Tag Archives: John Lennon

John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band* • Sometime in New York City [album]

“Boy, he sure does cover a lot of Beatles-related stuff in this blog.” – Yes, I Do

JOHN & YOKO got together in the late ’60s when they were still John Lennon, one of The Beatles, and Yoko Ono, fairly obscure avant garde artist. The kindred spirits not only made love together, but art and music, too. At the time they made 1972’s Sometime in New York City with their Plastic Ono Band the music and other aural delicacies they’d created were quite often looked upon as liberal rubbish. Sometime, though, was the first time they put out a record of actual songs and music under both of their names – so they were really laying it out on the line. Of course Lennon didn’t have a lot to lose; he was, after all, still considered a Beatle. Yoko, as we all know, willingly lured Lennon into a life of aural degradation (ahem) and broke-up her husband’s band, so she also had little to worry about as she was already the lowest of the low! Forty-five years ago today he and his wife committed this double album to wax (and 8-track tape) and let the dice fall where they may.

To call Sometime in New York City a political album would be putting it mildly. Nine of the ten songs that make up record one (the second is comprised of live cuts) are political in one way or another, whether it’s “John Sinclair” or “Angela” (about Sinclair and Davis, both who had been jailed [separately] for very minor offenses), or the main, lead off track, “Woman Is the Nigger of the World.” The fact that Lennon & Ono chose it as the album’s only single shows that they must have been ready to tackle all comers and (naturally, considering the title) go to lengths to defend its title and what it was actually about. And, not surprisingly given its name, the single pretty much tanked. (Released on 45 in the US, it made it only to number 57.) Not a bad song at all, “Woman…” catalogs some of the many crappy ways women are treated (“we make her paint her face and dance…/We insult her every day on TV and wonder why she has no guts or confidence”) and is one of Lennon’s most fully realized political messages. You might argue that its title is over the top, and by today’s standards it’s definitely politically incorrect, but you can’t argue that the song’s point isn’t clear. Other songs on the LP tackle “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “The Luck of the Irish” (both concerning then current events in Ireland), “Attica State” (about a prison riot and how the authorities poorly handled it) and a few other topics. Only “New York City” lets up on the polemics, coming at the end of side one and a nice 12-bar blues breather before getting back to business on the other side of the record.

As noted above, Sometime features both John and Yoko songs, and indeed, Ms. Ono sings lead on half of the studio tracks. This may be the one time before 1980’s Double Fantasy that Yoko’s singing isn’t difficult listening. In fact, her songs here are as pop as she ever got, even considering “Kiss Kiss Kiss” or 1981’s “Walking on Thin Ice.” Seriously, if you think all she was capable of was caterwauling you’re wrong. I’m not saying that her vocalizing isn’t an acquired taste to most of us, just that if ever there was an argument against the standard that ain’t singing, that’s noise line, this album is it.

Hampered somewhat by its mixes, the Lennon and Phil Spector-produced studio part of the album is a fairly murky presentation of John & Yoko’s latest. The second record, internally called Live Jam, sounds much better. It was recorded in concert in London, 1969 and at NYC’s Fillmore East in ’71 on a bill with Frank Zappa & The Mothers (that set resulting in The Mothers’ acclaimed Fillmore East – June 1971). A few of the songs here are of Lennon & Co. and Zappa & Co. together jamming (as we used to call it) on some blues and other concoctions.** In 2005 Yoko Ono oversaw a remix of the studio cuts and most of the live tracks for a single CD reissue, ending up with a much clearer, more palatable mix of the album. (She had all of Lennon’s albums remixed in that decade and they’re worth checking out if you don’t find the exercise completely sacrilegious.) While its not necessarily how Lennon would have wanted us to hear it, this version of Sometime in New York City does give new life to his and his wife’s early Seventies co-billed creation.

3/5 (Apple SVBB 3392 [2LP, 1972]; Capitol CDP 0946 3 40976 2 8 [CD, 2005])

* Full original credit: John and Yoko/Plastic Ono Band with Elephants Memory and Invisible Strings [sic].  ** Frank reissued these cuts in a more Zappa-centric mix on an early 1990s compilation called Playground Psychotics.

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John Lennon • Rock ’N’ Roll [album] vs. Paul McCartney • СНОВА Б СССР [album]

lennon-rocknroll_400pxOr Battle of The Beatles Heavyweights! Right about now in 1975, former Beatle JOHN LENNON released an album of Rock ’N’ Roll oldies – and it was to be his last for over five years. At the time the critics weren’t exactly singing the praises of it or their hero’s seeming lack of new songs. In fact, they were fairly forthright about it. It doesn’t really matter anymore, though, as today Rock ’N’ Roll stands as the man’s unique tribute to the music that inspired him, eventually to form his own band and then change the face of popular music forever.

PAUL McCARTNEY, on the other hand, was then on a roll with his band Wings. By 1987, though, Lennon’s esteemed Beatles bandmate was having a rough time of it. The hits had slowed considerably and, in an attempt to recharge his psyche, Macca revisited his rockin’ roots and did a covers album of his own, Choba Б CCCP. It was initially only available in Russia (hence the title: Back in the USSR). The record was imported and bootlegged heavily, and after McCartney issued a few of the songs as B-sides to a 1987 single, “Once Upon a Long Ago” (not released in the US), he eventually relented and released an extended version of the album on CD for all the world to hear.

mccartney-chobabcccp_400pxLennon and McCartney, though once united in rhyme in The Beatles, chose different songs for their respective tributes. They both relied heavily on the big names of ’50s rock: Fats Domino (“Ain’t That a Shame” was the only song covered by both, with McCartney also doing Fats’ “I’m Gonna Be a Wheel Someday” and “I’m in Love Again”), Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke, Buddy Holly and Little Richard. The albums were recorded over ten years apart, with different bands and under different circumstances (by ’87 Lennon had been dead for seven years, which must have weighed heavily on McCartney’s mind as he went about making his record). So pitting the two records against each other isn’t really a fair fight. But since I’m the referee in this ring, I’ve chosen to go for it anyway and render my decision. No punching below the belt, no name calling, gentlemen, let’s have a fair fight and may the best man win!

lennon-mccartney-hamburg_400pxLennon’s LP, Rock ’N’ Roll, is a very thick-sounding record. Replete with not only guitar and keyboards but a horn section, its production – by Lennon and “Wall Of Sound” originator Phil Spector – is multi-layered and at times suffers from too-much-happening-all-at-once. Yet the arrangements are quite spectacular, sometimes unique (the slow reggaefied rhythm of “You Can’t Catch Me,” for instance), and delivered with commitment. When John sings “Stand by Me” you can feel the song’s import on his life. The album’s been reissued many times. I highly recommend the 2010 vinyl, remastered from 24/96 digital files (purportedly taken directly from the analog master) but very detailed and with no noticable digital ick. For a different take on the material, find the 2005 CD – it was remixed at the time and de-clutters some of the arrangements to give you a different, maybe even better idea of just what was going on at Record Plant East Studios (“everybody here says ‘hi’”) all those years ago.

As for Choba Б CCCP, McCartney’s take on some of his favorite rock ’n’ roll classics, it’s also a winner. (I know, I know: There are no ties allowed. Wait for it.) Sparse compared to Lennon’s, these arrangements pretty much stick to your standard guitar/piano/bass/drums variety, making for a more immediate feel. Yes, the snare’s a bit overbearing (this was the mid ’80s, after all) and the guitar sometimes has a slightly over-processed tone, but this album sounds no more “Eighties” than Lennon’s does “Seventies.” McCartney, too, sounds like he means it when he’s singing Bo Diddley’s “Crackin’ Up” or Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock,” a song fabled in Beatles lore as the one he impressed Lennon with in 1957 or so when the two boys met and cemented their connection to each other forever. Though McCartney’s covers album was second in release (and really, Ringo Starr did an album of covers in 1970! – not a rock ’n’ roll outing), it’s hard to say which one is first in terms of greatness. But because there are no ties in pugilism – and because America loves a winner – I gotta go with Lennon. By a hair. Yes, those who know me know that McCartney is my man, but Lennon ain’t no slouch either. “But Marsh,” you might say, “McCartney’s put out a lot of crap as a solo artist.” And I would reply with, “Had Lennon kept releasing records for another thirty plus years, he might have put out a similar number of stinkers himself.” Besides: YOU WON. Let it be.

4.5/5 (Lennon, Parlophone/Apple); 4/5 (McCartney, Capitol)

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John Lennon • Shaved Fish

shavedfish_AAdding this to your Lennon collection may not be a must but it’s pretty close. Since its original release in 1975, there have been a number of compilations of the man’s solo work, including some very nice single and double albums such as The John Lennon Collection and Lennon Legend. Shaved Fish, though, was the first – and the only one overseen by the man himself. It’s a slim volume. Just eleven songs made the cut, but what an eleven! There were non-LP singles such as “Instant Karma!,” “Power to the People” and “Cold Turkey,” there were edited album versions of songs that were also hit singles (“Mother” and “Woman Is the Nigger of the World”), and straight up hits like “Mind Games” and “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night.” And then there were the truncated “Give Peace a Chance” and “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” in versions that were unique to Shaved Fish. The artwork was unique, too: each song had its own illustration to show you what it was about.

shavedfish_BLast year Shaved Fish was reissued in a 180-gram pressing complete with the original artwork and inner sleeve (which included the lyrics on one side and a Japanese flag on the other), pressed for worldwide release in Europe (mine says it was pressed in France). It’s basically the same as the original, all the way down to the Apple labels on the record itself. I’m not sure what source the reissue was cut from, but it’s a very good sounding pressing, whether it’s from the original analog master tapes (doubtful) or from 24-bit/96kHz digital files (highly likely). Neither analog or digital is necessarily better – it’s all about making whatever source that’s being used sound its best. Naturally, us analog geeks want to believe that analog is always going to sound better, but that’s just not always the case.

If you want this particular collection in your collection, then, this reissue is a great way to get a great-sounding copy of Shaved Fish for a relatively great price. An original ’75 issue in pristine shape will set you back a whole lot more.
4/5 (Apple/Universal)

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John Lennon • Lennon Signature Box Set [8 LPs]

Well, well, well. A few months ago they finally released the John Lennon Signature box set on vinyl. I finally got a copy when a couple of stars aligned in my own universe: I got a good paying job again and the price went down enough to make it doable. Comprising all eight of Lennon’s studio albums, the 9-record set (one album is two records) puts almost everything John ever recorded as a solo artist in the studio together in one place. There lennon_vinylboxare some singles missing, though. “Instant Karma!,” “Cold Turkey” and “Give Peace a Chance” weren’t on any of his albums until the best of compilation Shaved Fish (see a forthcoming review), so for those you’ll need to go back to your record library and dig out that or one of the many other collections (Lennon Legend, The John Lennon Collection) that they showed up on. (The CD version of this box set actually had a disc with these songs and some stray B-sides on it; they didn’t reproduce that here. And no, I don’t know why.)

What you do get is: John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, Imagine, Some Time in New York City, Mind Games, Walls and Bridges, Rock and Roll, Double Fantasy and Milk and Honey. All are mastered from the digital 24-bit/96kHz digital files they used for the 2010 CD box, which, after The Beatles In Mono vinyl box of last year, seems like a bit of a let rock_roll_sleevedown – at least on paper. Those were all mastered in analog from the original analog master tapes. But put any of these albums on your turntable and you’ll find the blokes at Abbey Road did a helluva careful job making sure things sounded great. Aside from one colossal boo boo, this box set is amazing. Here’s the big oopsie: Rock and Roll has one song on there twice and another missing completely. This kind of thing can happen when you’re mastering from digital – the wrong song title gets linked to the wrong digital file in the workstation – so it’s not exactly unlikely, though you’d think they would have caught that in quality control. Have no fear, Lennonites. If you got the box set and yours is one with the bad disc, you can get a replacement. (Click here for details.) So don’t let that stop you from picking this up if you want all of Lennon’s studio stuff on wax.

Aside from Live Peace in Toronto and Shaved Fish, all of Lennon’s non-posthumous solo output is here and it’s a great addition to your Beatles vault. Having these eight albums together in a nice, simple but elegant box set is, ummm, just like starting over.
4.5/5 (Universal/Calderstone)

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