(October 9, 2020 would have been John Lennon's 80th birthday had he not been so tragically taken from us by a mad man 40 years ago. To mark this major anniversary I am going to "re-master" and re-blog my reviews of his catalogue, other articles I have written about him and add some more...)
After the commercial disappointment of Some Time In New York City, John Lennon decided to go back to the more commercial formula that he had used so successfully on Imagine (even the cover hints at that).
However, he was a couple of years more removed from his post Beatles’ buddies and indeed muse. The title track is a Lennon gem and perhaps what irritates is that the rest of the album hasn’t the same musical ingenuity or lyrical thoughtfulness. The production of this opening track is in the slipstream of Phil Spector and the lyrics are ambitious while at the same time typically Lennonesque sloganeering – “love is the answer...” It all adds up to something spiritual and transcendent; a triumph.
If the songs elsewhere do feel more crafted than inspired that doesn’t mean they are poor quality. There might be a sense of contractual fulfilment than inspired muse on Mind Games but it would need to be remembered that most of the first five Beatles’ albums were written for commerce more than art so why criticise dear John now.
Out Of The Blue and One Day at A Time might not be his very best work but they are still far from shabby; Elton John’s version of One Day At A Time proves the point. Tight A$ has a real rockabilly country rock root that is tight as rock should be.
Aisumasen (I’m Sorry) is a heartfelt grovel to Yoko that is a real indicator that the Lost Weekend away from her is hurtling towards him as the home demo available with the 2002 remaster shows the change from “I’ll ease your pain girl...” to “Aisumasen Yoko”. Lennon has moved from being the carrier of his wife to repenting and depending on her help. The entire relationship has flipped; things are not good. The more cleverly structured I Know (I Know) sees more confession of guilt.
As well as losing Yoko’s heart Mind Games was recorded at the height of Lennon’s attempt at gaining a Green Card. Bring On The Lucie (Freda People) with more rocking pedal steel was an attack on Nixon for sure and Only People which again rocks out sees Lennon’s socialist Power To The People mantra trawled out again without sparking any great imagination.
For those of us intrigued by theo-musicology Mind Games has a few germs of intrigue. In Out Of The Blue he thanks “The Lord and Lady” for bringing Yoko to him. Lennon was as a teenager confirmed in the Anglican Church not by family momentum but by his own choosing (see Steve Turner’s The Gospel According To The Beatles) which makes the use of Lady as Mary perhaps less likely.
It is possible that he is giving both genders to the person of the Divine. Anyway, a few albums after declaring no belief in God the transcendent is back, whatever the weight of substance! On Bring On The Lucie Lennon uses “666”, the Biblical numbers of the anti-Christ, for Richard Nixon.
Lastly, the most eccentric track in the Lennon catalogue is the seconds of silence known as Nutopian International Anthem. John and Yoko’s declaration of a new international state was a performance art play on their need for citizenship. I used this track and concept in a Balloon Date at Ballymena Academy in 1978 and was rightfully thrown out of the balloon - not one vote. More concept than content, maybe like most of John & Yoko's imagining.
Mind Games never reaches those heady heights of Imagine that it attempting to build upon but for Lennon fans it is far from an utter failure. Yes, in 1973 he was the least commercially popular ex-Beatle but had there been a Beatles’ album that year some of these songs would have sat on it very competently.