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Class B

Main Category: Singer-Songwriters
Also applicable: Pop Rock, Avantgarde
Starting Period: The Artsy/Rootsy Years
Also active in: The Interim Years, The Punk/New Wave Years





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John Lennon may or may not have been the best of the Beatles, but he certainly was the most unpredictable. His political and social views changed approximately twice as fast as his haircut (and you know how fast that one was changing), and his music is probably the most inconsistent you ever could imagine. Experimental unlistenable albums are interspersed with brilliant introspective chef-d'auevres which, in their turn, are interspersed with primitive political statements, and so on. Picking up a John Lennon album on a CD store rack is the exact equivalent of playing blind man's buff - and making the wrong choice can seriously deteriorate your feelings towards the man, while making the right choice might convert you for life even if you never liked the Beatles in the first place.

What am I hinting at, exactly? Simply the fact that you have to tread among his releases with a lot of care; and always bear in mind that John never cared even a tiny bit about 'commercial' sound. Some of his records sound quite conventional - in fact, it's hard to imagine anything less inoffensive and more suitable for the general public taste than 'Imagine' or 'Woman' - and some sound unlistenable. This actually means that the standard approach of 'commercial/elitist' is unapplicable to John as it is applicable to, say, McCartney; this parameter simply isn't relevant to his creativity. That's why I cringe when people complain about Double Fantasy being a bit too slick and 'commercial': commercial my ass, it just came out this way - I suppose the last thing that was on John's mind when he was laying down the tracks was how many copies this would sell.

He simply didn't care about it. He never cared a lot about people, for that matter. No matter what he wrote about all the people living life in peace and women being the niggers of the world and all that stuff, he really felt little love for individual people. When he wanted to let somebody down, though, nobody could beat him at it (just listen to Sometime In New York City for some brilliant obscenities). So there's a bit of hypocrisy about John, whenever you look: one minute he's all over you telling how he loves you and how you're his brother and sister and power to the people, and the other minute he tells you you're 'still a fucking peasant as far as I can see'. He's terribly inconsistent in his views, ideas and musical output, but hell, maybe that's why I love him all the more. For me, John is the ultimate 'painfully thinking artist' who's always open to all kinds of ideologies but who ultimately rejects all of them because they're too narrow and limited for his open and creative conscience. He was a Maoist, a pacifist, a revolutionary, a nihilist, a traditionalist, a family man, a feminist, a Maharishi addict, a bit of this and a bit of that, but he probably never really knew who he was. He was killed in 1980, just as he finally thought he'd finally overcome his troubles and settled down as a self-contained married man/patron of the family; ironic, perhaps, but something tells me that, were he left alive, he wouldn't be content with that 'final image' for the rest of his life. Then again, who can tell...

One thing, though, is obvious: whatever John was doing, he was always completely sincere and honest about it. His solo output rarely matches the quality of the Beatles' best work, simply because John never had a good flare at creative, inventive, experimental, original arrangements: he rarely cared about polishing his work, and many of his albums sound like a bunch of demos hastily patched together. As a Beatle, he always had Paul to rely upon, and together they would bring his wonderful ideas to a high shine; as a solo artist, he just had himself, Yoko Ono and Phil Spector. I do respect Phil, and his production on many of John's songs is quite worthy, but... well, who's gonna compare it with George Martin's, anyway. But John always gets away with the atmosphere and mood of his songs: he sings directly to you, in front of you, aiming at your heart, and whether he's saying something soothing or something nasty, it always hits hard and hits right. Add to this the impeccability of John's melodies - and they mostly are impeccable - and you'll easily understand why I only rate him as an artist one point lower than the Beatles themselves.

But oh worthy reader, be thou prepared for the fact that on every album there could be some nasty trap waiting for you. A crazy feedback experiment? Got 'em. Bucketloads of Yoko Ono wailings? Got 'em too. Pointless hatred at nothing in particular? There you go. On the positive side, though, sift through the crazy experimental dreck and you'll still come up with at least forty or fifty songs littered with all kind of praises, stars and Union Jacks. Nope, forget that line about the Union Jack. What could a Union Jack be possibly doing in a Lennon song? Anyway, a great percent of Lennon's stuff successfully holds up to his Beatle legacy, even if almost none of it would do as a Beatles song. Put it this way: the bad stuff is really bad, being bad intentionally, and the good stuff is really good, 'cause a mind as gifted as the one of Mr John Lennon couldn't have possibly come up with a bad song were it not on intention.

One more piece of advice: if you're not a hardcore fan, stick away from the innumerable cash-ins that Yoko Ono is releasing from time to time in order to improve her financial conditions. If you're obstinate, pick up Milk And Honey which is the most coherent of the lot and think for yourself whether you need the other ones. As for me, my personal completist duty forces me to go ahead and buy the recently issued 4-CD behemoth Anthology, but being hard up I just can't afford the imported original. Anyway, it won't be worth the money: the abbreviated version Wonsaponatime shows us it's just another cash-in. But as for the original masters - just follow me!



Year Of Release: 1969

This is not music.

Best song: I TOLD you this is not music!

Track listing: 1) John And Yoko; 2) Amsterdam.

Buyer Beware - This Is Highly Experimental (I suppose such a sticker should come on every one of such records as at least a sign that somebody really cares about the audience). I haven't yet checked the official Lennon site ('Bagism') to see if there are any freaks who are able to write positive reviews of this one, but it really doesn't matter. Before this one, he'd released two more experimental albums entitled Two Virgins (1968; you may know it because of the well-known album cover featuring John and Yoko as Adam and Eve) and Life With The Lions. Maybe they were more entertaining than this one. At least they seem to have had more tracks. You tell me. This one, however, presents us with two 'chef-d'auevres'.

The first one of these is 'John And Yoko' - quite an unimaginative title for a track that runs over twenty minutes and consists exclusively of John saying 'Yoko' and Yoko saying 'John' over their amplified heartbeats, although I'd bet my life that from time to time the process is interrupted by John biting on an apple or something and hungrily gobbling it down. Probably to moisten his tired throat. Credit should be given, though, that they really find every possible way to pronounce these names, ranging from soft, tender and slow to fast and energetic to all-out a-screamin', and it's kinda fun to hear about five or six minutes of this process once and forget about it afterwards. Some kind of avantgarde this is.

The other track is consistently more 'entertaining', at least as some kind of historic document. Being entitled 'Amsterdam', it contains a recording of their daily activities while staying at that city plus some interviews about peace, peace and... peace again (it also opens with Yoko singing some 'rehearsals' for her solo number 'Let's Hope For Peace', which in this occasion mostly consists of chanting 'Peeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeace' for what seems like ages. Is it a coincidence they discuss Hitler in the interview?) If that was the procedure that the lady performed every morning before breakfast, I really pity the waiters at the hotel. Then the interviews start - actually, the most interesting part of the album, but I won't be babbling about that for long because I really don't want to dedicate any space to discussing Lennon's constantly changing and always immature political views. And then, after the interviews are over, we just get recordings of the happy lovers chatting, kissing, eating, playing guitar, whatever - you can make a CD like this for your own family in no time. Just for fun, some of the played tune excerpts can be recognized as Beatle songs ('Good Night'!), but that's only a few moments.

General conclusion: nobody except phonologists (side A) and psychologists (side B) really needs that stuff. Just imagine poor diehard fans ignorantly (even worse, intentionally) shelling out their hard-earned bucks for this garbage! (I got it extra cheap, so please raise no questions). One could at least expect some relieving bonus tracks, but no way: the three bonus tracks I have are all obscure Yoko B-sides, so there's really no need to worry. 'Who Has Seen The Wind?' (B-side to John's absolute classic 'Instant Karma') is based on a childish nursery rhyme, and Yoko's sugary Japanese vocals make me instantaneously sick. 'Listen The Snow Is Falling', the B-side to 'Happy Xmas', is at least listenable, but very cheesy at best; it really makes me wonder how Yoko could so easily combine a love for the latest trends in over-the-top avantgarde compositions and cheesy generic pop sludge. (The contrast would later emerge in all its puzzling nature on the Double Fantasy album, with cabaret crap like 'I'm Your Angel' sitting next to New Wave experiments like 'Give Me Something', although I'm really running a little ahead). As for the version of what might be Yoko's most famous song, 'Don't Worry Kyoko (Mummy's Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow)', it's not much more than a rough, uninspiring demo, and doesn't go anywhere in particular. Not that it went anywhere in particular in the finished version, as well. In any case, the bonus tracks aren't long enough or significant enough to guarantee a 'musical' status for this CD, so I'm gladly leaving it without a rating.

PS ('On The Variations Of Human Nature'): I've just checked the Bagism site, and yes indeed there are lots of freaks there who have good feelings about this album. Whew. The big problem, I guess, is that the world is overpopulated, so for every crazy idea you're guaranteed to find at least a small bunch of voices who'll be ready to spill your blood defending this record to death. In any case, this is a matter for the psychologist, not for me; I'm glad that at least nobody says it's actually music (although the argument 'it's a different kind of art, you just gotta open your eyes and ears, man' sounds like prime bullshit to me just as well). Of course, there's always a possibility that it's me who is a stupid idiot, not counting the factor of relativity and lack of objective criteria for judging art; so it'll probably be wiser to hold off for a while.

It would be interesting, though, to see 'Amsterdam' on video, if such a thing existed; the short clips on the John Lennon Collection video and short bits of interviews in various documentaries about the man are rather entertaining.



Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 4
Overall rating = 8

This is music, but only about a half of it. Don't you really bother.

Best song: COLD TURKEY

Track listing: 1) Blue Suede Shoes; 2) Money; 3) Dizzy Miss Lizzie; 4) Yer Blues; 5) Cold Turkey; 6) Give Peace A Chance; 7) Don't Worry Kyoko; 8) John John.

Nice album cover, isn't it? Anyway, the story goes like this: John was invited to Toronto to take part in one of those slick 'rock revival' festivals that seem to be so popular nowadays. Back then, though, it was still the Sixties, so the 'revival' was that of Fifties' rock, with seasoned veterans like Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Jerry Lee Lewis all participating. John was supposed to be the headliner, but the problem is that he didn't really have a normal band. As if he cared - he just grabbed a bunch of friends, consisting of Eric Clapton (guitar), Klaus Voormann (bass) and future Yes member Alan White (drums), rehearsed them on board the plane over the Atlantic, quickly addicted them to Yoko and stole the show.

Well, I don't actually know if he stole the show, because the concert is not that entertaining. The first side is surprisingly listenable: first, quite naturally, since the whole event was a Fifties' revival show, they pay tribute to the old giants by covering Beatles stuff that the Beatles used to cover themselves, then they do 'Yer Blues' and top it off with John's then-current pride, the singles 'Cold Turkey' and 'Give Peace A Chance'. Considering the fact that the band was practically unrehearsed, it's nothing short of amazing that they manage to pull off most of the numbers without any serious embarrassments - and from time to time they even sound really really good. 'Cold Turkey', for instance, is reinterpreted as a classy boogie number, and 'Give Peace A Chance' is, for the first and last time in its existence, actually treated as a real song - Eric is clever enough to base the number around a solid, blues-rocky riff and throws in a couple of really tasty lines now and then, so you can even dance to it if you wish! These two songs are the obvious highlights of the record, and surpass every other live version of 'em, available or not (well, the version of 'Cold Turkey' on Sometime In New York City is cool, too, but much too long and a bit more predictable, if you know what I mean).

The three rock'n'roll standards are also done decently, though. We all know that John was always a rocker at heart, and even if these renditions of 'Blue Suede Shoes', 'Money' and 'Dizzy Miss Lizzie' are done somewhat 'academically' and clumsily (for instance, the slow tempo of 'Shoes' really brings me down - it's as if they were afraid to go forward any faster), there's a certain fire within that keeps you from sleeping; and 'Money' has never sounded grittier - with an overload of grumbly distortion and a thump-thump-mastodontic pace. Plus, Eric really shines on 'Yer Blues' (he actually got to play that one with Lennon before, in the Stones' 'Rock'n'Roll Circus', so he might have been on more familiar ground here), chunking out an immaculate solo. What else would you want?

Well, I would personally want to get rid of the entire second part of the album. I mean, I have little against Yoko's 'Don't Worry Kyoko': it's short and it even (horror) rocks, again, mostly because Clapton salvages the song by his savage riffing; I can close my eyes on Yoko wailings because by the time that track comes round, I'm already kinda used to them. Just disregard the fact that the main riff is stolen directly from the Kinks' 'Mr Churchill Says' (anyway, Eric just didn't have much time to think of something original, now did he?), and everything will be all right.

BUT... the record ends in 'John John (Let's Hope For Peace)' that's every bit as shitty and dispensable as their previous experimental albums, and doesn't actually expand much on the ear-destructive 'rehearsals' of the track on Wedding Album. Come to think of it, 'ends in' is not a proper way to describe the song, since it's much too long to be an 'ending'. Er, come to think of it, 'song' is not a proper way to describe the dingus, since it's much too shitty to be a 'song'. Why, come to think of it, 'proper' is not the right term to be applied to this piece of hogwash ever! It's a ten-or-longer-minute Yoko raving that actually gets carried on from Wedding Album, but here she exercises her screaming over a mess of guitar and bass feedback and occasional drum fart noises. Not to mention that the 'piece' ends in one or two minutes of direct feedback emanating from Clapton's guitar which he left on the stage already after deserting it and probably just forgot to unplug (you can't convince me that a guy as nice as Eric meant to impale our ears on purpose!) Maybe they just needed to make the record a couple minutes longer. The funny thing is, people, and lots of 'em, actually were standing there and patiently waiting for the cacophony to end instead of, I dunno, hitting the stage with some rotten tomatoes.

So, once again, John Lennon sets the casual fan before a serious dilemma - this time around, there is some stuff worth worrying about, but the problem is whether... well, I think you see it for yourselves. Really, what am I saying? This stuff is for completists!

P.S. The video is somewhat more effective, with a shortened version of 'John John'. Still not really essential, but what the hell, buy it first, then proceed on to the CD if you're that desperate. See a more detailed review in the video section.



Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 14

The best in underproduced rock. Comes straight from the heart and gets straight to the point.

Best song: MOTHER

Track listing: 1) Mother; 2) Hold On; 3) I Found Out; 4) Working Class Hero; 5) Isolation; 6) Remember; 7) Love; 8) Well Well Well; 9) Look At Me; 10) God; 11) My Mummy's Dead.

Experimentation's over - after all, one more album like that Wedding one and John's reputation would be forever ruined. Instead, John is on the songwriting trail again, and being extremely sick and pissed off at everybody and everyone in the wake of the Beatles crumpling into dust, he blazes off this mighty bunch of angry, ferocious, and utterly simplistic tunes. And by 'simplistic' I don't mean 'stupid' or 'banal', I just mean 'underarranged'. You rarely get more than two or three instruments on one song - most often it's just John messing with his acoustic/electric guitar or piano. However, it isn't the equal to McCartney's debut, i.e. John didn't play everything himself: Klaus Voormann is present on base and Ringo on drums, which makes some of the tracks rock as hard as possible (in fact, sometimes Ringo bashes around just as wildly as, say, John Bonham, a thing unheard of in his Beatle days).

Probably the finest thing about this album, which is indeed always mentioned by just about any reviewer, is that it's incredibly sincere. You can just see good ol' John ripping up his chest, picking out some of his selected emotions and dressing them up in words and notes. Indeed, he'd never been that sincere in his Beatle days - maybe this time he really felt himself free of the group's dictate. So that's exactly what he says in 'God' - one of the greatest human rights declarations set to music, no doubt. It has little melody - just a simple (but nevertheless impressive) piano pattern, but the way he sings all these lyrics really brings tears to one's eyes: 'I don't believe in Beatles/I just believe in me/Yoko and me/And that's reality'. The people were sure disappointed, but now, in retrospect, it seems like the only right move John could have made at the moment - you know? Distance himself from the Beatles, start everything from scrap, get some creative freedom... why not?

Most of the other tracks are very much autobiographical, with John serving as his own shrink. And their 'un-arrangements' are indeed something special. 'Mother', for example, which begins with an ominous toll of the bell, is built entirely on Ringo's steady heavy drum beat - with John just putting a couple of neat piano touches now and then. But it's great - every note bites deep down in your heart! And it has that famous Primal Scream at the end ('Mama don't TUUUUUUUURRN! DAAAADDY COME HOME!') I don't know whether you'll like it or not, but it's at least special; rarely has any songwriter achieved so much with so little.

Angry punky ditties also include 'Well Well Well' with some of the funniest lyrics on the whole album as well as some more Primal Screaming which tears your ears to shreads (I remember being really horrified when I first heard John virtually destroying his throat - apparently, Janov really taught the guy something); then there's 'Remember' with the famous Guy Hawkes coda (it starts out as some kind of nostalgic throwback to the past, then goes out with a mighty BOOM as John suddenly transforms the lyrics into 'remember remember the Fifth of November'); the acoustic-only-but-sounding-punkier-than-all-the-punks-put-together 'Working Class Hero', John's bitter, but justified condemnation of the middle class in general; and 'I Found Out' with a particularly nasty vocal tone and booming drums that threaten to beat the very life out of you. Can you imagine it's Ringo on the drums? God how cool he sounds! If there's anything in the world to showcase his talents as a drummer as well as the general importance of drumming on a rock record, it's these few tracks on Lennon's debut.

The lyrics, of course, are often what matters the most - John had never even attempted to write such paranoid, stingy social critique when he was a Beatle. 'Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV/And you think you're so clever and classless and free/But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see' is quite representative of the record. The fact that it went high up in the charts either means that the world was still hot on the Beatles or that people simply preferred to close their eyes and ears on lines like those ones.

Of course, there's some gentler stuff, too: his naive and utterly charming psalm about love ('Love') is on here, for instance - once again, a rudimentary piano melody, but an utterly beautiful one. It seems that he's only holding one finger on the piano - and yet, it's simply impossible to resist the song's charm; Lennon's genius at work. The pretty anthem 'Hold On' is also quite optimistic, and it's kinda weird to see it rooted in between the desperate screams of 'Mother' and the poisonous 'fuck-you' of 'I Found Out'. Not to mention that it's even stranger to see the groovy, hold-on-to-your-life-and-don't-worry-much atmosphere of 'Hold On' be present on the same record with the utterly painful and depressing 'Isolation' ('We're afarid of everyone/Afraid of the sun/Isolation')! Even if John has always been unpredictable, the strangeness of these juxtapositions can only be compared to the utter incompatibility of the jolly 'Starting Over' and the depressing 'I'm Losing You' on Double Fantasy. Anyway, the only tracks I haven't yet mentioned are the deeply introspective love ballad 'Look At Me' which reminds one of 'Dear Prudence' (mainly because of the guitar melody) and the short album closer 'My Mummy's Dead' which is a re-worked version of 'Three Blind Mice' with some more lyrics about John's mother ('My mummy's dead/I can't get it through my head...'). Positioned at the very tail end of the record and produced as a retro-sounding, radio-squeaky snippet, it's like an obscure question mark that leaves you wondering and asking for a more self-assured conclusion. But you don't get any self-assured conclusion - the record poses quite a few questions, but it hardly answers any of them.

One can only wonder whether he kept these songs in his sleeve for more than ten years or made them on the spot? Sure they wouldn't let him put such personal stuff on a Beatles record - but had it been prepared beforehand? Or was he just so very happy when the band had broken up? Or maybe I should just shut up, because if I start posing these Lennon questions, I can run out of web space...

And another thing: this 'underarranged' album was produced by 'wall-of-sound' Phil Spector! Life's full of wonders...



Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 13

A fantastic sequel of personal revelations, rich, rewarding and sincere. But soft.

Best song: IMAGINE

Track listing: 1) Imagine; 2) Crippled Inside; 3) Jealous Guy; 4) It's So Hard; 5) I Don't Want To Be A Soldier; 6) Give Me Some Truth; 7) Oh My Love; 8) How Do You Sleep; 9) How; 10) Oh Yoko.

The second equally important Lennon album is usually considered inferior to Plastic Ono Band, and I'll have to guess why. So, my first guess is as follows: while the latter is still spoken of as an 'underproduced' wonder ('how can such a great effect be achieved with such minimum arrangements?'), the former is unquestionably much more complex in the musical sense. So what? Damn the arrangements, the songs on here are totally and unashamedly great! Well, with one annoying exception: the closing 'Oh Yoko' is the first in a series of darned Yokosongs. I just can't stand all these lyrics, like 'in the middle of the night I call your name... in the middle of a cloud I call your name... in the middle of a shave I call your name...' Me, I wouldn't call Yoko's name even if I were in the middle of a scaffold, but that's just me. I've always said it that if George Harrison sings about God as if He were a female, then John sings about his... err... 'female' as if she were God. Throw this song in a dumpster! Or, better still, think of another set of lyrics for it, cuz the melody sure sounds great. It's upbeat, punchy, minimalistic, whatever, and almost invites you to sing along, but I can't - I blush up to my ears if I ever try to sing along with 'Oh Yoko, my love will turn you on'.

Apart from that, you get your average classic in the title track. I've been thinking of some cunning ways to find a fault in this song so that I wouldn't have to mention it as the best song on the album and would look very smart, but all I could think about was saying that it's saccharine and openly commercial. And if I'd say so, I'd end up looking like a complete dork instead of looking smart. So I can't help it. Sorry, folks. This is the best song on the album, no matter what else you're gonna say about it. Anyway, if 'Love' was a great song, why not 'Imagine'? This is where Lennon finally manages to come up with his own 'Yesterday': funny it took him six years to outsmart McCartney for the most "overall-respectable" song of his career.

One thing's for sure, though: there's much more to this album than just 'Imagine'. There's a couple more gentle sincere sad ballads in 'Jealous Guy' (if it's John excusing himself before Yoko, then it's the first in a series of 'apologetics' songs culminating in 'Aisumasen'; however, this one's a much better song, if only because of the wonderful whistling) and the sentimental 'Oh My Love' whose piano melody isn't any less genial than the one used on 'Imagine'. It just so happened that it's a love song and not a universalist anthem. So what? Does it matter for a true music fan? Nope.

The sentimental side also strikes through on 'How', an unusually gentle philosophical song along the lines of 'Look At Me', that is, once again John is trying to 'take a decision' on which way to turn and is left wondering without an answer. Yet there is no pain - 'Look At Me' was clearly a song reflecting a tormented and depressed mind, while 'How' reflects a far more gentle and loving conscience that's almost ready to make peace with any situation, however grim or uncertain it might turn out to be. An interesting change of mood for John at the time.

A couple of retro numbers (the great guitar/piano shuffle of 'Crippled Inside', the hard rockin' guitar/mighty brass swing of 'It's So Hard') cook nicely, too. Some of 'em people like to despise 'It's So Hard', for reasons unknown. C'mon people! What can be cuter than the lyrics 'You gotta live, you gotta love, you gotta do something, you gotta shove. But it's so hard, it's really hard, sometimes I feel like going down.' I like that stuff! Moreover, I even like the overlong, Phil Spector-trumped 'I Don't Wanna Be A Soldier'. This is the only track which features a 'wall-of-sound' on the whole album (I'm beginning to think that it was really easy not to have Phil messing around with your music. You only had to come up to him and say: 'Phil! Just don't you mess around with my music'. And he wouldn't), but it's OK: John clearly wanted to have a really menacing song to himself, and it works: the echoey boomy drums, the threatening guitars that go in and out again, the waves of brass in the solo breaks, and John's scary lyrics also rushing like waves, all of this produces a really unique effect. I don't mind the repetitive lyrics, I don't mind the simplistic melody: I mind the atmosphere, the paranoid drums, the intense, strained punch of John's voice, the climactic brass breaks, it all thrills me to the extreme, and I fully identify with the song, much as everybody else hates it.

Angry foaming-at-the-mouth classics also include: 'Give Me Some Truth' with some of John's most politicized lyrics up-to-date and a frantic George Harrison lead break; and 'How Do You Sleep' with some of John's most anti-McCartneycized lyrics up-to-date... and a frantic George Harrison lead break. The lyrics hit Paul straight in the eye, so that he even had to hasten up with releasing his witty answer 'Dear Friend' on Wild Life. I don't know how exactly Paul slept before hearing that song, but it sure could disturb his sleep after its release! Good ol' John! That kind of treatment towards an old friend! Aaaarggh. The melody, though, is extremely hooky. Just listen to that riff that he plays during the refrain, you'll get my drift.

Overall, Imagine showed that Lennon was on a terribly high roll at the time, one by one spewing forth terrific melodies of prime Beatle quality (yes, you heard - that's prime Beatle quality on here, even if few of the songs would have been deemed suitable for a true Beatles album), and only something extremely exclusive and unnatural could get him off his feet. That "unnatural" factor, unfortunately, happened to be John's full-fledged involvement in politics and reinterpreting music as a social tool rather than an artistic element on his next album.



Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 10

A nasty political statement with a lot of Yoko Ono. You have to wade through A LOT of dreck...


Track listing: 1) Woman Is The Nigger Of The World; 2) Sisters O Sisters; 3) Attica State; 4) Born In A Prison; 5) New York City; 6) Sunday Bloody Sunday; 7) The Luck Of The Irish; 8) John Sinclair; 9) Angela; 10) We're All Water; 11) Cold Turkey; 12) Don't Worry Kyoko; 13) Well (Baby Please Don't Go); 14) Jamrag; 15) Scumbag.

Now this is really not the place to start with John. We all fall into childhood sometimes, and he, too, seemed to decide that he had enough of making good music and fell into the world of political battles and demonstrations. (I heard he even wore Mao Zedong badges at one period, but that's another story). Anyway, this album is nothing but a bunch of rather lame political protest songs with straightforward dumb lyrics. Even worse, about half of the songs are sung by Yoko - a crazy experiment which would unfortunately be repeated eight years later. And even more worse - and I know that's grammatically incorrect, but I can't say it any other way - even more worse, this is a double album, with the second one constituting the infamous 'Live Jam', parts of it being the same kind of friggin' 'experimental' live jams that are so abundant on John's early albums. In other words, keep your head down folks. Namely, there's a century-long version of Yoko's 'Don't Worry Kyoko' that's energetic but doesn't go anywhere in particular and even some collaborations with Zappa (God save Oz!) 'Scumbag' is the most atrocious of the lot, with John and Frank singing this obviously mystical word for about six minutes and asking their audiences to participate. If you happen to get this album on vinyl, just burn the second part of it on the spot. And don't even think about buying the double CD for a 'nice price'. I have a bootleg copy with most of the crap edited out, but I've heard the complete version, and looking at my bootleg copy makes me all the more happy. For the record: if you did buy the double CD, at least you might be consoled by the fact that the second disc has a passable, although overlong live version of 'Cold Turkey', as well as an old blues number with John in top form ('Well (Baby Please Don't Go)'). Even though the Lennon Anthology has a far superior studio version. On second thought, out of all the versions of 'Cold Turkey' I'm familiar with, this might just be the gloomiest and wildest, with Lennon throwing a series of virtual fits on stage that hasn't ever been surpassed. And the instrumental backing from the Elephants Memory Band is gritty and crashing. Okay, do not burn this album, but don't think too high of it, either. It's truly an unpleasant "nostalgic" return to the crazyass days of 1969.

Now, about the studio disc. Here is where the explanation of my relatively high rating (and yes, a rating of six is exceptionally high for such a record - any other reviewer would probably cut it in half) comes in. The funny thing is, after repeated listens the songs do grow on you, and if you bring yourself to not noticing any of the lyrics - a pretty hard job, as everything is being articulated pretty distinctively - some, if not most, of the studio recordings turn out to have pretty well constructed melodies and an overload of sincere and brimming energy.

First of all, there's the great feminist anthem 'Woman Is The Nigger Of The World' with Phil Spector finally stepping in on his own: zillions of rhythm tracks, booming drums, huge brass sections, and Lennon's soaring vocals atop of all that - the regular stuff. It is undoubtedly John's peak as the greatest anthem-writer of rock - the tune's driving power smashes you against the wall, and John's soulful and furious vocals are clearly heartfelt: yes, dumb as it may seem, but he really believed all the things he sang about, even more, at times he's almost able to convince me that 'woman is the slave of the slaves', much as I'm sceptical towards the feminist movement (don't get me wrong - I'm all for equality of sexes, but let's not get carried away, ladies and gentlemen). Hell, the lyrics might have been even more generic, who cares - I tip my heat to the song that screams POWER POWER POWER with its every note. Pure musical ecstasy.

None of the other tracks amount to such unscalable heights, but that's no big surprise. Instead, they're just good. There's the fast, rocking, upbeat and catchy 'New York City'; unfortunately, it ain't a Big Apple anthem, rather 'The Ballad Of John And Yoko Part 2'. Oh, never mind, it has lots of drive. There's the pretty country tune 'John Sinclair', dedicated to, well, John Sinclair and human rights protection in general (unfortunately, spoilt by the rather annoying refrain 'you gotta gotta gotta gotta gotta... gottan... gotta let him go').

Two of the songs are dedicated to Ireland's struggle for independence. The very fact that John had suddenly become aware of his Irish roots on the spur of the moment stinks of hypocrisy or, at least, of dumbness, and, as usual, Mr Lennon tends to exaggerate ('as the bastards commit genocide' is a way too harsh line in any case - why didn't he sing about Cambodia instead?), but 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' is still impressive, because it's a harsh Lennon protest song and that genre certainly couldn't fail. But I'm definitely not a fan of 'The Luck Of The Irish', and the middle part sung by Yoko makes me sick: what the hell did she know about Ireland to sing of the country's goods and wonders? Pretty stinky.

That leaves us with Yokosungs (ha! there's a good difference: 'Yokosongs' are songs about Yoko and 'Yokosungs' should be songs sung by Yoko. Ain't I clever?) Anyway, these I won't be discussing at all. Horrible generic crap marred by (if crap can be marred, of course) Yoko's horrible vocals. I feel somewhat ashamed to admit that most of them are quite catchy - it took me years to throw the pedestrian melodies of 'Sisters Oh Sisters' and 'We're All Water' out of my head. It irritates me even more that the unbelieeeevably dumbhead feminist anthem 'Sisters Oh Sisters' begins with Yoko saying something like 'hey there male chauvinist pig engineer'. I wonder what did she mean? Maybe he dared making a remark about her singing talents? Sigh. The only thought that the record ends with a seven-minute Yokoscreamfest ('We're All Water') makes me shiver and think about all the sickness this woman has brought into my personal life. And no I don't blame her for breaking up The Beatles; I only blame her for daring to sing on the same record with John. She'd had a solo recording career by that time (starting with Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band that came out in 1970 as a 'twin' to John's record); why they had to join forces for this one, not to mention repeating the experience later on, is way beyond me.

Anyway, despite the major and multiple flaws of the album, I still feel no problem about giving it a six because when we filter out the weeds, we are still left with a bunch of solid melodies, and melodies are always your backbone, whether you're indulging in progressive sci-fi fantasies or blurting out acoustic songs of anti-Vietnam protests. Also, 'Woman Is The Nigger Of The World' still sounds fresh and mighty to these ears, and any album with this song deserves a high score.



Year Of Release: 1986
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11

A moderate live album with a nasty sound. But it's the only good live Lennon you'll ever get.


Track listing: 1) New York City; 2) It's So Hard; 3) Woman Is The Nigger Of The World; 4) Well Well Well; 5) Instant Karma; 6) Mother; 7) Come Together; 8) Imagine; 9) Cold Turkey; 10) Hound Dog; 11) Give Peace A Chance.

Yoko released this together with Menlove Ave. in 1986 to satisfy some of the fans' needs for a live Lennon album. Flawed as it might be, this is the only qualified live product you'll ever find (the 1969 Live Peace In Toronto doesn't count: it was just a pale sloppy effort, comparable to the 'Apple Jam' on Sometime), because John didn't give that many public appearances as a solo artist and never even once went on tour, so every live document of his is kinda precious if only because of its rarity. This one features an edited version of one of Lennon and Yoko's two shows at Madison Square Garden in August 1972, right in the very middle of his sudden politically active period.

Frankly speaking, one could easily cut down and slaughter this release if one really felt a great urge to. Several complaints from your poor little reviewer to be made on the spot, here and now, sur-le-champ, as some of the Fifth Republic representatives would say. The sound quality is very mediocre; apparently, the performance was never intended to be released, and the sound engineers didn't bother too much about getting the mix right - I've heard live bootlegs with far, far better quality. Next, the crowd mars several songs with its stupid singalong: the most embarrassing moment is when the beer-drinkers start chanting 'Power To The People' when John breaks into 'New York City'. Next number two, Yoko mars several songs with her wailing: she tries to get as much attention as possible, although let's be fair - this time she is more restricted than on the Stones' Rock'n'Roll Circus or on the Toronto album. And finally, the track listing promises you 'Give Peace A Chance' which you don't get. What you get instead is just half a minute of the crowd chanting the lines to the song, even if they did actually sing the song at the concert with an ecstatic Stevie Wonder helping out on the harmonies, and as rumour has it, ventured out on the streets continuing to chant it. (A bit of that performance can be encountered on the Shaved Fish compilation, tacked on as a 'bonus' to the end of 'Happy Xmas'). Not that I miss the song particularly, but still I feel like being ripped-off, and it ain't a pleasant feeling.

Still, I've slowly grown to enjoy the actual performance. If you can get through the muddy sound, crowd noises, Yoko noises, and the famous feeling of "where's song so-and-so and what the hell is song so-and-so doing here", you might admit that the playing is really tight, the band members, including the brass section, are quite professional and all the instruments are in their places. Most importantly, the show is pretty hot and energetic - John was really meaning it, and the raw atmosphere is captivating even in the worst moments. Of course, John mostly relies on his recent solo hits, but since then most of them have become rightful classics, and overall I can't see no reason why you should be displeased on hearing a live version of 'Instant Karma', or 'Mother', or 'Woman Is The Nigger Of The World'. The live version of 'New York City' is so driving I could even call it superior to the studio original, were it not for the sound quality. The saxes totally rock, too. And as a cool surprise, at the end you get a reworked version of 'Come Together' (including messed up lyrics, of course - John could have made a better choice than to try and remember all the lines in this super-complex lyrical number), and even a 'Hound Dog'! Wow, what could be more desirable? Of course, I'll overlook the fact that the latter is incredibly sloppy, but I suppose Lennon could pull off a classic rock'n'roll piece with absolute brilliancy even on his deathbed; the raunchy vocal delivery overshadows all the missing components in the sound.

Hey, I just saw I wrote 'the saxes rock' a few lines above. That's an interesting pun right there; do you know that sax- is a Latin root meaning 'rock'? Eh? Actually, they do not always rock. They're quite all right on songs where they do belong, like 'Woman Is...' and 'It's So Hard', but imagine an 'Imagine' with the saxes. Eeek! It's even worse than strings. Lennon almost sounds like a lounge lizard on that one.

And there's 'Cold Turkey'. What the hell - yes, I'm not dreaming, It's yet another live version of 'Cold Turkey'! Hey, you may not possess even a single bootleg and oops! one day you wake up and find yourself owning three official live versions of 'Cold Turkey'. Doesn't it inspire you? Nah.

Probably one of the most attracting, if irritating at times, parts of the package is John's stage banter that sometimes goes as far as to become completely offensive - for instance, one of the numbers is announced as 'this is the first song I've done since I left the Rolling Stones'. It's fairly obvious John was still pissed off at his Beatles legacy at the time: 'Come Together' is the only Beatles number played on here, and it's quite telling that John takes a song off Abbey Road - the most 'solo-Beatlish' album of the band. 'We'll go back in the past', John says, and immediately adds: 'Just once'. And, of course, there's no escape from the preachiness from every corner: 'Mother', for instance, is announced as a song 'written about my parents, but it's actually about everybody's parents'. But bitterness aside, in brief the message of the concert is simple: peace and love, brothers (and sisters! don't you go forgetting the sisters! John even doesn't forget to change the line 'a brotherhood of men' to 'a brotherhood and sisterhood of men'. Clever. The problem is: has he ever thought about the possible meaning of the combination 'sisterhood of men'?)



Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11

A transitional effort. Still, lots of good ideas to be found here, along with some horrible STINYC leftovers.

Best song: MIND GAMES

Track listing: 1) Mind Games; 2) Tight As; 3) Aisumasen (I'm Sorry); 4) One Day (At A Time); 5) Bring On The Lucie (Freeda People); 6) Nutopian International Anthem; 7) Intuition; 8) Out The Blue; 9) Only People; 10) I Know (I Know); 11) You Are Here; 12) Meat City.

By 1973 John managed to somewhat cure himself of his political schizofrenia, concentrating more on his personal problems - the tensions between him and the American government had died down a bit, and he finally made the retro transition to normal activity without letting the current political situation overshadow the global message of his songs. Which is definitely a good thing for us the listeners who are not living in the Seventies and don't give a damn about John Sinclair - and don't even give a damn about Angela Davies, although hopefully listening to STINYC will at least induce somebody to browse through modern history and sociology textbooks.

Nevertheless, nothing ever passes without a trace, and there are still some washed-up remains of the old politically active stinker evident here. Thankfully, their number is limited to two tracks, and it's a good thing, because they're far worse than the ones on New York City. In particular, the main thing that unites the fake anthems 'Bring On The Lucie (Freeda People)' and 'Only People' is a totally phoney atmosphere. It's not that the melodies and lyrics are horrible: on the contrary, they're pretty catchy and sometimes even infectious. Yet somehow, John manages to have forgotten to provide them with the kind of thumping energy and 'universal sound' that was so prominent on the previous album. The anthems on NYC sucked if you actually tried to take them and their messages close to heart on an objective level, but they worked - John had a talent of making you believe in all his idealist fantasies and prophetic ambitions just by the sheer power of melody and bombastic, overwhelming arrangement. Here, the anthemssound as weak parodies. Weak parodies - nothing more! Have you heard 'Only People'? A song based on an idiotic, repetitive chorus obviously standing there in the role of computer programs pronouncing the meaningless phrases 'Only people know just how to talk to people... only people know just how to change the world... only people... only people...' while John keeps shouting out his 'hey hey' and 'come on now'. But who is he shouting at? It sounds as if he is shouting at this dumb chorus and all they can do in response is keep repeating the same pre-programmed lines. Listen to it, if just out of curiosity! It's a very weird song. I could write a whole article on it because it's very metaphorical to me. I bet John just thought it would work out as a people's rights anthem, but instead it works out like a parody on people's rights anthems. Bizarre. Practically the same goes for 'Bring On The Lucie' which is at least more energized, although that's not really saying much. Oh well, maybe he should have brought in a couple more saxophones.

Now the introspective stuff is really much much better. The title track is an absolute classic and it's one of John's best songs ever - an epic love hymn which really makes one think about one's place in the universe. And 'Intuition' is one forgotten gem - maybe because it's so quiet and short, with a nice lil' bass riff that just seems to be sayin' to ya: 'well I'm here, but don't you mind, I won't be really boring you, just thought you would like me to hang around for a while'. So welcome it and let the song grow on you - and maybe you'll feel about it just as I do. Indeed, these two songs are enough to buy the album - and you won't find 'Intuition' on any hit collection in existence!

The rest of the album is either generic ballads or generic rockers, and I have mixed feelings about them. About half of them are nice and about half of them are certainly low-quality for John. Well, 'You Are Here' and 'Aisumasen' are pretty nice Yokosongs (and I don't know who plays the guitar solo on 'Aisumasen', but it sure is the best moment of that one), but they're nothing spectacular. 'I Know (I Know)' is slightly better, 'cause it's also introspective, but 'One Day (At A Time)' (by the way, you don't mind my using parentheses all the time? I have an excuse - every third song on this album uses parentheses, and if John is a friend of parentheses, why shouldn't I be?) is a horrible song, mostly because of John adopting an ultra-sweet falsetto tune which doesn't suit him at all. Come to think of it, I now suppose that he really intended parts of this album to sound like a parody. A stupid parody at that. Just consider the lyrics: 'You are my wisdom, I am your strength... you are my honey, I am your bee...' Berk. [You are my ass, I am your hemorrhoids]. Elton John liked that song and did his own version (which is actually better), and it should have been his duty to convince John to leave it to him.

As for the rockers, one of them is quite OK ('Tight As', with blistering lead guitar parts), and the other one is named 'Meat City', features ununderstandable lyrics and sounds like a loathsoame heap of heavy metal bullshit loaded with uninspired sound effects; it's one of my least favourite John songs ever. It does rock, but the muddy production gives me a headache, and a far more painful headache than the usual wall-of-sound production of Spector ever could (maybe John should have kept Spector for this album, after all). And to think of the fact that it is used as the album closer!

So you already see, there's really a lot of dung here ("dung" according to John's own standards - in the hands of a minor band, this could have been a real chef-d'oeuvre). If you're not afraid of digging in, though, you'll be rewarded - the title track, 'Intuition', 'I Know (I Know)', 'Aisumasen', 'Tight As' and 'Out The Blue' (a nice ballad I've forgotten to mention) are really worth the price. But overall, Lennon's sound is obviously deteriorating a little - this is the obvious point at which the title of "coolest ex-Beatle", that was first awarded to Harrison and later clung on to John, finally was relegated to Paul. And there that title stayed right until December 1980, when it was finally understood that the coolest Beatle is the deadest. Par excellence.



Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 12

Another sincere and quite effective record. Shows how good it can be to stay away from Yoko...

Best song: DREAM #9

Track listing: 1) Going Down On Love; 2) Whatever Gets You Thru The Night; 3) Old Dirt Road; 4) Bless You; 5) What You Got; 6) Scared; 7) #9 Dream; 8) Surprise Surprise; 9) Steel And Glass; 10) Beef Jerky; 11) Nobody Loves You When You're Down And Out; 12) Ya Ya.

Better, definitely better. He starts to near the level of sincerity and "accessible introspection" so brilliantly achieved on his first two albums. However, there's also an obvious and crucial difference: the sincerity of Plastic Ono Band and Imagine was either an angry, pissed-off kind of sincerity or a quiet and peaceful, loving kind of sincerity. That is, songs like 'I Found Out' made you clench your fist and songs like 'Look At Me' or 'Jealous Guy' made you cry. The ones on Walls And Bridges mostly make you feel... somewhat "uncozy", I'd say. A disturbing album.

'Scared' is probably the song that best represents John's state at the moment: tired, pursued by the government of the States, separated from Yoko, secluded in L.A. and drunk to half-death. It's a great song from beginning to end - starting with a brass sound that resembles an elephant's trumpeting battle-cry and a wolf's moon-howl at once, and then it goes into a moody, 'bored', and bleeding tune which captures John's emotions perfectly. The desperate, devastating emotional charge of the song is impossible to resist. Same goes for the melancholy ballad 'Nobody Loves You When You're Down And Out' (not the old Jimmy Cox blues standard popularized by Clapton, but certainly with a hidden nod to it) which is John's pessimistic view of the world and a certain level of despair. If he's ever had one 'disillusioned' album, this is just it.

Indeed, this is one grandiose shift from the universalism and hey-now-peopleism of the previous two albums. It's obvious that by that time John had come to realize all of these things were just vain wastes of time, and there you have it - another total crisis. What about 'Steel And Glass', the punkishly strong, menacing, kind of ballad with venom streaking out of all the holes? 'Your phone don't ring, no one answers your call. How does it feel to be off the wall?' No such lines on POB! It's really weird shit! And a true classic for John, too; I can't seem to recall even a single performer who would be able to master such a huge, gushing series of "tension-ripping" mini-climaxes, one for each verse, within a single song. Simply put, when listened to properly, 'Steel And Glass' leaves you completely devastated. Out of breath.

OK, apart from these things, there are quite a few spirit-raising ditties on here, too, so calm down and don't despair. For one, 'Dream #9' is a lush psychedelic anthem which sounds as if John, indeed, lifted it directly from his sleep: these warm, 'sprinkling' tones, the echoey vocals really make the music feel coloured and magical. I still can't get it into my head how he managed to get that miraculous production - it sounds as if the music is coming from within your brains, not from an outside source, especially if you put it on really loud in headphones. Indeed, if an argument were to be made that John could easily polish his material to a high shine just as efficiently as McCartney, you wouldn't need to go further than 'Dream #9' - McCartney never even once approached that level of sonic brilliancy. Pity that John didn't venture any deeper in that direction, although, come to think of it, Walls And Bridges is an excellently produced album in its entirety.

The big hit on here was 'Whatever Gets You Thru The Night' - a fast, slightly disco-ified, jazzy number, but it's all right: the multiple layers of guitars, pianos and saxes give it a specific kind of sound. It's just a cool pop number, and quite deservingly, it hit it real well on the charts (with a goofy story about John and Elton John making bets - the latter bet Lennon it was going to be a hit and if it would, the two would play a gig together, which they did). Not that it gives the listener an accurate picture of the album: cheerful, upbeat and groovy, it hardly fits in with the general atmosphere, but at least it provides us with some relief from the incessant hammer-on of depression, compassion and declension.

On the softer side, 'Old Dirt Road' and 'Bless You' are good, tear-jerkin' Lennon ballads in their own right, and the opening 'Going Down On Love' is a rather complex multi-part composition which goes nowhere in particular but still ends up being memorable and involving. And not a single Yokosong! Well, it was the Lost Weekend, after all. This wouldn't last long, unfortunately, but while it's here, you might as well enjoy it... I even heard a couple of these songs might be dedicated to May Pang, his Chinese secretary. Definitely John had a real passion for Far East girls...

Stinkers? Yeah, sure, but not too much. 'What You Got' is an ineffective pre-punk number that people with more rockin' preferences might enjoy, but my personal taste sez DUMB; 'Beef Jerky' is a totally stupid and out-of-place instrumental groove; and the closing 'Ya Ya' is just John fiddling around on a piano with his son Julian. Silly but fortunately, short. Plus, the back cover is John sticking his tongue at ya, and I don't know whether you'll like it or not. I don't like the sight of his tongue. But at least it's not his ass, which, knowing John, I assume it might well have been instead.

In any case, whether you like this album or not is not so important - more important is the fact that Walls And Bridges finally sees John totally cured of all "political diseases" and returning to what he did best, which is describe his inner feelings and the changing of his nature so that other people might easily identify with himself. No more trite political declarations made on the spur of the moment - powerful as they were, most of them were dating quicker than any of Sweet's contemporary hit singles. Welcome, eternal topics and ever actual spiritual confessions. Huh?



Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 12

A jolly funny album of Fifties' covers. Pure Fifties - and pure Lennon!

Best song: STAND BY ME

Track listing: 1) Be-Bop-A-Lula; 2) Stand By Me; 3) Rip It Up/Ready Teddy; 4) You Can't Catch Me; 5) Ain't That A Shame; 6) Do You Want To Dance; 7) Sweet Little Sixteen; 8) Slippin' And Slidin'; 9) Peggy Sue; 10) Bring It On Home To Me/Peggy Sue; 11) Bony Moronie; 12) Ya Ya; 13) Just Because.

Look here! What does a pretty brilliant guy do when he feels as if he's totally running out of ideas? Well, of course, he takes some other guys' ideas and tries to assimilate them to his own! This is how I'd like to characterize John's state at the time of putting the final touches on this album (initiated some time before, as you'll find out in the comments below). He was still in the midst of his Lost Weekend with May Pang (if he hadn't dumped her by that time, of course), and feeling so drunk and miserable he was obviously having a pretty hard time trying to come up with something original. He did try to record a few original numbers (some of them can be found on side A of Menlove Ave.) but they all sounded rather mellow, and so he contented himself with the older stuff. But older or not, John really makes these songs his own, and it works!

It's not that John leaves much of the original works. Most of the numbers are seriously jazzified and overamplified, with heavy emphasis on brass and Spector's 'wall-of-sound', but that's alright by me and should be alright by anybody who's not a mindless purist; rock'n'roll does work all right in stripped down arrangements, but it also works - in a different way - in super-pompous arrangements. Plus, there's lots of cool guitar lines all around, and the vocals are also quite sumpthin': John's singing is excellent, and I can't help thinkin' that all the alcohol he was pouring down his throat at the time was only strengthening instead of annihilating it, as in so many other cases.

The great Raw Fun of the album becomes obvious from the very beginning - take the opening 'Be-Bop-A-Lula', for instance, on which John rips Gene Vincent's original to shreds! Not that I heard Gene Vincent's original, mind you, but I did hear some of Gene's originals, and if you heard one Gene Vincent song, you've basically heard them all. Forget that, anyway, since I don't wanna mess around with Gene Vincent fanatics. Okay, if you want it, this version may just as well suck in comparison to the original, depending on your personal tastes, but I dig it - the echoey guitars, the stuttering drumming that sometimes seems to be falling out of nowhere, the raspy vocals and the brilliant retro guitar solos really make this one thump and pump.

Meanwhile, a lot of formerly fast boppy numbers are slowed down - amazingly, for the most part it's done to good effect: Chuck Berry's 'You Can't Catch Me', the song that started the whole business with this album, is transformed into a lengthy, moody, nearly hypnotic jazz shuffle, and 'Sweet Little Sixteen' is practically unrecognizable with its huge funky brass onslaught and slow, rhythmic driving wah-wah. But the grooves are constructed very well, all based on megalithic repetitive riffs that help you go along with the business, and John sings at the top of his lungs, adding on a supplementary battery. But no, forget it, I won't even try to mention all the tracks on here - there's too many of them. Let's just have a short run through my personal favs. These include 'Slippin' And Slidin', driven by rollickin' piano a la Little Richard's original and cheerful bizarre saxes; the hard-rockin' 'Bony Moronie' with that unbelievable riffage; the acutely-pointed vocals on the medley 'Bring It On Home To Me/Send Me' (with the great intonation on the line 'don't you know I miss you so MUUUUCH? My - eek! - days - eek! - so lonely'; surely it betrays John's longings for Yoko?) and the best of all - the great ballad 'Stand By Me' which has obviously become a classic, seeing as it has been included in the Collection. It sounds like pure John, in fact (the real author's name escapes me now), and whoever it is dedicated to, be it Yoko, May Pang or any other chick, it does sound frighteningly emotional. The guitar solo punctuates it a lot, too.

Letdowns? Only one in the closing 'Just Because' which is too slow even for this album, and the production finally gets completely overboard. It's different from the rest in that it's neither energetic nor danceable - a dragging 'soul' groove, in which case its being repetitive simply cannot work to the song's advantage. A rather unpleasant end to a great bunch of tunes. Indeed, I dropped the record one point for that. (You mean I actually wanted to give it a 9? Hmm... well, actually no. Guess I just imagined I dropped this point. But it is indeed as good as Walls And Bridges, and it's certainly much more of a pleasant surprise).

So - right, ladies and gentlemen, this is a very entertaining listen. It's retro to the bone, keeping in mind the song selection, and yet it's pure Lennon, keeping in mind the way he adjusts this stuff to his own personality. Don't let the album cover fool you - he may be standing there in some Hamburg club being about twenty years old and all, but this isn't even close to the kind of stuff the Fab Four were playing in all these clubs. That was sloppy, muddy, fast and intoxicating; this is professional, crisp, slow and moody. And I really don't give a damn which of the two you prefer the most, but I place my two cents on this one. At least you never can tell what the next track will be sounding like!

And if you really liked this one, be sure to pick up Menlove Ave., too - it has some more outtakes from the same sessions, including a couple self-penned numbers that would have easily fit on here if not for the stupid authorship problem.



Year Of Release: 1980
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 13

A brilliant collection of peaceful introspective songs. You can almost feel him telling it to you person...

Best song: no, this time I really don't know. Not DEAR YOKO, but that's all I can suggest

Track listing: 1) (Just Like) Startin' Over; 2) Kiss Kiss Kiss; 3) Cleanup Time; 4) Give Me Something; 5) I'm Losing You; 6) I'm Moving On; 7) Beautiful Boy; 8) Watching The Wheels; 9) I'm Your Angel; 10) Woman; 11) Beautiful Boys; 12) Dear Yoko; 13) Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him; 14) Hard Times Are Over.

Almost five years passed since the 'return to roots', and things have changed a bit. John threw away his guitar and devoted himself to his family. And I really don't know what made him pick up that instrument once more, but one thing is for certain: the layoff period really did him good. Not that he managed to solve all of his difficulties - the bitterness of 'I'm Losing You' is still unmatched - but the overall mood of the album is still extremely peaceful, contented and loving if compared to almost any of his previous efforts (well, maybe Imagine comes a little close). Unfortunately, the reconciliation with Yoko also led to her playing an active part - in fact, she is credited as a full-time partner on here, throwing in half of the songs which she supposedly wrote herself. Out of this stuff, only the guitar-heavy 'I'm Moving On' can stand the test of time; lame fast New Waveish filler like 'Give Me Something', dated cabaret crap like 'Yes I'm Your Angel', trippy anti-war songs like 'Beautiful Boys', disco filler like 'Every Man Needs A Woman To Love Him',  and anthems a la 1972 ('Hard Times Are Over'), all adorned by her 'beautiful' singing voice and orgasm-imitating screams, just don't go anywhere at all. Millions of people have complained about this record structure over the years - and yeah, I know that had John been alive, his reply to all of these millions of people would have been something like 'I don't care what all these fuckin' peasants think!', but truth is, John is no longer alive, and in his absence history hasn't been kind to these Yokosungs, want it or not.

There is one good thing, though: bad as they might be, they only serve to make the seven Lennon tunes all the more beautiful. Indeed, they are so breath-taking that I didn't hesitate to give the record such a high rating. He does go for a rather light, pleasant, and probably commercial sound, but some of the tracks still rock out, and anyway, I don't think he made them sound commercial on intention. He was just in a peaceful mood and created some of the loveliest ballads on the planet. 'Dear Yoko' is the only track on here that somewhat approaches 'lightweight', with its disco synth riff; but it's groovy, danceable and inspired, and certainly better than the repetitive prayer of 'Oh Yoko' on Imagine. And the others? Wow, they rule without any compromise. '(Just Like) Starting Over' opens the record with a sound of ticking bells (on a toaster?) which certainly reflects his newly-found household freedom, and it's a beautiful romantic song carried along with a mighty bouncing riff. The melody is something special, too! You've never heard a melody that great and you'll probably never hear one like that again... 'Cleanup Time' is another ode to peaceful and quiet life, graced by some splendid vocal harmonies and guitarwork. 'I'm Losing You' is another masterpiece: a tearing riff introduces the most angry and bitter song on here. I wonder if that was an outtake from the Walls And Bridges sessions? Complaining about losing Yoko at that time sounded rather dated, I confess. So I really feel puzzled about that song, but listening to it still makes me cry: it's one of the most convincing attempts at picturing the emotions one feels when he's losing somebody dear. The lyrics are clever, the singing is top-knotch, and the instrumental passage manages to increase the tension to a redhot level. And John also holds the side closer: 'Beautiful Boy', an ode to his son Sean, is certainly the most gentle and loving song ever written by a father about his son. Plus, it includes the greatest line of all time: 'When you cross the street, take my hand/Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans'. Somehow people often omit the fact that John was a great poet - not just a great composer.

On side B, John continues his marathon with 'Watching The Wheels', slightly less intense musicwise but containing some sincere lyrics in which he explains the reasons he quit music for such a long time; states his love for Yoko in the absolutely gorgeous ballad 'Woman' (this is where his genius shows itself in its most bright form: somehow he manages to transform a potentially banal and routine pop song into a heavenly chant bringing tears to one's eyes); and ends up with the already mentioned 'Dear Yoko'. Unfortunately, the album ends in two Yokosungs, but my advice is just skip them. They're not worth it. Oh, okay, they may be worth listening, but having to listen to all that mediocre stuff alongside John's gems was always a huge bore to me. Especially before the CD age, when I recycled these songs in my Walkman and didn't dare to push the 'fast forward' button so as not to waste my batteries...

But enough about me. If you don't own this album (or at least the John Lennon Collection which has most of these songs), you basically know nothing about John Lennon. Fate has it that he was shot less than a month after its release - and note: not a month earlier or half a year later, but exactly when it came out! Fate? The punishing hand of some deity? Ah, who knows what... forget it again. I'm not going to speculate on the situation. I'll only say this: each time I hear this album it makes me wanna cry. Each time. I'd never even think about bringing it for some party or something, it's so dang personal to me, and the songs are all so tear jerkin'. Yes, even if it's so jolly and peaceful... hell, because it's so jolly and peaceful. Maybe if he'd been shot by some FBI crook after Sometime In New York City, it wouldn't have turned out so sad...



Year Of Release: 1984
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 10

Some good outtakes and some more dated Yoko crap.


Track listing: 1) I'm Steppin' Out; 2) Sleepless Night; 3) I Don't Wanna Face It; 4) Don't Be Scared; 5) Nobody Told Me; 6) O'Sanity; 7) Borrowed Time; 8) Your Hands; 9) (Forgive Me) My Little Flower Princess; 10) Let Me Count The Ways; 11) Grow Old With Me; 12) You're The One.

And thus commences the lengthy story of Yoko Ono publishing archive Lennon material. The lengthy story reached its culmination in 1998, of course, with the release of the 4 CD Anthology, but I'd bet you anything Mrs Ono Lennon still has lots of this stuff under her pillow - after all, she's not supposed to die right after spending all the Anthology royalties, ain't she? Be sure to expect Anthology-II in a couple of years! (Special Disclaiming Note: I don't have anything deeply personal against Yoko Ono, but nobody in the world will ever be able to convince me that she is not doing all that archive work for money. Or, at least, for putting John's name into the camera spotlight, which is more or less the same. On the other hand, this doesn't mean that all of these outtakes should have stayed under her pillow. Basically, she has no choice to stay unmarked. What a terrible fate).

This album isn't supposed to look like an 'archive document', by the way. It's rather supposed to look like Double Fantasy Vol. 2: the songs were mostly worked on by John in 1980, and once again, half of the songs are Yokosungs. And once again, I have mixed feelings - I think that there are some nice melodic ideas in her numbers, scattered all over the place, but they're hardly anything more than just scattered nice melodic ideas. 'Sleepless Night' and 'Don't Be Scared' are kinda cute, little poppy ditties with traces of New Wave; 'O'Sanity' is a short silly throwaway piece, like 'Give Me Something'; 'Your Hands', despite singing in Japanese, has a totally stinking pompous overblown arrangement, 'Let Me Count The Ways' is Yoko trying to write a John-style ballad by sitting down at the piano and playing something like 'Imagine' (sic!), and 'You're The One' is a generic synth-pop piece of trash.

As for John's contributions, they seem significantly weaker than the ones on Fantasy, but I still think it's mostly because of their underarranged condition and low production value. Any proof? I have heard lots of DF outtakes and demos that sounded like stupid clumsy crap; who'd ever have guessed they would turn into brilliant songs in their finished form? Certainly not me. The songs on Milk And Honey, on the other hand, do have that same feeling about them - simple chord sequences, sincere and emotional lyrics, and an overall 'genuine' look to them. Which is even more sad, since it clearly shows John wasn't yet at the end of his rope when the fatal shot rang. Repeated listenings certainly bring out the best in these songs, and prove that in a somewhat more polished version, they could have easily stood up against the colossal power of the DF numbers.

'I'm Stepping Out' is a nice boogie which probably uses a metaphor to showcase John's return to the public eye, and even if it sounds slightly disco, I don't mind, because it's full of guitars and pretty things like that. Actually, it's not as much disco as New Wave - funny how John had mastered that 'shakey' rhythmic pulsation introduced by the Talking Heads and the like. 'I Don't Wanna Face It' is good, too, continuing the subject of 'Watching The Wheels' and emphasizing the message with adorable vocal harmonies; 'Borrowed Time' and 'Grow Old With Me' are fairly pretty little pop ditties, and the latter could even become a great personal lovin' anthem, like 'Woman', but the murky sound eliminates that possibility. Perhaps the only little weak spot is 'My Little Flower Princess', an insecure, undeveloped ballad that doesn't go anywhere in particular. But even there, I can still feel the inspiration...

But in general - these are good songs! You just have to dig into them, or, better still, lie down on your back, face the sky, count the larks and try to imagine the way John could have released them on an album if he were left alive. Personally, I can envisage some mighty fine arrangements...

Anyway, who knows what direction rock music could have taken if John were still alive? Would he be engulfed in the craziness of Eighties/Nineties electronic pop, or would he, on the other hand, pioneer some new development? Who of John's pals were putting out such terrific music in 1980? Paul with his unlistenable synth experimentations? George - with his preachy dance music? Maybe the Stones with their disco craze? Or the dying out Who? Nah. Nobody.

One has to admit it, Double Fantasy/Milk And Honey (well, at least the 'potential' Milk And Honey) were the last truly timeless classics by any rock 'dinosaur'. Much as I hate the word, I still have to admit it. I enjoy most of the Stones' 1980s-1990-s records, but gimme 'I'm Losing You' and 'Woman' over Bridges To Babylon and Voodoo Lounge any time of day. When I listen to these songs, all I hear is a musical genius at peace with himself and the world, who doesn't even have to struggle in order to write music. That's the deal with John: unlike all the others, he'd actually 'accelerated' his mid-life crisis (then again, let us not forget that John was born in 1940 - he was one of the oldest 'dinosaurs' around), and spent that entire period in seclusion, without even trying to make music. And he stepped into the Eighties a free and unpretentious person, interested in whatever was happening around only as long as it helped his creative process, not out of fear of 'losing it' or being 'out of time'. That's why all these songs sound so fresh and totally unforced - and without the tiniest streak of obsoleteness.



Year Of Release: 1986
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 9

More obscure outtakes. Some hidden gems, but most of these songs you know already.


Track listing: 1) Here We Go Again; 2) Rock And Roll People; 3) Angel Baby; 4) Since My Baby Left Me; 5) To Know Her Is To Love Her; 6) Steel And Glass; 7) Scared; 8) Old Dirt Road; 9) Nobody Loves You When You're Down And Out; 10) Bless You.

Another cash-in - this time released the same year as Live In New York City (Yoko must have been buying a new house or a couple Boeings?) What it contains is mainly outtakes from around 1974-75. Side A is all dedicated to outtakes from the Rock'n'Roll and earlier sessions, most of which you probably haven't heard before unless you're a bootlegger, while side B has some Walls And Bridges outtakes from songs you already know by heart if you ever sat through that one. You'll probably end up mostly just listening to Side A anyway.

In total, the album gives us five new songs and five old outtakes. Not a great deal, but still, something to get interested in. It's also interesting how the two sides contrast with each other: the first five tracks sound like finished songs, most of them with Phil Spector's 'wall-of-sound' added, while the latter five tracks all sound raw and rarely have anything significant besides Lennon's guitar and some drums or pianos. Or whistles. Oh yes, and he's singing on all of them, too. I should have mentioned that - you never know what to expect of a bunch of outtakes, now do you?

Out of the five new tracks, I really like 'Here We Go Again', with the masterfully produced 'circular' rhythm and gradual mounting of tension - it's one of those obscure, but masterful epics that really justifies the procedure of digging into the deep and unknown with a real purpose and a real reward, instead of just digging deep for the sake of digging deep. I have to wonder why the song wasn't included on Walls And Bridges: its deep, meaningful lyrics and sharply articulated message would thoroughly fit in with that material. Maybe some day somebody will have the bright idea to include it on that album as a bonus track.

Another definite highlight is 'Angel Baby', a beautiful ballad featuring one of the most bombastic arrangements ever heard on a Lennon song. The hundred-ton weight of the main brass riff overwhelms the listener almost at once, but the song's most obvious hook is John's absolutely gorgeous vocal delivery, culminating in that delicious falsetto 'Oooh, I love you' to end all falsettos. This one, I guess, could have fit in on Sometime In New York City had John been able to bother himself with diluting the record's rigid political liquor with this relaxing stuff.

The other three songs are significantly weaker. Elvis' 'My Baby Left Me' is treated as a singalong slow choir number and was quite justly expelled from the original Rock'n'Roll record (again, I kinda favour that brass riff, but the Yoko-led - if it's really Yoko-led - backing vocals sound totally ridiculous and corny); Spector's own 'To Know Her Is To Love You' is just sooooo slow, bombastic and mastodontic that even John was probably afraid of the final result - it's as if they tied one end of the original to the Statue of Liberty and stretched the other end to attach it to the Tower Bridge, then recorded the results; and finally, John's own 'Rock And Roll People' is a good, but somewhat clumsy piece of boogie-woogie which you really don't need. Okay, so if you want it, you can have it. But it seems to me that the song never actually lives up to the bold 'two, three, four!' countdown in the beginning. The lead guitarist, whoever he is, plays some really nifty licks, but they're more or less wasted, and I really understand why this song was left off any records as well.

As for Side B, it just isn't worth discussing all that much: all the outtakes are significantly inferior to the finished product, even if they sometimes feature different lyrics (the 'gross' verses on 'Steel And Glass', for example), and they don't interest even me - so they certainly won't interest you. Of course, if you're one of 'em guys who keeps complaining about Phil Spector butchering 'The Long And Winding Road' with his strings and Eric Clapton massacring the acoustic beauty of 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' with his ridiculously stiff and generic electric solo, and raving about how the Beatles' Anthology II was a great return to form for the boys in 1996, you might find pleasure in listening to this raw 'not overproduced' material as well, but truth is, it's all probably just a question of who heard what first. I heard Walls And Bridges first, and Menlove Ave. last. I find this to be a reasonable chronologic order, so in perspective, the record gets what it got. Without perspective, now that's a different matter. Without perspective, I wouldn't want to be a reviewer anyway. Hey, that's what I'm here for - to try and get things in some kind of friggin' perspective. So don't you hold me up!

Okay, so sure they're all excellent songs, these ones, which is why I don't rate the album that low, but we had 'em before, and as a result, the second side will only be of interest to Lennon historians. Which makes up for one of the most frustratingly "disproportionate" albums ever released - too bad you can't cut it in two halves and market separately. Oh come on, surely Yoko could have released something more worthwhile? Oh silly me, that's just a typical commercial strategy, how stupid of me not to have noticed that.



Year Of Release: 1998
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 12

A surprisingly effective collection of outtakes and other stuff.

Best song: GOD SAVE OZ

Track listing: 1) I'm Losing You; 2) Working Class Hero; 3) God; 4) How Do You Sleep; 5) Imagine (take 1); 6) Baby Please Don't Go; 7) Oh My Love; 8) God Save Oz; 9) I Found Out; 10) Woman Is The Nigger Of The World; 11) A Kiss Is Just A Kiss; 12) Be-Bop-A-Lula; 13) Rip It Up/Ready Teddy; 14) What You Got; 15) Nobody Loves You When You're Down And Out; 16) I Don't Wanna Face It; 17) Real Love; 18) Only You; 19) Grow Old With Me; 20) Sean's "In The Sky"; 21) Serve Yourself.

Well now lookey here! Yoko can be financial and clever all at once! I originally wrote that Lennon Anthology off as soon as I heard about it. Which is no surprise: after all these half-lame outtake collections, four CDs of new material sounded fairly suspicious. And indeed, I'm not sure if the whole box set will appeal to anybody but the most hardcore John fanatics (so I have it, right, but I'm not a fanatic - I'm a completist. That's a completely different subdivision of schizophrenia). But on here, the songs mostly work. There are some embarrassments, sure enough (like a fairly muddy and unpleasant take on 'I Found Out' - they sure could have picked out something more convincing), but they're really minor embarrassments. On the other hand, we get presented with a couple of wonderful demo versions which are even better than the finished songs, and this is more than I can say about, for instance, the Beatles' Anthology. The short acoustic demo of 'What You Got', for example, suggests that the song could have developed into something more pleasant than the clumsy pre-punk sound on Walls And Bridges. And the versions of 'Be Bop A Lula' and 'Rip It Up/Ready Teddy' are generic, fire-breathing rockabilly at its best - without all the horns and multiple overdubs that constituted the atmosphere of Rock'n'Roll. A solid alternative to the originally released numbers, even if not necessarily superior (I kinda miss the horns in 'Rip It Up' sometimes, yeah, I'm apparently that cheese-based guy next door, but don't sue me, I do think Phil Spector is one of the few producers who really knows how not to misuse the horn section).

Earlier outtakes are just plain fun. Notice, for instance, how in 'God' he doesn't insert that famous 'dead end' after screaming the line 'I don't believe in Beatles!' and just goes on screaming in the same key: 'I just believe in me! Yoko and me! And that's reality!' You can actually see his working process that way, because, for sure, the final result was much more intriguing. And how about an organ-based version of 'Imagine'? Later outtakes are curious: 'I'm Losing You' with loud distorted guitars? Even though I far prefer the original version, this is at least novel. Groovy! There's also a version of 'Real Love', yet untampered with colleague Beatles' efforts and Jeff Lynne's boomy production (although I think it was previously available on some official compilation, but I'm not sure whether it was exactly the same version). There's a great live version of 'Woman Is The Nigger Of The World' which doesn't exactly co-incide with the one on Live In NYC (if I understand correctly, this one's from the second show, or vice versa). Oh God, why couldn't all of John's misguided political rantings be at least half as convincing as that particular anthem? My, my...

And, finally, there's a really sweaty take on 'Baby Please Don't Go' which we originally only had in a live version (marred by Yoko's screeches, too). It's really amazing how John could take one of the dumbest blues numbers in existence - possessing a grand total of two or three different lyrical lines - and grace it with such a bitter emotional edge. Which, once again, proves the theory that blues is only worth what the actual performer puts in it rather than on its own. Well, it turns out that even if the entire song just repeats 'you know I love you baby please don't go, you know I need you baby please don't go' for ages, in the hands and vocal cords of such an ace performer as John this can reach a climactic effect.Yeah, there's indeed a lot of stuff you shouldn't hesitate to waste your money on.

And, there are some new songs here! 'God Save Oz' probably dates from his 'political' fase, but it's so much better and funnier than most of the stuff on STINYC that it really makes me wonder... 'Only You' is a so-so ballad and not even a John original (wasn't it first tried by the Platters?), which is further proved by the fact that John ended up giving it to Ringo - hear a glammified version of that one on Mr Starkey's Goodnight Vienna. But 'Serve Yourself' is a really strange piece. It claims to be a parody on Dylan's 'Gotta Serve Somebody', and so it seems - in the beginning. Later on, however, it begins to degenerate into a furious, frenzied solo acoustic rocker with horribly obscene lyrics, obviously improvised. It looks like John was terribly pissed off at something, and it could hardly have been just Dylan. In fact, I even feel uncomfortable about listening to this flow of obscenity directed at no-one in particular, and I admire Yoko's spirit in that she decided to throw this on to the general public. Listening to this song, you really become aware of John's dangerous potential. Oh, well. There's a hooligan deep inside everybody, I guess.

The only serious disaster on this selection is tracks from Milk And Honey that have been obviously touched up after John's demise (again?). The orchestral arrangements on 'Grow Old With Me', for example, are in very odd contrast with the song itself which still sounds like a patchy, muddy demo. Lame. Also, I'm not terribly moved at these short spoken links inserted now and then, like 'A kiss is just a kiss' or John telling his son a story about how he fell down from the sky in a cardboard box. I guess it actually works better on the "diary-like" box set, but here it sounds somewhat out of place. But, like I said, these are only minor misses. Any true fan of Lennon will certainly get a lot of enjoyment out of this selection. And to think these songs and outtakes have been hidden from us for years! But I guess I'm too hard on Yoko, blaming her for stuff she's released and for stuff she hadn't released. Maybe I should just shut up.



Year Of Release: 1998
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11

They didn't have anything left better than this? Okay, okay, so this stuff has its use too.

Best song: well, he does say "when in doubt, fuck it", and I'm very much in doubt here.

Track listing: CD I: 1) Working Class Hero; 2) God; 3) I Found Out; 4) Hold On; 5) Isolation; 6) Love; 7) Mother; 8) Remember; 9) Imagine (take 1); 10) "Fortunately"; 11) Baby Please Don't Go; 12) Oh My Love; 13) Jealous Guy; 14) Maggie Mae; 15) How Do You Sleep; 16) God Save Oz; 17) Do The Oz; 18) I Don't Want To Be A Soldier; 19) Give Peace A Chance; 20) Look At Me; 21) Long Lost John;

CD II: 1) New York City; 2) Attica State; 3) Imagine; 4) Bring On The Lucie; 5) Woman Is The Nigger Of The World; 6) Geraldo Rivera - One To One Concert; 7) Woman Is The Nigger Of The World (live); 8) It's So Hard; 9) Come Together; 10) Happy Xmas; 11) Luck Of The Irish; 12) John Sinclair; 13) The David Frost Show; 14) Mind Games (I Promise); 15) Mind Games (Make Love Not War); 16) One Day At A Time; 17) I Know; 18) I'm The Greatest; 19) Goodnight Vienna; 20) Jerry Lewis Telethon; 21) "A Kiss Is Just A Kiss"; 22) Real Love; 23) You Are Here;

CD III: 1) What You Got; 2) Nobody Loves You When You're Down And Out; 3) Whatever Gets You Through The Night (home); 4) Whatever Gets You Through The Night (studio); 5) Yesterday (parody); 6) Be Bop A Lula; 7) Rip It Up/Ready Teddy; 8) Scared; 9) Steel And Glass; 10) Surprise Surprise (Sweet Bird Of Paradox); 11) Bless You; 12) Going Down On Love; 13) Move Over Ms L; 14) Ain't She Sweet; 15) Slippin' And Slidin'; 16) Peggy Sue; 17) Bring It On Home To Me/Send Me Some Lovin'; 18) Phil And John 1; 19) Phil And John 2; 20) Phil And John 3; 21) "When In Doubt, Fuck It"; 22) Be My Baby; 23) Stranger's Room; 24) Old Dirt Road;

CD IV: 1) I'm Losing You; 2) Sean's "Little Help"; 3) Serve Yourself; 4) My Life; 5) Nobody Told Me; 6) Life Begins At 40; 7) I Don't Wanna Face It; 8) Woman; 9) Dear Yoko; 10) Watching The Wheels; 11) I'm Stepping Out; 12) Borrowed Time; 13) The Rishi Kesh Song; 14) Sean's "Loud"; 15) Beautiful Boy; 16) Mr Hyde's Gone (Don't Be Afraid); 17) Only You; 18) Grow Old With Me; 19) Dear John; 20) The Great Wok; 21) Mucho Mungo; 22) Satire 1; 23) Satire 2; 24) Satire 3; 25) Sean's "In The Sky"; 26) It's Real.

Obviously, this 4-CD mammoth could not have been released anytime before the water had already been well tested with The Beatles' Anthology, the last volume of which was released just two years before this box. This is a serious argument in favour of it merely serving as a way of procuring more cash for Mrs Ono Lennon; another argument is that bootleg recordings of most of this stuff had been circulating around the world for years, ever since Yoko gave the permission to air the "lost Lennon tapes" on the radio, and there was still no revenue!...

Okay, I'm gonna drop the pedestrian Yoko-bashing for a bit and get serious. Reading the liner notes leaves little doubt about how personal these "unfinished tapes" have always been to Yoko, not to mention subtly put her in a fair light for everybody (like, for instance, the story about how she was begging John to take part in Harrison's Bangla Desh concert and he was categorically refusing). And in any case, the box itself is fairly substantial, although technically, I would certainly vote to include the first part of Menlove Ave. on here and delete that bastard record from the catalog.

As it is, the "new" material on the Anthology can basically be counted on the fingers of your two hands - out of the ninety-four tracks, only an absolute minority present any "melodic ideas" you haven't heard previously. The rest are either preliminary demos, sometimes differing from the final versions of the songs but always hinting at the final results at the least; rough mixes and alternate takes, in most cases inferior to the originals; occasional live tracks from the 1972 period, which was pretty much the only period when John occasionally performed live; and bits and snippets of dialog, studio banter, and suchlike. In short, not too different from the Beatles' Anthologies, only less interesting because it's just John.

On the other hand - also more interesting because it's just John. The four CDs, arranged more or less chronologically, do give you a pretty intimate picture of the man; and given that John Lennon is, after all, one of the most unique persons in XXth century music, it's worth taking this "deeper" look at him. Wonsaponatime, reviewed above, doesn't really give a full perspective; it is way too condensed and, in fact, does look a bit like Menlove Ave. Vol. 2 from a certain point of view. By the way, I'm not taking off my older review of that album - it may be rendered useless with the acquisition of the complete set, but the two things really do serve different purposes, want it or not.

Like I said, the four discs are arranged chronologically, each one corresponding to one of the four main periods in John's solo career. The first one is subtitled "Ascot" (the name of the Lennons' mansion where they lived in the early Seventies - the white Victorian one you've probably all seen in the immortal 'Imagine' video) and covers the years 1970 and 1971; predictably, the bulk of the material are alternate versions of tracks from POB and Imagine. In addition to the observations I put down in the previous review, it's fun to learn that 'Hold On' actually began life as a bouncy music-hallish pop-rocker before taking on the "ethereal" character of POB (and I say the final version is definitely less clumsy); that 'Mother' was originally recorded with an acoustic guitar and some guy on the electric guitar adding occasional flourishes; that 'I Don't Want To Be A Soldier' can be found here without the echoey Spectorish production if that thing ever bothered you; and that 'Remember', with just a teensy chord change, can become a peppy music-hall send-up as well. There's also a fifty-second version of John strumming 'Maggie Mae' (which makes it longer than the Let It Be version, come to think of it), and the only Yoko-wail-enhanced track on the album (thank God!), a half-psychedelic, half-avantgarde jam called 'Do The Oz' (rather novel in comparison with the much more structured 'God Save Oz').

The second disc, 'New York City', plunges us straight into the turmoil of John's political struggle in 1972. There's a whole bunch of live performances here, including three tracks from the second Madison Garden Show (not that they sound much different from the previously released first one - except that at the end of one verse of 'Woman Is The Nigger Of The World', John forgets the lyrics and honestly admits, in the same fiery bombastic tone, 'this one I can never remember but you get the message anyway! oh woman is the nigger of the world... etc.'), two from an acoustic-only performance at the Apollo ('Attica State' and 'Imagine'; the latter sounds pathetically feeble when played on an acoustic guitar instead of a piano, don't you think?), and two more from an Ann Arbor performance in 1971 ('Luck Of The Irish' and 'John Sinclair' - aarrgh, they could have at least done 'Sunday Blooday Sunday' instead). In between and afterwards, there's plenty of outtakes from the Mind Games sessions, including a particularly decent version of 'One Day At A Time' without the obnoxious falsetto. And hey, as a special treat, you get two songs John wrote for Ringo - 'I'm The Greatest' and 'Goodnight Vienna' - with John himself on vocals! Priceless.

Disc three is 'The Lost Weekend' - despair, paranoia, and booze. This one, I think, is the least interesting of the four, particularly because we get to hear those Walls And Bridges tunes again - for the third time since the album proper and the alternate takes on Menlove Ave. Gee, it's been a long time since I last heard 'Bless You' or 'Steel And Glass'. On the positive side, there's more of those Rock'n'Roll sessions with the horns taken out, so you get to hear 'Slippin' And Slidin' with the boogie piano mixed upfront and suchlike (as well as John's take on Spector's 'Be My Baby' - which he seems to be performing in a drunken haze, as far as I can tell). And the real gems here are actually those bits of crazy drunken banter with Phil Spector at the end - especially the third one. 'What are they gonna do, go play jazz with Jethro Tull?' 'Elton John is my good buddy. - Yeah, he's got the same name as you, only you put it in front and he puts it in the back'. 'Elton's gonna die young, I'll be a ninety-year old guru...'. And so on.

Oh! At the end of the third disc, you get an outtake called 'Stranger's Room' - which, after just a little while, can be understood as the "rough beginning" to 'I'm Losing You'. Almost looks like John's composing that one on the spot. It's little surprises like these which really make the experience valuable.

Finally, the fourth CD, entitled 'Dakota', is John's homemade 1979 recordings and outtakes and demos from the 1980 sessions. 'Serve Yourself' I already discussed before, but there's more: the three 'Satires' at the end are hilarious parodies on Dylan, apparently recorded by John at the same time as 'Serve Yourself' when he was bitterly pissed off at the old guy for embracing religion. Maybe John does have a bit of a hard time when trying to imitate Dylan's accent, but the lyrics are priceless - 'mama take this make-up off of me, it's bad enough on the beach, but it's worse in the sea' (remember Bobby was in his "glammy" period at the time?). And 'Satire 2', apparently, is just John reciting a bunch of political news chronicle as if it were one of Bob's "talking blues", with an occasional 'wow man, sounds like a ballad to me' or 'oh, this will get me in the village bar' thrown in. Priceless again! Who needs the actual songs? Oh - oh - there's also a venomous parody on good old George Harrison, in the form of 'The Rishi Kesh Song' ('all you need to do is to say the little word, I know it sounds absurd but it's true... the magic's in the Mantra!'). You sure don't fool around with Mr J.

Well. Anyway. The final verdict is - same impact as the Anthologies, but maybe just a little bit sharper because it's just a little bit more intimate as an experience. It's probably safe to assume that no other lost gems will ever be discovered in the Lennon archives, or, at least, there won't be a lot of 'em, so historical importance is all we've got here. Do not blow your cash on this unless you really want this intimacy with John, but the box definitely has got its uses anyway.



Year Of Release: 1989

A good place to start with your Lennon. This one replaces the out-of-print Shaved Fish which had the advantage of including 'Mother' and 'Woman Is The Nigger Of The World'. This one has neither, yet it does include much of the significant stuff, like 'Mind Games', 'Love', 'Dream #9', 'Whatever Gets You Thru The Night', 'Imagine' and 'Stand By Me'. Plus, it has all but one of the Lennon originals on Double Fantasy ('Cleanup Time' has been probably omitted, since it was not unjustly feared that fans would skip the original Double Fantasy in that case. No offense, Mrs Ono Lennon) - great fun. Next, there are some significant singles which you should never live without: 'Give Peace A Chance', 'Cold Turkey' (a bitter 1969 anti-drug ditty with some effective Primal Screaming; by the way, funny enough, it is still credited to Lennon/McCartney, even if the only thing McCartney had to do with it was placing his veto on it appearing on a Beatles album), the magnificent cosmic rocker 'Instant Karma', the famous anthem 'Power To The People' (one of the few Lennon peace anthems that actually works) and the spirit-raising 'Happy Xmas (War Is Over)'. Lastly, the collection boasts an obscure B-side - 'Move Over Ms L' is another Rock'n'Roll outtake. It doesn't go anywhere much in particular, although it's at least better than 'Rock And Roll People', but it makes the collection a must for completists. When will those record companies be run by honest and generous people?



Year Of Release: 1990

The video of the famous Toronto 'Live Peace' concert. There's also an album with the whole concert, which I reviewed above - I actually got the album after the video, so pardon my being a little repetitive. The band is nice, with Klaus Voormann on base, Clapton on lead guitar, and future Yes drummer Alan White, but the material is unrehearsed and sloppy. They do perform a couple of driving numbers (especially 'Yer Blues' and 'Money', re-capturing some of the old live Beatles magic), but overall this is rather dull, and the final 'experimental' groove with Yoko is simply nasty. Strange enough, the best moments on the video are some energetic performances by old rock'n'rollers at the beginning of the festival, most notably Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard (and you can find these performances on videos of their own). So really, no need to engage.



Year Of Release: 1992

Probably meant as a visual companion to the CD of the same name, this one features lots of musical videos, set to John songs. The only live number is a final run-through of 'Imagine' at some kind of party which I'm still not able to identify; the band that backs up John is clad in two-side masks, probably denoting society's ambiguity (?). All the other clips are quite nice, even though there just wasn't enough footage to make them all entirely different: towards the end, you can find footage you've already seen once or even twice. Highlights include:  a very psycho 'Mind Games' with John going on the streets dressed as a scarecrow, footage of the recording of 'Stand By Me' and 'Slippin' And Slidin'' (okay, so these are probably live in the studio, too), and 'Whatever Gets You Thru The Night' set to some animated Lennon drawings. Letdowns include an overlong 'Give Peace A Chance', although it's really the song that's overlong, not the clip, a murky 'Cold Turkey' and the general monotonous atmosphere. Recommended only for huge fans, but for huge fans heavily recommended.


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