“The level of his pain was enormous…He was almost completely nonfunctional. He couldn’t leave the house, he could hardly leave his room…. This was someone the whole world adored, and it didn’t change a thing. At the center of all that fame and wealth and adulation was just a lonely little kid.” – Arthur Janney, on John Lennon’s psychological state
“Left out in the open, without protective harmonies or racket, Lennon’s singing takes on an expressive specificity that anyone in search of the century’s great vocal performances would be foolish to overlook.” – Robert Christgau
I cannot even express how much I loved this album. I had not even considered listening to John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band this early in the project until I heard one of the tracks a couple weeks ago. I try to tune in to Beats1 on Monday nights for Elton John’s Rocket Hour. A couple weeks ago, he played the track “Mother” and talked about his association with John Lennon. It was interesting and I would encourage you to find that show and have a listen. So, going into the listen, I expected to at least like some of the music because I really enjoyed “Mother.” The truth is that as the album progressed, I enjoyed it more and more.
This is the debut album for John Lennon, released in 1970. It is ranked fairly high on the Rolling Stone list, at number 23. He began recording this album in July 1970, the Beatles broke up in April of the same year. This album follows months of therapy and tracks filled with emotion. The tracks reference the child-parent relationships and psychological suffering.
John Lennon wrote a majority of the music on this album. As I was listening, there were a couple things that stood out for me. One, was the track “God.” In this track, he lists a whole bunch of things he does not believe in – really renouncing external saviours, including “I don’t believe in Beatles/I just believe in me/Yoko and me/And that’s reality.” I kept skimming backward to listen to sections of this track to make sure I heard it all correctly. Talk about wow. I also think that one reason this track was so powerful to me was the use of the piano. Come on, piano is always going to speak to me. (I also LOVED the piano on “Love.”)
The dream is over/What can I say?/The dream is over/Yesterday/I was the dream weaver/But now I’m reborn/I was the Walrus/But now I’m John/And so dear friends/You have to carry on/The dream is over
The other thing that stood out to me was the one track that had some explicit words. I remember saying out loud, “Well, that was unexpected.” For me, it was quite shocking to hear this not only from John Lennon but to hear it in an album from 1970. These days, you do not have to search very hard to find an album that has explicit content but I always thought that the frequency of this has just increased over the past 20 years. So, to hear this in an album that was released 45 years ago was a bit shocking to my system.
I think it is significant to recognize that at the same time John Lennon was recording this album, Yoko Ono was recording an experimental album of her own: Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band. Both albums used the same musicians and were released on the same day, with nearly identical artwork.
This album was powerful to me partly because of the simplicity and that the lyrics were so important. This is an album that was created, it seems, for catharsis. It helps provide some perspective on John Lennon, at least the John Lennon of 1970. It is well worth a listen….or ten.
- John Lennon: vocals, guitars, keyboards
- Ringo Starr: drums
- Klaus Voormann: bass
- Phil Spector: piano on “Love”
- Billy Preston: piano on “God”
- Yoko Ono: “Wind”
- Mal Evans: “Tea and sympathy”