Friday, 1 October 2010
News, Views and Music: Issue 77 (Top Five): AAA Tributes To John Lennon
♫ When you lose a great figure, there’s always a long period of mourning and re-adjustment between band and fans. We thankfully haven’t seen it much this decade but whenever we lose somebody big there’s always a huge shift in our understanding of an artist’s work and creativity. When that musician is a Beatle and he dies at such a young age in such a needless and violent way, it’s no wonder the world more or less stopped turning for a while there. So for our top five remembering Lennon this week we’ve gathered together five of the best musical tributes paid to him by fellow AAA members including his widow, his former bandmates and distant admirers.
5) Nils Lofgren “Any Time At All” (‘Night Fades Away’ 1981): Nils’ tribute to the fallen Beatle was as typically upbeat and energetic as you’d expect the trampolining guitarist to be though, perhaps, not the tribute most Beatles fans were expecting. Nils digs straight back to Lennon’s heyday as conqueror of the world on this ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ cover, reimagining one of Lennon’s obscurer Beatles songs as a bouncy hymn of devotion. Nils later added in concert that it was his favourite Beatles song and it certainly does fit Nils’ edgy but likeable 70s stage persona well.
4) Yoko Ono “Even When You’re Far Away” (‘Seasons Of Glass’ 1981): Yoko’s first solo record after Lennon’s death is a struggle for most Beatle fans. Not because of Yoko’s voice or songwriting – which are top notch throughout – but because the whole thing’s just so so sad, from Lennon’s blood stained glasses on the front cover to Lennon’s ghost looking proudly on at his family on the back. Yoko spent the first few months after her husband’s death locking herself in the studio in an effort to keep her busy – the backing musicians were all paid and ready to record Lennon’s follow-up to ‘Double Fantasy’ - re-recording old songs from the then-unreleased ‘A Story’ album of 1974 which took on a new poignancy in the light of Lennon’s death and a few more simply harrowing compositions from those dark nights at the Dakota in early 1981. This song, one of the new ones, is my favourite from the record: Yoko tackles the doubt running through her head, leaving her unsure what to do or what to think, branching out to a gorgeous verse where she tells Lennon’s killer that despite all her hurt ‘I could never hate you’ and another when she tells Lennon ‘part of me will always be with you, part of you is growing in me’. When she tells us she’s sure she’s just spotted Lennon’s spirit out of the corner of her eye its hard not to shed a tear. Yoko at her finest, shrugging off the event with the philosophy ‘we just don’t know how to love without fear’ with a voice breaking with so much emotion you know the singer is still in shock.
3) George Harrison “All Those Years Ago” (‘Somewhere In England’ 1981): The first sign of Lennon’s stirrings from his house-husband slumber was the promise to write and record a few new tunes for Ringo’s 40th birthday album ‘Stop and Smell The Roses’ (one of the best Ringo albums despite the fact he understandably couldn’t face himself to use Lennon’s contribution ‘Life Begins At 40’). This song was initially George’s contribution to the record, a nostalgic tongue-in-cheek look back at Ringo’s past in an ‘I’m The Greatest’ kind of way.George pulled the song after Lennon’s death though, hastily re-writing it as half-accusations at the narrow mindedness that had caused Lennon’s downfall and now his death and half genuine love for his fallen comrade. The song became the closest we’d had to a Beatles reunion with Paul and Ringo appearing on the record, although the song never performed as well in the charts as you’d expect. Perhaps because there’s just too much bitterness in this song, unusual for one of George’s even in this difficult period, although on the plus side this song has a cracking tune and true emotion in what is one of George’s best ever vocals, dripping with hurt and sorrow.
2) Paul Simon “The Late Great Johnny Ace” (‘Hearts and Bones’ 1983): The most modern song on this list came from Lennon’s distant admirer Paul Simon who made one of the most moving Lennon tributes of all not by telling us how great John was or what he meant to the world but what he meant to Paul. Mr Simon recalls how, on tour in 1980, a friend told him of Lennon’s death and the two ended up weeping over a drink in the local bar, reminiscing about 1964 ‘The year of the Beatles, the year of the Stones, a year after JFK’ and how there won’t be any more like them now that Lennon is dead. Many fans are puzzled by the opening verse which has ‘Johnny Ace’ dying in a Russian roulette game – actually that’s an earlier star from the 1950s who did indeed die just as needlessly as Lennon and a young Paul Simon did indeed ‘wait patiently’ for a memorial photograph of the singer. Despite being one of his more famous and well loved songs of the period, Paul only sang this song once – at the Simon and Garfunkel Concert In Central Park, just a few metres away from the entrance to the Dakota building where Lennon died. Eerily, a fan breaks through the barrier just as Paul’s reaching the verse about Lennon’s death at the hands of a misguided fan, a threatening moment that casts a heavy shadow over the rest of the set.
1) Paul McCartney “Here Today” (‘Tug Of War’, 1982): Ignored for far too long, this sweet tribute is now widely regarded as one of Paul’s best of the decade, moving audiences ever since entering his concert setlist for the first time in 2002. It can’t have been easy for Macca – how is one of the two greatest songwriters in the world going to come up with a song about the other one? Yet this song works simply because Paul is honest, telling us the listener all the things he’d tell Lennon if only he could see his old partner one last time. The memories come thick and fast, from the night they met ‘playing hard to get’ to the ‘night we cried’, opening up their shared loss of their mothers back in the 1950s. For all the bickering of the post-Beatle years the four mop tops shared a bond that practically no other band ever had, experiencing extreme adoration and having only themselves to share it with. Macca’s tribute to Lennon reflects that, showing us that the anger between the two men was really only on the surface and that even though Lennon might laugh and say ‘we were worlds apart’, the listener knows better. The crescendo ‘And I am holding back the tears no more, I love you’ is simply one of the most moving lines in McCartney’s catalogue and a very deserving tribute from one musical genius to another.
RIP Dr Winston O’Boogie. We really loved you and were glad you came along. Normal service will be resumed next issue – whenever that will be!