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John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970)
Producer: John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Phil Spector
I Found Out
Working Class Hero
Well Well Well
Look at Me
My Mummy's Dead
Released in 1970, this is the debut solo album by John Lennon. There's very little else I can add when it comes to discussing this man's career. Of course, the famous story goes that John Lennon is one half of what was possibly the greatest song-writing partnership in the history of popular music. Teamed with Paul McCartney, he reached the dizzy heights of fame with The Beatles in the 1960s.
In 1970 The Beatles split, John was in love with Yoko 'Love her or hate her' Ono and the rest is history. The resulting album from all this insecurity is an intensely personal set of songs, something which would have certainly never been allowed to appear on a Beatles record.
From the introductory toiling bells, to the expressionless drumming from Ringo Starr, Mother makes it apparent that John Lennon will be pulling no punches, neither here nor anywhere else on the record. Seemingly about Lennon facing his inner demons and confronting the fact that both his parents had abandoned him, be it voluntarily (his father) or through death (his mother), it is a deeply private affair.
Hold On is lovely, continuing with the record's uncomplicated arrangements. "Hold on Yoko, Yoko hold on... it's gonna be alright," is the sound of Lennon comforting his wife, bidding her to have faith in him and convincing her that they too can face up to their ordeals. Admittedly, it's hard to keep a straight face when John imitates the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street in the middle of the song but few could reject Hold On's genuine appeal.
Very much bitter and a workout for Lennon's disappointment with this world's pretences, I Found Out speaks for itself, as Lennon imparts the unenviable knowledge he has located through a trial and error lifestyle, "I seen through junkies, I been through it all, I seen religion from Jesus to Paul!" Bluesy and possessing a raw, earthy charm, it is a lesson in minimalist perfection. The unsophisticated, distorted funk makes a return later on during Well Well Well and makes for another winner in my book. Lennon screams his heart out all the way to the devastating finale, where the song all but cowers beneath his presence.
The album, like the man himself, has its flaws. Working Class Hero is tiresome on the best of days, with a droll circulation of only the most basic of guitar chords. John Lennon may be politically aware and discuss the trials of the working class everyman, but nevertheless, he simply will not win me over with this sluggish addition to the album. Likewise, Isolation is a chore to sit through. Neither emotionally rich nor musically convincing, it simply shuffles in an undistinguished manner to the end of its running time. Yes, it is unfortunate that the middle-section of this record is mostly without merit.
Thankfully, things don't just pick up, but rather go into overdrive with the aching plea of Love. Just how does the man wring out so much pain into those few piano chords? I honestly can say, hand on my heart, that I've scarcely heard such a touching and yet stripped back cycle of piano chords. The song defines love itself, as Lennon tries his best to accommodate for the greatest of all emotions - unreserved love. "Love is touch, touch is love. Love is reaching, reaching love. Love is asking to be loved," and so on, ad infinitum. Sounds basic, and I guess from a technical point of view it is, but very few recordings can wreck as much havoc with your heart as Love manages.
Almost as important as Lennon's earlier musings on the world of love is his patriarchal views on religion, as seen on penultimate track God, which describes God as 'a concept by which we measure pain'. Lennon has a seemingly endless selection of expressive piano chords at his disposal, as he practically breaks through your ribcage and grasps your beating heart in his palms. The song, in effect, closes one chapter of his life and opens another, as documented by the lyrics, "I was the walrus but now I'm John and so dear friends you just have to carry on. The dream is over."
Poetic, don't you think?
You cannot deny the quality of song-writing throughout this recording. This is made evident by the fact that the majority of songs from this debut album are not overproduced and are even best described as simple. And yet, the strength of the song writing carries these songs all the way through - indeed, the best songs found on this record feature the fundamental marriage of Lennon's fractured vocals and his affecting piano chords. True, the middle-section of the album carries some baggage, but you'd struggle to find many albums which do not.
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I suppose when you leave a band as big as The Beatles, you might want to change direction slightly and doe something a bit different. I'm sure not many people anticipated The Plastic Ono Band at the time, as it is so raw and powerful. Not only this, its very personal and emotional, for instance 'Mother' and 'My Mummy's Dead' where John sings about the loss of his mother at an early age.
Isolation and I Found Out are also very emotional songs,lyrically and musically though they are still Beatle-ish. Working Class Hero too, is a song that packs a decent puch as well.
My favourite track on the album is 'Well Well Well', because it is so stark and raw.
A great album to get into, but not 'easy listening' or anything like Pepper or flower-pop. Plastic Ono Band is an excellent album, but not quite what you may expect.
John brings his feelings to the fore in this musically simple but lyrically wonderful exposition of his views and feelings on topics as varied as God, his mother, his love, his politics and his own insecurity, after the Beatles. The songs on this album bring out some painful and honest (and in some cases ironic) thoughts from John, in words and music that simply are perfect at times. This album is about being alone and invokes in the songs memories from his early days as a boy, through school, through the Beatles to the present day. The album opens with ‘Mother’, a track that has an opening like you might expect from Black Sabbath not Lennon, with the sound of a church bell hauntingly introducing a track of supreme honesty and obvious pain. John grew up with his Aunty Mimi (Mary Smith), who was given John by his mother to bring up from the age of 5, his father being away at sea a lot and his mother Julia, being somewhat of a free spirit. John’s mother was killed in a car accident in 1958 and this memory haunted him for many years and he uses this song to say goodbye to her and act as a warning to others who find themselves in his situation. John closes the track with a repeated and increasingly desperate chant (and strangely becoming more childlike) many believe based on the ‘primal scream therapy’ he and Yoko became involved in years after this mother’s death. ‘Hold on’ has John deliver a tune of optimism, encouraging everyone from him, Yoko to the entire world to ‘hold on’ because ‘your gonna see the light’. The song is made particularly interesting by the use of a lovely tremolo guitar melody, which accompanies John’s vocal performance…almost oriental sounding in its style. ‘I found out’ is an altogether darker rock song (in the style of Cold Turkey). Here John shows how his beliefs and experience have all been questioned based on his e
xperience and that he has now found the truth. Again returning to the theme of his parents (“they didn’t want me so they made me a star”), but also rejecting the Maharishi experience and religion (“I have been through it all, from Jesus to Paul”) as such referring to the Beatles and possibly his remark from many years before that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. The classic ‘Working Class Hero’ follows, showing his pain at being different and alone. This song brings out his fear of being different “they tortured and scared you for 20 odd years, and then they expect you to pick a career” and the brainwashing he feels is the norm to get on in life “there is room at the top they are telling you still, but first you must learn how to smile when you kill”. This song sounds like John is reacting to the people he has met in his rise to stardom and how he remains in tune with this roots. ‘Isolation’ could easily have been the title track of this album as it is no doubt its recurring theme. A slow, moody song like the opening track, which expresses his feelings of being alone, and misunderstood. In ‘Remember’ Lennon recalls his past again, but this time putting the past behind him and encouraging the listener to think of ‘Today and don’t feel sorry about the way it has gone’. A rocking song with a splendid, humorous ending that is obvious yet comes with little warning or expectation…go and try listen, I am not spoiling the fun! John moves into one of the best love songs he has ever penned, appropriately entitles ‘Love’. This beautiful song, strummed on guitar with piano accompaniment, explores what love is to each of us and what it means to each other and our lives. Think of a loved one and listen to this song and I defy you not to cry. ‘Well Well Well’ is a driving rock song (aga
in very Cold Turkey style) with distorted and fuzz guitar giving a prominent melody to the song. The song sounds like it was inspired by effect of drugs has on a person with the middle and closing chorus demonstrate the anger John must have been feeling around this time. ‘Look at me’ is a song where John questions himself and what or who he is. Put simply he sings he is ‘Nobody knows but me’ ‘God’ epitomises John’s rejection of the past and positions himself on a new course for his life where his activities revolve not around the Beatles but just John. This song is telling the world to move on with him. His comparison to God suggests again the comments about the Beatles and God from the past, but this time he cushions them with his views of other false Gods. The final few lines of the song bring together several references to the Beatles, which state quite simply a message John is trying throughout this album to get across: The Dream is over What can I say? The dream is over Yesterday I was the dreamweaver But now I ’m reborn I was the Walrus But now I am John The closing song is a sad simple song called ‘My mummy’s dead’. A poignant short song, which simply defines his pain and acknowledges his inability to show it. Later versions of the album had 2 further tracks on, but not my copy! In short (or long), one of the best Lennon albums ever, if you really want to know about Lennon. A masterpiece.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Mother (2000 Digital Remaster)
2 Hold On (2000 Digital Remaster)
3 I Found Out (2000 Digital Remaster)
4 Working Class Hero (2000 Digital Remaster)
5 Isolation (2000 Digital Remaster)
6 Remember (2000 Digital Remaster)
7 Love (2000 Digital Remaster)
8 Well Well Well (2000 Digital Remaster)
9 Look At Me (2000 Digital Remaster)
10 God (2000 Digital Remaster)
11 My Mummy's Dead (2000 Digital Remaster)
12 Power To The People (Remix)
13 Do The Oz (Remix)