string orchestration at the end. It is a good one, though, full of energy and enthusiasm. Cynically convincing too, is the bassy grind of the anti-war I Don't Want To Be a Soldier Mama.  I love the bass, saxophone and guitar improvisation parts near the end. Gimme Some Truth continues the political comment with some killer guitar and a thumping rhythm.

  

Oh My Love sees a switch to a plaintive, tenderly romantic song dedicated to the fulfilment Lennon was experiencing with Yoko Ono in his life. Just when he was getting a bit loved-up, however, the old spiky Lennon returns with the embittered How Do You Sleep?  - his notoriously venomous attack on Paul McCartney. He obviously had a lot of pent-up anger, but this all seemed a bit over-the-top to me. Naming some of McCartney’s songs as examples of his faults was just a cheap shot. Musically, the song has a deep, muscular sound, some great guitar interjections and again, some string orchestration I feel it could have survived without. Regarding how he slept, I am sure McCartney slept the sleep of the somewhat bemused.

How shows Lennon at his most vulnerable again, questioning himself and his feelings. Despite his apparent romantic bliss, he always seemed to be battling with various issues. Snap yourself out of it, John. He did just that with the jaunty Oh Yoko!. This is another one that has attracted opprobrium. Again, I have always quite liked it its melodic piano coda and touchingly sweet feel.

Overall, the album is a perplexing one. It has several mood swings within its songs. Like Lennon himself. Enigmatic.

THE 2018 REMIXED ALBUM

I was interested to hear the new remix of this album. Personally, I have always preferred the 2002 remasters to the 2010 ones, finding the latter far too trebly for my taste. I find the 2002s more punchy and bassy, which is what I like. I realise that I am in a minority here but anyway, I was curious as to whether there is any discernible change to this new remix. Obviously it is strange hearing familiar music remixed with slight sonic alterations, but I enjoyed it on the "Sgt. Pepper" remix and on Tony Visconti's work on some of David Bowie's albums.

Imagine is beautifully warm. When the bass kicks in it is subtle yet solid - full and bassy and no tinniness. Crippled Inside has a nice, resonant thump to it and that country guitar is razor sharp and crystal clear. So far this sounds far closer to my preferred 2002 Yoko Ono remaster than the admittedly more popular 2010 one. Because this remix seems to be strong and bassy it will probably annoy “audiophiles”, but for me, as someone who likes powerful bass, it is perfect.



Jealous Guy has a wonderfully melodic bass line. Again it is subtle and velvety smooth here. This is a track that often suffered from a harsh, tinny sound. Not anymore. The lush string orchestration now sounds soothing and cultured. Lovely. This is the best I have ever heard the song. The fact is it is not, in effect, the original, may bother some people. Not me. I prefer it this way. It is just better. The bluesy It's So Hard is pulsating and those sweeping strings are once again balanced perfectly, as is the saxophone. I Don't Want To Be A Soldier just throbs with muscular bassy beauty. Love it. That saxophone too. Mmmm.

Gimme Some Truth has sometimes been a bit grating when Lennon raises his voice and the music rises with him and this is far more easy on the ear here. The guitar intro to Oh My Love followed by the piano is sublime, as indeed it is when the understated bass arrives. The bitter How Do You Sleep?again has sumptuous bass, strings and that searing guitar solo sounds excellent. The big bass thump in How? and that vibrant orchestration has no distortion, for me. Just warmth. The lively Oh Yoko! is breathtaking in its clarity, even the harmonica bit. Just listen to that speaker-shaking punch on Power To The People. Great stuff.

Personally, this is the best I have ever heard this iconic album. I know there are probably thousands out there who will say "I prefer the original" (which, of course is still available in various remasterings), “it’s too bassy”, “it’s a sonic mess” or their usual favourite - “it hurts my ears”. Let them all talk. My opinion is just that, a single opinion, and mine is that I love it.

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SOME TIME IN NEW YORK CITY (1972)

1. Woman Is The Nigger Of The World
2. Sisters, O Sisters
3. Attica State
4. Born In A Prison
5. New York City
6. Sunday Bloody Sunday
7. The Luck Of The Irish
8. John Sinclair
9. Angela
10. We're All Water
11. Cold Turkey
12. Don't Worry Kyoko
13. Well (Baby Please Don't Go)
14. Jamrag
15. Scumbag
16. Au        

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 InventionJamrag (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 AĆ¼ 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.

Photo of John and Yoko by Bob Gruen.

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MIND GAMES (1973)

1. Mind Games
2. Tight A$
3. Aisumasen (I'm Sorry)
4. One Day (At A Time)
5. Bring On The Lucie (Freda People)
6. Nutopian International Anthem
7. Intuition
8. Out The Blue
9. Only People
10. I Know (I Know)
11. You Are Here
12. Meat City                 

Released in 1973, this is a quite underrated John Lennon album. Firstly, I have to say that I vastly prefer these 2002 remasters (with the extra bonus tracks). To be perfectly honest, I find the 2010 remasters far to tinny and pretty much unlistenable. Not surprising, as I like my remasters full and bassy. Many people, however, prefer the 2010s so I am probably in the minority.
                        
To the album, Mind Games, the is often not discussed as one of Lennon’s greats, but I love it, something catchy in its strange keyboard sweeps. Tight A$ is an appealing, upbeat rocker and, despite its somewhat sickly sentiments, Aisumasen (I'm Sorry) is still a good song, as is One Day At A Time which has a great chorus.

  

My own personal favourite is the protest vibe of Bring On The LucieOut The Blue is one of those songs that just says “John Lennon” when you hear it. So typical. As also is the beautiful Intuition. In fact, they are all good. There isn’t a duff track on this album, in my opinion. Meat City is a raucous, pounding rocker to end the album with. Big booming bass on it. Listen to the 2002 version then the 2010 to hear the superiority of the former. No comparison.



A lot of people have said that this album contains maybe just a few decent songs. I have to disagree with that. In a year that saw so many excellent albums released, this one is more than worthy of standing up there with them.

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WALLS AND BRIDGES (1974)

1. Going Down On Love
2. Whatever Gets You Through The Night
3. Old Dirt Road
4. What You Got
5. Bless You
6. Scared
7. #9 Dream
8. Surprise Surprise (Sweet Bird Of Paradox)
9. Steel And Glass
10. Beef Jerky
11. Nobody Loves You When You're Down And Out  

It has been a thing, since this album’s release, to criticise it, like its predecessor, the underrated Mind Games by saying “it only has a few good tracks on it”. I disagree, there is some good material on here.

Going Down On Love is lyrically sparse, I guess, but it has a quirky appeal, with Lennon showing what a naughty lad he was by referencing a sex act and hoping no-one would notice, and a good bongo percussion bit. The rousing saxophone-dominated Whatever Gets You Through The Night was a fine choice for a single (a number one in the USA). Old Dirt Road is a typical slow, thoughtful Lennon song, that would have fitted on the previous album. What You Got is a heady, funked-up number with Lennon in trademark throat-straining voice. Bless You is a beautiful, slower number as indeed is Scared. Lennon has been criticised on this album for lacking direction and conviction. These two tracks would seem to disprove that theory, full of sensitive, personal lyrics and musically mature, too.

  

#9 Dream is a stimulating, ethereal piece of classic 70s Lennon, with a great vocal, Beatles-style string-heavy orchestration and bizarre, non-sensical unknown language chorus - “ah bawakawa pousse, pousse”. It works, though. Surprise Surprise is a rock and saxophone romp with the sort of sound George Harrison used on his All Things Must Pass album. Steel And Glass sees Lennon railing at someone (hopefully not McCartney again! Apparently it was a rant at an ex-manager) Indeed, it sounds like it would not be out of place on the Imagine album, sounding a bit like How Do You Sleep? in places.

Beef Jerky is an instrumental jam, but an invigorating one at that. Nobody Loves You When You're Down And Out is somewhat self-pitying and indulgent, as Lennon was certainly not down and out, he just lost a weekend. No big deal, get over it.

I have always had a bit of a problem with the sound on this album - too tinny in my opinion. 

However, the 2000 remaster is much bassier and full than the thin, jarring 2010 remaster.

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ROCK 'N' ROLL (1975)

1. Be Bop A Lula
2. Stand By Me
3. Rip It Up/Ready Teddy
4. You Can't Catch Me
5. Ain't That A Shame
6. Do You Want To Dance
7. Sweet Little Sixteen
8. Slippin' And Slidin'
9. Peggy Sue
10. Bring It On Home To Me/Send Some Lovin'
11. Bony Moronie
12. Ya Ya
13. Just Because         

Recorded as part of a legal agreement resulting from the "here come old flat top" line in The BeatlesCome TogetherJohn Lennon revisits his old rock 'n' roll favourites. Produced by Phil Spector, it does not have the muffled, muddy production that Some Time In New York City or George Harrison's All Things Must Pass, although the 2012 remaster is far more trebly and tinny than its 2002 predecessor, which is far warmer and bassier, which suits my taste.
                                 
I have always found it a totally enjoyable album to listen to. Whatever the circumstances of its conception or the stresses of the recording process, (apparently they were chaotic and, at times, fractious) Lennon sounds as if he was having a good time. That can only be a good thing. He could sing rock 'n' roll with his eyes shut, but, to me, he sounds rapturous on some of these recordings. You certainly can't tell if he was in a bad mood. This upbeat feel has always made me wonder why the album was so badly received at the time. In retrospect, in later years, it has received some better assessments.


The highlights are plenty. I like all of it, basically, and it is well played by Lennon's faithful band, but Be-Bop-A-LulaStand By Me, the Chuck Berry song You Can't Catch Me that contained the "flat top" line, the fun Slippin' And Slidin' and the bluesy, slow grind of Bony Moronie are favourites of mine. The "medley" songs - Rip It Up/Ready Teddy and Bring It On Home To Me/Send Me Some Lovin' are excellent, effervescent and rocking too. The mega slowed-down Do You Wanna Dance doesn't quite work, for me, although Sweet Little Sixteen comes off as a slow saxophone-driven groove. Buddy Holly's Peggy Sue is played pretty straight.

Lennon undoubtedly sounds more upbeat on here than he had on any of his previous solo albums, particularly the earlier ones. I never fail to enjoy this album.

  

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DOUBLE FANTASY (1980)

1. (Just Like) Starting Over
2. Kiss Kiss Kiss
3. Clean Up Time
4. Give Me Something
5. I'm Losing You
6. I'm Moving On
7. Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)
8. Watching The Wheels
9. Yes, I'm Your Angel
10. Woman
11. Beautiful Boys
12. Dear Yoko
13. Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him
14. Hard Times Are Over 
         
Upon this album's release a couple of weeks before John Lennon's murder, it was not well-received critically. After his death, of course, it sold by the bucketload. Retrospectively some have praised it, although many have criticised it as indulgence on both their parts - telling the world how loved-up they are and how at peace. They did, it has to be said, have an irritating quality of seeming to think the world cared about how happy they were, when, actually, before Lennon's unfortunate demise, the world had grown a little apathetic to them.

Personally, I have always quite liked it. It has an excellent sound quality, particularly on the warmer, bassier 2002 remaster. I would say, though, that the first half of the album is better than the last.

  
                          
The album follows a Lennon song/Yoko song pattern. Many just programme their systems to play the Lennon material. Admittedly, the Lennon stuff is excellent, and the superior of the two, but I quite like the Yoko tracks. They are appealing in a punky, Lene Lovich sort of way, as opposed to the unlistenable screaming that is on much of her seventies material.

Lennon's late fifties pastiche (Just Like) Starting Over is well known as a catchy hit single. Yoko's Kiss Kiss Kiss has a staccato, quirky appeal, but could do without the lovemaking noises! Lennon's Clean Up Time is a punchy, brass-driven upbeat number with a big, thumping bass line. The punky,  Grace Jones-influenced Give Me Something is most underrated. I'm Losing You is a soulful Lennon mid-paced, muscular rocker and one of his best on the album. Yoko's I'm Moving On is one of her best too, featuring a killer guitar riff and a convincing sound overall. No need for the monkey impersonation at the end, though, Yoko.

While Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy) is a tender song from Lennon to his son, it is a bit syrupy, to be honest. Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart subsequently recorded songs like this to their young children. Not very rock 'n' roll. The Lennon/Yoko pattern is halted with Lennon's excellent Watching The Wheels with its typically catchy hook line. Yoko's quality unfortunately deteriorates with the throwaway, jazzy Yes I'm Your Angel with its awful "tra-la-la-la" part.

Woman was a huge posthumous hit, deservedly so. It probably would have been a success anyway. It has a great refrain and guitar riff. One of Lennon's best, despite its blissful romantic nature. Beautiful Boys has Yoko utilising some traditional Japanese music to back a song to her son. Her vocal is a bit discordant, however. Do we need another song to their son? Probably not. It was quite clever in the way it switches to address her for year-old "boy" though. Dear Yoko is an update on Oh Yoko!, with a guitar relaxing a piano on the same catchy musical refrain. Yes, I know these songs to Yoko are somewhat irritating, but I actually like both of them, enjoying their jaunty melodies. Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him is another Grace Jones-ish haunting number from Yoko. I really like this one.

A poignant end to the album drives in Hard Times Are Over. Unfortunately, as we know, they were not, tragically.

(The bonus track, Walking On Thin Ice from Yoko is one of her best. It was also covered impressively by Elvis Costello on his Out Of Our Idiot compilation in the late eighties. Lennon's stark, piano-based ballad Help Me To Help Myself isn't so good, however).

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DOUBLE FANTASY STRIPPED DOWN

1. (Just Like) Starting Over
2. Kiss Kiss Kiss
3. Clean Up Time
4. Give Me Something
5. I'm Losing You
6. I'm Moving On
7. Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)
8. Watching The Wheels
9. Yes, I'm Your Angel
10. Woman
11. Beautiful Boys
12. Dear Yoko
13. Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him
14. Hard Times Are Over    

For me, this is a bit of a superfluous release. It is not an album like Let It Be, where much of Phil Spector's production did not appear on original demo versions, so Let It Be (Naked) could be released and appreciated. On Double Fantasy, the original was a pretty well-realised album, sonically. Therefore I am not sure what "stripping it down" wanted to achieve.
                                                                      

It seems that quite a bit of the backing vocals have been taken away, such as the doo-wop parts on (Just Like) Starting Over. This is a shame, because rather than making the song sound more rootsy, it takes away its nostalgic, late fifties feel. Tracks like Kiss Kiss Kiss and Clean Up Time do sound more rocky, bassy and with a bit more of a rawness to them, but, as I said, I am not sure it was  necessary in the first place. A few studio "chat" bits have been added in, as if to give the recordings a feel of being "live" in the studio. Yes, the songs sound a bit more earthy, with the final slick coat of production removed, but in many ways, they sound like very high quality demo versions in need of one final tweaking.

Yoko Ono's tracks have more of a Grace Jones, punky, bassy and raw feel to them, though. Give Me Something highlights the searing guitar and Lennon's excellent I'm Losing You has a huge, pulsating bass line that I love. This track really comes to life on this version. Not that it was ever bad, it just has a muscular new appeal here. The same applies to Yoko's powerful I'm Moving OnWatching The Wheels is deeper and bassier, concentrating the bass, piano and drums. It sounds great, to be honest. This is one that is better than the original.

No amount of remixing can make Yoko's Yes, I'm Your Angel any more listenable for me, unfortunately. Woman has a nice feel to it, without the eventual orchestration. Dear Yoko has an energetic thump to it.

Overall, it is still a good listen, however. The sound quality is excellent and, as pointed out, there is an essential, down-to-earth attraction to the songs in the format. There are some who prefer this version of the album, and I can see where they are coming from, even though the changes are not incredibly obvious, nor were they particularly necessary.

The 2010 remaster of the eventual album is the best of the 2010 remasters, nowhere near as trebly or tinny as I find some of the other 2010 remasters. Personally, I prefer the full bassiness of the 2002 Yoko Ono-supervised remasters.

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                                JOHN LENNON

                                    1940-1980

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