john-lennon-peace

“And don’t question Mr. Lennon, boy, ’cause he gave his life for you.” — M. Schnabel (2008)

One of the many benefits I’ve discovered from writing this blog is that I’ve gotten to revisit some of the music that meant a lot to me growing up.  Sadly, my first memory of John Lennon is the day he was tragically murdered in New York City.  I was four years old.  When the news broke, mi madre immediately broke down crying.  After that, she played the Double Fantasy record for days straight.  We had a large wooded one-piece stereo counsel, and I was just tall enough to be able to see over the edge.  I remember watching that record spin endlessly, with that little Geffen globe on the label rotating around and around and around.

Later in life, when I was at the at the not-so-tender age of eighteen, I was finishing high school and working for the Evil Empire when I started hanging out with Lord Bacchus and his crew.  Bacchus liked to host semi-debaucherous  soirees at his father’s house, the Great Ranch in Trumbull Township.  Bacchus’ father, the Whiskey Saint, never seemed to stray far from his beloved stereo system behind the bar his front room, and he always seemed to enjoy a little company while he poured shots of butterscotch schnapps and Crown Royal whiskey.  He was the proud owner of two complete sets of Beatles records (one set still sealed and in mint condition that he meant to sell one day), but John Lennon was his favorite Beatle and he often played songs from the Plastic Ono Band and Imagine records as well.  Those songs in particular resonated with me, and the next year when I went off to college at Ohio State, I immediately scoured the used record shops on High Street for my own copies of those Beatles and John Lennon albums.  At the time I was lost, the proverbial small town kid in the big city, but those albums in particular helped me to recreate just little bit of home in my big new world.

So what I’ve come to admire most about John Lennon over the years is that he truly was the “voice of the people.”  He was born a working class kid in Liverpool, and despite the fame and the fortune that come with being in the most famous rock band ever, he never lost sight of the plight of the common man.  What’s more though is that once he left the Beatles and embarked on his solo career, he used his voice and his celebrity to help people and to help improve the human condition.  In fact, once he left the Beatles he never played a concert for money and he only made appearances for charities and causes that he supported.  When he left England and took up residence in New York, his socialist ideals and anti-war protests were so radical to the U.S. government that the Nixon administration tried to have him deported.  It is these things that made him more than just a musician, more than just a singer, and more than just an artist…he was a social activist whose mantra of “Give Peace a Chance” permeated the very core of Western society and still resonates to this day.

Well, a couple of years ago, Rolling Stone put out a special collector’s edition on John Lennon’s life and music.  When I read it, it just didn’t seem to be very comprehensive.  I was already on a huge Beatles and John Lennon kick thanks to having started on this blog, so using Wikipedia as my guide I started to hunt down every single John Lennon solo album I could find.  Finally, that collection is complete (as far as I know, anyway), and it is my plan to document those albums here as part a permanent page on this blog.  So here we go…

Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins

Two Virgins

I apologize for using the uncensored version of the album cover.   I’m not a big fan of it either.  But I’m also not a big fan of censorship, so here it is the way John put it out.  And he really did put it out there.  I wonder if WordPress will censor the picture?  Regardless, I’m not a big fan of this album either.  I don’t really consider it a solo album.  It’s more of an experiment, in the same vein as “Revolution 9” from The White Album.  Lots of household noises and whistling, John banging on some instruments, Yoko wailing a bit (as much as possible, I’m going to refrain from Yoko bashing on this page, but it is what it is), and other strange noises.  At times it sounds like those ambient noises you hear in a haunted house around Halloween.

The story goes that John met Yoko at the premiere of one of her art exhibits in London.  He liked the exhibit and he and Yoko hit it off.  His wife, Cynthia, was out of town, and he asked Yoko if she wanted to come back to his place and hear his experimental music (what a pick up line!).  She came over and they decided to make a recording on the spot.  The result was this.  When Cynthia came home, she found Yoko sitting at her kitchen table, wearing her robe, and drinking coffee out of her mug.  Oi vey.  Later, John and Yoko decided to release this as part of an attempt to chronicle their life journey together.  I hate to be harsh, but they should have kept it to themselves.  Nobody really needs to hear this.  Like I said, I personally don’t consider it to be one of John’s solo albums, although it is usually listed in his discography.  I had a copy on CD released by Tetragrammaton, but then I discovered that it might be a bootleg.  So then I was “lucky” enough to find this copy, the official re-release by Rykodisc, for $15 at Record Den in Mentor.

Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions

Life with the Lions

So this is more experimental stuff.  And if Two Virgins is a tough listen, this one is next to impossible.  The first track is from an improvised “jazz” performance John and Yoko did at Cambridge University, but its mostly just Yoko wailing over John’s guitar feedback.  A saxophone and a drummer join in near the end, but it can’t save the piece.  Then the album starts to get depressing: “No Bed for Beatle John” is the two of them singing their press clippings about Yoko’s miscarriage and EMI refusing to release Two Virgins, and then “Baby’s Heartbeat” is a full five minutes of the actual heartbeat of the baby that Yoko miscarried.  “Two Minutes Silence” is a tribute to a famous John Cage piece, “4’33”, in which John Cage instructed his musicians not to play for the duration of the piece and the audience just listened to the ambient noises in the hall (John and Yoko’s piece was parodied/covered by Soundgarden as “One Minute of Silence” on their Ultramega OK record).  And finally, “Radio Play”, well it sounds like something Thom Yorke might create by tapping his fingers on a desk.  The title of the record is a double play on the name of a British sitcom and a reference to the press hounding John and Yoko wherever they went, but overall the album is terrible and I regret paying $20 for this on Amazon.

Wedding Album

Wedding Album

This is the last of the experimental records, and this one is a little more palatable.  It’s still not music, but at least the opening track of John and Yoko saying each others names over and over again is amusing.  Not wonderful, but amusing.  It’s kind of like a strange black box theater show.  The second track, “Amsterdam”, has some weird Yoko wailing and then turns into some press interviews from the Bed-In for Peace.  Overall, this is the best of the three experimental albums, but that’s really not saying much.  Fortunately, this is the last one as well.  It was an Amazon buy for about $15.

Live Peace in Toronto 1969

Live Peace in Toronto

Finally, this is where stuff starts to get good.  Well, mostly.  So the story here is that the concert promoters called Lennon and asked him to MC this rock revival show in Toronto, and Lennon said that he would only come if he could play.  Well, the concert was the next day, so he threw together a band with his long time friend Klaus Voorman (from when the Beatles used to do residencies in Germany before they hit it big) and when George Harrison refused, he managed to get Eric Clapton (who supposedly agreed one hour before the plane took off for Toronto).  They rehearsed on the plane and did this set at the festival, which is actually a pretty killer set…until Yoko takes the mic and starts wailing on the last two songs.  But I’m trying to stay away from Yoko bashing, so I’ll just say skip side B and focus on side A of the record.  There are a few old rock songs, a couple Lennon originals, and a Beatles number (technically, John was still with the Beatles when this went down, but the writing was on the wall and the end was near).  Lennon and Clapton play surprisingly well together, with Lennon playing mostly rhythm with some heavy distortion and Clapton filling in most of the leads.  This was an Amazon pick up for about $14, and it’s definitely well worth it.  And if you choose to listen to the second side, have a bottle of aspirin nearby 🙂

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band

Plastic Ono Band

I wrote a rather lengthy entry about this album on my main blog page (#23) a couple of years ago, so I will try not to repeat myself here.  Suffice it say, this is my favorite of John’s solo albums, and I think it’s really the turning point in his career.  Many people say this album is stark, but I think he was just stripping away all the excess production of the last several Beatles records and getting back to his rock and roll roots…bass, drums, guitar, and piano.  His gift for melody is still here, and he also delivers some of his most emotional vocals.  And I will give Yoko some credit here, because I feel her influence on this album in a positive way (and thankfully, without her actually appearing on this record).  Instead of the frivolous stuff John was writing about with the Beatles (and don’t get me wrong, I love John’s work with the Beatles), John starts to write autobiographically about his own thoughts, feelings, and opinions.  And in expressing those ideas, he starts to refine his own personal ideals that would directly lead to his social activism in the 1970s.  It’s a powerful record, and actually somewhat dangerous in as much as that once exposed to some of these ideas, it might change the way you think about society and the world.  And to me, that’s the highest level of musical achievement anyone can hope to accomplish.

Imagine

Imagine

Again, I wrote an entry about this album on the main page (#80), so I will try no to be redundant here.  Basically, after stripping away everything on the previous album, John brought back his pop sensibilities for this record.  Also, after writing a very personal and self-reflective record in Plastic Ono Band, John turns his song-writing eye outward and begins making some strong social commentaries on this record.  “Imagine” is an important song, maybe the most important song ever written.  But there are other great songs here too.  Personally, I am a big fan of “Gimme Some Truth” and “I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier Mama”.  There are also some personal John/Yoko relationship songs on this record, and “Jealous Guy” was the hit single, “Oh My Love” is the better song.  At any rate, this album is amazing, and in my book it’s a close second to the previous album for best in Lennon’s solo career.

Some Time in New York City

Some Time in New York City

Here we go on a musical roller coaster ride from the high point of John’s solo career to the absolute lowest point.  Between Imagine and this album, John and Yoko moved from their idyllic Ascot mansion in England to an apartment in New York City.  That change is definitely reflected in this album, as the music is noticeably noisier and more spontaneously constructed.  Supposedly the concept behind this album was to have it be as topically current as possible (hence, the newspaper front cover), but the result is a hodge-podge collection of songs that don’t really stand the test of time (it doesn’t help that every other song on the album is Yoko’s).  The second disc consists of two separate live concerts, the later of which features Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention (sigh), but other than a blistering version of “Cold Turkey”, it’s mostly terrible.  Personally, I easily rank this record last out of John’s eight proper studio albums.  This cost me about $10 on Amazon.

Mind Games

Mind Games

So here’s another one that doesn’t really do much for me.  Granted, Lennon recorded this album while the U.S. was trying to deport him, and he was having serious marriage problems with Yoko at the time too.  So I can see how the world was playing some mind games on John, but other than the title track, this album is mostly filler.  Sure, it’s sort of funny he slipped “Tight A$” passed the censors.  And I like the concept of Nutopia, but it’s an idea, not a song.  And the “Nutopian International Anthem” is just silence…didn’t he do that already on Life with the Lions?  At any rate, the creative low point continues.  I have this ranked seventh out of the eight studio albums.  At least I only paid $5 for this on Amazon.

Walls and Bridges

Walls and Bridges

Ah! Bowakawa, pousse pousse!  So this is a bit of a return to form.  There is still a lot of filler here, but overall the songs are much better than on the last two albums.  This was written during Lennon’s “Lost Weekend” (there is a really cool record store here in C-Bus called Lost Weekend Records…I assume the name is at least partially a reference to Lennon), an 18 month period which was initiated by Yoko kicking John out.  So John moved to Los Angeles with Yoko’s personal assistant, May Pang, and partied like a rock star.  Actually, he started recording the covers for the Rock ‘n’ Roll album during this period, but it was such a drunken disaster he shelved the project and started work on this album.  The stuff with Elton John is pretty good, especially “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night”, and I’ve always been a fan of “#9 Dream”.  Ah! Bowakawa, pousse pousse!  This was a $6 pick up on Amazon.  I have it ranked fifth out of the eight studio albums.

Rock ‘n’ Roll

Rock and Roll

Apparently, John Lennon was sued by Morris Levy for borrowing melody and the line “Here come old flat top” from Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me” (which Lennon covers on this record) for the Beatles’ “Come Together”.  So the settlement was that Lennon would release a covers album with three Morris Levy tunes on it.  So the sessions for this started during Lennon’s “Lost Weekend” period, but they were a total disaster because everyone was completely drunk all the time.  Phil Spector signed on as the producer (he had worked with John on Plastic Ono Band and Imagine, and he had “saved” the Let It Be album as well), and at one point he brought a gun to the studio (damn, that idiot has a problem with guns), fired it at the ceiling, and almost deafened Lennon.  Then he stole all the master tapes and would have ransomed them if he hadn’t wound up in a coma from a motorcycle accident.  Great dude.  Anyhow, Lennon put the project on hold, which wound up being a breach of contract from the settlement.  So after Walls and Bridges was released, he revisited this album and finished it.  It certainly isn’t ground breaking, but it is fun to hear Lennon get back to his rock and roll roots, covering Fats Domino, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, and others.  He manages to belt out some of the vocals like he did on the early Beatles records.  And the “Teddy Boy” picture on the cover is classic.  The cover of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” is the famous track, but I like his version of Little Richard’s “Slippin’ and Slidin'”.  It’s a good album, but not great.  I have it ranked sixth out of the eight studio albums.  I picked it up for $8 at The Exchange in North Olmstead.  It’s the more recent edition with four bonus tracks.

Shaved Fish

Shaved Fish

So this is a compilation album that was the last thing Lennon released before going on a five-year hiatus.  There are singles from his first five solo albums here, but the real highlight is the inclusion of  Lennon’s five non-album singles.  I’m not exactly sure why Lennon kept these songs off the album releases, but all of them are pretty great songs.  “Instant Karma” has always been a favorite of mine, and “Power to the People” is a great civil rights type anthem.  I’ve heard people make fun of “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”, but it’s already a classic compared to most of the new Christmas songs the record companies churn out with the teenie-boppers.  My only issue with this compilation is the strange decision to split “Give Peace a Chance” in half and have it open and close the record.  Oh well, whatever.  It’s probably the weakest song on here anyway…famous yes, but all anybody really knows is the chorus.  At any rate, this is an excellent compilation which seems to be much more than a typical “Greatest Hits” package.  I found it at the Half-Price Books in Mentor for $8.  Nice.

Double Fantasy

Double Fantasy

After John and Yoko got back together and had baby Sean, John took five years off to be a stay-at-home dad.  Then, after being caught in a massive storm on a sailing trip in Bermuda, he was inspired to start writing songs again.  So, even though he didn’t have a record deal at the time, he and Yoko started recording and came up with enough material for a double album.  Eventually, they signed with the newly formed Geffen Records because David Geffen was the only record executive willing to release Yoko stuff along side John’s.  Finally, they decided to pare down the tracks to a single LP, and the result is a sort of love-play where the songs go back and forth like a dialog between the two of them (I guess the format is sort of similar to Some Time in New York City, but the songs here are much, much better…even Yoko’s songs show some improvement).  I remember this album from when I was a kid.  Mi madre had it on vinyl, and I remember watching the little Geffen symbol on the label spin on the turntable.  I was four years old back then.  Tragically, Lennon was murdered just three weeks after this album was released.  I remember that day too, if only because mi madre cried for hours when the news broke.  It was a sad day in music history, made even worse because this truly could have been Lennon’s comeback album.  I have it ranked third of Lennon’s eight studio albums.  I picked up this copy at Used Kids back in the day for $3.

The John Lennon Collection

John Lennon Collection

This compilation was actually released a couple of years before Milk and Honey.  Apparently there were some legal issues surrounding it’s release, as some of the tracks were licensed by EMI and others by Geffen.  But as far as song selection goes, this is one of the best of the countless Lennon compilation albums that have been released.  You get the non-album singles, as well as the hits spanning all of his solo albums (although there isn’t anything from Some Time in New York City).  The CD release even has a rare b-side included, “Move Over Ms. L”.  I was in high school when I first got this album.  The Last Boy Scout was liquidating his CD collection so he could afford to take some girl to prom, so I helped him out by buying this and a few others for $5 each.  Twenty years later, he wound up stationed in Columbus for awhile, and I gave them all back…except this one.  Maybe I’ll buy him a copy someday.  Until then, it’s staying in my collection.  As a side note, it’s sort of chilling that the photo used for the front cover was taken just a few hours before his death.

Milk and Honey

Milk and Honey

This is it.  The last of his solo output.  Collected from the tracks left over from the Double Fantasy sessions, with new material from Yoko, this is epitaph to Lennon’s storied career.  His songs are mostly pretty good.  I find myself quoting “Nobody Told Me” quite a bit while I’m at work.  Strange days, indeed. “Borrowed Time” is a great song as well, although it is chillingly prophetic.  I had a hard time getting this on Amazon.  The first seller I purchased it from cancelled the transaction because the CD had been damaged.  The second seller advertised it as new, but when it came it was definitely more than gently used.  When I complained, he refunded my $15, so in the end I got it for free.  I have it ranked fourth out of Lennon’s eight studio albums.  Combined with Double Fantasy, it makes a nice double album, and although his death was a tragedy, at least his career was on the upswing at the end.  Sadly, the world will never know what John would have done next.

Live in New York City

Live in New York City

This was Lennon’s last full concert performance (notwithstanding his cameo on an Elton John concert a few years later).  As I mentioned in the intro, he never played for money after leaving the Beatles, and this was a charity event for children with mental problems hosted by Geraldo Rivera (back when he was still a serious journalist).  Actually, there were two concerts…one in the afternoon and one in the evening…and this is mostly songs from the afternoon show.  Members of the band say that the evening show was better, and if so, it must have been amazing because this is a pretty great set in it own right.  There is a video release of this as well, with complete setlist including Yoko’s numbers, but the CD is edited down to just John’s numbers.  It’s a mix of songs from his solo albums, with “Come Together” as a nod to the Beatles and “Hound Dog” thrown in as a nod to Elvis.  In an amusing moment, he announces “Mother” as a song he wrote since “he left the Rolling Stones”.  I picked this up at the Half Price Books in Mentor, Ohio for $5.99.  It’s a great listen.  I’m sure nobody realized at the time that this would be his last concert performance.  Sad, but at least it was a good show.

Menlove Ave.

Menlove Ave

This is an outtakes and rarities collection.  The title refers to the street Lennon grew up on after he was taken in by his Aunt Mimi.  The first half of the album is mainly unreleased tracks from the first set of sessions for the Rock ‘n’ Roll record.  Those were the sessions with Phil Spector during Lennon’s “Lost Weekend” that turned into a dismal, drunken mess.  Spector eventually wound up shooting a gun in the recording studio (what is it with that guy and guns?) and later stole all the master tapes and held them for ransom.  What a guy.  The second half consists of alternate takes of songs from Walls and Bridges.  I guess overall this collection is a nice piece of Lennon history, but there is nothing incredibly memorable here.  I bought it new on Amazon for about $14 a couple of years ago.  The Andy Warhol portrait on the cover was done just a few months before Lennon’s death.

Imagine: John Lennon, Motion Picture Soundtrack

Imagine Soundtrack

This is the soundtrack to the movie of the same title.  I picked it up at Half Price Books for $6.99.  It’s one of the few compilations that includes songs from both the Beatles and John’s solo career.  Most of this stuff has been released elsewhere, but the highlight for me is a solo acoustic demo of the song “Real Love”, which the surviving Beatles went on to butcher 15 years later for their final single.  But this version, consisting of just John singing and playing an out of tune acoustic guitar, highlights the song’s beauty and simplicity.  There is also a short demo take of the song “Imagine” with John doing an intentionally cheesy spoken word thing on the famous chorus.  It’s mildly amusing.  Years later Kurt Cobain did a similar thing with the chorus of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on a British talk show.  See, it all comes full circle.  The movie itself is pretty good too.  Definitely worth watching.  I’ve got it on DVD.  Basically a bunch of cameras followed John and Yoko around and recorded their daily lives.  Sound familiar?  Like every single damn reality show on TV today.  But you do get some insight into life at Tittenhurst Park.

Lennon

Lennon Box SetLennon Box Set 2

This is the first Lennon box set.  My copy is a little beat up, but I feel like I got a decent deal on it on Amazon for $19.  It is currently out-of-print, and Wikipedia says it was deleted from Lennon’s official catalogue in the late 90s.  I suppose that’s because there really isn’t anything new on this set.  It’s all material that has been released before in some way or another.  The only tracks that are sort of difficult to find elsewhere are three live tracks with Elton John (I think they are from the show that brought John and Yoko back together after the Lost Weekend…and I also think it was Lennon’s last ever live performance) that include two Beatles’ songs, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “I Saw Her Standing There”, along with “What Ever Gets You Thru the Night”.  Pretty much every other cut comes directly off of a single, studio album, or live album.  Disc 1 covers Live Peace in Toronto and the entire Plastic Ono Band album, plus a couple singles.  Disc 2 covers Imagine, Some Time in New York City, and Mind Games, with a couple of tracks from Live in New York City.  Disc 3 covers Walls and Bridges and Rock ‘n’ Roll, with some rare cuts from Menlove Ave. and the Elton John stuff.  And then Disc 4 contains most of the Lennon tracks from Double Fantasy and Milk and Honey, along with a rare version of “Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him” with John singing lead instead of Yoko.  Overall, it’s definitely not an essential piece, but it is nice to have all these tracks together in one place.

Lennon Legend: The Very Best of John Lennon

Lennon Legend

This is actually the first single-disc Lennon compilation album to cover all the studio albums from Plastic Ono Band to Milk and Honey.  It also includes the non-album singles, including the first CD release of the single version of “Mother” (it eliminates the funereal bell at the beginning and fades out sooner at the end).  There is also a DVD version with music videos (some original, some create posthumously) for all of these songs.  That’s about all there is to say about this.  It’s a pretty good mix…not totally chronological like other compilations.  I found this for $4.99 at the Buybacks out on Hamilton Road.  The princess and I were actually camping at a bluegrass festival out in Hocking Hill that weekend, and I had to come back into town to lead my church choir (back before God laid me off).  I stopped off at the Buybacks on the way back out to the festival and this jumped off the shelf at me.

John Lennon Anthology

Lennon AnthologyLennon Anthology 2

This box set is pretty awesome.  It is entirely composed of unreleased material, including alternate studio takes, home demos, and live recordings, spanning Lennon’s entire solo career, with lots of original Lennon artwork to boot.  It is divided into four discs, appropriately named after stages of his career.  I will always be partial to disc one, titled Ascot for the time John and Yoko at Tittenhurst Park.  Appropriately, it contains material from Plastic Ono Band and Imagine, the two albums he recorded there.  Disc two is titled New York City, which is where John and Yoko moved when they left England, and contains takes from Some Time in New York City and Mind Games.  The third disc is The Lost Weekend, named for John’s booze-fueled separation from Yoko, contains material from Walls and Bridges and Rock ‘n’ Roll.  Finally, disc four is titled Dakota for the apartment building where John and Yoko lived and raised Sean.  It contains songs from Double Fantasy and Milk and Honey.  Probably only for the hardcore Lennon fan, I enjoy listening to the differences between the alternate takes and the released versions of these songs.  It is by far the best Lennon box set available.

Wonsaponatime

wonsaponatime

This is an album of highlights from the Anthology box set.  I suppose it’s a good option for folks that don’t want to wade through all 4 1/2 hours of the box set.  It’s essential the alternate takes of the more popular Lennon songs.  But the tracks have been edited down to remove the studio chatter and such, so you lose a bit of the charm.  There’s some cool artwork and photographs in the booklet.  Pretty much non-essential if you have the box set.

Instant Karma: All-Time Greatest Hits

instant-karma

I’m pretty sure this is the Sam’s Club/Walmart type bargain basement greatest hits type package.  The artwork and the packaging look rather cheap.  And there is no booklet.  The song selection is decent.  Most of the hits are here.  Not in chronological order.  Not really in any kind of order that I can tell.  No rarities.  Everything is on something else.  “Instant Karma” is on here twice, but the second version is live, although it is not denoted as such on the case.  The sound quality is questionable, as if this was compiled from second hand masters.  The sound is just sort of distant.  Completely non-essential, and actually I’d pass on it in favor of the other greatest hits packages with superior sound quality.

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