(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...)
The fascinating thing about Walls & Bridges is that it is written, recorded and released in the middle of what has been called John Lennon’s “Lost Weekend”. This was an eighteen month break from Yoko when he went off to LA with Harry Nilsson, had a very late adolescence and went a little wild.
Walls & Bridges, however, is not the work of an out of control drunk. The lyrics do tell us the mood of the artist. These are songs of a man who has been adrift from his moorings. The cathartic Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down and Out) and “You don’t know what you got until you lose it” (What You Got). Scared is just that. Frightening . Where Lennon’s heart was in 1974 is pretty clear!
Musically however, Walls & Bridges might be his most interesting album. I heard an interview with Lennon around this time when he was asked what he was listening to and he answered - disco! I hated disco in the mid 70s and laughed. Then you give Walls & Bridges another listen and there it is. The O’Jays influencing What You Got and George McRae’s Rock Me Baby for goodness sake the inspiration for Whatever Gets You Through The Night.
There is nothing actually like Whatever Gets You Through the Night in Lennon’s solo catalogue or anywhere else for that matter. It is a joyous rock out of stretched for hopefulness in the middle of Lennon’s pain, riffing off a line that May Pang suggests Lennon heard from a TV preacher. Elton John’s piano drives a careful ordering of seeming chaos. Number 1 is exactly what it deserved!
#9 Dream was another Top 10 single off the record. This is an ethereal dream like song as it should be. It seems that it was actually a dream, just like his old buddy Paul’s Yesterday. Even the “Ah, bowakawa pousse, pousse” was a gibberish line from the dream. The musically focused Lennon was able to create a dream soundscape for the song. Another unique song in the Lennon catalogue, it is a beautiful piece.
Speaking of beautiful. Bless You is as good a love song as Lennon ever wrote. Looking back to Julia from The White Album and forward to Woman on Double Fantasy. Clearly for Yoko, there might even be a shout out to his other estranged musical partner - “Some people say it's over/Now that we spread our wings.”
Those little lyrical twists, turns, innuendos and double meanings are scattered right across the batch. Another quality ballad written with his drinking buddy Nilsson has maybe the best line of all - “Trying to shovel smoke with a pitchfork in the wind”.
There is barbed Lennon too. Steel and Glass has a familiar and similar judgementalism as Imagine’s How Do You Sleep. For Beatle historians it might be interesting to note that it is about Allen Klein, the manager John wanted over Paul’s choice of Lee Eastman. Steel and Glass is John admitting that Paul was right and maybe it was indeed easy for him to sleep after all. I think it is less clumsy than How Do You Sleep.
Final lovely touch. The album ends with a snippet of Ya Ya the old Lee Dorsey song with the young Julian Lennon on drums. It would be a nod ahead to the Rock N Roll album that Lennon was working on before Walls & Bridges and would release after and an album whose energy bleeds into the tracks of this record.
For me Walls & Bridges is the record that I have had to reconsider most in this week of Lennon’s 80th Birthday celebrations. It is a man who has left the hedonism of LA behind him for a focused work ethic. Without Paul McCartney or Yoko Ono, this is perhaps John Lennon’s one and only really solo record. Maybe it is all the better for that.