Album no. 183/1001
The first album we’ve heard from a solo Beatle – and of course it’s from everyone’s favourite John Lennon.
This is the album he released just before he imagined everybody living life in peace, and it’s a pretty significant departure. Old mate Johnno’s angry, sad and upset – and he shows it.
Just before writing songs for the album, he underwent ‘primal therapy’ – which just sounds like a really fun way to relive everything bad that’s happened to you during your childhood. He took a lot of these emotions and channeled them into the songs. So if you’re after an uplifting, cheerful collection of songs, this isn’t the album for you.
This was also produced by everyone’s favourite producer/alleged killer, Phil Spector!
Have you listened to this album before?
CL: For the record, John Lennon isn’t my favourite Beatle. So no, I haven’t heard this.
NK: I have not. My one fact is that Douglas Adams called this the greatest album ever recorded. Lots to live up to.
CL: Jeez. ‘Mother’ is a rough way to open an album. It’s a great song, but it’s hard to listen to – old mate screams his guts up like he’s trying to expel a demon, and to be fair he probably was.
“Mama don’t go. Daddy come home.”
It’s hard to hear that over and over and over without feeling hopelessly sad for Mr Lennon.
NK: This is pretty hard going if you listen to the lyrics. It’s very stripped back compared to the Beatles, and it’s a lot more personal. ‘Mother’ is hard going.
CL: ‘Working Class Hero’ sounds A LOT like Bob Dylan’s ‘Master of War’. It could just be because they have a pretty simple acoustic guitar, a snarling male vocal and grim subject matter. OR it could just be me. ‘Love’ is just wonderful though. That’s probably a standout for me. In fact, I don’t really understand why ‘Imagine’ gets all the credit all the time when he wrote this cracker.
NK: I wasn’t that into ‘Love’. I quite liked ‘Isolation’ though. Also ‘Well Well Well’ has some really interesting production, with one overdriven guitar matching the vocal melody, it’s quite a weird and striking effect. It goes for too long, but it’s pretty interesting. ‘Look At Me’ really reminded me of ‘Julia’ off the White Album. It’s interesting hearing some stuff sound a lot like the Beatles and some not sounding like them at all. ‘My Mummy’s Dead’ is also a really interesting track, extremely lo-fi and bleak, polar opposite to what the Beatles are known for. It sounds more like Guided by Voices or The Eels or somebody.
When would be the best time to listen to this?
CL: It has a terribly sad thread running throughout, so be warned. Some of the songs are catchy, but overall it’s a pretty depressing listen.
NK: Yeah it’s pretty raw emotionally, though not in the standard breakup album way. It’s an interesting listen, especially coming off Abbey Road and Let it Be.
Why has this album been included on the list?
CL: Much like our mate Skip Spence, this is raw and uncensored emotion on full display for the world to hear. In that sense, it’s John Lennon at his most vulnerable – and he’s clearly trying to shed the Beatles association and step out on his own.
NK: I agree with that. Also musically it’s pretty minimal, especially after the crazy production the Beatles had been doing. One thing that really struck me was the lack of pop hooks, or catchy melodies. I wonder if that was what McCartney brought to the Beatles or if John deliberately wanted this one to have more of a dour feel. I suspect it’s more the latter, but I will be interested to hear his next album as well as the solo stuff from the other Beatles.
Will you be listening again?
CL: I think I probably will. With care. Listen with care is the takeaway here.
NK: That’s a strong maybe from me. It was more interesting than it was enjoyable. It might grow on me with further listens (might) but I don’t know if I’ll be giving it that chance.
Listen to John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band on Spotify or buy it in iTunes.