DECEMBER 8 1980 - DECEMBER 8 2013
December 8th 1980 was a typical school night for me. I was working late on an essay or two. We still had to write them by hand then. Draft by draft by draft until there was a good copy that could be typed up. I was doing fine, living in the student ghetto on Queen St. West, working on my degrees at the University of Toronto. My home was Lakeview Mansions. I remember we always joked it wasn't a mansion and you couldn't see the lake. But somehow it didn't seem to really matter.
Once it had been a stately old apartment hotel where the well to do stayed while they spent their summers at Sunnyside Beach outside the city at the far end of the Queen Street West streetcar line. Time had long since passed it by. The lake water was now a toxic e-coli soup. The sprawling city surrounding Lakeview Mansions cut it off from a resort world that no longer existed. Still it had a certain decaying grandeur about it with the large spacious suites, and marble floors. Now but a forgotten, derelict abode at the end of the line for artists, musicians, bohemians and near broke university students, of whom I was one.
Around midnight my girlfriend called from the t.v. room to come see something, distracting me from a mild writers block. I willingly obliged stumbling wearily into the room to watch a news flash claiming ex Beatle John Lennon had been shot outside his home at the Dakota in downtown New York. We thought that it must be a mistake. Or just some awful incident he'd probably recover from, write a few hit protest songs about and then life would go on as it always had.
A few minutes later the announcer returned to say John had died on the way to the hospital. Time froze for a minute, like when Kennedy was assassinated or when the twin towers collapsed in fire, smoke and mass confusion, a seminal moment when my life suddenly seemed in free fall. The unimaginable has just happened, and I somehow knew it would never quite be the same again. It was an unreal feeling like a sudden glitch in the time continuum. Life froze dead in it's tracks for a moment. Then I sensed it pivot off forever in a totally different direction, one would never have suspected. The world had changed.
No doubt a man of constant contradictions, Lennon could heart fully write "All You Need Is Love" as well as "Jealous Guy." He'd been embraced by millions as the mischievous but loveable mop top Beatle only to suddenly reappear as the stoned, emancipated, scraggly long haired hippie posing naked on his first solo album "Two Virgins" along with his new Japanese girlfriend Yoko Ono. His media persona always quite mindfully reflected it all, his life and times.
Lennon was a superb stream of conscious thinker who could push his art from the strange alienated but rhythmically superb and idyllic "Strawberry Fields Forever" to the confusing disjointed but entrancing world of "I Am The Walrus." Or even just be just stuck forever, the scared young boy in a mans body, who he sang about in "Help", or even the pleadingly romantic "I Want to Hold Your Hand.". Yes I know, he wrote that with Paul, the choir boy goodie goodie Beatle who had once provided balance to Lennon's otherwise extreme, rough, uncontrolled rock and roll edge. Still, Lennon was one in a million, that's for sure. He was quite suddenly gone and very badly missed
Lennon never really died though. Even he would've been shocked by the strange iconic myth in which he was resurrected in peoples minds, perhaps my own as well. His records raced up the charts again. His image was everywhere in the new media world that was rapidly developing around us, his life and art rerun endlessly over and over again on the radio and t.v., in lost recordings, endless books, diaries and images that still continue in heavy rotation through to today.
Lennon became ironically canonized as a part and parcel of our baby boomer generation. Crucified and forever dying on a mass media altar from which he would arise to epic proportions in word, image and song, he is forever frozen in a time that has now long since passed us by. Very likely all ready had. I for one just didn't realize it. The tumultuous sixties had been over for a time. The seventies a decade many of us might still cringe at and rather forget. But when John Lennon was so senselessly murdered by a rabid fan that December night 33 years ago, somehow a little piece of me along with a significant part of my life and times also died along with him in the hail of bullets that ripped us apart. Instant karma? May John Lennon shine on and on forever in the never distant beat of my heart.
A Peace Garden named Strawberry Fields in memory of John is across the street from the Dakota in Central Park NYC.
Lennon Solo Discography Part 1: 1968-1975!
John + Yoko/ Plastic Ono Band:
1968: Two Virgins ***
1969: Life With The Lions **
1969: Wedding Album *
1969: Live Peace in Toronto ***
1972: Sometime in New York City *** ...................................................
Unfinished Music #1: Two Virgins: In 1968, it's controversial nude album cover needed to be sold inside a brown paper bag with a hole cut out to show just John + Yoko's face. Otherwise? Full frontal nude view on the front. Rear view on the back. Bagless made more sense. Here they are looking like two strung out junkies holding hands exposed naked for all the world to see; a very iconoclastic Beatle image. Otherwise, the only interesting note to the bag is Genesis 2:21-25 printed on the back side. If you liked the Revolution #9 sound collage on the Beatles White Album, which most baby boomers don't, you'd like this too. Think John + Yoko stoned on acid late at night, fooling around with tape loops and a recorder. Think disjointed talking voices, strange indiscernible sounds, with old 78 records, snippets of piano, guitar + mellotron music wafering in and out. Very avantgarde. Definitely not for all tastes. However, I play it sometimes + quite like it a lot. Very stream of conscious, ethereal, trippy etc. Not for most folks though!
[Audio: Two Virgins Side 1 @ Here + Side 2 @ There ]
[Audio: Hear Cambridge 1969 @ John + Yoko ]
Wedding Album: Great packaging! A white box with a photo of John + Yoko on the front. They have run away for a civil marriage in Gibraltar after John's divorce from Cynthia came through. [Poor girl! Critics really gave Two Virgins the two thumbs down, when Lennon explained he + Yoko had recorded it late at night in their home while first wife Cynthia Lennon was away on holidays. School sweetheart Cynthia, mother of son "Hey Jude" Julian Lennon returned to find a naked Yoko wearing her housecoat. Also John saying he wanted a divorce.] The box is full of snap shots, a post card, a copy of their marriage certificate + 2 scrapbooks with various news articles + editorial cartoons about their controversial wedding + Peace Bed In honeymoon. [reads one: "John: Now we're married, Yoko, it's all right to see each other with our clothes on." :-] There's a photo of a napkin + your piece of the wedding cake. Finally, a white plastic bag to put all the stuff in. Might've been an interesting souvenir of sorts for fans who collect these kind of things. Unfortunately the album is a complete clunker that you will probably only curiously listen to once at best. There's a far too long, mediocre interview with John + Yoko during their "Bed In for Peace" honeymoon protest. The Bed In was a novel and very shocking idea at the time. As Lennon explained, the world media all showed up by invitation to see if they were going to ... er ... consummate the marriage live on camera. [Heck after Two Virgins who knew what they would do next! ;-] They received a Lennon lecture about world peace instead! Please note there is no shortage of these John + Yoko interviews. They are much more interesting to watch on video or you can just read the script. The other side is the self titled John + Yoko. They repeat each others names back and forth in strange voices for a very, very long time. You can hear a tape of their heartbeats in the background .This album is ONLY for completists, or if you can borrow it to look and listen to once.
[Video: Bed Peace @ Documentary w/ Original Footage ]
Live Peace In Toronto: John is stoned out of his gourd on cocaine + shitting bricks with stage fright. This in his first concert appearance since the Beatles broke up, live from the Toronto 1969 Rock + Roll Revival Concert at Varsity Park, U of T. Yoko is beside him on stage inside a bag singing [or screaming] along to the music. Eric Clapton joins John on guitar, in this first incarnation of the ever changing line up of the Plastic Ono Band [BTW it still continues today]. Think bursts of guitar noise, Lennon + Clapton each tossing out short but scorching solos on a series of classic rockers. Lennon ad libs two of his early solo singles Cold Turkey and Give Peace of Chance. Together they engage in a short, gritty, guitar dual on Lennon's Yer Bluez from the Beatles White Album. [OK it was simply titled The Beatles but nobody ever called it that!] The rest of Live Peace is a long sound collage of loud screeching guitar riffs and feedback increasing in intensity as Lennon + Clapton accompany Yoko's vocal workout for the second half of the concert. She performs two of her own compositions: Don't Worry Kyoko [Mummy's only looking for her hand in the snow] [who wouldn't be?!?] and John, John [Let's hope for peace]. The album cover has a photo of a deep blue sky + small wispy white cloud. The whole ordeal exasperated a lot of fans. However in my books it remains essential leading edge rock and roll, though granted it's rather tedious at times + Lennon is not in the best of shape. The album made the top ten album charts, just barely when it was first released. There is also a cheap commercially released video of the show. A few heavily edited Lennon tracks occasionally appear on greatest hit packs nowadays, both the complete the vinyl + cd versions are fairly hard to find.
[Video: Sweet Peace In Toronto 1969 @ Concert Documentary ]
Sometime in New York City [NYC] This now very dated 2 record set came inside a gatefold newspaper cover sleeve. The titles + lyrics to the songs were written all over it like headlines + new stories. There's a fake photo of then Cold War arch rivals US President Richard Nixon + Chinese Chairman Mao dancing together naked, for the "article" about Yoko's song We're All Water [the joke being that there might not be too much difference between them if they were dancing naked ...]. Also a drawing of a young Asian woman getting her stomach sliced open with a hand knife by a horned man to illustrate the 45 single track from the album, Woman is the Nigger of the World. [ironically it was the nudie picture which drew the most anger, perhaps another point the Lennon's wanted to make] The single was a quite decent protest rocker but sold very poorly and received little if any airplay because John used the "N" word.
[Video: Woman is the Nigger of the World @ Dick Cavett Show ]
The idea on the album was to write timely agitprop songs about the issues of the day. Think of it as the often hard rocking musical version of an angry protest rally. We get Attica State [about the NYC prison riots], Luck of the Irish + Sunday Bloody Sunday [about the anti British protests in Ireland]. Also Angela about controversial Black Power activist Angela Davis, and John Sinclair about the poet White Panther's 10 year jail sentence for possession of marijuana [he gave 2 free joints to an undercover cop]. There's a solid toss away rocker, New York City, that name tag references John + Yokos NYC co-conspirator in the US anti Vietnam War movement at the time, Jerry Rubin of the Chicago 7. Also street busker David Peel who Lennon signed on to record The Pope Smokes Dope! [ a separate, controversial, long deleted 1972 album + song on Apple Records. Very rare!] Yoko's Sisters,O Sisters is an early catchy, sing along women rights anthem. A bonus disc included another so so live version of Cold Turkey [about drug withdrawal: Lennon had been hooked on heroin for some time, Rob Ford take note]. Also 2 songs from the December 1969 Lennon UNICEF concert [said Cold Turkey + another Don't Worry Kyoko jam] + a live impromptu onstage jam a la Live Peace in Toronto, with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.
[Audio: John + Yoko: Sisters O' Sisters album version w/ band @ Sisters ]
[Video: John + Yoko: Sisters O' Sisters @ Acoustic TV Performance ]
[Video: John + Yoko w Frank Zappa + The Mothers Concert @ Re-encoded/ Remixed ]
[Video: David Peel + The Lower East Side: The Pope Smokes Dope @ Remake ]
Original SNYC 33 rpm vinyl album label: Disc 2/ Side 2
The album was a very interesting concept, which sold poorly like all the John + Yoko albums reviewed so far. It also freaked out President Nixon so much he sent the CIA to spy on + wiretap John. He was denied a visa to stay in the United States, ostensibly due to a possession of marijuana charge from 1968. Lennon fought, and later won the case in court but during that time he couldn't leave the country + get back in. Ironically, he felt so happy, safe, loved + relieved after his good character was vindicated in court that he decided to just stay put and live in NYC where he was later shot + killed by a rabid fan outside his home. Edited cd versions are easy to find. Original used vinyl copies of the album in average condition are fairly plentiful + cheap.
[Video: The US Verses John Lennon @ Movie documentary ]
Conclusion: Even CD recordings of all these albums can be rare and hard to find, except for NYC. The vinyl record albums are considered highly collectible, especially if you have an original copy with the record + cover still in very good to excellent condition. Beware: Two Virgins has been reprinted numerous times over the years. Folks get tricked into paying high prices for later copies of limited value [$20-$30]. The real MCoy in the original brown paper wrapper is worth a lot more [$50 and up, mostly way up depending on it's condition]. Such are the going rates for a nude photo of the dead ex Beatle.
These albums were all very experimental and even leading edge, if not very popular in the late 60's + early 70's when they were first released. They are hardly essential or even very listenable for the average music listener. Cambridge 1969 + NYC however are very interesting conceptual ideas in the protest or experimental music sense. NYC + Live Peace rock hard. You decide but be forewarned: avoid the albums at all cost unless your interests are so inclined. Personally I have multiple copies of each.
45 RPM Label A-Side
I'd best recommend you stick with John's excellent hit 45 singles; Give Peace A Chance , Cold Turkey , Instant Karma 1970], Power to the People , Happy Christmas [War is Over!]  + Woman is the Nigger of the World . Much more popular + listenable, they appear on numerous reasonably priced greatest hit packages that should be easy to find at most music stores or on Amazon.ca. With the exception of Woman Is... none of these titles, except when also recorded live, originally appeared on an album. They all first appeared on the excellent if not heavily edited Shaved Fish album, more of which later. The vinyl 45 rpm's are easy enough to find at the used record shops for between $5 to $30 on average, the higher price for very good copies with the original picture sleeves intact. That's because two forgotten warehouse rooms stocked with them were found in the US a number of years ago considerably lowering their rarity + cost.
[Audio: Cold Turkey 45 rpm version @ 2010 Remaster ]
[Video: Cold Turkey Original Footage @ 1969 ]
[Video: Give Peace A Chance Original Footage @ Remix/ Collage ]
[Video: Instant Karma [We All Shine On] Knitting Video @ Original TV Promo ]
[Video: Power to the People @ Legend Collage ]
Part 2: John Lennon's Biggies
1970: John Lennon + the Plastic Ono Band *****
1971: Imagine *****
1973: Mind Games ****
1974: Walls + Bridges *****
John Lennon/ Plastic Ono Band: Lennon's self titled album was his first without Yoko singing or being accredited with co-writing any songs, a great relief to John's many mainstream fans who would rather she didn't. It's sometimes known as the Primal Therapy album, due to the sessions both attended that year. Like the therapy it is very emotive in nature, a scream from the heart + gut. [Remember; the Beatles used to scream a lot too, in their early rock hits like Twist + Shout, and She Loves You]. However John just sings, and very well at that. He also plays most if not all of the piano + guitar parts himself. It remains a very powerful, introspective + raw album. Lennon gives voice to all his demons. It remains my all time favourite Lennon solo album. I'd also list it among the top 10 rock albums of all time.
Mother strongly evokes his sense of childhood + teenage abandonment. It ends in a primal scream fest, the only one on the album. The single 45 version was edited down quite a bit for radio. I Found Out! is pure Lennon at his most narcistic + existentialist extreme [ie: with lyrics like "No one can harm you, feel your own pain."]. It features a raw guitar scratching out the rhythm to drive home Lennon's fierce denunciation of phonies, followers, rock stars + hero worship. He also takes a swipe at former Beatle partner Paul McCartney, the first in a series of nasty back + forth musical letters. Truth be told these helped boost both of their post Beatle record sales. Isolation echoes just that, John's sense of isolation, in no uncertain terms. Love is played on piano too. It's almost sad + hauntingly melancholic while also being a soft heartfelt ballad. Working Class Hero remains a classic through today, with quite a few levels of depth. Note that it also includes a fair bit of myth making by John, a fabulously rich [though at the time cash poor] ex Beatle rock star from a middle class English background. Irony, intentional or not, was usually given wide free reign by Lennon in his interviews + recordings. It was not beyond him to play idly with the truth according to his whims + the image he wished to create either. In fact, various different, deliberate + very creative makeovers accompany each stage of his life + musical career.
[Video: Mother Collage Remix @ Legend Video ]
[Audio: I Found Out with lyrics @ Song + lyrics ]
[Video: Working Class Hero @ Legend Video ]
God ["... is a concept against which we measure our own pain ..."] is an extremely moving and forceful rejection of any + all idol worship, including Jesus, Kennedy, Elvis + even the Beatles, none of whom Lennon claims to believe in anymore. In the final verse he declares that the "dream" of the sixties is over [read: he's not a Beatle anymore nor does he entertain any more idealistic beliefs in leaders or saviours]. All that remains is Yoko + he. Indeed, "That's reality!" he notes on the downbeat. Nor is Lennon any longer willing to be his generations "dream weaver", or so he quite convincingly insists. The distant, haunting, childlike ballad My Mummy's Dead ends the album on a spooky + quite revealing note of what truly troubles John the most. His mother Julia [of White Album fame] left him with his Aunt Mimi when he was quite young. After being reunited with her in his teens she was killed shortly afterwards by a drunk hit + run driver, who was also an off duty cop. Hence his hang ups with abandonment + authority figures.
[Video: God with lyrics @ Music + Lyrics ]
Although not his biggest seller, perhaps due to its intensity, the album has stood up to the test of time remarkably well. It's stripped down naked rock + roll sensibilities, aesthetics and themes makes it an indispensable Lennon album, one I should think you absolutely need to get or hear. At the very least it pretty much set the critical standard for all the emotive, self expressive + autobiographical songwriting that has followed in it's popular music wake over the years since. Numerous cd editions have been released + shouldn't be hard to find. An original vinyl copy in excellent condition with the inside paper sleeve containing the song lyrics, drawing + musical credits will still demand a high price. A CD copy should not be too expensive or hard to find.
Imagine: Another 5 star Lennon album + his biggest seller! The difference? Basically it's the same message but with a sugar coating on it, as in "C'mon John, try to be nice for the people + you will sell a lot more records!" The title song like God, critizises the many concepts that Lennon believes limit and prevent us from living together in peace + being free. However it's the religiously imposed fear of heaven or hell that's at fault, not Jesus per say, a much safer commercial stance. His warning that materialistic worldly possessions result in hunger, alienation + greed is quite interesting, considering his own wealth + fame. Also note that with a stroke of the idealism stripped from his last album, Lennon the "dream weaver" is now back appealing for everyone to join together in his vision of a better world. By rising together above, rather than surrendering to the limits he warns about, we will hopefully someday become free of them, share everything and behave peacefully so the "world will be as one".
It's a fine sentiment that has inspired millions over the years, especially on Remembrance Day. John Lennon was of course an ex Beatle millionaire. It's an unspoken irony that then as now remains unnoticed by most fans. When once asked in an interview about the paradox he claimed that he was indeed going to reject the trappings of wealth to be free, but of course he never did. He cited the ex Beatles long, drawn out legal + financial fight over the profits from their jointly owned + controlled Apple record label as an example that he was rejecting capitalism. However it was a pretty lame excuse, considering that he wanted to dissolve the bands main business interest to get his share of the musical royalties. In all fairness to John, much of the summer of loves idyll delusions died pretty hard after the heady sixties ended, his own notwithstanding.
[Video: Recording Imagine with George Harrison, Yoko + Phil Spector @ Excerpt ]
[Video: Imagine White Room Video @ Original Promo Remaster HD ]
Producer Phil Spector's strings added a nice, soft touch to Lennon's all time most popular song. It's a popular misconception that the Imagine single was a #1 hit in the US, nor was it initially in the UK either, where the 45 was only released many years later. Regardless it's become Lennon's signature song. Despite the personal contradictions it remains a great source of hope and inspiration that we can still rise above the human condition even today. Interestingly his early, reprehensible + senseless murder by a crazed fan now adds an especially sad paradoxical note that wasn't there when it was originally written + released. No matter, it's a great song known + loved around the world!
Original 33 rpm vinyl Imagine record album label: Side 1
Crippled Inside is a country blues rocker which identifies the route cause of phoniness + superficiality as coming from within, rather than merely attack it as an outside enemy to be despised like in I Found Out! In Jealous Guy Lennon acknowledges his limits as a husband and lover. It's so Hard is just that, a good old fashioned Lennon rock + roll grinder stamped with the shouted vocals and heavy pounding base trademark of his best Plastic Ono Band recordings. I Don't Want to Be a Soldier, a catchy if not simplistic and repetitious anti war song, is an interesting shot at a new funky musical direction, more of which later. Gimme Some Truth is a hell of a mean hard rocker with venomous lyrics tearing apart all the political demons of the day, by name, in no uncertain terms. It's perhaps a tip of the hat + wink of the eye to the more angry straightforward approach of his previous album, and the next one to come.
[Video Jealous Guy original version @ 1971 Video ]
[Video: Gimme Some Truth with lyrics @ Audio ]
How? reveals a vulnerable John Lennon trying to make sense of his world + own personal weaknesses. It stops short of bemoaning the curse of possessions. There's no mention of his own very considerable wealth, fame + fortune. Rather he ironically laments how hard his life is. Is he unaware of the contradiction? For better or worse, he's still just the familiar John Lennon fans love, a flawed but very appealing angry young man one can live vicariously through. How DoYou Sleep? provides a blistering attack of Paul McCartney, to rocket their feud higher into the stratosphere of public intrigue + big record sales. Former Junior Beatle buddy George Harrison is featured on slide guitar.
[Video: How Do You Sleep with George Harrison @ 2007 Video ]
Oh My Love, a pleading ballad, has universal appeal. Redemption is sought in his love for a woman. Oh Yoko is another very catchy love song, spoiled perhaps by being too personal and direct. How many other folk are going to want to sing along with him or perform this love song to her themselves? Ultimately, it is John's album however, and he can + will do as he please, especially in naming Yoko directly on this, the album's final number.
Chronologically Somewhere in New York City was John + Yokos joint follow up to the very popular Imagine album. The sugar coating was inexplicably stripped back off his musical persona + act to be put away for another day. Perhaps there was only so much nice music our true blue rock and roll hero/anti-hero could take? Despite being comfortably poised to reclaim the top of the musical charts, Lennon returned for an admirable last shot at his radical political pursuits + experimental music muse. Too erratic an about turn for most fans, commercial success + recognition would allude him once again.
The Imagine Cd is easy to find + shouldn't cost much. The record album continues to be released on vinyl every few years. An original copy in excellent condition with the inside paper sleeve + postcard intact will command big bucks. The especially rare original "Duophonic" vinyl version is in very high demand among collectors today.
[Video: 1972 Imagine Movie [Making of ...] @ Imagie Album Movie 
Mind Games: Following in the wake of the NYC album's critical drubbing + poor sales, Lennon returns with a workmanship like album of friendly ballads and good straight forward rockers. Nothing especially profound, + also lacking in the craftsmanship of his more profound works, these were the kind of songs Lennon could knock off standing on his head spitting out quarters. He seems to know it and doesn't care. Greeted with indifferent commercial success and critically dismissed at the time, it nonetheless would become a classic rock radio album staple for many decades to come.
[Video: Mind Games Central Park @ Original Promo Remaster HD ]
The title song is a rather lazy rewrite of Make Love Not War, a last whimsical leftover from his idealistic musical cupboard. Lennon reworked the unfinished chorus, slapping on some half baked lyrics about "mind guerrillas" to create a modest hit single that for reasons unclear to me is still played a lot on the radio today. Tight As is just that, a very tight jaunty rockabilly guitar number that's quite a lot of fun, its trite, sarcastic toss off lyrics not withstanding. We get 2 protest songs, once again unreleased leftovers, now freshened up to really rock out; Bring on the Lucie [Freda People], and Only People.
Freda People features a catchy slide guitar riff. It's a generic rallying song against political and economic oppression, that he kick starts with the rallying call "This is it boys! Over the hill!", the goal being to "Free the people now! Do it! Do it! Do it now!" chanted over + over again to a rousing rock beat. With it's cocky rather off the cuff lyrics it's a jolly good sing along anthem for the next riot whenever or wherever that might be. Cliches also abound in Only People. People alone know how to change the world by getting together to talk and overthrow the "Big Brother scene". It's very catchy + useful for any cause the listener might choose.
[Video: Freda Peeple with lyrics Song + lyrics ]
Aisumasen [I'm Sorry] and I know [I Know] are two pleading confessional ballads to Yoko. In later stories used to explain the couples breakup, Yoko arrived at a party to find a lineup of female fans waiting outside a bedroom door for a roll in the sack with her drunk + stoned husband. Things turned from bad to worse when the girls told her to line up too. Not good! How unique or unexpected? Who knows? Lennon rounds out the album with the beautiful, dreamy You are Here, + the poppy little trust your Intuition, both rather doubtful for him in retrospect considering his apparent personal state of affairs.
Up and coming superstar Elton John would later help rescue Lennon's hit making credibility by recording One Day at a Time, seemingly a plea to Yoko that they could still work it out. Out of the Blue is another paean to the saving grace of Yoko's love. In top singing form Lennon belts out the lyrics, containing such platitudes as the reference to their "two hearts one destiny". The overdone heavenly choir of angelic voices perhaps betrays that the overwrought John is performing his best bullshit routine in a final act of desperation. Perhaps it's a half joking wink to the guys, or a just another long leftover song, in any other context a quite decent musical one at that. Perhaps John was just trying to get some sympathy or a reprieve from his royally p.o'ed wife by including it here. If so, it's wishful thinking, a moot point. Yoko was not buying any it of it.
John + May Pang during the 18 month lost weekend from Yoko
According to the story that they later publically shared, Yoko soon sent him packing with a special hand picked girlfriend, May Pang, a very nice, pretty, safe young 20 year old something office aid. Kicked out from home at the Dakota building, Lennon + his new love toy would disappear to go party with his drinking buddies Harry Nilsson, Keith Moon and Ringo Starr for a self described "lost weekend" in Los Angeles. Even McCartney dropped by for a bit of fun. The weekend stretched into 18 months, during which time no more finished records would be forthcoming despite the best of John's drunken floundering efforts. Lennon oddly seemed none too disappointed with his fall from favour + grace at home. On occasion he even personally claimed to be relieved for the break. The first post Beatle stage of his life + art was now almost over leaving the rather lightweight, unprofound but darn good fun Mind Games album added to his legacy for posterity's sake.
[Audio: Radio Interview with May Pang @ 2008 ]
The Mind Games cd remains pretty easy to find + shouldn't cost much. Again an original vinyl copy in excellent condition has collectible value but otherwise is fairly common + cheap. The Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab label cd release is a stellar version well worth seeking out, perhaps on Ebay. It's very clear + dynamic with a fabulous sound field + musical sweep. Should cost under $50 tops.
[Video: Mind Games Central Park @ Original Promo Remaster HD ]
Under construction ...
Current asking price on Ebay for a Walls + Bridges front + back cover lithograph signed by Yoko Ono? $670 Cdn!
Walls + Bridges: This album bookends the other side of Lennon's 18 month "lost weekend" after he and Yoko had separated. It's a mature record full of new life and hints of romantic regret. Think of it as the big hangover album. After having partied relentless with his buddies and demons Lennon sobers up. Perhaps he feels glad he got that out of his system? He is now confident of the need to move on. But in what direction?
There's a subtle charm to Lennon's opening song, Going Down on Love, with it's funky horns + stripped down bongo beat. Indeed the album is full of new light hearted fun, and sincere sexual delights. Surprise, Surprise [Sweet Bird of Paradise] is a risqué ode to May Pang full of twisting Lennon guitar hooks reminiscent of his early fun filled Beatle hits. It abounds in love + sexual references, a naked declaration of passion devoid of his earlier Yoko love song profoundities. To put it simple + blunt, May is "warm + wet", such that "she makes me sweat and forget who I am". The song comically trails off with John singing "Sweet, sweet love!" over and over again to the melody of the Beatle's Drive My Car.
[Video: Surprise, Surprise @ Custom Video ]
May joins in Johns #9 Dream fantasy providing the breathy Beatlemania school girl cries of "John! John! John!" [In a later act of post death revisionism it would become Yoko who's shown in the music video, coyly calling out to John while he stumbles about aimlessly looking for her. Not true! Even the Lennon clips are from an earlier Imagine album promo film]. The songwriting bears no hint of a threat or nightmare in the haze of love + sleep to the whole affair. The cascading Beatlish Strawberry Fields Forever/ I am the Walrus string arrangement reverently suggests John has rediscovered his hit songwriting knack. May + he seem to be having a great time, perhaps even sharing in a laugh at their antics.
[Video: #9 Dream @ 2010 Legend Version ]
Imagine vinyl 33 rpm record: Side 1
Lennon's Whatever Gets You Through the Night provided him with his first and only #1 US hit single. More of a novelty song, the theme quite self evident, he was joined by current superstar Elton John on chorus + piano, firmly re-establishing his radio hit making capabilities with it's attendant fame and recognition. Indeed our ex-Beatle was suddenly back in great demand! David Bowie invited him into the studio to rerecord Across the Universe from Let It Be with him. He and John also co-wrote and recorded a huge disco hit, the funky Fame. The variously sped up, slowed down + altered voice on Lennon's descending chorus, as he simply repeats the title of the song over and over again, even served to restore his sense of cool for a new generation of young fans. That it was based on a ripped off "Godfather of Funk" James Brown riff went largely unnoticed as Bowie + he enjoyed the accreditation as songmeisters of the latest dance hit.
[Video: John Lennon/ Elton John Whatever Gets You Through The Night @ Legend Version ]
Lennon wasn't a stranger to the soul or rhythm + blues scene during the early Beatle years. One is reminded of his delicious Motown cover versions of Smokey Robinson + the Miracles' You've Really Got A Hold, the Marvelettes' Please Mr. Postman, or even my favourite, the darker more dangerous and foreboding Arthur Alexander soul classic Anna [Go To Him], on Dot Records. There are many other examples too. It's interesting that John began to explore these directions again now. His sense of direction and timing was right on. Indeed in Walls + Bridges we get some great quivering slabs of funk, for example in What You've Got, with it's much more substantial songwriting craft than his fluke #1 hit or Fame. Also the instrumental Beef Jerky. The churning horns + a jagged guitar suggest Lennon had caught onto something big, but unfortunately it was not to be.
[Video: David Bowie performs his hit with Lennon on 1975 Soul Train Episode. Bowie ad libs Lennon vocal for finish @ Fame ]
The original album cover had folding panel to create different pictures
Bless you is a truly magnificent song full of romantic regret, in which he at first seems to be giving Yoko the kiss off, no hint of bad feelings at all. However half way through in an aside, he suggests it doesn't have to be this way. From the bottom of Lennon's empty drinking bottle we get the finely crafted + sobering Scared. He expresses anger, jealously + self pity with a "green eyed" Yoko, who he'd learnt was having an affair with former Mind Games session guitarist Dave Spinoza. In Nobody Loves You When You are Down + Out, which he claimed to write for Frank Sinatra [Great song but he wasn't interested], John reflects back with self doubt on his lost weekend. He seems worried that he's becoming a loser in decline of his senses, his lost love of Yoko, and his more substantial past musical fame + successes. The range of his frank emotions and exploration of so many different musical and personal directions in the Walls + Bridges album is truly remarkable. At the time it seemed quite possible he was on the cusp of redefining himself + his life without Yoko, but as May Pang soon found out, it wasn't going to happen.
On November 28 1974 Lennon stood poised at the heady pinnacle of his new found success, welcomed onstage by Elton John in celebration of their #1 hit. Before a cheering crowd of old + new fans the two performed Whatever Gets You Through the Night + Lennon's Sargent Pepper's Beatle classic Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. For the finale, he surprised everyone by playing the trademark Paul McCartney Beatle's rocker I Saw Her Standing There. In his introduction, Lennon noted it was written by an "old ex-fiancé of mine, Paul" to much cheering. There had been frequent rumours of an impending Beatles reunion, which only George Harrison would deny. Instead, John walked off the stage to be accidently confronted by Yoko, who it seems just happened to be at the concert and decided impromptu to come backstage to congratulate Elton John, and oh yes -him too!
[Video: John Lennon/ Elton John Live: Whatever Gets You Through The Night @ Video Short ]
Standard Apple record labels: Side 1/ Green apple front view. Side 2/ sliced open.
With the seeds of reconciliation now in bloom, May Pang soon found her concubine status confirmed in the new apartment Lennon found for her near the Dakota. He had either made up his mind or had it made up for him to move back home to live with Yoko. In an often forgotten off the cuff comment in a 1975 Rolling Stone interview John is asked why he's back with Yoko. John claimed he didn't know and was as surprised as everybody, except to comically add shortly afterwards that the "separation didn't work". This is the line most commonly quoted in the later account he and Yoko would use to explain their sudden change of heart. With that Lennon's life and musical direction would abandon forever the many other possibilities he had once considered on the Walls + Bridges album.
Walls + Bridges is easy to buy for cheap as a used cd, since so many copies of it were sold. The CD has been reissued a few times, but is much less common than the other biggies listed above. It has somehow fallen to the wayside of popular neglect in the Lennon canon. However in the linear notes of a recent edition Yoko praises it as without doubt one of his greatest albums. I would agree. She also has added her own face beside his on the CD disc. That is suspicious at best.
John Lennon: Loose Ends
1975: Rock + Roll ***
1975: Shaved Fish ***
1986: John Lennon Live In New York City **
1986: Menlove Avenue ***
After recording the Walls + Bridges album back in New York, Lennon decided to book extra time with his studio band to rerecord some of the Rock + Roll tracks to complete the album. He included 2 Chuck Berry and 1 Lee Dorsey song owned by music publisher Morris Levy; You Can't Catch Me, Sweet Little Sixteen + Ya Ya respectively. These were required for an out of court settlement over a Lennon copy right infringement. John had used a lot of the melody, beat + some of the lyrics from Chuck Berry's You Can't Catch Me for Come Together on the Beatles 1969 Abbey Road album. Here's an interesting footnote: Chuck Berry didn't care + Lennon openly admitted he'd done so. However Berry's music publisher Morris Levy correctly guessed that there was a lot of money to be made off the legal indiscretion so he decided to go after it.
Other 1950's + early 60's hits by Gene Vincent, Larry Williams, Buddy Holly + Sam Cook completed the song list. The Leiber + Stroller composition Stand by Me, an earlier hit for soul singer Ben E King was released as the 45 rpm single from the album. It is still a popular Lennon hit though it was only moderately successful when first released. Although not a bad album, the heavy production often overwhelms the more simple stripped down rock + roll style which Lennon does best. Indeed Paul McCartney would much later employ the stripped down technique with his more popular cover album of rock and roll songs, Chobba B CCP [aka The Russian Album].
The most interesting fix-it job from the Spector tapes would surely be John Lennon's final version of the closing song on the album, Just Because. On the original session tapes a drunken + belligerent Lennon can be heard lusting over the chorus girls breasts. Then also asking for some cocaine. On the final remix this part has been faded out. Instead a new voice over is added instead. A jolly John Lennon thanks everybody and hopes his fans enjoy the album while wishing everybody good bye. Fitting indeed, this would be his last new album for the five years.
Rock + Roll is an easy to find cd. It has been reissued many times. The vinyl record is quite common too. Neither should be very expensive. The cover shows a vintage Jurgen Vollmer black + white photo of Lennon from during the Beatle's early Hamburg club days. Very iconoclastic + suitable for framing. Roots wasn't ever officially been released on cd. However, it is available on the MBE bootleg You Should A Been There [sic]. The 2 cd set also includes the original Phil Spector session tapes. This cd and numerous other similar titles can occasionally be found on Ebay and at the music collectible shows for between $50-100.
[Video: Stand By Me Remake/ Collage @ Legend Version ]
[Video: A truly bizarre April 1975 Lennonesque tribute to business impresario Sir Lew Grade! A disinterested show biz + socialite audience, the very types Lennon could not stand, watch his last live appearance ever with the one off band "Etcetera". Lennon is reluctantly paying off a business debt. The band wear masks on the back of their heads because John considered Sir Lew a two faced phony bastard. Lennon performs Slippin' + Slidin' from the his new Rock + Roll album + a very unique guitar version of Imagine! The audience, noses out of joint, much prefer Sir Lew's joke tap dance number instead. Sir Lew brings down the house @ Sir Lew Grade ]
Shaved Fish: Lennon owed EMI records one more album to complete his recording contract. Then he could shop around for a better deal, or need not make records according to any further deadline should he so please. Christmas was approaching. A greatest hit album is always a good sales bet. Lennon's 45 rpm singles from the late 60's and early 70's [see above] had still not been made available on an LP [Long playing] record album. He'd also had a few more hits. It made good sense to collect them together on a single album for posterity's sake, as he ended this chapter in his musical career.
Shaved Fish has the distinction of being the only Lennon approved solo greatest hit album released during his lifetime. Numerous even better ones have followed since but it was the one where he put together the song list. It is surprising that John did not design the cover but a lot of fans liked the one with stylized drawings to illustrate each song that was used. A creative decision was made to have Give Peace A Chance cross faded into Cold Turkey at the start of the album. At the end of the album Happy Xmas [War is Over] cross fades into an edited live segment of Give Peace a Chance . Motown's Stevie Wonder is on vocals from the unreleased 1972 Madison Square Gardens concert tapes. It was an interesting idea which created a pleasant musical flow. However it also meant the original 45 singles were edited and incomplete. That is unacceptable from a hardcore music collector or aficionado's point of view.
Further complications arose when EMI was unable to locate some of the original master tapes for the 45's. A new edit had to be made for Mother, and a substandard source tape used for Cold Turkey. The Stand By Me 45 from his latest studio album did not make the cut in time. In addition, since the album only included Lennon's hit singles it was a very limited selection of his rich body of work. A vinyl record album was typically only 40 minutes long at best so a lot of compromises had to be made that wouldn't be necessary today with an 80 minute or multiple cd set. However, EMI was owed one more album, and that is what they got.
In general Shaved Fish was critically well received and proved a Christmas hit though hardly on the scale that might be expected for a popular recording artist of Lennon's stature, a significant let down for John. However, having completed his record contract and with nothing further signed Lennon shortly thereafter would drop completely out of the music scene. It would be an arguably well deserved though long 5 year break + chance to reassess his life and his musical art.
An original copy of the vinyl album is collectible, but the numerous other rereleases that followed are not. They can be cheaply found with a bit of effort at a used music store. The CD version upgraded the inferior source tape for Cold Turkey. Overall the whole album was a sonic improvement. Still, it has not been remixed or remastered now for quite a long time. It is deleted in most countries * and has been replaced by any number of much better selling larger CD sets on the store shelves. Used copies can still be found for cheap but they are becoming increasingly scarce.
A Few Notes on the CD Releases
Japanese Two Virgins Mini-lp Drawer Box
An excellent Japanese box set of the official Lennon solo albums, including Shaved Fish was released in faithfully reproduced cardboard mini lp covers a few years ago. They are completely delightful in every respect. They are made from the Yoko Ono supervised remixes. Japanese cds are usually remarkably well crafted and engineered, both the sound quality + the album sleeves. They are often much better than their North American or European counterparts. You might be able to buy a set on Ebay for about $300 plus postage. It would be an expensive but definitive set to own.
The most recent release is another box set of the Lennon albums which have been faithfully remastered but not remixed. That is to say they have not been altered sound wise, only sonically cleaned up from the original master tapes as they were first recorded. Each album comes in a cheap digipack, my only complaint. You can buy them separately, and they are quite commonly seen usually on sale in the stores or on Amazon today too. The box set is rather large, like a white cube that opens up to display the cds, a book, and a lithograph of a John Lennon sketch. Once again the Japanese pressing is most desirable if even just for the terrific craftsmanship put into the product. Otherwise the North American + Europeon ones are basically the same and considerably cheaper unless you live in Japan. They are often on sale for between $100 to $200 right now. You might score a Japanese set on Ebay for $400 plus shipping. These sets are definitive as well.
Whats the difference besides the quality and price of the product when it comes to "remixes" verses "remasters"? Remixes are fixed up to sound better on today's digital sound systems for the modern listener. However liberties are taken in adjusting the sound field, including the placement of instruments, vocals, and they have a more sonically compressed sound range. They are also louder. They appeal to audiophiles who want a disc that sounds like it was recorded nowadays even though it wasn't.
Remasters are usually faithfully reproduced with the original album sound mix. If the original multiple master tapes are available a lot of the noise and so on can be cleaned up and removed so they sound much clearer. They sound good on modern stereo equipment too. The sound level is not unnecessarily boosted. They have more appeal to purists who want the albums to sound just like they originally remember them.
Japanese mini-lps authentically replicate the original artwork in great detail
Which are best? it's strictly a question of aesthetics after all is said and done. I can hear many advantages to both, though my first preference would always be a remaster so they sound the way they were originally recorded. I am a purist, so to speak, at heart. However, I am also a fanatic so the only way I can solve the dilemma is to get both. Also, I want the definitive quality sounding and made Japanese box sets, with the faithfully reproduced mini sleeves when available. I am quite fond of my music from over the years and am collecting the best of the best to keep and enjoy for I hope a good many years to come. You however, will have to choose for yourself what to get. Enjoy!
A Few Notes on The Vinyl Releases
Most of the Lennon solo albums have not been re-released on vinyl since about 2008. They are not noted as being anything special. One would think the whole series will be eventually pressed again from the 2012 CD remasters, but so far no word.
Once again your local used record stores would be the best place to go if you want to buy some John Lennon vinyl for cheap. Everybody seems to think their records are rare and worth a lot of money, but they usually are not. It all depends upon the release date, where it was made and the matrix + serial numbers for each. Also, the record cover and the record itself must be in excellent condition, second rate won't do, unless it really is extremely rare. The closer the copy is to the original release date, the more collectible it usually is. However, millions upon millions of these albums were made in the 1970's + 80's, so they are generally not in short supply. Expect to pay $5 to $15 for an average to good condition copy. Excellent conditioned original release date copies are often auctioned off on Ebay. The Japanese, British and West German editions are usually the most highly prized from a collectible and sound quality perspective.
Lennon's original vinyl 45 rpm single + 33 rpm album releases were on the Beatles Apple label up until the Rock + Roll album/ Stand by Me 45. **
I have addressed the surplus of single 45 rpm records above in the review section. They are relatively cheap and easy to find.
Original 45 rpm single covers in excellent condition are considered collectibles.
I still have my original 33 rpm vinyl John Lennon record albums + 45 rpm singles. The records are in very good condition to excellent condition on the whole, the only problem being that some of the covers have scuffs and varying degrees of wear and tear from when I used to play them a lot as a teenager. I have no interest in selling them so it doesn't really matter since they are just for me to enjoy.
Vinyl usually has a warmer feeling + sound than a digital cd. They have the great big full colour covers with photos and lots of recording information, unlike the small little cd + digipack booklets. They often are available in mono and stereo editions if they were recorded in the 1950's + 60's. Most of the Lennon solo albums are in stereo only. Records won't be as loud and clear as a cd but are the closest you will get to the original sound and mix you probably remember best.
Turntables like vinyl have made a comeback, especially with the young people, so a decent one will be reasonably priced at $300 - $500 in the specialty stores. If you are dusting off an old one make sure the stylus and head are both in excellent shape or you will damage your records. Most folks usually never bothered with this. That's why so many old albums are in such bad playing shape. Remember to also get a record + stylus cleaning brush.
Records should be stored upright. Invest in plastic inner and outer sleeves to protect the condition of your records. Scratches + static suck! Also, remember what used to happen if you left them in direct sunlight or near a heater? They warp + become useless! BTAIM vinyl remains a lot of fun. There are still those aficionados who don't like their music any other way. You decide for yourself which way to go: CD? Vinyl? Or both? Enjoy!
** RPM: rounds per minute. 45 rpm = vinyl single/ 33 rpm = vinyl album
1986 John Lennon Live in New York City **
1986 Menlove Avenue ***
1996 Rolling Stones Rock + Roll Circus ****
These official 1980's posthumous releases contain previously unreleased recordings made by Lennon in the 1970's. Of minor importance, + long since deleted or replaced, they are included here for completeness sake.
John Lennon Live in New York City was recorded from 2 live concerts at Madison Square Gardens in 1972. It was finally released in a heavily edited form in 1986. The album + CD have long since been deleted. The video + laserdisc versions have not been released on DVD either. In hindsight, the concerts sound like more of an event than an especially inspired show. However the album production itself is choppy, heavily edited. It's quite passable but nothing great in the sound quality department either. Edited clips have sometimes been used to make new videos for some of John's songs, most notably on the John Lennon Legend DVD version of Cold Turkey. Better sounding versions of many song performances from both shows have appeared on the Lennon Anthology CD box set. The 1986 release's collectible value, and the cost of a used vinyl or CD copy is still fairly discretionary + can vary. It is becoming increasingly scarce in any format. Hopefully a new cleaned up, sonically improved, much less edited album + DVD will become available someday. I would like to see the Yoko Ono tracks also be included too. As it now stands this is only a 2 star album for me.
[Video: John Lennon Live in New York City @ Concert Video ]
Menlove Avenue: The peculiar title is a reference to the Liverpool street where John Lennon grew up. It was a rather odd release in an excellent Andy Warhol cover. The songs don't really mix though they are correctly grouped together in sets. There are a few fairly interesting out takes from the Phil Spector session tapes, including the first appearance of the lost Angel Baby recording. Many tracks have long since appeared as sonically improved bonus tracks on later reissues of Lennon's studio albums. The excellent small group rehearsal of the Walls + Bridges album has acceptable if not stellar sound quality. I'd like to see this rereleased elsewhere in upgraded form. Since the vinyl album + CD are long deleted the Menlove album is now missing as an official release. Nonetheless it can still be fairly easy to find a copy of either the vinyl record or cd fairly cheap at a used music store.
Rolling Stones Rock + Roll Circus: This New Years Eve 1968 TV special was not officially released until 1995. It features Lennon's superb one off Winston Legthigh + The Dirty Mac "Supergroup" performance with Eric Clapton [Cream] on guitar, Mitch Mitchell [Jimi Hendrix Experience] on drums + Keith Richards [Rolling Stones] on bass. Well might the Rolling Stones have felt upstaged as the headlining act. After a Lennon + Mick Jagger intro the band launches into a vitriolic version of Yer Blues, once again from the Beatles recently released White Album, with Lennon spitting out each word of the lyrics with extreme venom. He and Clapton trade off static blasts of spunk guitar with each enjoying a top notch solo. The second part segues into a heavy blues jam titled Whole Lotta Yoko on the 1995 cd and dvd release. Yoko Ono joins the band onstage for some searing vocal histrionics accompanied by acclaimed Isreali orchestral classical violinist Ivry Gitlis, a rather odd match which definitely works if you like Ono's style. Numerous bootleg versions also attached a cool guitar rehearsal jam tacked onto the beginning of the show.
The Dirty Mac: [R to L]: Eric Clapton, John Lennon, Mitch Mitchell, Keith Richards
This is a great CD and DVD featuring a wide variety of bizarre circus acts + 2 more leading rock contenders of the day Jethro Tull and the Who among others. Highly recommended. New copies of the CD/+/or DVD 1996 releases might be expensive + difficult to find, but are still sometimes relatively cheap in the used stores.
[Video: Dirty Mac Rock + Roll Circus: Yer Blues @ Multi angle excerpt
I knocked the above reviews out over the last 2 or 3 days. It was a big job! It's still under construction. I know there are some inaccuracies + other issues I have to clean up. I will continue to do so this week. However, I've decided to delay the final section, covering the Double Fantasy + Milk + Honey albums. I want to consider them very carefully while brushing up on my research a bit. It has been awhile.
I want to further reconsider the Lennon mythology theme, that is the public image makeovers that he created for himself. This process figures prominently in understanding John + Yoko's final years + albums together. There is also the issue of Lennon's change from an iconoclast into an iconic figure for the baby boomer generation since his death. There is still so much ongoing historical revisionism of the John Lennon story even today. A lot has happened since 1976-1980! It's very important to try to correctly understand + appreciate John's music within the context of his life + times. Also what it has come to represent since, and why. Whew! Heady
Fortunately my research and review gives me the pleasure of listening a lot more to his albums! My only regret is that you have to wait a bit. Keep checking back! I will be fixing up and fleshing out some of the still incomplete reviews above too. Part 2: Life 1976-1981 will not be too long in coming. However, its important to take the time to give them justice + get them right. I hope you understand.
By the way, I plan to include an Apple discography for Yoko's solo albums too. Please note: I know I'm harsh on Yoko sometimes. However I still believe that John + Yoko were one of the greatest love stories of the 20th century, through both good times and bad. Relationships can be like that. Truth be told, all is not always well, far from it. The May Pang story is very interesting too. I hope I don't give her short thrift. I believe she was a very good person, + that Lennon sincerely loved her, in his own way.
As far as the 5 star marking system goes, well I am a teacher. I mark hard. I love everything John + Yoko both did. ALOT! However it's not fair to give them 5 stars for everything. To be critical and provide a good overview for the average listener and music buyer one needs to be constructively critical. Let's face it, not everything they recorded will appeal to all tastes. As an overall artistic body of work, it is definite 5 stars in my mind. But the albums + singles did have their highs and lows too. These are duly noted.
Hope you enjoy! Please share my link if you are a John + Yoko fan, a Beatle fan, a music fan, whatever! A lot of my blogsite might not be of interest to you. However I do a lot of music and culture blogs too. You can scroll down to the bottom of my blog page to see my Heavy Rotation Top Ten Chart + Quickie Reviews too!
Please note: next year is the 50th anniversary of Beatlemania! Stick around if you are as excited as I am. This will not go unnoted in my blogs!
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John + Yoko: [1976-80] Starting Over
1980: Double Fantasy
1984: Milk + Honey ...........................................................
Annie Liebovitz photo for Rolling Stone cover from afternoon before John killed.
[Video: The Man Who Killed John Lennon @ Interview/ Documentary ]
[Video: Lennon killer interview on Larry King @ Chapman ]
Keep checking back!