JOHN LENNON

MY VOCATION WAS BORN, THE DAY JOHN LENNON DIED

Lennon and Yoko

I know exactly where I was when I heard that John Lennon had shot dead. It was December 9th 1980. He had died late on the 8th New York time but it was already the morning of the 9th when we all heard in Ireland. 

December 9th 1980 was a big morning for me. I was 19 years of age and I was about to take the Ballymena Academy School Assembly. The Christian Union were given permission to speak at it and I got the gig. I was so nervous.

I was to speak on Bob Dylan. He had come to faith in Jesus a year before and I was going to play a little snippet of Blowing In The Wind and the suggest that Jesus was Dylan finding “the answer my friend” before a snippet of Precious Angel.

I can remember walking into the school and as I made my way towards the Assembly Hall I passed a few friends who were sitting around in the locker bays. One of them, Stephen Barr, looked up and said, “End of an era eh?” I looked a little confused and he added, “John Lennon and all.” “What about John Lennon?” “He was shot dead last night.”

I was in a fervent fandom phase of Lennon at that point. I had been a Beatles’ fanatic for about 4 years and his first record in that time, Double Fantasy, had just been released. I was devastated.

I made my way to the school sound box above the Assembly Hall. I did sound and that was a privileged space. I went in and just sat there coming to terms with the news. I hadn’t experienced any family bereavements at this stage of my life and this was the first death to really impact me. I knew I had to get over it because I was due on the stage in a short while to do that Assembly.

I think the Assembly went ok. I look back now and think that that was the first time I did theo-musicology publicly. I have spent the most of my life and written books on faith and rock music. This was the beginning. Remarkably it coincided with a major day in rock music history. 

If it happened today and I was Pause For Thought on Radio 2 I’d have had to have switched from Dylan to Lennon as my subject! That actually happened to me the morning after David Bowie died!

So part of my vocation was born on the morning that we heard that John Lennon had died. Even better for me was what happened after I spoke.

I was leaving the stage with the headmaster Denis Jagoe. I had been nervous speaking to my peers and teachers. He encouraged me with kind words and then added, “and you didn’t insult their intelligence.” I can hear those words just as clearly as I can hear Stephen say, “end of an era”.

Mr Jagoe believed many preachers speak down to their audience. Those words have rung in my ear for 40 years. In all the teaching I got at Theological College about preaching, none surpassed that throw away phrase. I have held those words close every time I prepare or speak in public.

The rest of the day was about John Lennon. It was in the days of only 3 TV Channels and that most of them played John Lennon documentaries all night long was a treat for this teenage fan. Through all of them, I was grieving. December 9th 1980 will always be indelibly marked in my memory.


THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO... IMAGINE (by John Lennon)

Imagine2009

photo: The John Lennon Wall in Prague by Paul Bowman

 

“Imagine there’s no heaven

It’s easy if you try…”

 

Imagine is John Lennon’s finest moment. It is his Yesterday. His Something. A year after The Beatles, in his big house in Surrey, Lennon wrote this hymn to change the world. It is utterly beautiful from the piano playing, to the melody, to the lyrics, to the brother and sisterhood of humanity sentiment. Klaus Voorman is right when he says that they should have released just the piano version.

If the whole song is Lennon’s attempt at his own Sermon On The Mount then that opening line is most iconic of all. Many conclude that this is an atheist hymn, a humanist hymn. Some whacky Americans who think that any kind of interest in helping of the poor is Soviet styled Communism might even find reason to refuse a man a Green Card because of such a song. 

Now I need to not be naive. John Lennon ran on a lot of momentary surges of adrenaline. As his son Sean said, while hosting a radio documentary to mark his dad’s 40th Birthday, Lennon changed his opinions every couple of years. 

Imagine was written at a time of political interest that was very absent from his final Double Fantasy record. From 1969 to 1972 John Lennon was all about revolution and Imagine was perhaps the most beautifully crafted protest song ever written. As he said himself it was Working Class Hero with a big dollop of sugar on top! 

When you imagine something you are thinking beyond the reality before you. Imagining no heaven kind of suggests that there is a heaven and you need to somehow imagine it away.

This is not creedal or theological. It is poetry. Lennon is making a point, not about the existence of heaven but about doing something about the state of the world now. It might even be a dig at the church for lying back and waiting for the sweet by and by rather than bringing God’s Kingdom here… now.

I have grown to see Imagine as some kind of prayer. Interestingly Lennon cited about prayer “in the Christian idiom” given to him by African American comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory as an influence on the song. In his book The Gospel According To The Beatles, Steve Turner tells us that Gregory didn’t remember what the book was but it was about positivity. 

The Imagine idea came from Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono; many of his ideas did. She had a book called Grapefruit in which she imagined weird things in keeping with her avant garde art approach:

 

Imagine the clouds dripping.

Dig a hole in your garden to

put them in 

 

Lennon took Yoko’s crazier idea and earthed it.

Yet, for me imagining is what prayer is. You have to imagine what you are asking God for. If that is a change in my own life, I need to imagine it. If that is a change in someone’s life around me I need to imagine it. If that is transformation across my neighbourhood, city, nation or world then I need to imagine it. Peace needs imagined. Justice needs imagined. Hope needs imagined. Love needs imagined.

Yoko Ono still believes that the imagination is the power in itself. I don’t. I believe that the imaging leads to prayer and from prayer to action. When I recite “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” it fires some serious imaginings. I then have to open my eyes, get off my knees and offer myself to God as an answer. Just imagining ain’t cutting it with me… or the world!

Which brings me back to that opening line. I have often said that imagining no heaven is easy. What if… what if John… what if we believed that there was a heaven and then imagined what it was like and imagined what it would look like right here on earth… now. That John would be in keeping with the spirit of your amazing song for the human race but it would now come with the creativity of God the Father, the revolutionary teaching and work of Jesus the son and the continued out working power of the Holy Spirit to make it happen. Imagine that!


SURMISING THE BBC DRAMA US & JOHN LENNON'S STARTING OVER

Us TV

Janice and I have been thoroughly enjoying the BBC series Us. It is a dramatisation of David Nicholl’s book of the same name, adapted by Nicholls himself. 

A couple are coming to terms with their son going off to University. Now that he about to leave they think that they have no longer anything in common. Connie played by Saskia Reeves tells her husband Douglas played by Tom Hollander that she wants to leave him. He conjures the holiday of a lifetime with their son Albi to try and salvage something. The main focus of the holiday is Douglas’s relationship with his son which in the end does find its reconciliation.

Janice and I were a little gutted by the ending. Spoiler alert but this surmise is pointless without it. As Douglas and Connie leave a photographic exhibition of Albi’s, Douglas leaves and the series ends with him hand in hand with Freja whom he had met during the fateful holiday.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have some understanding of the dilemma. It is clear from the flashbacks in the drama that Douglas and Connie were always very different from each other. That difference can coalesce and indeed unite ranks in the bringing up of children but after that is done, there might be little left of the original relationship. 

Nicholl’s conclusion is bleak. It was thrown away too easily. Vows of "for better or for worse" were loosed too quickly. Love deserves much more of a fight.

I prefer John Lennon’s. In the same week that we were watching Us I was listening lots to Lennon as it was the week that he should have been celebrating his 80th Birthday. 

Now, Lennon gave up way too easily, in my opinion, his first marriage to Cynthia. His second marriage to Yoko wasn’t without its drama and indeed break up. Yet, in 1980 just two months before his life, marriage and fatherhood was tragically cut short by a mad murderer he released his first new song in 5 years called (Just Like) Starting Over.

220px-JustLikeStartingOver

The charts in 1980 was between punk and the new romantics. The very same day that (Just Like) Starting Over was released as a single U2’s debut record Boy hit the shelves. 

So, Lennon’s single with its echoes of Elvis and fifties rock n roll was hardly on the cutting edge of sound, proven in its initial slow climb up the charts. Yet, Double Fantasy was sentimentally subversive. In interviews of the time Lennon would talk about it as a statement to his generation, asking them how they were and looking towards the future with hopefulness. After the 60s the 70s were a let down so let us look to the 80s with a fresh energy.

 

Why don't we take off alone

Take a trip somewhere far, far away

We'll be together all alone again

Like we used to in the early days

Well, well, well darling

 

I was so struck with this verse in that it parallels Us. The song though has the ultimate hope of staying together and reinventing. 

 

Our life together

Is so precious together

We have grown, mm we have grown

Although our love still is special

Let's take a chance and fly away somewhere.

 

Janice and I are at that crossroads just now. The girls are off to University. For us that is not the end of it. It might be a page turned or a chapter writing its way into another. I like to see it as a new chapter. We are still parents. We still have children. We are committed to Fitzroy. Our love is still growing, even in the changes of life around us.

Lennon’s last single release before his death inspires me with new possibilities. It is a future with love and potency. It is precious. We have grown. I am looking forward to some travel, God willing. Let’s get started! 


JOHN LENNON, JESUS AND ME

Lennon

October 9. It’s always the day before my birthday! In recent times I celebrate the birth of Uganda, a nation that I have given my heart to. Uganda is 364 days younger than me. Since I was 15 it has also been John Lennon’s birthday… and his son Sean’s. This year Lennon would have been 80.

John Lennon as an 80 year old artist. I am pondering that today. What would he be singing about? What would he think about America, Trump, Black Lives Matter, Coronavirus, the environment? Would he and Yoko have made it another 40 years together? At least Sean and Julian would have their dad.

Who knows? As Sean Ono Lennon said, in a recent radio special that he hosted, his dad was always changing. 40 years of changes is hard to imagine, to use a word synonymous with the man!

Let me instead surmise John Lennon’s place in my life. It is complicated. 

Lennon in my teens was literally a Christ figure. The Beatles hit my summer of 1976 with a transformational force. I swapped a few  old singles for 4 old Beatles records, Please Please Me, A Hard Days Night, Beatles For Sale and Help! It changed my life in every possible way. 44 years later and they are still my go to band. I have every record, I read every book and wear every t-shirt!

It was more than musical. I was 15 and my life was ready for a few questions. I was ready to start observing the world and dreaming of how it could be. The Beatles in general and, in the first few years, Lennon in particular opened up the world for me. All You Need Is Love to Give Peace A Chance and Power To The People. Something was forming in my soul.

I remember a Balloon Debate at School. I was a debater. No idea where that came from. I was the footballer and golfer who was into The Beatles. The debating society didn’t seem that cool but I was in the middle of it from my first year at Ballymena Academy. All my preaching skills started right there. 

Balloon debates were great fun. About six or eight of us were in a balloon that needed to discard seven of its passengers to avoid a crash and we had to give the audience a reason to vote for us to remain. One year I choose John Lennon’s idea of a Utopian state as my argument to be kept in. Don’t think I got ONE vote. It was vacuous. 

It wasn’t losing that debate but within a year I was following Jesus. When I look back it seems obvious to me that Jesus was a spiritual John Lennon for me. I replaced one for the other. As Malcolm and Alwyn, Christian singers of the time said, “I used to worship John Lennon and he’s dead, now I worship Jesus and he’s alive!” Cheap cliche but hey!

For me Jesus was asking all the same questions as John Lennon but where Lennon had no substance to the imagining, Jesus did. Jesus was not only critiquing but he had this power to make change both inside me and across a wider society. That is the radical Jesus I have followed ever since.

Of course that changed my view of the world and John Lennon. I was now looking at Lennon through Jesus glasses! Over the next couple of decades I started seeing all the flaws and Lennon’s ability amidst his humour and charisma to make fun of the afflicted, hurt people and leave a wife, a son and three best friends behind for his own selfish ideas. There were many other things that disturbed me.

He was still a Beatle and therefore I was still reading books about him and would have phases in his music but I had lost my love for his work.

Then Ray Connolly’s biography gave me a new perspective and my Jesus glasses began to see him as “a sheep with a shepherd”. I began to understand his frailties. He was rejected by his parents and then he lost his mother in a car accident. My pastoral heart began to see his brokenness. I understood his foibles. I could reset my views on his work.

The bottom line is that if John had had been given an untainted picture of Jesus I think he would have loved him. Forgive us for the bad PR we do for the radical Nazerene. Jesus was imagining a new world too. 

What Lennon wanted to put right in the world and in his own life and love was exactly why Jesus came to earth as a baby, taught us to imagine everything afresh, died in the centre of injustice and was raised to give a resurrection power for change, ascending to a place of purpose. 

As I always say John imagined no heaven, it really is easy if we try. Jesus imagined there actually was a heaven and asks us to join him on bringing those imaginings "on earth as it is in heaven. Maybe not quite so easy!

So, thank you John Lennon for the music, the ideas, the imaginings and pointing me towards Jesus. I believe that without your questions and ideals I would never have found Jesus at all. Wish you were here for your 80th. Isn’t that the broken world we imagine fixing… as in heaven!


JOHN LENNON & YOKO ONO: DOUBLE FANTASY STRIPPED DOWN - Remastered Review

Double Fantasy

(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...)

 

Double Fantasy with its lead off track (Just Like) Starting Over was supposed to herald in a new chapter in the life and art of John Lennon. It was never meant to be the epitaph; it was an awkward shaped fracture of an iconic life.

Ten years ago, for what would have been the seventieth birthday of John Lennon, we were given an opportunity to revise our thoughts on what was Lennon’s last record released in his lifetime.

For many in the autumn/fall of 1980 Double Fantasy was not what they had been looking for. Lennon had been away from the spotlight and record business for five years and hadn’t released an album of original material for six. The domesticity of the content and the pop sheen of the production were a disappointment to those who were hoping for the raw introspective Lennon of his Plastic Ono Band album or the political anger or alternative imagining of Sometimes In New York City or Imagine.

 John Lennon was a damaged soul and for a decade (1964-74) the world was listening to the whims of this imbalanced and angst ridden young man. He flitted from one cause to the other contradicting his reactionary idealism from record to record; Give Peace a Chance one day and support for IRA terrorists the next. His personal life was also in chaotic disarray, again chronicled in songs like Cold Turkey about drug withdrawal and Walls And Bridges, an entire album about a “lost weekend” away from his soul mate, second wife and second artistic partner Yoko Ono.

Remarkably, for one of the world’s most legendary all time rock icons, Lennon’s damaged soul meant that he had an inferiority complex about his voice. This artistic insecurity worked its way into the final production of Double Fantasy where he double tracked his voice and hid it a little under the mix.

What this did was not only cause the content of Double Fantasy to seem a little sentimental but also its sound. What Yoko has done with this new remix is to give Lennon back his genius and indeed that soul searching pain that energised the core of Plastic Ono’s Band’s primal scream.

I’m Losing You in this new incarnation would have sat perfectly on Plastic Ono Band or Walls and Bridges. The feature of this new version is the power of John Lennon’s rock n roll voice, even on the Yoko Ono songs; it is a wonderful new revelation!

Once I had reconsidered the record’s sound I then got to thinking about reassessing the message. Yes, this is a love album and maybe after the first three years of The Beatles we had left that to Paul McCartney. However, Lennon and Ono were not just speaking about their own often turbulent marriage.

Lennon re-emerged from the Dakota building on New York’s 72ndStreet after five years as a house husband and father looking to set his new work in the context of the times. If Lennon had watched, via television, those sixties’ dreams turning to seventies’ nightmares then he was again hopeful of firing new dreams for the eighties, hence Starting Over.

Clean Up Time was not just a testimony about the Lennon’s it was a call to all those sixties’ dreamers.

Watching The Wheels was a challenge to the priorities of a generation who had gotten older and become spouses and parents if they had failed to grow up in the process.

Thus Beautiful Boy(Darling Boy) with some of Lennon’s smartest couplets – “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans” – and Woman, in which he leaves behind the sexist abuse of the “Girl” from 1965’s Rubber Soul and reconsiders the role of the women in his life, are both songs of objectivity as well as subjectivity.

Some might still say that Yoko Ono’s seven songs dilute the impact of the album. I can understand that critique but I would add that these are without doubt Ono’s most accessible tunes. Kiss Kiss Kiss is as good as any Blondie song of the time and Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Himis again recreated here with Lennon’s voice alongside his wife’s and the closing Hard Times Are Over also finds Lennon getting his spoke in. Everything benefits as a result and in the end I think the strength of the album is that they alternate songs and don’t do two batches of songs unconnected.

 Of all the Remasters released on that 70th Anniversary of his birth this is the most interesting and worth buying. All the other albums have already had their remix with extra tracks eight years ago.

Double Fantasy Stripped Down gives a whole new package and even comes with Sean Ono Lennon pencil sketches of the original cover. Love, romance and the ebbs and flows that come with it take up the vast majority of the thinking and doing of our adult lives. It would seem the perfect subject for a spokesman of any generation to do a study in. Double Fantasy with its mixture of honest struggle and sentimental hopefulness is a pretty good study indeed; even better in this new mix!


JOHN LENNON - WALLS & BRIDGES

Walls & Bridges

(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. 


JOHN LENNON: MIND GAMES - My Remastered Review

Mind Games 

(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.  


JOHN LENNON: SOMETIME IN NEW YORK CITY - Remastered Review

Sometime In New York City

(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...)
 

When I started reviewing Sometime In New York City I wanted to slate it as Lennon’s worst album, dismiss it as a politically naive ramble that has aged so badly that it is the last record of the ex Beatle that you need to buy. And as I re read it I have to say that all of that introduction is true but...

It is the home of three of Lennon’s best rockers. New York City, perhaps Ballad Of John and Yoko Pt 2, on the record itself is just such a great rock out and I never get tired of remembering how good it is. On the extra disc there is a powerful eight minute live primal scream version of Cold Turkey and also Well (Baby Please Don’t Go) a little Lennon gem hidden away. Lennon is best when his voice hits full volume, something already rediscovered on this Remasters series in the Double Fantasy Stripped remix.

Yes, some of the tunes are sloppy and nursery rhymish but there is also something endearing about the loose almost punk sound of the Elephants Memory Band. The guitar riffs are edgier and rawer than on any other Lennon solo release. It is musically interesting, intriguing and eccentric.

Yes, there is a sense of yesterday’s news about the whole thing BUT that is a part of its original purpose. Lennon and his collaborating wife had no intention of this record being about longevity. It needs to be remembered that for Lennon music had fused with politics and avant-garde performance art and Sometime In New York City was where those things mixed the most.

This was a politically agitated couple making a statement about how the world was at that moment and time and giving their opinion. If Lennon had made it to his 80th birthday he might well have been asking in that acerbic Scouse accent why on earth we were even discussing it. Surely he would be writing about 45th President, Black Lives Matter and the Environment. John & Yoko were trying to make a record that sounded like a Newspaper. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll it ain’t but if you are looking for a record of leftist New York politics in 1972 look no further!

So, I can understand why it was out of print for so long and why it might be the last of Lennon's albums that most people buy BUT I have learned to see it for what it and to appreciate it as such.

It is politically naive in most places. Woman Is The Nigger Of The World is sadly as relevant as ever but most other issues were very much of the moment and most of them very poor judgements. Lennon was right, as has been proven in the 2010 Bloody Sunday Inquiry, to react against the British Army’s actions on that January day in Derry in 1972. However, to take the IRA’s side in the debate was really not a smart move from a man who wanted to Give Peace A Chance!

The other fascinating song is about the American military’s over reaction to a hostage siege at Attica State Prison and again the Ono Lennons lost a little perspective when they made an appearance at a benefit for the prisoners who had died. Eight years later John Lennon’s own murderer would be a prisoner in Attica State and Yoko Ono has had less sympathy for Attica State prisoners, at least that particular one in more recent times.

All that said though I am pleased that this record has a place on my John Lennon shelf. It’s an important side of Lennon no matter how unimportant some of the songs sound today. In a world of early seventies acoustic introspective singer songwriters it kept the protest side of rock alive. It is as flawed as Lennon was himself but still has enough to commend it. It would be for another blog but I from the very first time I heard U2's War album I was pretty sure that its inspiration was Sometime In New York City.


JOHN LENNON: IMAGINE - My Review Remastered

Imagine 2 

(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...)


 
Imagine is John Lennon’s finest work though many will disagree because of its smooth accessibility. After the raw vulnerability of Plastic Ono Band, John decided that it was time to compete. The truth is that the entire Beatles and post Beatles’ music of John and Paul needs to be analysed as to how they were in competition, secretly jealous and envious of one another, openly speaking of their fractured friendship while missing each other desperately.

Anyway, Imagine might even have been more in competition with the wee baby brother, mostly ignored, George Harrison becoming the biggest selling artist of 1970 and 1971. Even Ringo was doing ok in the charts. Imagine was strategically born to sell too.

The title track itself was a response to Lennon’s songwriting envy. He had lived in the shadow of Paul’s Yesterday since 1965 even admitting to its goodness on his barbed attack on Paul on How Do You Sleep on this very album. He had also been aghast that, the third best writer in the band, George’s Something became as popular a Beatles’ song as anything maybe apart from that aforementioned Yesterday.

To have a song that would be as huge as those two was really important to the insecurities of Lennon. Jealous Guy here is not only a confession about his misdemeanours in love for Yoko but also an admission of the character failing that drove Lennon to write Imagine.

Imagine is a beautiful piece; simple, anthemic and revolutionary. Klaus Voorman, long time Beatle friend from their Hamburg days and bassist on the record, probably gets it right in the documentary Above Us Only Sky when when he suggests that it should just have had the piano on it. It is the epitome of the classic song. Imagine listening to it in Tittenhurt for the first time.

It is Lennon at his most naively idealistic BUT it does inspire a hope of a fairer world. It seems to me that Lennon was attempting his own Sermon on The Mount, a manifesto for a better way to live. Though Lennon’s intention might have been a Marxian swipe at religion the truth is that the general vision is one that Jesus would have assented to though the Nazerene’s approach was not to imagine no heaven but to imagine a heaven and bring it to earth. Lennon’s approach is easy but leaves us bereft of a vision to apply, Jesus’ is harder but gives substance to the dreaming.

Elsewhere on Imagine we find every hue of Lennon. How and Oh My Love are those tender pieces like Love and Look At Me on Plastic Ono Band; I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier is an anti war song though maybe not his best; Gimme Some Truth is the seeker of meaning and purpose and he has rarely done it better; Oh Yoko declares his love for Mrs. L; and It’s So Hard gives that Yer Blues angst and a crunchier guitar work out on an album with a soft smooth surface.

Everything here though is calculated to a commercial impact and it worked. Old side kick Harrison, a special guest as the world’s most successful artist at the time, plays some great slide. Spector works the strings to sugar the topping. The tracklisting is as carefully crafted as the songs and production and as Lennon himself said to the NME it was “the best effin thing I’ve ever done.”

His most ardent fans might react to the accessibility but they’d be betraying the heart of their hero. Indeed, they would missing the heart of the record. Even if you were harsh enough to suggest that Lennon's rough edges have been compromised to sell records, the message hasn't been. These songs have personal introspection, romantic love and social revolution.

Lennon set out to achieve exactly what he achieved; a hit record. It is hard the think of two better Lennon songs than Imagine and Jealous Guy. It sits as exactly that beside George’s All Things Must Pass and Paul’s Band On the Run as the best Beatle’s solo projects.  

 


JOHN LENNON: PLASTIC ONO BAND - my review Remastered

 

Plastic Ono Band 

( 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...)

 

John Lennon was a seeker of salvation. The deep hurt of his damaged soul needed serious fixing and most of his life was spent searching for solutions to the very obvious dysfunction going on in his psyche.  Music and then the fame brought distraction but never solved and maybe heightened the angst.

The wealth and fame of being in the biggest pop band in history certainly opened other doors to finding salvation. Using his fame to become a peace and justice campaigner gave another sense of purpose to the his turbulent soul at a time when his wee gang of best friends were falling apart.

Avant-garde artist Yoko Ono was certainly the closest that Lennon ever got to soothing his soul but even that was not without some turmoil. Plastic Ono Band was an album that literally recorded one of his other attempts at redemption; his time going through Arthur Janov's Primal therapy.

Plastic Ono Band is a very raw piece of rock; in music, in lyric and in content. These songs were the screams of a man in therapy hoping their primal catharsis would save his soul. Green Day main man Billie Joe Armstrong has said that without Lennon he would not have “known what true honesty in music is” and when people think of his honesty Plastic Ono Band is where they start.

Yet, Lennon had been pioneering honesty long before people even noticed. At the height of The Beatles’ mop top happy clapping “yeh yeh yehs” Lennon slipped onto 1964’s Beatles For Salerecord his first cry for help, I’m a Loser, and followed it in 1965 with a literal Help!; a hit single, and title track of an album and film.

In 1970 with The Beatles, as a collective, dissolved Lennon had now a freedom to be even more explicit and autobiographical and this collection of songs sure was. It starts and ends with the crux of all Lennon’s problems, the loss of his Mother.

The opening Mother could have been dressed and sold sentimentally every Mother’s Day but Lennon’s pain made it far from sentimental. Primal, honest, raw... call it what you will but it is one of Lennon’s greatest artistic moments. Mummy’s Dead is not so brilliant as a song but you don’t miss the truth of the message.

The rest of the album is littered with similarly stark productions switching from guttural cries like I Found Out to respites of tender calm like Hold On and Love usually a turning back from the abyss for a kiss from Yoko.

Three tracks worth an exploration are Working Class Hero, How Do You Sleep and God.

Working Class Hero is one of Lennon’s classic moments of songwriting. The fact he was never working class and might have written this in his luxurious Tittenhurst mansion doesn’t dilute a struggle to survive in a oppressively conformist world; whether the title is technically flawed or not it is a cultural aware, prophetically provocative and barbed.

How Do You Sleep is on the other hand not the best example of his craftsmanship but as an attack on his old writing partner and best friend Paul McCartneyit was always going to garner attention. It is clumsy of lyric but the cold hearted vengeance is near frightening.

God? Well this is the heart of the piece. Here Lennon strips away everything claiming he doesn’t believe in not only God but nearly everything else in his world including, in concluding, The Beatles! He finishes, what could be seen as the theological or philosophical sermon, by claiming that when all is stripped away he is now simply John; that the world will need to move on; and that the dream is over. It might be the final full stop on all the hopes of the sixties.

All Lennon believes in now is Yoko and himself. His belief I guess is to strip away all the skins of the onion and he’ll get to the core, the truth. However, of course, when every skin is ripped there is actually nothing at the heart of the onion and we cannot find that salvation that Lennon was seeking without everyone else or indeed without God.

Lennon might never release an album as intensely or intentionally painful again but Crippled Inside off Imagine, the entirety of Walls and Bridges and I’m Losing You from his final release Double Fantasy would be more pain filled reminders that he never found that salvation that he might have prayed and hoped Janov would bring him in 1970.