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Cream of The Crate: Album # 198 – John Lennon: Plastic Ono Band

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cream of the crate: album # 198 – john lennon: plastic ono band

cream of the crate: album # 198 – john lennon: plastic ono band

 

  This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.

 

"The reality of Plastic Ono Band is that it contains eleven of Lennon’s most accessible and gorgeous melodies and riffs." - (Gerry Mullholand - BBC review 2010) .. .. .. "An album that will be as much analysed as Sgt. Pepper over the years." - (Billboard - 1971) .. .. .. "It remains one of the most audacious, iconoclastic albums in all of rock and roll." - (Guitar World 2016) .. .. .. "The album certainly shows that he had yet to work through many unresolved matters, and that he still had much anger in him. However he was a brilliant man and knew how to channel these elements in such a way to create some brilliant, memorable and haunting tracks."- (This review)

This is album retro-review number 198 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.

The series is called
“Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.

Links to the previous 150 reviews can be found at the bottom of this review.

If the 1960’s was the decade of “love & peace’ then the 1970’s was probably best described as a decade of turmoil and ever accelerating change change.

I dig into my crate this week and pull out an artist who changed, almost overnight. He changed rapidly, leaving the “butterfly of love” behind and showing a tougher and yet more vulnerable side of himself.

The artist is John Lennon and of all his albums I have chose the vinyl album titled – Plastic Ono Band.

Released on the Apple label in 1970 and has the identifying code of PCSO-7124. It only has 11 tracks and all were written by Lennon.

cream of the crate: album # 198 – john lennon: plastic ono band
Album label – [CLICK to enlarge]
John Lennon’s story is almost as well known as that of The Beatles, with whom he shall forever be tied to.

Yet as he demonstrated to both believers and non-believers, he was much more than John Lennon the Beatle!

The final part of his story is as follows.

On 8 December 1980, the legendary musician was shot four times in the back outside of his apartment building in New York City.

He was only 40 years old.

7 days after his death, millions of people paused their daily routines to honour Yoko Ono’s request for ten minutes of silence in commemoration of his contributions.

30,000 gathered in Liverpool, 225,000 in New York City’s Central Park. The radios went silent as well. many of us remember clearly exactly where we were and what were were doing when that shocking news came through.

But to try and add to the story most of us know, are some little known facts and tales about him.

John was actually both a choir boy and a scout.

In 1963 John almost beat a man to death.

Bob Wooler was a DJ that knew the Beatles, he introduced them on stage over 300 times and was often invited to their parties.

In 1963 rumours were swirling that John was gay and Wooler didn’t help when at Paul’s 21st birthday party Wooler started “mincing” around crying out, “Come on John, what really happened with you and Brian? Everybody knows anyway, so tell us.”

John had been heavily drinking that night and he was a notorious “bad drunk”.

In a blind rage, John proceeded to beat the stuffing out of a very surprised Bob Wooler, literally kicking him repeatedly in the ribs as he lay on the ground in a bloody heap.

According to John, the only reason he actually stopped the savage beating was because, “I realised I was actually going to kill him.” Fortunately for him and the Beatles, he didn’t!

John was also the last of the Beatles to get a driving licence and was the only Beatle to never become a full-time vegetarian.

He also thought he had a terrible voice and would request that George Martin try and cover it up, once asking Martin, “Can’t you smother it with tomato ketchup or something?”

He was never satisfied with the recording the Beatles did. A few years after his split from the Beatles he told George Martin he would love to re-record all, every Beatle track.

When Martin asked, Even Strawberry Fields, John replied, “Especially ‘Strawberry Fields’”.

He also maintained that the best song he ever wrote for the Beatles was All You Need Is Love.

So to this album.

We all know there were, what might best be described as “experimental” albums with Yoko.

Now despite the general ambivalence, sometimes hatred, toward them by his fans, these recordings were necessary as part of John’s desire to leave everything Beatle behind, and to cathartically cleanse himself.

He succeeded – partially!  Then in 1970 he recorded and released this album, which I must agree with the general consensus that it was either his best, or among his best.

Unlike the previous albums; Unfinished Music #1 – Two Virgins (1968), Unfinished Music #2 – Life With The Lions (1969), The Wedding Album (1969) and Live Peace In Toronto (1969), this album had a coherence.

It also represented genuine attempts to provide an album that would be accepted by the public, and one that would consist of all his own compositions.

The album John Lennon: Plastic Ono Band certainly shows that he had yet to work through many unresolved matters, and that he still had much anger in him.

However he was a brilliant man and knew how to channel these elements in such a way to create some brilliant, memorable and haunting tracks.

Working with him on production was Phil Spector, who was obviously a two-edged sword himself.

Brilliant and an absolute genius behind the mixer, he also brought with him baggage and often lost control, once firing a gun into a the control booth ceiling during a recording session with Lennon.

cream of the crate: album # 198 – john lennon: plastic ono band
John & Phil – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Yet for all Spector’s “eccentricity” his genius and touch can be heard throughout this album.

Track listing:

Side 1

1. Mother
2. Hold On
3. I Found Out
4. Working Class Hero
5. Isolation

Side 2

1. Remember
2. Love
3. Well Well Well
4. Look At Me
5. God
6. My Mummy’s Dead

cream of the crate: album # 198 – john lennon: plastic ono band
Rear album cover – [CLICK to enlarge]


Mother is one of those tracks that has many layers to it.

It is a cry of pain, there is no doubt about that.

Having lost his mother at such a vulnerable age in such a way that there were no “goodbyes”, the young Lennon carried that pain right through his life. It is also cathartic, with elements of “primal scream” therapy showing through.

None of this is of a surprise given John was indeed going through that therapy at the time he wrote the piece.

John had lost his father at an even younger age, when he was a toddler. So the loss of his mother was even more painful. John uses the song not only to release his pain and anger, but in the process of healing it allows him to say the goodbye he never said.

That “momma don’t go” at 4:44 is absolutely gut wrenching.

Later Yoko said of this track, “He was going back to the days of when he wanted to scream, ‘Mother.’ He was able to go back to that childhood, that memory.”

The track is certainly minimalistic with John playing simple chords in a dramatic manner with just the right amount of pause between each downward chord.

Accompanying him was Klaus Voormann on bass and Ringo Starr on drums yet, it is more than just right, it is a superb track.

As far as my theory that track 1 on an album should be the artists “greeting card” the track that introduces this man, John Lennon, could not have been better chosen.

cream of the crate: album # 198 – john lennon: plastic ono band
John and Ringo – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

The track opens with the pealing of a funeral bell.

The story goes that originally the bell was struck faster, but John insist it be slowed down to give it a more ‘deathly’ sound.

It has been speculated that it represents the “death of his connection with the Beatles”. I recall someone (but not who it was) having said of this track, “there is only one thing wrong – it is 10 hours too short!”

Mother, you had me
But I never had you
I wanted you
But you didn’t want me
So
I, I just got to tell you
Goodbye
Goodbye

Father, you left me
But I never left you
I needed you
But you didn’t need me
So
I, I just got to tell you
Goodbye
Goodbye

Children, don’t do
What I have done
I couldn’t walk
And I tried to run
So
I, I just got to tell you
Goodbye
Goodbye

Mama don’t go
Daddy come home
Mama don’t go
Daddy come home
Mama don’t go
Daddy come home
Mama don’t go
Daddy come home

Mama don’t go
Daddy come home
Mama don’t go
Daddy come home
Mama don’t go
Daddy come home
Mama don’t go
Daddy come home

Mama don’t go
Daddy come home


Mother

Track 3I Found Out is an angry track.

It is angry through the lyrics, it is angry through Lennon’s delivery and by hell, it is angry through the sound of the music.

John is accompanied by Klaus on bass on Ringo on drums. The guitars have been processed to give a distinct distorted sound which so aptly meld with the anger in John’s voice, all of which reinforces an underlying message of – jeez I’m pissed off at you all.

cream of the crate: album # 198 – john lennon: plastic ono band
John and Klaus – [CLICK to enlarge]



We need to remember the break up with the
Beatles was really, really fresh, and really, really painful.

His anger regarding the Beatles was directed toward Paul mainly, and in fact he continued to have a good relationship with Ringo and to a slightly lesser degree with George. 

But this is not new news, yet, we need to remember that this incredible anger was also directed towards the fans of the Beatles.

John was lashing out at them wanting more of the “cuteness” that they had become accustomed to.

He also could not come to grips with the incredible antagonism fans were directing at the love of his life, Yoko Ono, who was unfairly bearing the brunt of the Beatles “bust-up”.

Despite his utter commitment to peace, John was also beginning to feel the strain of the constant demands by people in that movement for him to keep “doing things”, especially “things” they thought he should do.

Around the time the album came out Lennon gave an interview to Rolling Stone and what he said to Rolling Stone, “I’m sick of all these aggressive hippies or whatever they are, the “Now Generation,” being very up-tight with me. Either on the street or anywhere, or on the phone, demanding my attention, as if I owed them something!”

Hence the line – “The freaks on the phone won’t leave me alone, so don’t give me that brother, brother.


I Found Out


Track 4 has just got to be one of my top 3 favourite
Lennon tracks of all time.

Working Class Hero was utterly sublime in words, delivery and music.

As time has gone on the track has taken on a life of its own – it is a rallying cry to downtrodden people everywhere – it proclaims loudly and proudly, that to be working class is indeed to be special.

There is a certain degree of idealism in Lennon’s lyrics.

Yet that’s OK! John was brought up in Liverpool and in the UK there weren’t, with maybe the exception of London’s East End, many more entrenched working class areas.

Now you might therefore expect that the Lennon’s struggled was as most Liverpudlians struggled.

Yet John actually came from a middle class upbringing, and while people were quick to point that out in a derogatory manner, I believe Lennon never lost touch with the struggle he saw around him

Later he saw the struggle move from just around him, to the struggle in the world.

However I am probably wrong because Lennon tackled this in his Rolling Stone interview saying that people had missed the sardonic overtones.

He said he was suggesting that if people worked hard enough they could rise above their misery and be like him, happy and unhappy.

I don’t know, I think John was so angry that he failed sometimes to even see deeply enough into his own soul. But hey! Who am I to start analysing John Lennon’s motives.

cream of the crate: album # 198 – john lennon: plastic ono band
[CLICK to enlarge]

Mind you in typical Lennon contradictions, he also said of this track,I think its concept is revolutionary, and I hope it’s for workers and not for tarts and fags.”

Sadly he was also showing his sometimes expressed distain for homosexual people. Some say this was because he was fearful that he may have been gay himself.

I really don’t know about that either.

Mind you he also never lost track of the fact that there was little to aspire to in the upper class. In the song he uses the line “If you want to be like the folks on the hill“, which he later said was a direct reference to the track, “Fool on the Hill“!

I also find it strange that the word fucking appears twice in the song and was not censored, yet in the lyrics printed on the album insert sleeve, the word was replaced with an “*”.

Really?

Really!

There is also some doubt as to whether John was ever happy with the final outcome of the track.

His tape operator Andy Stephens said in a 2010 interview, that John absolutely obsessed with the track, that there were “an endless number of takes… well over 100- probably 120, 130”.

In fact the version that was released is clearly a meld of two takes. If you put headphones on and listen at around 1:27 you will hear a distinct change in tone of the guitar.

As soon as you’re born they make you feel small
By giving you no time instead of it all
Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

They hurt you at home and they hit you at school
They hate you if you’re clever and they despise a fool
Till you’re so fucking crazy you can’t follow their rules
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

When they’ve tortured and scared you for twenty-odd years
Then they expect you to pick a career
When you can’t really function you’re so full of fear
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

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
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

There’s room at the top they’re telling you still
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill
If you want to be like the folks on the hill

A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be
If you want to be a hero well just follow me
If you want to be a hero well just follow me


Working Class Hero

The final track is Isolation.

It’s another excellent and minimalistic arrangement in which John sings of the isolation he and Yoko felt. John is reflective at times, and quite angry at others, and he directs his comments right at us!

OK, let’s turn the LP over and have a look at side 2. Track 1 Remember.

This is another self-analysis track strongly based upon Johns therapy sessions where he reflects upon those he felt let him down.

The memories are generally unpleasant ones, of conflict with family, authority and peers, and how all those who meant most to him seemed to just be playing a part and yet, through it all, he reflects that worrying now is of no help.

Track 2 is Love.

It features Phil Spector on piano, and sees John returning to a theme he constantly expressed – Love!

cream of the crate: album # 198 – john lennon: plastic ono band
John and Yoko – [CLICK to enlarge]
John wrote the track assuming he would accompany himself on acoustic guitar and started out recording it that way, except after a few takes he asked Spector to play piano.

This works beautifully with Spector showing quite a lot of sensitivity. John continued to play the acoustic guitar.

It is one of those Lennon tracks that it is hard to listen to without wondering just what might have happened if he had not been murdered.

Certainly it stands out in the beauty of the words and the sensitivity in which John delivers the lines.

There certainly is no anger in this song!

Love is real, real is love
Love is feeling, feeling love
Love is wanting to be loved
Love is touch, touch is love
Love is reaching, reaching love
Love is asking to be loved

Love is you
You and me
Love is knowing
We can be

Love is free, free is love
Love is living, living love
Love is needing to be loved


Love

Well Well Well is track 3.

The album in its tracks deals with a plethora or matters including family, relationships, drugs, politics and much more.

On this track John has focussed on what might be considered as sexual politics as he makes reference to women’s liberation and revolution and . . . well in some cases it might even be considered as humorous.

The problem is that if there is any real message in the track it is well covered by Johns heartfelt but savage screams.

Maybe the message is actually in those screams?

Track 4 is Look At Me.

Angst, concern, confusion and a moment of realisation, that he and Yoko are the only one’s who really know John Lennon.

What the track is not, is angry. It’s introspective, almost pleading with us to look deeply into him!

Track 5 is God.

This is a ripper of a track that also has Phil Spector on piano.

According to the Tarot, the “Fool” is indeed not really a fool but a man who has emptied himself of everything, who pares back to the core, who is embarking on a journey afresh and is ready to learn.

This track really is John Lennon.

He often presented himself as playing the “fool” in the traditional sense, particularly while in the Beatles. 

Here, he is presenting himself as the “Fool” in the Tarot. Through this track he declares in no uncertain terms that he has dispensed with all the beliefs he previously held, he is emptied of everything . . . almost!

I don’t believe in magic
I don’t believe in I-ching
I don’t believe in Bible
I don’t believe in Tarot
I don’t believe in Hitler
I don’t believe in Jesus
I don’t believe in Kennedy
I don’t believe in Buddha
I don’t believe in Mantra
I don’t believe in Gita
I don’t believe in Yoga
I don’t believe in Kings
I don’t believe in Elvis
I don’t believe in Zimmerman
I don’t believe in Beatles

John has thrown out everything that he learned to despise, the things that he believed held him back and declares to the world:

I just believe in me, Yoko and me, and that’s reality

cream of the crate: album # 198 – john lennon: plastic ono band

 

He goes on to sing about the dream being over, but the dream he refers to is that part of his life as a Beatle.

In this, the second last track on this album, he begins to redefine John Lennon, as declared by him. He draws upon the comments and concepts presented in the previous tracks on this album and brings it all to a beautiful conclusion.

He is reborn and he has at least started to be at peace with himself and Yoko, he is no longer angry as he declares:
And so, dear friends,
You’ll just have to carry on
The dream is over


God

Is it coincidence that the last track brings us back to the beginning.

Life is a series or even a process of learning, unlearning and learning again.

John completes his circle with the final track, My Mummy’s Dead.

Track 1 on side 1 was a painful and yet formal declaration about his mother.

In this track – Mother, which is only 47 seconds long, it’s almost a voice from the past in the way Spector has processed it. The music playing supports this, it is a simplistic style of playing and John sings what is almost a ditty, albeit a sad ditty.

Now there is absolutely not a modicum of anger as shown in Mother. This pensive, wistful, childlike rendition is a track of reflection and acceptance.

He is sad but at the same time HE is accepting of what happened.

My mummy’s dead
I can’t get it through my head
Though it’s been so many years
My mummy’s dead
I can’t explain
So much pain
I could never show it
My mummy’s dead


My Mummy’s Dead


John Lennon was a human being with the same foibles, weaknesses and strengths of other human beings.

he fact that he was also endowed with a very high level of musical ability and a sharp mind and a rapier like wit, were among the things that made him stand out.

cream of the crate: album # 198 – john lennon: plastic ono band
The last know photo taken of John, just before he was shot – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

There is little doubt that when separated from the Beatles, John was able, despite carrying so much pain, to freely pursue the things that were critical to him

He continue to record brilliant music which now continues to live on long after his death.

cream of the crate: album # 198 – john lennon: plastic ono band
[CLICK to enlarge]

 

The album is really essential in all collections and is available on vinyl and CD with a few of these original copies as well as re-mastered versions.

In the end, just make sure you have it.


VIDEOS:

Amazingly and somewhat sadly, I could find no footage of John performing any tracks from this album, so I have included two of my favourite live clips of him performing.

 

John – Jealous Guy [The Recording of the track, 1971]

 

Live in New York City


Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:

 

To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –

cream of the crate cd review #2 : robert johnson – the complete recordings

 

To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –

 

To view/listen album reviews 101 – 150 just click the image below –

 

Click to open the following reviews covering #’s 151 onward.

#151.  The Shaggs – Philosophy of the World

#152.  The Animals – The Animals

#153. Omah Khorshid & His Group  – Live In Australia 1981

#154. Alan Parsons Project – Tales of Mystery and Imagination: Edgar Allan Poe

#155. Billy Thorpe – Tangier

#156. Aretha Franklin – The Best Of

#157. Big Bill Broonzy – Big Bill’s Blues

#158. The Supremes – Where Did Our Love Go 

#159. The Band – Stage Fright

#160. Ray Brown and the Whispers – Hits and More 1965 – 1968

#161. Guitar Junior – The Crawl

#162. Jimi Hendrix – Radio One

#163. Memphis Minnie – Queen of the Blues

#164. Eno – Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy)

#165. The Loved Ones – Magic Box

#166. Various Artists – On The Road Again [ An Anthology of Chicago Blues 1947 – 1954]

#167. Janis Joplin – Greatest Hits 

#168. David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust [The Motion Picture]

#169. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication

#170.  Chain – Two Of A Kind

#171. Bob Marley – Legend

#172. Koko Taylor – What It Takes

#173. Stevie Wonder – Original Musiquarium

#174. Various Artists – The Unissued 1963 Blues Festival

#175. Noeleen Batley – Little Treasure

#176. B.B. King – The Best Of

#177. Fleetwood Mac – Fleetwood Mac

#178 – Memphis Slim – I Feel So Good

#179. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – Live at Budapest

#180. Flowers – Icehouse

#181. Joe Tex – The Best Of

#182. Chicago [Transit Authority] – Chicago Transit Authority

#183. Deep Purple – The Deep Purple Singles

#184. The Doobie Brothers – Best Of The Doobies

#185. Dig Richards – Jive After Five

#186. The Stereo MC’s – Connected

#187. Ricky Nelson – All My Best

#188. Frank Frost – Jelly Roll King

#189. Lonnie Mack – Memphis Wham

#190. Madder Lake – Stillpoint

#191. Carol Kaye and the Hitmen – Guitars 1965

#192. Dion and the Belmonts – Everything You Always Wanted To Hear

#193. The Beatles – Rubber Soul

#194. Sleep John Estes – Jailhouse Blues

#195. Rob E. G. – All His Hits [ The Festival File Vol. 3]

#196. Ma Rainey – Ma Rainey

#197. Sam and Dave – The Best Of

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