History: Now fully separated from Yoko and living with May Pang, John spent some time in Los Angeles and reconnected with his son Julian. He worked on an album with Phil Spector of early rock and roll songs that never came to be, but also wrote new material of his own. He returned to New York City to record the album, working with a lot of his old Plastic Ono Band mainstays as well as Harry Nilsson and Elton John. Jimmy Iovine was an engineer for the album as well.
My own personal history and initial prediction: I recognize three songs from the track list here though in the case of “#9 Dream” I can’t remember if I have heard it or am just aware of it thanks to John’s obsession with that number. Knowing that this was recorded during his “lost weekend” makes me worry about it being unfocused and messy but the knowledge that Harry Nilsson was involved does peak my interest.
What I worked on while listening:
Review: A very interesting thing happened this time around, in that the first time I listened to this album I didn’t have a whole lot of nice to say about it with the exception of maybe two of the songs, but then I made a point to listen again about 5 days later and I felt a whole lot different. I think part of it was that I was going through a bit of stress, so it led to the songs not clicking with me as much, but it does also show that sometimes songs can grow on you when you let them breathe a little.
The whole album has an almost jazzy feel throughout it, brought on by the horn section performed by the group Little Big Horns. There’s something about this seventies style that you just don’t hear in music anymore. It reminded me of some of David Bowie’s work in this time period, as well as Elton John’s work. It brings a degree of cheeriness to the whole thing, even when the subject matter doesn’t necessarily match it.
There are of course some songs that are just downright mellow and melancholy, like “Old Dirt Road,” “Bless You,” and “Nobody Loves You When You’re Down and Out” but even so they’re not depressing to listen to. They’re almost soothing in their sadness. “Scared” is another great moody number, and I love the way he moves from “I’m scared” to “I’m scarred” through the first two verses.
“Whatever Gets You Through the Night” was John’s first number one solo single, which is kind of crazy to me that given how ubiquitous “Imagine” is now that means it never hit number one when it was originally released. This is definitely one of the ones that grew on me. I had heard it before and never found it that special, and the first time listening again I felt the same way, but as it played on in my head over time and I listened again a bit later I really do like the groove of it. It’s very catchy in its simplicity. I’m still not entirely sure I had heard “#9 Dream” before, but I do like it, even if that gibberish he sings is a bit of a head scratcher. Apparently it did literally come to him in a dream. The song actually really made me think of early new wave bands like Joy Division and how this could have been an influence on their sound.
“Steel and Glass” is another interesting moody number with a sound very similar to “How Do You Sleep?” Some people think it’s supposed to be about Allen Klein, but listening to it I mostly considered it to be John being far more introspective and self critical. It could, of course, be a mix of both. “Bless You” is without question about Yoko, and I think if you’re following the tale of their relationship here, this is definitely a much sweeter side of this separation. He’s accepting what happened and wishing her nothing but love and happiness. It may be my favorite song on the album for how beautiful it is. Also in the sweetness category is the last song on the album, an informal cover of “Ya Ya” that he did with Julian. The fact that he chose to include it even with how rough it is is a touching moment of a father trying to make up for the time lost with his son.
While I didn’t fall in love with this album, I do intend to return to it and keep giving it future listens. My hope is that it will grow on me more and more over time. This is the last album of original songs from John we’ll be getting until 1980.
Other music released/recorded around this time: So I’m deviating here a little, because while there are no singles to report on, John also worked on Harry Nilsson’s album at this time, and then there’s a pretty famous bootleg from this era I didn’t want to ignore.
“Mucho Mungo/Mt Elga” – This song appears on Harry Nilsson’s album Pussy Cats, which John helped produce. John co-wrote this song with him. It has an interesting dream like quality, with island sounds and an interesting wavering effect that is particularly interesting to listen to on headphones. Definitely different from John’s typical style, I’m guessing Nilsson contributed most of the ideas to the track.
“A Toot and a Snore in ’74” – This is a bootleg recording, most famous as being the only known time that John and Paul recording something together after the Beatles breakup. It is that in a technical sense, but this is a very informal recording session, and the levels between the various instruments are not quite right. It’s really more like a bit of a jam session with the two of them, Stevie Wonder, and Harry Nilsson. Paul was apparently playing Ringo’s kit, but Ringo was not there for this session. They cover “Lucille,” “Sleep Walk,” “Stand By Me,” “Cupid,” “Chain Gang,” and “Take This Hammer.” As the name suggests, there were also a fair bit of drugs being passed around. It’s an interesting one time listen for a fan, especially now that it’s easy to find on Youtube. But definitely not essential listening.
Next time: Ringo says Goodnight (to) Vienna.