Monday, 25 January 2016

John Lennon and Yoko Ono: Non-Album Songs 1969-1980




Non-Album Recordings #1: 1969

Lennon's solo career started when he was still with The Beatles and with one of his most famous tracks [1] 'Give Peace A Chance'. Recorded at his honeymoon suite in Amsterdam (after a quickly arranged marriage in Gibraltar - the only country that said 'yes' at short notice to marrying two divorced people without piles of paperwork first), it features John and Yoko doing what they did best: turning a big heavy subject into something simple and sending it back out to a public that might not otherwise think about such things. 'Give Peace A Chance'; is a very unusual song, structured like no other with the same 'everybody's talking about...' opening to each verse (which is really more of a list) and a simple one line chorus. Lennon himself admitted this song was all about the powerful chorus, which lodges in the memory better than any song since its similar elder brother 'All You Need Is Love', a simple singalong that people from all backgrounds and of all nations can chant. The verses are less successful, blocked out quickly using the same  'everybody had a hard year' half of John and Paul's co-written Beatle song 'I've Got A Feeling' and full of several in-jokes (this book will double in length if we list them all but a sample few are 'bagism' - John and Yoko's idea that there would be no racism, sexism or ageism if everyone lived their lives in identical bags - and a number of people present at the recording: press officer Derek Taylor and secretary Rosemarie - although despite a mention comedian Tommy Cooper wasn't there!) Everyone in the room is encouraged to join in, surviving session tapes revealing a nervous Lennon teaching them in the art of rhythm and 'off-beats', with 'Give Peace A Chance' sounding like its swaying from side to side as the hundred or so people gathered emphasise the song's unusual metre ('an off beat what?' Derek Taylor jokes when John asks everyone if they know what they are, but oddly Lennon doesn't pick up on the very Lennonish wordplay gag). A key Lennon song in the sense that John learnt the art of writing simple songs about tough subjects that had previously been frowned on ( 'They can't ban this one!' Lennon quips at one stage during his inspired ad libs), it's a simple statement too strong to be denied. John clearly considered this his and Yoko's personal crusade but its a shame that this wasn't saved for a Beatles single where it would have made a fitting end to Lennon's run of A sides at least (he may have assumed the others would have been sniffy about his latest unusually structured work but they were actually enthusiastic; Paul revived it as a Lennon tribute during some of his 1989/90 world tour and revealed that he was 'proud' to receive a co-credit on this song despite having nothing to do with writing it; a quirk of the pair's Northern Songs arrangement which meant everything they wrote until 'Cold Turkey' later in the year (and occasionally later, such as the 'Let It Be' album) would be credited to them jointly. John hinted at the time he could have fought the decision and at least had Paul's half of the song royalties removed - but didn't as a 'thankyou' for his partner's support during the making of another deeply personal Lennon single 'The Ballad Of John and Yoko' (which, characteristically, he later regretted when the pair's feud got deeper). That's a sad ending for a song written about peace whose repercussions still ripple today, breaking the invisible barrier that prevented such subjects as 'peace' being talked about in song and inspiring several similarly great songs to come in the future (not least McCartney's own 'Pipes Of Peace', a track very much after Lennon's heart). Find it on every Lennon compilation ever made!

The B-side was [2]'Remember Love', the wider world's introduction to Yoko as a songwriter rather than just an avant garde artist. As if to prove that there's more to Yoko than the world has seen so far, Lennon plays some lovely gentle acoustic guitar underneath his wife's delicate breathy vocals. It's not much of a song, not compared to Yoko when she gets going anyway, but it does feature much of Yoko's written personality trait, a lyric that borderlines the deeply simple and the profound, sounding not unlike her 1968 book 'Grapefruit' that Lennon so devoured on his stay in India. Perhaps mimicking her new husband's 'All You Need Is Love', Yoko tells us in turn that love is all it takes to 'sing' 'meet' live' dream'  'see' and 'fly'. The delicate folk picking will come to be re-used by Lennon for the very Yoko Beatles song 'Sun King' (all this track is missing are the crickets!) Find it on: the CD re-issue of 'two Virgins'

Another single released while The Beatles were still together but could never have released, [3]  'Cold Turkey' is Lennon destroying the last vestiges of his cute and cuddly image and being used almost as a trailer for the cathartic screams of his remarkable 'Lennon/Plastic Ono Band' record to come. John was reportedly  riled when, despite being the last Beatle to take them, Paul was the first Beatle to admit to drug taking to a reporter in late 1967 and as usual where Paul dipped a toe in the water John went in headfirst. Written and recorded while John and Yoko were trying to kick heroin, Lennon decided to record his 'pain' for public release as a sort of audio diary. The result is an uncomfortable five minutes of growling and screaming, Lennon stuttering out short clipped sentences of four or five syllables in between a roaring howl of feedback-drenched guitar (easily the best recorded of Lennon's solo guitar, dry and brittle and animalistic, just as it needs to be). Lennon wildly promises anything to anyone if 'you get me out of this hell', at one stage mournfully informing us 'I wish I was a baby - I wish I was dead!' The closest song to this in the Beatles canon is 'I'm So Tired', another song written as something to do during a bout of insomnia suffered while kicking drugs. This time however the drugs are stronger and Lennon's willpower needs to be deeper. For a time you fear he won't make it, such are his anguished howls and repeated 'no's which extend the song from its natural conclusion at around the three minute mark to a five minute monster that can't get it together long enough to coherently say goodbye. The ending is ambiguous too, a sudden string of psychedelic guitar fading in to gradually take the song over, though whether it's the cold sting of death or Lennon's healing processes kicking in is never quite made clear, ringing off mid-note. Many have made fun of this song since its release - mainly shocked and hurt  young Beatles fans for whom drug-taking parlance was so alien it might as well have been a foreign language. A comparatively poor seller, it must have been something of a wake-up call and Lennon was miffed, even citing the single's steady pace 'slipping down the charts' as the most childish of his three varyingly valid reasons in an open letter to the press about why he was handing back his MBE to the state after five years (his Aunt Mimi was particularly cross - she's been keeping it on a drawer above her telly in the Cornish home Lennon had bought her; the other events cited were 'The Biafra Thing** and **). You wonder what Lennon was expecting: releasing a single about an experience so 'real' and that went against everything else ever released in the charts was a very John thing to do; but his sulking about its poor performance wasn't (none of the 'Unfinished Music' releases did that well either, but he wasn't surprised at those). 'Cold Turkey' is a great and important song for Lennon which gets through its tough mission of selling a believable drug addict hell through the cleverness of the short haiku like lyric (John inspired by Yoko's favourite work from her childhood at the same time she was getting into his rock and roll collection and writing her own variants) and the brilliance of Lennon's committed performance. However it should never have been a single - and was never going to be a big seller whatever Lennon thought. Find it on: Almost every Lennon compilation ever made!

The B-side was Yoko's [4a] 'Don't Worry Kyoko (Mummy's Only Looking For His Hand In The Snow)', a track that here was meant to be the 'uplifting' polar opposite to Lennon's tune. As heard here in this version Yoko is offering hope to Kyoko, the daughter by her second marriage to artist Anthony Cox, that things will turn out just fine. Played to the sound of a seemingly endless slide guitar jam which Lennon knocks out almost nonchalantly and the ultimate sample of Yoko's distinctive caterwaul which plays alone for several minutes at the start, it's meant to put you in a good mood, though the song is just too messy and aggressive for most listeners to get the hint. However this song had an unhappy life: things very much weren't ok with Kyoko. In 1971 Cox ran off with Kyoko and the Lennons fought a custody battle on her behalf which they won - partly the reason why they tried to move to the United States that year and the source of all the legal hassles about whether were allowed to stay in the country or not (Lennon had a mild drug conviction which meant he was legally an 'undesirable', although it's noticeable how easily he gets his 'green card' allowing him to stay- which believe it or not was actually coloured blue - once Nixon gets impeached after Watergate and we know the FBI kept a large file on Lennon). As it turned out Cox had run off with his daughter and joined a religious sect known as the Walk of Life, concerned that Kyoko was being surrounded by drugs on the one hand and dangerous radicals on the other (he may also have been a little paranoid, installing hidden cameras for when the Lennon came to stay with him to hear what they were 'really' up to, although the most damning evidence he ever found was Kyoko accidentally running into the bathroom when Lennon was taking a bath). Yoko wouldn't be reunited with her daughter until the 1990s, despite travelling half the world away to look for her (she'd spent most of her adult life in New York City where Cox was a local and there were reports the pair had been seen there - actually they spent most of their time in California). As time progresses 'Don't Worry Kyoko' will become more troubled and edgier, with Yoko returning to the song again and again across this book sounding more and more desperate, as if trying to make sure that her daughter heard her looking for her (the track was recorded live for both 'Live Peace In Toronto' and 'Somewhere In New York City' and a studio re-recording was made titled 'Hirake' on Yoko's record 'Fly'). Though the angry snarling feedback-induced epic on 'New York City' perhaps shaves the original for passion, the studio B-side is a nice rendition in a no frills basic rock kind of a way. Find the original on: the CD re-issue of 'The Wedding Album' (1969)

Non-Album Recordings #2: 1970

Lennon's first serious stab at a solo hit, [16] 'Instant Karma' is a proper' song in a way that  the others haven't been: 'Give Peace A Chance' and 'Cold Turkey' were both 'messages' rather than songs. 'Instant Karma' though fizzes with a strong production (the first time Phil Spector's been allowed by Lennon to go 'big' and he does, treating everything with layers of echo, not just Lennon's voice). Alas it's a better production than it is a song: sticking rigidly to his 'grumpy' verse and 'upbeat' chorus song structure of 'Give Peace A Chance' (the template created by old Manchester rivals The Hollies for most of the 1960s), this song never quite manages to unite Lennon's anger at an undirected target and that ebullient rousing message that 'we all shine on'. Newly interested in the subject of 'karma' (the idea that how you treat people in the present will come back to haunt or help you in the future), Lennon gets characteristically impatient and demands it now: threatening his enemies and supporting his friends with the message that the fruits of their labours will be ready soon. At times this both a thankyou and fuckyou at the same time: 'Who do you think you are? A superstar?' sneers Lennon, before adding more hopefully 'well right you are!' Some of these lyrics are exquisite, Lennon picturing a mass of people 'laughing in the face of love' and asking 'why in the world are we here' before answering to those here for the wrong purposes 'you're gonna get yours yeah'. A cracking performance, with Andy White doing a great impression of Ringo but more so on the drums and Lennon's piano reduced to 'leaking' through the rest of the track (as if its a 'ghost' from the future), almost makes up for a composition that's the weakest Lennon single so far. That said many fans do love this song and Yoko regularly calls it one of her favourites; John's highly memorable mix of anger and brotherly love is one Oasis will base their entire careers on (interestingly the solo Noel Gallagher has very much gone down the Lennon solo route, while Beady Eye have gone down McCartney's - but that's another story for another book). Perhaps that's the karma Lennon spoke of, throwing these ideas out there for other bands to explore for decades to come while he moves off onto some other idea.

[ ] 'Have You Seen The Wind?' is Yoko's flipside, a charming if slight ballad that is perhaps the closest of all her songs to the sheer impenetrability of her book of sayings 'Grapefruit' that so entranced Lennon. Starting off with the lines 'Smile smile smile, who has seen your dreams? Only you and him' Yoko seems to be talking about sharing thoughts and ideas - the sort of things that aren't objects to share but are un-seeable, with a shared connection through creativity. The wind is the closest metaphor she can find, something that  has the force to make trees 'bow their heads' even though only the effects can be seen, not the cause itself. Alas what might well be one of Yoko's most intellectually stimulating lyrics is recounted in a soppy little girl voice that doesn't really suit her. It's also the first Yoko flipside that doesn't seem an obvious partner to the A side, which is a shame for a song about shared ideas. Fijd it on: the CD re-issue of 'The Wedding Album', for some reason (it's nearly a year younger than that record!)

Big Joe Williams' [17a] 'Baby Please Don't Go' was a song that clearly haunted Lennon - so much so that it's a surprise it was never part of The Beatles' set list even in the days when they needed as many 'new' songs for the BBC radio broadcasts as possible. Live versions will appear across Lennon's career regularly, with the only official release in Lennon's time appearing on the 'weirder' half of 'Sometime In New York City'. However, it's the version recorded for 'Imagine' and only half-seriously meant for the album that's the 'keeper'. Lennon clearly identified with the song's sentiments - he spends an awful lot of his career Beatles and solo doing similar 'pleading' to what you can hear the narrator doing here ('Mother' being the most obvious example) and spits his vocal out with real venom and bitterness with the 'sandpaper voice' which became so acclaimed. It's certainly a far superior cover to any on 'Rock and Roll' (even 'Stand By Me', the best known song) and is how that album should have been made, stripped raw with Lennon singing from the heart, not his bank balance. Sadly the track just fades away despite sounding as if it's turning into the mother of all jam sessions but while it's around it's a good one and a real highlight of the 'Anthology' box set. Find it on: 'The Lennon Anthology' (1998)
A very fitting choice of a skiffle song to busk between takes, [18] 'Long Lost John'was a bit of silliness sung between intense sessions for 'Lennon/Plastic Ono Band' - despite being by far Lennon's most serious LP there wasn't half a lot of clowning around going on while making it! A Texan trad song that dates back several centuries, it was possibly based on the life of Old John Brooker who was (probably) locked up for a crime he didn't commit and was invited a chance at freedom if he acted as a 'guinea pig' for a new prison technique. A pack of bloodhounds were released with orders to maul the man to death, but instead he escaped on a train and was never seen again. Lennon seems to have remembered the middle half of the song, 'waiting by the railroad track' and figuring that John's loss of direction physically is a neat metpahor for what to do with his life. Though not intended that seriously and complete with fluffs and mistakes and a breakdown ('Mal - I'm kerfumpfed!' Lennon quips at the end as the recording collapses, presumably to the Beatles road manager helping out on the first album sessions) it's good to hear a song that was clearly on Lennon's mind and so similar to his own work (it's kind of a more jovial version of 'How?' this song). The fact that 'John' was so 'lost' in this period is clearly too good a pun to refuse too! Find it on: 'The Lennon Anthology (1998)

Non-Album Recordings #3: 1971

An early example of Lennon's increasing interest in politics, [32] 'Power To The People' is such an inevitable part of the Lennon canon hat you almost wish he hadn't succumbed to temptation enough to write it. After trying to unite the world in the name of love in 'All You Need Is Love' and God only knows what in 'Come Together', this is Lennon crusading the streets and trying to rally the working masses to - well - for once Lennon has no real goals or means except the very valid one about giving power back to the workers. Re-using the idea of 'Give Peace A Chance' that all you need is a catchy slogan to change the world, Lennon then decided to combine with the grunt and savagery of 'Cold Turkey'. However for once Lennon has written himself into a corner: we know what he's going to sing before we get there so he tries to delay the inevitable and restrict his message to the chorus, breaking off for quotes from past songs (opening with the first line from 'Revolution') and a quick plug fore the feminist movement ('So tell me how you treat you woman back home?' Lennon sneers, perhaps missing out on the fact that even in 1971 quite a lot of the working masses were female). The result is a song that doesn't really please anybody: it lacks 'Revolution's strong ideas or 'Chance's gentleness and ends up sounding less like the clear vision of an artist and more like the ramblings of a drunk. For once Lennon doesn't sound like a 'working class hero' but the middle-class-boy-trying-to-be-working-class lad he was: this is a revolution he's trying to join, not lead (as many Beatles books have pointed out, it's technically Ringo that's the band's 'working class hero'). Not that it's as bad as some critics say - Lennon has always had a knack for writing a catchy chorus when he wants to and this song does stick in the head well. But dressed up to the nines in musical military fatigues (as heavy as what the Lennons were wearing on the single sleeve cover) with angry sneering vocals, angry sneering voice and right-on gospel choir this ends up a sadly unlikeable song, unworthy of release as a single in Lennon's key year of 1971.

Yoko's B-side [33] 'Open Your Box' is perhaps the quintessential Yoko track. It combines no frills rock and roll energy, lots of squealing and a provocative lyric about how everything in the world would be better if it was more 'open'. A fair accompaniment to the A-side and it's tale of working class struggles, it's a typical Yoko piece that tries to combine high falluting art concepts and lowest common denominator lyrics. The lyric actually won this record a ban - the only Lennon-related song to get one from John's solo career - for the controversial lyric 'open your thighs' - although some say that the whole song is full of sexual innuendo with, Yoko's box' already open to the world on the 'Two Virgins' sleeve. Lennon puts in some nice grungy guitar and Klaus and Ringo try to keep things simple but it's Yoko's extraordinary vocal performance that hits you the most as she coos, cajoles, squeals and howls throughout the song. The track ends suddenly, on a slashed Lennon guitar chord - this was probably Kohn's idea as he was rather fond of the technique.  Find it on: the CD re-issue of 'Yoko/Plastic Ono Band' with a re-recording available on 'Fly'

Believe it or not [34] 'Happy Xmas (War Is Over)' was a massive flop when it came out. Certainly the fact that the Lennons released it merely a week before yuletide didn't help, nor did the fact that all the usual tv and radio outlets they might have usually plugged it was booked up of the holidays (although their clever solution, huge billboards advertising peace, probably got them more respect than any telly would have done). But time has been kind to this landmark Lennon song, which bucks the AAA trend of pointlessly jolly festive songs by looking at the real meaning of Christmas. Lennon was always unusually keen to make the Beatles' Christmas flexi-discs (handed out free to members of the fab four's fanclub every year), often adding little extra titbits after the others had gone (or before they got in). Christmas a big time in the Lennon household, one of the few times his aunt Mimi allowed mother Julia up to the house and the idea of everyone holding a 'truce' without looking 'soft' would have appeared to the rebellious teenager growing up. There's a great early demo of this track doing the rounds, sans Phil Spector orchestra and children's choir and clearly very new that's tremendously affecting; like 'Imagine' it points forward to future happiness but without sounding as trite or contrived. This future of peace isn't just a dream, it's obtainable and while Lennon's lyrics read harsh on paper ('And so this is Christmas and what have you done?' he accuses the listener) his vocal is warm enough to sugar-coat it, with Yoko's impassioned counter-lead on the chorus also among her best work. Phil Spector's production final production until the troubled 'Rock and Roll' and 'Walls and Bridges' period is the song's weak link, overdoing the melodrama Lennon does so well to stave off in his lyrics, but heck it is Christmas and Spector is of course the king of Christmas whose clearly been dying to dress Lennon's songs up like this (all four Beatles are said to have enjoyed his various artists record 'A Christmas Gift For You'). The result is a song that manages to be all things to all men: anti-war song that points the finger; a Christmas record that deeps a little deeper than usual; a peace record that manages to give the feeling of unity and brotherhood Lennon has been trying to write since 'Give Peace A Chance' with mixed success. This is one of John and Yoko's better ideas, a party that's deeply personal to them (the record even starts with their spoken announcements to each other as per their 'Wedding Album') but a party we can all join in with and believe in too. A very merry Christmas to you all, even though for me currently it's September (this is the problem with reviewing Christmas records!): luckily this is one of the few yuletide singles that work just as well the rest of the year. Oh yes and for those keeping scores it's the best Beatles Christmas song by far, knocking spots off McCartney's 'Wonderful Xmas Time', released almost exactly a  year before Lennon's death, and Harrison's 'Ding Dong' released to 'ring in the new' for January 1974. Find it on: every Lennon compilation worth it's baubles plus most Christmas compilations since 1972!

Needing a suitably festive song for the B-side, Yoko wrote her first song to a formula with the wintry [37] 'Listen The Snow Is Falling'. It's actually one of her more charming performances, as she again turns to her softer side with an atmospheric track full of sound effects of feet shuffling through heavy snow, ginormous winds, sleighbells and something close to tubular bells. Yoko isn't upset, though or even cold - she's pleased at how the 'New York skyline' (the first mention of her old homeland in song) looks so different and adores the fact that a blanket of neutral white has made mankind effectively start again with a clean slate. The snow falls all round the world, even if it's only inside our own minds, as Yoko asks us to 'listen!' - a most charming and suitable companion for the better known A-side. The few of you who've tried my own songs (visit our soundcloud link now!) will be able to hear the same sound effect of snowy shoes on the song 'Lookin' Forward' Find it on: the CD re-issue of 'The Wedding Album' (1969)

In 1971 a provocative magazine named 'The Oz' went on sale. First published in Australia (hence the name) in 1963 but revived in England and America in 1971, 'Oz' was the brainchild of a group of radical-thinking New York students. Lennon would have been eager reader in his 'counter-culture' phase as this hipper 'Private Eye' so closely resembled his own childhood paper 'The Daily Howl', laughing at the rich and powerful and cracking rude and obscene jokes on their behalf. It was really just a lot of students venting their political frustration at Nixon, but as we've seen so often on this site Nixon wasn't the sort of person to take a joke.  The authorities were waiting for an excuse to pounce and did so in a 1970 issue that came emblazoned with 'schoolkids issue' on the front. This was an innocuous term - 'Oz' often had guest editors and had decided to branch out to schools to get youngsters interested in journalism - future rock journalist Charles Shaar Murray was one of the secondary school students who submitted pieces for the special issue. However it looked from the cover as if the magazine was being promoted to school-kids, not being made by them, and much of Britain and America refused to believe that school-age kids could know just filthy and crude language anyway (the cartoon specified in court was a not very funny cartoon of Rupert Bear's face pictured looking up a buxom girl's skirt - very much the sort of thing that would normally appear in a Lennon book, although he was more of a 'Just William' fan himself). 'Oz' went on trial for obscenity with three of its editors put on trial and initially found guilty and facing several years' imprisonment on trumped up charges (later overturned on appeal - John Mortimer, writer of 'Rumpole Of The Bailey' was a defendant lawyer on the case). However the powers that be weren't so much interested in putting the ringleaders behind bars so much as it was shutting the publication down before it did any 'real' harm and the legal costs and bail funds were set excessively high. Oz put out an appeal to it's readers for help and Lennon was quick to add his support, writing two songs in quick succession for release as a protest single (it's about the last time Apple will come in 'useful' for this sort of thing, which EMI would have been unlikely to sanction). Wanting this to be a 'unified' approach and not wanting the critics and fans to see this as his 'new' single, Lennon brought in a new friend of his from New York's underground to sing, Bill Elliott (no, not the ballet dancer!), which was apparently a struggle (Elliott had never been inside a studio before in his life). Lennon's guide vocal for both sides of the single, later released on the 'Lennon Anthology', are much better though neither song is exactly a classic and both sound as if they written in the space of about five minutes. [ ] 'God Save Oz' was the A-side, a 'God' style shopping list of the sort Lennon always resorted to when in a hurry, full of things to be saved from and things to fight for. Interesting only in the sense that it points the way quite openly to 'Sometime In New York City' to come, it at least showed that Lennon was willing to come to the aid of those who needed it, although Lennon does fit in a sneaky 'God save us from the Queen' on the finale which is worth a chuckle (this is only a year after he sent back his MBE, remember and still quite daring for the era!)

If the A-side sounded as if it took about five minutes to write, B-side [35] 'Do The Oz' was probably doddled off in less than half that time. Basically consisting of the screech of 'Do The Oz!' over a 'Don't Worry Kyoko' angular guitar riff, it's possibly the worst released composition of Lennon's lifetime (though 'Just Like Startin' Over' cuts it close). The original single has never been re-issued, but Lennon's vocal version can be heard on 'The Lennon Anthology' (1999)

Non-Album Recordings #4: 1974

One of Lennon's extra-curricular projects was to write a new song for his old pal Ringo and his first 'proper' album (which didn't feature him crooning big band songs or country standards). 'Ringo' ended up becoming a big hit thanks to the high quote of input from all three of his Beatle colleagues, although it was Lennon's [77] 'I'm The Greatest' that got the most interest. A typical Lennon sneer, diluted by Ringo's self-deprecating humour, it sounds like John is really taking the mickey out of his old friend. Everyone has always told Ringo he's great, from his earliest Liverpool days to his wife to his fans during time at the top (where Lennon reverts to his 'With A Little Help From My Friends' nickname 'Billy Shears' -for Ringo being 'in the greatest show on earth, for what it's worth'). Lennon even throws in a reference to Ringo's second big hit single 'Back Off Boogaloo' just to show he was paying attention. Though he coached Ringo to sing this song as genuine as he could, as if he really meant every word and accepted all praise, Lennon's guide vocal is very sly. 'You know what they told me...you're great!' he sarcastically announces, perhaps reflecting on his own stiff upbringing where neither Aunt Mimi nor his teachers ever told him he was great (see 'I Am The Walrus' for a retrospective backlash over this). Though Ringo had a miserable childhood in many ways - full of poverty that Lennon never experienced and so many boyhood illnesses his schoolfriends nicknamed him 'Lazarus' - he did have the unconditional love that the more materially comfortable Lennon never had. Seen in that light, 'I'm The Greatest' sounds more than just a joke and the slow plodding blues of the track could easily have gone in a different direction had this not been written directly for Ringo. Find it on: Lennon's guide vocal version can be heard on the 'Lennon Anthology' (1998)

Non-Album Recordings #5: 1975

The one and only exclusive Lennon B-side to feature him rather than Yoko singing is the rather odd [78] 'Move Over Ms L'. Taped during sessions for 'Rock and Roll', it's a wannabe 50s style rocker that got booted off the album along with 'Rock and Roll People' and 'Here We Go Again' for being originals and not covers (these last two appear on the posthumous 'Menlove Avenue' and would have made a more respectable pair of B-sides than this). Written with first Ringo and then Keith Moon in mind, it was rejected by the first for being too personal but carries on the same kind of 'not too many notes' party carnival atmosphere of John's usual material for his old friend (Keith did do it, although his unusually subdued version - included on his one and only solo album 'Two Sides Of The Moon'  - didn't come out till after Lennon's). The song is clearly inspired by the 'lost weekend' split from Yoko and like many of the 'Walls and Bridges' songs to come seems almost schizophrenic, screaming abuse with 'move over Ms L' before adding the more apologetic 'though I wish you well', as if Lennon is both thrilled and terrified by the thought of living without Yoko. Note too that for the only time in his life (well, what he recorded of it - and Lennon recorded lots) that her refers to Yoko using her married name, as if laying claim to the fact they still belong together (Yoko never attempted to get a divorce). The song is equally confused, bursting into taunted joy ('I'll forgive your trespassers if you forgive me mine!') before ending up somewhere more sober, Lennon waking up one day and finding himself 'full of beans and in your jeans - but you've lost your mother's road map!' ('mother' being his nickname for Yoko). This is the sound of a man lost and looking for release, but the party playing in the background sounds too loud for him to think clearly (again like much of 'Walls and Bridges'). In truth this is the scruffiest Lennon recording since the Elephants Memory sessions and sounds suspiciously as if the band are busking (they start off as if they're playing the A-side 'Stand By Me'; Lennon was lucky not to get yet another plagiarism court-case over this one!) A rehearsal take, with Lennon's vocal heard without the echo he loved so much and in a particularly witty mood breaking off into lots of different accents, later appeared on the 'Lennon Anthology' box set and would have made a far more interesting single than the version we got. Listen out too for the line 'they're starving back in China so finish what ya got', a line Lennon often used to block out his songs and was one of Aunt Mimi's favourite sayings (it crops up later on 'Nobody Told Me' too). Find it on: the CD re-issue of 'The Lennon Collection' (1982)

Lennon's second song for Ringo [79] 'Goodnight Vienna' is even weirder than his first. The phrase 'Goodnight Vienna' means 'it's all gone wrong' - not an obvious song for a drummer who back in the mid-70s was out-selling all his old colleagues (although Ringo's album of the same name was the start of a downhill trend). A funky retro rocker based around a Jerry Lee Lewis style boogie (played by Lennon on the guide take, but by old friend Billy Preston on the rocker), it follows the story of a man who takes his girl to a party and gets overtaken by lust, full of all sorts of unlikely teenage slang. By the end of the song the narrator has lost everything and everyone gets very worried for his welfare but he knows there's nothing anyone can do - 'don't phone the doctor when you just feel like crying!' It seems very out of place for Lennon's other songs of the period and is not an obvious candidate for Ringo, who sounds deeply uncomfortable singing it. However did Lennon give this song away and hide much of the verse with gibberish because it actually cut a little too close to the bone? Though only today I was reading an article about how Yoko wasn't that fussed about it really, honest, the 'lost weekend' period started when John and Yoko went to a party, John fell for a pretty visitor and took her upstairs for some noisy sex while his wife was left fuming down below trying to make polite conversation. Much of Yoko's work from 1972-1974 will be about her confused feelings of betrayal and her own annoyance at herself for not knowing what to do, while a lot of Lennon's work (particularly on the 'Mind Games' and 'Walls and Bridges' LPs) sounds downright guilty. This song, which takes place at a party and has the narrator getting carried away by one crazy moment of lust that leads to a lifetime or irreparable damage sounds mightily close to home when seen in this light. Though Lennon tries to turn the song into a fun track and the closest yet to the wordplay of his books by inventing words (the narrator 'feels like a buohunk', was a 'green as a frog, man' and 'zips up my mouth as I was starting to drool') the overall mood is strangely depressed, not the party atmosphere everyone tries to make the song into. Lennon's vocal, though clearly rough and not intended for public consumption, is a much better one than Ringo's, full of life and wit the drummer is too confused to perform himself. Curiously Ringo's record ends with a reprise of the track too, which doesn't really add much to the record and in fact takes away another 90 seconds out of your life where you could be doing something much more valuable. Another Lennon arrangement for the 'Goodnight Vienna' album (a version of 1940s standard 'Only You') also appears on the 'Lennon Anthology', although sadly no demos have turned up for Lennon's other song for Ringo 'Cookin' (in The Kitchen Of Life)' as heard pon Ringo's next album 'Rogotravure'. Find Lennon's vocal on 'Vienna' on 'The Lennon Anthology' (1998)

Recorded during the early Phil Spector sessions for 'Rock and Roll', [80] 'Here We Go Again' is a late masterpiece for Lennon. Written with the weariness of the forthcoming 'Walls and Bridges' era but performed with the party gusto of the rock and roll cover songs, it's a rare collaboration between Lennon and his producer and uses the best of both their styles; Lennon's questioning lyrics and mixture of confidence and bluster with vulnerability and doubt and Spector's ability to make even the lushest string arrangement sound tough. The opening swirl of orchestra is their single best use during Lennon's solo career (a shame, as he once used strings and horns in rock and roll better than anyone, albeit with George Martin's help, on 'A Day In The Life' and 'I Am The Walrus' etc). Lennon's lyrics aren't that special, as he simply mentions being caught in a trap of the mundanity and repetitiveness he'll finally escape during the house-husband days and in the context of the period sounds more like a cry for help over his many court cases more than anything else. The second half is better though, Lennon foreshadowing the depressed state of many 'Walls and Bridges' lyrics as he aimlessly searches for something he's sure was just in reach a while ago 'but someone keeps on moving the door'. The lyric also refers back to The Beatles' breakthrough American hit: 'No one gives a damn and no one wants to hold your hand' (the demo includes the line 'nobody ever thanks you, mam'. The melody, however, is far from being as weary or depressed as the words and fight against Lennon all the way, urging him onwards to see just how much beauty the world has in store with a nicely McCartney-like chord sequence that seems entirely natural and 'right'. A clever drum lick also appears to push Lennon forward whenever he becomes stuck and pauses for breath, inspiring Lennon to one last great roar of a vocal. A real classic that got away, it's a tragedy that only real Lennonophiles know this lovely song, abandoned because Phil Spector ran off with the session tapes and the pair fell out than for any musical demerit.

[81] 'Rock and Roll People', cut at the same sessions, is rather less essential though it would have made for a fun B-side. A little like Paul on his 1997 collection of rockers 'Run Devil Run', recording so many old time songs inspired John to have a go at writing one himself, although 'Rock and Roll People' ends up sounding even more of an unoriginal pastiche than anything his partner will go on to write. Lennon sings about how he and his rock and roll colleagues are 'born to be the news' and how he 'wouldn't change it if I could choose'. Summoning his best Chuck Berry patter, Lennon tells us that 'my father was a mother, my mother was a son' and continues in similar gibberish range until quoting direct from Berry with the chorus 'sweet sweet rock and roll!' This was dangerous territory for a man who was only doing his rock and roll albums because of a court case involving another Chuck Berry song, which might or might not have been why the song was abandoned early on in the sessions. Find it on: 'Menlove Avenue' (1986)
Written for drinking buddy Harry Nilsson's album 'Pussycats' (which Lennon produced) [82] 'Mucho Mungo' sounds quite unlike any other Lennon song or indeed anything else that Harry ever did. It's another oddly McCartney like ballad full of cosy intimacy about two lovers enjoying a comfortable life together which in Lennon speak probably means 'much long'. Though Lennon's demo is a mere 90 second fragment, Nilsson's version becomes a more thorough four minute version about a climb up a mountain that comes with a lovely string arrangement - it's a shame that Lennon never did sing it like this as he would have sounded rather good, pointing forward to the cosy intimacy of 'Double Fantasy' (although given the timing my guess is that the song was written for May Pang rather than Yoko). Find Lennon's version on: 'The Lennon Anthology' (1998)

Non-Album Recordings #6: 1978-1980

A halting take of [83] 'Real Love' appeared on 'The Lennon Anthology' some two years after it had appeared on The Beatles' 'Anthology Two', turned from a cute but slight home demo into an over-produced pop single (though still something of an improvement on 'Free As A Bird' it has to be said). Heard as it was meant to be heard, with Lennon up centre on a far superior take to the one the 'Threetles' were given, the song makes more sense - it's another cosy song about domestic harmony of the sort McCartney for one would have enjoyed in other circumstances. The jingly jangly piano riff still adds a layer of tension, though, going for a bit of a walk into the outside world before coming back 'home' for the cosy familiarity of the verses. My guess is that this song was one of the first written after John got back together with Yoko (for some reason Yoko puts it with the 'Mind Games' period on the 'Anthology' set although it's almost certainly not that old and almost equally certainly not as late as the 1980 date guessed at in the booklet!) and is about all the fears and confusion ebbing away as Lennon realises he's back where fate intended him to be. Like a convert, he wants to spread the message out to people (ironic given that he's just 'retired!') and tell everyone that real love is waiting for them - to every boy and girl he sees and to his younger self full of 'plans and schemes' that ultimately didn't matter. After searching for direction for so much of his career (most notably 'How?' to which this song sounds like an 'answer') Lennon sounds wonderfully happy and contented as 'from this moment on I know exactly where my life will go' and laughs at the earlier self for thinking he was ever in love in years gone by (poor Cynthia!) A cut middle eight, heard on many demos but not the one on 'Anthology', has Lennon purring 'I don't expect you to understand, the kingdom of heaven is at your hand' returning to an old theme about how everyone has control of their own destiny. An unexpectedly lovely surprise without all the ill-fitting extras. Find Lennon';s version on: 'The Lennon Anthology' (1998)

'God when I was a kid we didn't have stuff like this, TV dinners...wanna fucking car now, yer lucky to have a pair of shoes!' Proof that Lennon hadn't completely lost his bitterness, [84] 'Serve Yourself' is an ugly song that Lennon would have been unlikely to have released himself. By now quite separated from the music world in person, but still an eager devourer of the music press every week, Lennon was outraged by what he saw as the hypocrisy of many of his old buddies. This song found Bob Dylan and his Christian conversion in his sights, with a very scouse sounding Lennon (not unlike Paul O'Grady to modern ears)  trying to puncture his old pal's high-falluting concepts (at least on the 'first' version as released on 'Anthology'). As per 'God' Lennon demands that before you appeal to a higher being you first have to help yourself, but he's in a nastier mood than even that song. Half-laughing at his own rant, Lennon turns the song into an 'it wasn't like this in the old days' commentary telling us  'Well you may believe in Marks and you may believe in Marks and Spencers and you may believe in Woolworths - now get back in that bath and wash behind your ears!' Lennon returned to the song later as a mournful piano ballad as released on 'Home Tapes' (not unlike 'Mean Mr Mustard' with the same distinctive 'waddle') and spent more time discussing what the song is perhaps really about - Lennon's missing mother, whose absence still hurts after all this time (he even attempts to spell the word 'mother' before randomly throwing in 'wrong' letters in a very Lennon manner!) This version also includes the delightful line 'there's too much cockamamie - too much cockle-doodle-doo!' It must have been a useful way to vent frustrations up in the Dakota apartment and something to play Yoko when she came in from her day in the office but it's a curiously unlikeable, unfunny and ugly song that might perhaps have been better left to the 'Lost Lennon Tapes. Find it on: the snarlier guitar version can be heard on 'The Lennon Anthology' (1998) and the calmer piano version can be heard on 'Home Tapes', the CD included i the 'Lennon Signature' box set (2010)

A sweet early version of '(Just Like) Startin' Over, I actually wish Lennon had stuck with [85] 'My Life' instead of trying to turn his comeback into a theme song. Lennon dedicates his life to Yoko, before branching out to a more mournful minor key passage that didn't make the single, saying 'what's the point of life without you there?' Lennon hasn't quite got the ending yet, however.  Find it on: The Lennon Anthology

Though Lennon's trip to India with The Beatles and the Maharishi had been at least a decade ago, Lennon's current quieter way of life may have made him think about those times of quiet and stillness again. [86] 'The Rishikesh Song' is an odd little song, clearly not intended as a full song but more to get something off Lennon's chest. However what is it? As performed 'Rishikesh' is an upbeat happy song that comes across much like 'Across The Universe' (Lennon's 'other' song written about a Mahrishi lecture about being at one with the world) - but then it all goes strange with that goodbye line: 'Just swallow these words, that's all you've got to do!' Lennon left the course (after Paul and Ringo) because he'd become convinced the Maharishi had been conning him and George and had no more insight than anyone else (though Lennon was almost certainly swayed in his judgement by his 'friend' 'Magic' Alex, an associate from Apple who 'reported' seeing the Maharishi 'behave inappropriately' with a female attendee that no one else witnesses - he'd made no secret of wanting The Beatles back in London again where they could bail out his less than successful electrical inventions). Yoko seems to have felt that Lennon's message was in the cynicism not the joy (she too had an interest in getting Lennon home, away from Cynthia) and edits this track into another track from a different date titled 'Solitude'. This song is more like 'Yer Blues' with Lennon complaining of feeling 'suicidal - something is wrong'. The full six minute opus is one of Lennon's best creations of the period and it's a shame to hear it cut up like this. Find it on: 'Lennon Anthology' (1998)

Lennon's nastier side of his personality seems to have been vanquished forever, at least according to [87] 'Mr Hyde's Gone (Don't Be Afraid)', a playful music hall style song with blues overtones. The Lennons have a day of doing nothing and drinking coffee ahead of them so the sleeping narrator shouldn't be worried about the 'shadows and lights' keeping him awake - they mean nothing and are just a memory of a darker time. A fascinating composition, quite unlike anything else Lennon ever wrote, though with quite an ugly melody,  it would have been interesting to hear what Lennon would have done with this. Find it on: 'The Lennon Anthology' (1998)

A rather spooky near-farewell, [88] 'Dear John' finds Lennon looking back on his life and realising how hard it all was. 'Don't be so hard on yourself - give yourself a break' he sighs' before peeling off to tell us that 'the race is over - you've won'. One of Lennon's last ever demos, from somewhere round the first half of 1980, it's rather eerie hearing Lennon talking about himself almost in the third impression and summing up his life as if it's complete. Alas it's not much of a song, more of a two-verses diary about having nothing to do after years of pressure, although it makes for a neat riposte to 'Hold On John' from ten years earlier, telling himself he doesn't need to 'hold on' for anything anymore - perfection is here at last. Find it on: 'The Lennon Anthology' (1998)

Ah yes, hello and greetings to [89] 'The Great Wok'. Using a bit of classical music as backing, Lennon takes us on a strange story that sounds like a cut out chapter of 'In His Own Write'. The great wok has great work to do and sounds like a close cousin of the Maharishi. 'Brahma' (actually the Hindu God responsible for creation - as George Harrison would no doubt have informed John) is 'in Burma' and is in Lennon's imagination a 'period of a thousand years'. Lennon spouts something about how the future can never be known and tells us his resolution for 1979: 'to renounce complete luxury and self-indulgence' and then starts quoting George Formby. It's not one of Lennon's funnier parodies and a curious addition to the box set where it sounds awfully out of place. Find it on: 'The Lennon Anthology' (1998)

A whistled acoustic guitar instrumental, [90] 'It's Real' is pretty but pretty flimsy too, lasting barely a minute. Though the song might well have turned into something good, it's left hanging in the air like a thread Lennon was in the middle of tugging when his life was so cruelly taken away, still waiting to be finished. Find it on: 'The Lennon Anthology' (1998) and 'Acoustic' (2004)
Based around an earlier, superior song 'I Don't Want To Sleep Alone', the rare Lennpon demo [91] 'Help Me To Help Myself' was a surprise addition to the 'Double Fantasy' CD re-issue. Never properly considered for that record, it's a troubled piano ballad that's closer to 'Stranger's Room' than the happier songs on that record. Lennon has struggled his whole life through, with 'the angel of destruction who keeps on hounding me'. Lennon knows, though, that despite another split being on the cards he and Yoko can never truly part and will always be psychically 'tied' wherever they are. Lennon still worries though, throwing in a few 'lord help mes' along the way as he feels sorry for himself, altering his usual mantra on how you have to 'serve yourself' by reaching out for instructions from someone else. A rather odd though not unpleasant song. Find it on: 'Double Fantasy' (CD re-issue)

'Lordy take this make-up off of me - it's bad enough on the beach, but it's worse in the sea, heh heh heh!' Lennon's back at his Dylan impressions again with a mocking trio of [ ] 'Satires' that take the melody of 'Knockin' On Heaven's Door' and throw in a few Dylan references along the way. Given that Lennon in many ways considered that he had 'found' Dylan (at least in the rock and pop world) he really seems to have a problem with his old mate in this period and clearly doesn't like his recent religious records much. The first Satire is the best - the second drags a bit too long and features perhaps the longest sentence in Lennon';s canon (although his comment after an epic line that 'man, that sounds like a ballad to me!' is a spot on Dylan impression). The third is just a snippet, Lennon answering the knock-knockin'-knockin' on Dylan's door thanks to a sound effects tape with the line 'they say the best things in life are free - except when they're on TV, heh heh heh!' (what is it with that Sid James style laugh? I don't think I've ever heard Dylan laugh!) You wonder whether Dylan ever did any Lennon impressions - or whether he'd have considered such things beneath him. Find them on: 'The Lennon Anthology' (1998)

 [ ] 'One Of The Boys' is a funkier 'Woman', complete with a burst of French, Lennon may be singing about himself here and his ability to mingle with everybody or Yoko's ability to mix so well with male company. A French Riviera style guitar part is so tricky Lennon has to have three stabs at the instrumental break, laughing in frustration as he tries to fit his out-of-practice fingers around the tricky riff. The verse sounds uncomfortably like 'Dancing In The Streets' though ('It doesn't matter what you wear..') so would have to be changed at some point if Lennon didn't want to go through another Morris Levy-style plagiarism case! Find it on: 'Home Tapes', part of the 'Lennon Signature' box set (2010)

Finally for now, the charming [ ] 'India India' finds Lennon returning once again to his days in Rishikesh under the Maharishi. Though notoriously damning of this whole period shortly afterwards, Lennon seems to have felt quite wistful for the period in his house-husband days - could it be that he's longing not for the place but the person, the early days of his courtship with Yoko when she sent him love letters through the Indian post ('open your ancient mysteries to me' could apply to person or country equally well!) or is it simply the sound of a tired new-father whose been up all night longing for some peace and quiet?! Quite often Lennon's spiritual songs come with some cynical comment or other, but not here - instead Lennon sings quite straightforwardly about being at peace in a foreign land and remembering sitting with his feet in the sea waiting for a 'message'. However the message ultimately came not from the environment but from his own 'heart' - 'and go home...in England with the girl I left behind'. This is no great lost classic but it's sweet enough as demos go and nice to have out legitimately at last! Find it on: 'Home Tapes' the disc released as part of the 'Signature' box set (2010)

Non-Album Recordings #7: 1980

The last word in Lennon's lifetime belongs to Yoko. [107] 'Walking On Thin Ice' ended up becoming the last instalment in the JohnandYoko story, recorded the very day he died. John was in fact carrying a reel-to-reel copy of the work in progress when he was shot. Eerily it reads very much like a 'goodbye' song, a tale of how life can be random and how even the cosiest, happiest of relationships are only one step away from tragedy. Though Lennon doesn't sing on the track, it's clearly his nerve-shredding guitar on the track, recalling his rock and roll chord slashing on Yoko's first album and significantly the biggest collaboration between the pair since 1972. Frustratingly for what might have been, it's s terrific song, a cut above even what Yoko had been writing for 'Double Fantasy' and a world away from the cosy family dramas of John's song for the albums. Of all the songs the pair recorded across 1980 this is the most contemporary and 'new wave', proof that JohnandYoko's sound might have yet have been adaptable to a whole new musical genre as in years past. However this is Yoko's show and she's on powerful form on this track, using the best of her harder edges rock from 1971-1972 with the new edgier sounds she's been working with across 'Doyble Fantasy' to disconcerting effect. Alongside Lennon's guttural screams her vocal is coy and coquettish, most of the drama coming off-screen with a lowly mixed synth-brass fanfare and a bass-'n'-drum part that recalls Abba. The fragmentary lyrics are fascinating and downright spooky as Yoko reverses her claim that 'Hard Times Are Over' with the sense of something dark and sinister arriving. Most moving of all is the third verse when Yoko claims that 'I may cry some day, but the tears will dry whichever way - when our hearts return to ashes it will be just a story', neatly putting an end to the JohnandYoko adventure that the pair so often referred to as a 'story'. Having Lennon effectively make a guest appearance on his 'goodbye' track of all choices is one of the most spine-chiling moments across all thirty AAA books; Yoko has recalled sense a feeling of impending doom that both she and John had but that neither of them could quite pin down or understand. Whether they meant that or not, the vibes must have been strong in the studio when they were making this song. Lennon wasn't joking when he declared that Yoko had 'just made her first number one' after the recording session, re-calling the words George Martin had once said to him back in 1963 - even without the extra publicity of his death 'Walking On Thin Ice' was sure to have done well and is perhaps Yoko's most famous song to this day. Though Yoko was admirably sparing in her Lennon 'tribute' releases, this single appeared as originally planned on January 6th 1981 (but with new Yoko song 'It Happened' from 'Season Of Glass' rather than one of John's songs on the B-side as intended), peaking at #35 in the UK (Yoko's only charting solo single). Even without the drama behind it all, this courageous song deserved to do even better. Find it on: most Yoko compilations and the 'Onobox' (1992)

No comments:

Post a Comment