John Lennon – John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970)

History: In April 1970 John and Yoko began taking primal scream therapy sessions from Arthur Janov. The sessions were meant to last for one year, but they were only able to get in four months worth when John’s American visa expired. Back in London, he returned to music, releasing a couple singles and a live album before diving into his first solo album of traditional rock music post Beatles. Klaus Voorman, Billy Preston, and Ringo were among the members of this incarnation of the Plastic Ono Band, and George also contributed to the “Instant Karma!” single though not on the album itself.

My own personal history and initial predictions: I’ve very familiar with the songs “Mother” and “God” and to a lesser extent “Working Class Hero,” but otherwise none of the other songs sound familiar to me. I dislike the way “Mother” disintegrates into a primal scream therapy session, and hope there isn’t too much else like that on the album.

What I worked on while listening: I received this Bowie themed coloring book for Christmas 2020. It’s got some pretty interesting designs by different artists.

Review: This album is largely a mix of two different styles, slow somber compositions on the piano and guitar based rhythm and blues numbers, with occasional folk added in as well. All of the lyrics are intensely personal, dealing with both his feelings on the Beatles and the loss of both his parents. I think one of the reasons why John is my favorite Beatle is because he was never afraid to get intensely personal in his lyrics, and it’s certainly something we can all agree has had a huge influence on popular music ever since then. With the last two experimental albums before this, the side 2 of those albums were literally audio diaries of what they were going through at the time. For this album, he’s doing the same but making more traditional music out of it.

I did notice that this version of “Mother” is slightly different than the one I’m used to hearing. I owned the Imagine: John Lennon soundtrack album, and that features a live version from 1972. So the funeral bells that start this one off were a surprise to me, and the repeating of “Momma don’t go, daddy come home” is technically shorter in length but much more shrill in the way in which he screams it over and over on the live version. So while I still wouldn’t say that I enjoy that part of the song, I did enjoy this version of it more so than the one I’m used to. And I should say that the moment doesn’t ruin the song, everything up to that point is quite beautiful, but it does make me generally want to skip ahead when he gets to that point.

I enjoyed listening to the album as a whole, they’re all good compositions with strong lyrics, even if some of them like “Love” and “Look At Me” feel more like unfinished demos rather than full songs. The biggest thing stopping me from purchasing the album and adding it to my regular rotation is that most of the songs are very sad. That absolutely makes sense with what he was dealing with at the time, and I’m not saying that sad songs are inherently bad, they certainly have their time and place. But with John being someone I care about deeply and admire, I don’t necessarily always want to hear him go through such lows.

“God” is probably the song that has also been the saddest for me personally. I absolutely get what he means by the sentiment of it, and I can understand his desire to distance himself from the Beatles at this point in his life, but there’s no denying that when he says “dear friends” he’s directly speaking to fans like myself. It was heartbreaking to listen to as a pre-teen at the height of my Beatles fandom, and it still makes me sad to this day. The main comfort I take is that I know in time he was more at peace with his past and what it meant.

I’d also like to give special attention to “Working Class Hero” as it definitely stands out on its own on the album. Not only is it the first official f bomb to be dropped by a Beatle, you can hear the intensity of his belief in the song’s meaning through every line he sings. I actually heard the Green Day cover of this song before I heard John’s version, and it’s a good one, but I do think John’s is much stronger because of the emotion you can hear in his voice.

Singles released around this time: Since the Beatles continued to follow their earlier habits of releasing singles that did not appear on any of their albums, I figured it would be a good idea to add this section when necessary to discuss those songs too.

“Give Peace a Chance” – I have always disliked this song. Not for its sentiment, but for its structure. The chorus repeats the line way too many times, and the verses are largely impossible to understand. I think of songs like “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” that have similar structures, but those two songs are ones I desperately want to learn and try to sing along with. This one is just a garbled mess, possibly because of the way it was recorded. At minute three I was really ready to just turn it off.

“Cold Turkey” – I had heard of this song before but apparently never really listened to it. Lyrically it’s a good representation of the feelings of withdrawal. It makes sense for him to start moaning and groaning toward the end of the track to help emphasize those awful feelings, but that doesn’t make it something I want to listen to. It’s a decent hard rock/blues song, but not one I’d want to return to very often.

“Instant Karma!” – I’ve always liked this song a lot. It’s easy to sing along with, easy to get stuck in your head, and it’s easy to see why this was a hit for him. To prove what I was saying last time, this is one of the instances where Phil Spector’s production style works well. Apparently John claimed to have written the song in the course of about an hour, one of those situations where inspiration hits and everything comes together just right.

Next Time: Paul collaborates with Linda on Ram.


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