Monday, 25 January 2016

Neil Young "Harvest Moon" (1992)

Neil Young "Harvest Moon" (1992)

Unknown Legend/From Hank To Hendrix/You and Me/Harvest Moon/War Of Man//One Of These Days/Such A Woman/Old King/Dreamin' Man/Natural Beauty

"Ears ringing from the battle fire, the tired warrior aims a little higher"

'Harvest' in 1972 had been the sound of a man at the Spring of his career, reaping the reward of being in the right place at the right time as all the pieces of his past - the Buffalo Springfield, Crazy Horse, CSNY and orchestral solo sounds of the debut album - came together. A 'Harvest Moon' is a particular term for the full moon that shines nearest to the September equinox, the 'Autumn' years. The twenty years in between had seen Neil Young's career wax and wane to an even crazier beat than the lunar surface and had led the singer-songwriter-guitarist down some very odd paths, when his muse was at best 'crescent full'. Now, though, Neil feels his muse pulling him like a magnet through the sky every bit as strongly as ever it did in 1972, before Danny Whitten, Geffen and 'rust' torpedoed his career in commercial terms. He clearly feels as if he's onto something, that the wind is blowing in the right direction after some well received returns to form with Crazy Horse and once again he's ready to reap the fact that his style and persona plus his standing with the fans and critics happen to be in fashion this year. However 'Harvest Moon' is not a direct sequel to 'Harvest' - it's a middle aged man's record, full of ifs and whats and maybes, worried about where the future might lead and guilty about neglecting people from his past, but simply pleased that he even has a future and hopeful that it might yet be as rosy as his past. The big change comes on 'You and Me' where Neil describes an 'Old Man' again, but instead of telling him 'I'm a lot like you were' Neil pulls back to reveal it's himself, 'a touch of grey but he don't care', his experiences having changed him since he was '24 with so much more'. It's a changing of the guard this album, a baton being passed on to another generation in contrast to the overgrown youth of 'Ragged Glory'. As  many fans have pointed out, though,  'Harvest Moon' is actually a truer sequel thematically to 'Comes A Time', Neil's last 'family' record with a folky beat, and sees him turn ever more inward for seven songs about human relationships, two about ecology and one about his dog.

From the cover and title you'd be forgiven for assuming that this was one of Neil's 'dark' records, a silhouette replacing the usual Neil technique of fuzzy photos, blocks of colour and full-frontal shots of Neil in various poses. You can learn a lot from Neil Young album covers, even the ones that are ugly, but this one is quite beautiful: a stark silhouette of Neil, apparently on his ranch and his first since 'Tonight's The Night' to come in black and white, while also reflecting the sepia tinges of 'Comes A Time'. It's a pretty fitting cover for an album that's big on imagery and symbolism, trying to find connections through incidents and memories that don't appear to hold any particular meaning, though it also reflects the autobiography of both records. Neil sings of falling in love with Pegi, his guilt at not keeping in touch with old friends and even mourns for his favourite dog with a directness that would have caught the fan arriving here from the 'Geffen' years by surprise: these real-sounding sentiments aren't hidden behind vocodered robots, greasy haired rocker personas or lo-fi songs about being a fish. Could it be that at last Neil feels comfortable in his skin? That - in stark contrast to keeping us fans 'out' of his family life when son Ben was suffering in the 'Trans' period - he now wants to let us 'in', to see what it really is like to live with Neil Young in 1992? Sometimes Neil even goes too far, coming closest to overly gushing romance as in the nostalgia fest of 'One Of These Days' or the sugary strings of 'Such A Woman', perhaps the only one of the ten songs that rings a little hollow, but that's the sort of thing you can only risk when you're comfortable with yourself and your art - a record even more brave and far more revealing than the genre-hopping of the 1980s.
If 'Harvest' is an album about longing for something - of running away, packing it in 'and buying a pick up' while longing for a 'maid' and imagining a future like the old man on Neil's ranch- then 'Harvest Moon' is an album about having found something but being worried about letting it go. At times love wins out: 'Such A Woman' points to the inner romantic Neil usually keeps hidden (even if the ending is slightly more ambiguous, the pair using their closeness for ill as much as good) and the 'Harvest Moon' title track is one of the purest, revelling-in-the-moment songs of Neil's back catalogue. But then there are other songs where it feels like it's slipping away: the mother rushing around looking after two kids can't help but feel pangs of regret for how her life worked out on 'Unknown Legend', the next track 'From Hank To Hendrix' asks poignantly whether that shared history is enough to 'still walk side by side' to the end of the road and 'You and Me' is particularly fascinating in this light, a song begun in 1974 about different relationship altogether (the end of Neil's days with Carrie Snodgrass) and finished in 1992 from a whole new perspective: suddenly we've jumped in the blink of an eye from 'letting the lovin' start' to being decades ahead, the times where 'some were good and some were bad'. 'Old King' acknowledges the very natural theme of passing with obvious regret but also a sense that this is how it should be - that we appreciate things more when they're transient and passing. It's possibly the least schmaltzy my-dog-is-dead country song ever written, with the jovial chorus 'that old Hound-dog is history!', but rings true nonetheless. Time is precious is the album's theme, which happens to be the theme of 'Harvest' too but the difference is age and perspective, with Neil having by now worked out a little bit more what things are worth preserving and which are best left alone - mournful of the good friendships he let fade away and friendships that didn't work out rather than longing for them to start.

This is, too, a very backward looking record, full of references to past loves, memories and even pets. That's unusual for Neil - his only former track to ever look backwards with regrets was 'Long May You Run' and that was about a flipping car - and something he's never yet repeated. Till this point Neil's music has always been moving on to the next big thing, of chasing the next great idea and escaping your past as it only slows you down (and as 1979 told us, you can 'rust' if you end up in the same place for too long). This is the one exception, the record where Neil admits that her has a past and hasn't always made the most of it before dropping one idea for the next. A quick look through any Neil biography full of interviews with bands who've been cast aside when a new muse appears or who were exiled from the Neil ranch for reasons they never quite understood will have been shocked to hear 'One Of These Days' in which Neil promises to 'sit down and write a long letter to all the good friends I've known'. Most Neil love songs, too, are about the future and what might be - not what was, such as the first meeting with wife Pegi which took place in a 'diner' on 'Unknown Legend'. Similarly, while Neil can and has spent whole albums wondering about whether a relationship is 'right', he's never implored his partner to stay together for the sake of the past and their shared lives together as he does on 'From Hank To Hendrix', where Neil typically  measures his life by the bands he was into at the time. 'Old King', about Neil's pet canine Elvis, is also unusually nostalgic, remembering his days as a puppy as much as his life in old age (his name 'changed' so people wouldn't think he was being rude about the singer, which again is unusual for Neil - usually he wouldn't care and anyway could have been singing about Elvis Costello - or footballer Elvis Abbruscato for that matter, though Neil singing about sports would have been truly unique!) Neil feels like he's aging across this record, finally doing the sort of things other writers do at his age (though typically he doesn't stay there - he'll bounce back with a record full of mystery even his younger self would have admired). He's even back to working with old friends again, including many who made the original 'Harvest' album with him as the 'Stray Gators' (a nickname they picked up on tour, so it isn't on the original 'Harvest' album): Ken Buttrey, Spooner Oldham and regular Ben Keith. Nicolette Larson also reprises her role as Neil's foil and muse, dancing across the songs the same way she did on 'Comes A Time'. There's even, would you believe, the first return appearance of Jack Nitzsche for the first time since Neil's first record and his work with the Buffalo Springfield, making for a lovely contrast with the 'then' and 'now'.

What won't come as a shock to longterm followers is that Neil released his purest, simplest album in years straight after giving us his most intense rocking period with 'Ragged Glory' and 'Weld'. To some extent the pretty acoustic feel of 'Harvest Moon' was rather thrust upon Neil, who'd been playing with such intensity for so many years that his hearing was shot and he was suffering from tinnitus which left a ringing in the ears that for a time seemed to put his whole 'rockstar' half on hold. Oddly enough, though, just as 'Ragged Glory' was a quiet and somewhat humble album that just happened to have been recorded really really loud, so 'Harvest Moon' is often a loud and expressive record for all it's purely unplugged backing. In a way it's delivered as if we've got tinnitus too: there are real surges and peaks throughout the record that get surprisingly loud for a record where none of the instruments go above a whisper, with perhaps the best sense of dynamics of any Young record. It's as if we're hearing every single slight movement in sound and it's being magnified into something much bigger than it would normally be. This is a record that never ever goes above a whisper - and yet it's a record that has no need to shout, making it's point through calm power and dynamics which actually get your attention more than an hour of 'Glory's guitar riffs.

That's particularly true of the two great ecological songs that end the original sides (not that many people did buy this one on vinyl in 1992 but Neil clearly thought that way for many more years yet given the natural 'peak' feel somewhere in the middle of most of his later records; I first owned this album on cassette anyway which is why I noticed - and skipping through the eight minutes or so of silence at the end of side two to balance out 'Natural Beauty' was a right pain, I can tell you). Both songs seem to work as a way of putting the earlier songs into some kind of context, of making 'Harvest Moon' seem more than just a man moaning about getting old. For a start, Neil isn't moaning - the life experiences he's had have all shaped him for the better and are 'natural' and authentic rather than artificial, a theme that crops up a lot across this record. Aging is nature's way and mankind's interference with Mother Nature, though the lyrics don't relate to aging per se, are 'bad': children don't dreams of towns and industrial landscapes but the rugged countryside, while 'no one' wins in a war of man where life is 'safer' and happens at the speed it's meant to (of course, Neil being Neil, 'War Of Man' also appears on the same album as a song that's effectively a hymn to a gas-guzzling motorbike). 'Natural Beauty', generally seen as the only weak song of the bunch, is actually amongst Neil's most fascinating, using this contradictory theme throughout as Neil tries hard to preserve 'natural beauty' for the ages - which of course means that it's no longer natural at all but artificially kept in a way that time won't wear it down or wither it. Reflecting that he's a 'lucky man' for living at a time when Earth hadn't yet given up all her precious spoils, Neil also wastes the chance - buying a pair of 'seamless pants' and throwing away a piece of pure inspiration 'into an anonymous all of digital sound' (an early advert for his pono players perhaps?!) Time crops up a lot across this record, usually in the personal and often when we're wasting it or aging, but by including two ecological protest songs hot on the heels of 1990's 'Mother Earth' Neil seems to be making a bigger case of this: that nature should be allowed to take its course and that our attempts to stem the tide are doomed to failure.

There is, you see, for all this album's surface sweetness and light and whispered sounds a dark side of the Harvest Moon. Dogs die, friends come and go and relationships that started with such promise fizzle out, while man is fighting a senseless war against the planet that has already offered him so much. Most of the songs on 'Harvest Moon' have a twist: the heroine of 'Unknown Legend' gets a 'faraway look in her eyes' while she wonders what unmarried life might have been like; 'Such A Woman' appears to be the perfect love song but it ends so ominously: 'No one else can kill me like you do' - this is a couple that know each other so well that their words can be used to wound as well as support, another side effect of aging. The big one, though, is 'Dreamin' Man', a song that sounds so innocuous and pretty it's a shock when it turns out to be a song about a killer/stalker suffering from hallucinations, pulling up to pursue his prey 'with a loaded gun and sweet dreams of you' (the only 'clue' is the chorus intoning 'he's got a problem' and even that sounds kind of cute the way Nicolette Larsson and co sing it). Though 'Ragged Glory' sounds the tougher, heavier album because of the feedback and noise, it's actually 'Harvest Moon' that packs more devilish imagery and weight into its words, proof that you don't have to be shouting to make a point sound important.

Released at a time when Neil's - what is this now, third? - comeback was in the ascendency, 'Harvest Moon' was rated as many critics' album choice of the year back in 1992, hailed as milestone return from one of the few writers who still had something left to give in the 20th century's last and most nostalgic decade. There's more than a few fans who fell in love with Neil's work at this point and for whom this album holds a special place. It's certainly amongst the better crafted and thought out works of the second half of Neil's career, the detail and hard work putting a lie to his usual 'first thought, best thought' routine. This mixture of thoroughness and leaving tracks just enough alone not to topple them reveals a far greater grasp of the material than what occurred on both 'Harvest' and 'Comes A Time'. What 'Harvest Moon' lacks, however, is the career peaks of the first album and the excellent consistency of the second, with a slightly dodgy and overcooked second side and a first that tends to meander. The pair of songs 'One Of These Days' and 'Such A Woman' lack the clever wit and twists and turns of the rest of the album songs (even if it is good to hear Neil worrying about the people he's cast off and left behind for a change and revealing his inner self without his usual barriers - both reasons worth praising in an era when most artists had stopped pushing outside their comfort zones, though it's a shame they don't result in better songs). 'Harvest Moon' is undeniably beautiful, which is I suppose all a track really needs to be, though it's beautiful in a slightly emptier, more mainstream way than over Neil love ballads, a far cry from the intensity of 'Like A Hurricane' for instance. 'Old King' is hilarious once and slightly irritating thereafter, it's upbeat banjos and surging chorus barking up the wrong tree on an album that otherwise has been so careful about its overall sound. 'Dreamin' Man' is just odd and out of step with the record in being the one song here that's character-based, not drawn from real life (at least, so you're outside my house right now aren't you Neil? Help! Phew, it's just the Spice Girls sick at my jokes about them...wait, actually that's worse), albeit oddly beautiful all at the same time.

Nonetheless there are some truly great moments across this record that reveal Neil's confidence in his muse is well placed and his delicate natural touch on the details of a record was rarely better than here. The way the chorus suddenly kicks in on 'From Hank To Hendrix' plus the sheer physicality in the lyrics of a girl hitting air as she travels on a motorbike reflecting her colliding thoughts takes us from 0-60 (sixty to zero?) with class, summing up a relationship you can buy into almost instantly. 'You and Me's unusual folk pickings and some of the best harmony singing outside CSNY between Neil and Nicolette is spine-tinglingly perfect, pure in its very sparseness. 'War Of Man' is a production triumph, a gorgeous display of passive-aggression as Neil makes his point though poetry and atmosphere. condensing his usual unhinged rage on these matters into a single weary chorus line. And 'Natural Beauty' is gorgeous, a song that takes the long way round, revelling in the brilliance of the moment for eleven precious minutes as Neil debates what it is to be alive and wishes he could preserve the moments that are so special - but of course their very fleetingness is what made them so special in the first place. A production epic using crickets, backing singers, an organ and the sounds of the Brazilian Rainforest, it's a more sophisticated sequel to 'Mother Earth', asking just what exactly it is about the Earth that Neil wants to 'preserve'. The result isn't quite my favourite Neil Young moment of the 1990s as it seems to be for most other people (this record's polar opposite, the obtuse and elliptical 'Sleeps With Angels' is probably the winner there), but it may well be my favourite album of 1992 (not much competition there admittedly) and is certainly an impressively mature and well crafted CD. Neil deserved every last accolade he reaped on this rare journey back from the 'ditch' to the 'highway', though we're probably also a little bit pleased he didn't stay there.

'Unknown Legend' sounds amazingly still for a song that's full of such action and turbulence, as Neil tries to see life through wife Pegi's eyes, though the song still appears to be narrated by him.  One minute she's there working in a diner where this mad new customer she doesn't know 'used to order just to watch her walk across the floor'. She's had a disrupted childhood, moving from town to town as her dad changes jobs, that sense of movement and freedom matched by her passion for her Harley Davidson bike that can take her anywhere at speed. To some extent she lost all that when she married Neil, put her 'roots down' and became a mother tied to one place. That sense of freedom and wildness was what made Pegi appeal to Neil in the first place and she effectively traded that to be his wife. Though Neil doesn't say it - this is a descriptive song rather than a philosophical argument - the hint is that Neil has risked killing the thing in her that he loved, feeling guilty over the 'faraway look in her eyes' as she ponders her old life and the way her new one might have turned out. The 'magic' kiss that Neil promised her now seems less magical when it comes with the reality of 'dressing two kids'. Though musically little happens in this song, which by Neil standards sits in one place and one chord for a very long time indeed, it's impressively far from boring as Neil adds just enough of a change in the dreamy memory filled chorus to offer hope and contrast. It's an impressively brave opening song for an album, sucking you in slowly and the melody only making its presence felt when you know the album really well. It's the lyrics, though, that stand out the most: though traditionally Neil tends to work in symbols and metaphors (at least compared to his more 'truthful' CSN colleagues) this is proof that his observant eye can do 'real' as well as anybody. Most impressive of all, there is no resolution, the song switching between weary present and wild past in a cycle that sounds as if it will run long past the end of the song. And there, nagging away at the heart of the song is the unanswered question: was giving up all that freedom really worth it? A special song.

'From Hank To Hendrix' seems at first like a mistake placed here - the melody really isn't that different to 'Unknown Legend' and comes at the same slightly sluggish tempo. Thematically though it's the same song from a slightly different perspective. Neil worries that his marriage is hitting the rocks - already, some twenty years before the Darryl Hannah escapade - and goes through some memories of his own to dim the pain and trey to work out where it all went wrong. As with the last song, the message is that 'the same thing that makes you life can kill you in the end' - that expecting someone to change the things you fell in love with for a different sort of relationship is asking for trouble. Rather wonderfully Neil recalls his past in terms of the music he was into, the title putting us back in the era of The Shadows' Hank Marvin to Jimi Hendrix, before extending the metaphor to make the marriage a union that should have lasted the test of time the way his favourite music does because it's about the only thing that meant as much to him and that, like music at it's worst, the message became 'distorted' somewhere along the way. Of course, this being Neil the melody is nothing like either Hank or Hendrix: it's another folky acoustic song with some added accordion and some great Ben Keith pedal steel. Perhaps the closest song in style to 'Harvest' and it's worry about the future, the point is reinforced by the return of James Taylor and Linda Rondstadt, who both sang on 'Heart Of Gold'. The bigger link, thoughy, is with 'I Believe In You' from 'After The Goldrush', a song that's more about the narrator wondering if he can believe in someone else, whatever the catchy chorus seems to be saying. Here Neil reflects that, for what it's worth, he made the right decision all those years ago: 'I don't believe in much' he sighs, 'But I believe in you'. Another excellent song.

'You and Me' is a third strong in a row, lesser known than it's two companions but every bit as startling. Neil started the song in 1974, somewhere between 'On The Beach' and 'Zuma', and it's at one with the other 'wakening from a bad spell' acoustic songs of the period like 'Deep Forbidden Lake' (released on 'Decade' but recorded around now). Neil only ever got as far as the opening two verses though, a comment on how time flies and a memory of a couple 'making love beneath a tree'. Neil often comes back to his discarded songs over years, even the unfinished ones, and finally polished this track off some eighteen years later - as far as we know the longest gestation period of all his songs. It could be that he simply couldn't have written 'You and Me' in 1974: this is an older man's song, not so much about a couple meeting but a couple staying the course. Though the couple are in love and share much, they are also two very different people - Neil recalls years of 'the guitar fighting the TV' as both of them try to relax in very different ways, which of course doesn't make them relax at all. This isn't just a break-up song though: Neil reflects later that 'true love conquers all', even the strongest of differences if it's strong enough, and urges either himself, his lover or both to 'open up their eyes' to love and 'let the light back in'. The verse that people remember though comes at the end when we seem to be returning to meet 'Old Man', the character from 'Harvest' and Neil reveals that this time he's talking about himself, a touch of grey in his hair and children of his own. The young man of '24' on the original song worried about his future made his choices and doesn't regret them 'when he hears his children call' - but it's not been the fairytale romance he once dreamed of and the pair of lovers remain two separate entities, the 'you' and 'me' of the title. It's the performance of this song that makes a very good song great, though, returning to the sparse guitar-and-voices telling that Neil saves for all his most important 'relationship' songs on 'Comes A Time' and 'Hawks and Doves' etc. Neil's acoustic picking and his vulnerable voice are gorgeous, every weary pressing forward of each little chord change sounding huge in the context of such silence, as if every slight note and move forward comes at a cost. Better yet is Nicolette Larsson's harmony vocal on one of the most striking guest appearances of any Young album, her gorgeous warm harmonies bringing out the warmth in his voice (only CSN's ever sounded better wrapped around his) and turning this solo song of doubt into a duet, two lovers dancing round each other. Each twist and turn of their ghostly voices hang in the air, both scanning each other to see where this relationship can go next. The song, cleverly, ends on a question mark, a plea to let the light back in that for once isn't answered and has Neil singing alone. Gorgeous.

'Harvest Moon' isn't so much a comedown as a chance to draw breath. The album's hit single (well, it hit #36 in the UK and an impressive #36 in Canada though it flopped in America strangely - even so it was his best-selling in at least two countries since 'Heart Of Gold' from the original 'Harvest'), it's a beautiful love song that successfully conjures up feeling of intimacy and makes good use of the acoustic-guitars-and-voices texture that's the backbone of the album, with the closest on the album to Neil's usual guitar riffs. There's even a clever and distinctive rhythm part played on a broom of all things, conjuring up images of the housework and routine being literally swept aside by this sudden moment of impulse. The lyrics return to the theme of remembering the good times as, with the children safely in bed, the married couple in the song can dance like the young lovers they used to be, dancing to an older moon in the 'Autumn' of their lives than the one they first danced under all those years ago. However, compared to the best of this album 'Harvest Moon' is a little one-note, without the twists and turns or sense of achievement and unspoken longing of the three tracks we've heard so far. That isn't, by itself, a bad thing - if every song on an album is an epic you tend to lose sight of how rare and difficult it is to make a complex song work. But in the context of the detailed and carefully plotted songs that make up most of the record this one feels a little unfinished. Take the finale for instance: we get a long great rambling solo, which features some nice harmonica playing but not much else going on, and the pay-off is merely yet another repeat of the chorus, for the third time in the song. The song places so much important on the hook in this chorus that it's rather a shame Neil uses one of his worst rhymes in that spot too: 'you' and 'moon', which isn't even 'June' and 'moon'. Even so, this is far from bad and another nice performance featuring a lovely Linda Ronstadt harmony part does much to enhance the mood.

'War Of Man' is another much under-rated track, an atmospheric piece that makes a lot from using very little. We've heard ecological rants from Neil for years but this is one of his best, with a real sense of drama and desperation, performed with an impressive icy aloofness and winteryness. It's essentially a song of maternal love, both between all species' adults and their young and the bigger idea of a Mother Earth taking care of all of us. This 'warmth of ages' has always been there, but man - painted here as a 'tired warrior' - always has to aim a 'little higher, using his  technology that could be used for good ('healing light') more often for bad ('the flash of the barrel'). Though man can and does care for animals, more often he hurts and kills them - and though mankind is the stronger animal and usually the victor, no one really wins in a war of man. A second verse repeats Noah's ark, animals running to safety two by two, but this time it's away from mankind whose there to attack them, not to save them (it might be worth pointing out all that the flood myth is sad to have been caused because of mankind's arrogance in the first place, so he effectively wiped out every innocent animals except the pairs that Noah saved). Waiting, though, is not safety but a trap of poisonous gas and machine guns. A final verse has a little girl dreaming, 'the sky her playground' as she imagines herself on horseback embracing nature - so why do so many little children turn into killers, exploiting nature for material greed? It's a question that's vexed Neil for years - at least since 'Here We Are In The Years' from his first album - and he's no closer to finding out a solution now. An impressive backing track makes the most of its sudden swells of power, with Neil's pretty guitarwork suddenly sounding small and feeble against the onslaught of the closest to a full-on band across the whole album. Tim Drummond's bass is particularly strong, running at a different tempo to the other instruments as he mocks and challenges the relentless march at every turn, moving headlong into oblivion. The greatest moment though, surely, is that final verse when Neil hands the reality of mankind over to the imagination of that little girl and the vocals over to Nicolette and Neil's sister Astrid for a truly sublime bit of music, pure and golden in contrast to the slog of the rest of the song. Neil's vocal too is one of his best, understatedly angry as he looks down on a scene he can do nothing to prevent. The song then ends on  a sad, slow march, as if the band are disappearing down the crest of a hill into total annihilation which most people haven't even seem coming. Another exceptional track.

Side two moves away from the countryside to Neil's sitting room where he's finally plucked up the courage to write a 'long' letter 'to all the good friends I've known'. Only he doesn't know what to say after so many years of not speaking to good people and feeling slightly ashamed of being out of contact for so long, so instead he procrastinates like mad, writing a song about it instead. He still promises himself that 'one of these days' he'll actually do it - but you kind of know he won't. The song then turns into one of those songalogues we get from Neil every so often full of memories about his past (see 'Helpless' 'Journey Through The Past' and much later 'Born In Ontario'). Neil wants to thank 'that old stiff fiddle player' (perhaps George Whitsell, one time a member of Crazy Horse and a guest on 'Running Dry') and 'all those rough boys who play that rock and roll' (perhaps Crazy Horse themselves), before talking about the places he's lived and worked 'from L.A. down to Nashville, New York City to my Canadian Prairie Home'. A kind of 'This Is Your Life' with the guests all absent, Neil reflects on how his friends are 'scattered' round the world 'like leaves from an old Maple' and regrets not putting in more effort to stay in touch. This is a nice sentiment and proves that Neil is grown up enough to confess to his often callous ditching for former friends and colleagues, leaving them waiting round for him to call them again. The fact that Neil is back working with the 'Stray Gators' on this song for the first time in twenty years also proves that Neil does sometimes get back in touch, even if takes him a while. However there's not enough going on in 'One Of These Days' to sustain a chorus, never mind a song, as Neil repeats the title so many times he could have picked up the phone and rung up at least four old friends in the time it takes to play this track out. The melody is also a step down from most on this album, with the chorus full of intoned voices, the weakest on the album. I have, however, wondered if the 'it won't be long' chorus is a terrific in-joke: back when Neil was in a school band doing Shadows covers (there's Hank Marvin cropping up again) his first ever vocal was on a cover of The Beatles' 'It Won't Be Long' (the opening track of second LP 'With The Beatles'). Is that how this song got started perhaps, with Neil trying to remember how to play his first starring moment and then moving to think about all the musicians he's played with since over the years?

Neil can be many frustrating things at times - repetitive, obtuse and raw - but I don't think he could ever have been accused of being schmaltzy before. 'Such A Woman' is his cheesiest song, an unwelcome repeat of the over-lush orchestras of 'Harvest' on 'There's A World' and 'A Man Needs A Maid' that sounds more like something Barry White should be doing. Any fan who jumped on board the Neil Young bandwagon after 'Ragged Glory' and 'Weld' probably threw this album away now, with Neil's muted voice surrounded only by full on strings and piano. There is, however, a strong song in here somewhere as Neil pays tribute to Pegi once more with the understanding that their closeness is a double edged sword: that such secret knowledge of each other's deepest feelings can be used for harm as well as good. The melody too is rather lovely, slow and stately and serene and quite unlike anything Neil had ever done before. The fact it's not entirely successful is due to the fact that the effect is just so overpowering: this album, especially, has been about the cold hard reality not fairytales and several songs on this album already have challenged this song's sentiment 'our love will live on till the end of time'. Though it's great to hear working with one of his first and loudest supporters in Jack Nitzsche, this track's arrangement is a pale copy of Buffalo Springfield classic 'Expecting To Fly', lacking the same fragile beauty and sense of awe. Perhaps the weakest track on the album, though when an album is strong enough for a song this half-promising to be the weakest link that's still an impressive score.

'Old King' is the joker in the musical pack, Neil's tribute to his faithful hound Elvis who died in 1991 after one chase after rabbits too many. Neil has always been close to his dogs (Art, famously, used to tour with him and CSNY used to say they knew they were playing well when he wondered on stage to listen) and had Elvis longer than most, for more or less as long as he'd owned the ranch and met Pegi. This reminder of mortality and the fleetingness of life may well have been what started him thinking down this album's themes of the impermanence of life and relationships. However, though the song is given country touches thanks to the Ben Keith overdub special of banjo and pedal steel, it's no great weepie 'my dog died' tragedy but a comedy of sorts, with some heavy dog breathing on the opening and Neil impressively down to earth as he sings 'Old King' sure meant a lot to me - but that hound dog is history'. The banjo tune, too, cleverly mimics the speed and style of an enthusiastic dog, while Kenny Buttrey's brush work sounds rather like the heavy breathing of a canine too. It's a shame though in a way that Neil didn't stick with his original plan of making this a song about 'Elvis' dying in the 15th anniversary year since his passing - and then fooling people by revealing in the end that he meant his dog. Neil, worried about how people might misconstrue that idea, renamed him 'Old King', a phrase he's never used with his real dog, and made the parallels less obvious. Neil may have had the traditional 'my dog has died song' 'Old Blue' (as recorded by The Byrds for 'Dr Byrds and Mr Hyde' in 1969) in mind too, for which this song is a wittier alternative. An album as weighed down with high concepts as 'Harvest Moon' is needs a bit of release in there somewhere, but it's probably fair to say that 'Old King' doesn't have quite the same lasting appeal as some of the other songs.

'Dreamin' Man' is if anything even more of an oddball. The one song on the album that doesn't sound like Neil singing about himself, his loved ones or his pets it's a tale of a crazed stalker out to kill. Though the title sounds serene - Neil has described himself as a 'dreamer of pictures' before now in 'Cinnamon Girl' after all - this is a dream that's been taken too far, with imagination now more real for the narrator than his own life ('I can't tell when I'm not being real'). The cleverness of the song though is that we don't notice - just as for the narrator the idea of following a girl with 'a loaded shotgun and sweet dreams of you' seems normal, so this song sounds just as natural and beautiful and confessional as all the others on this album. Neil never shouts or raises his voice or moves above his natural sweet tones so it's hard to catch what this song is really about unless you're really paying attention. However what he's singing about is fairly horrific: he 'feels your curves and vibrations' as he senses his past lover/someone he's never met and he returns, homeless, to the street at the end of the song, dreaming of being alive in 'another time, a different civilisation' where he isn't on the run for stalking and murdering the woman he loves. The guitar riff at the heart of this song is one of Neil's loveliest, just to rub in how natural this all seems for the narrator, while the backing chorus chant 'he's got a problem' in the soft cooing ways of a lullaby rather than a tale of murder. A total one off in the Neil Young canon, this is a song that fools us at every turn and comes as a shock when you've played this record perhaps for years before deciphering the code as to what it's about. On an album that's so revealing, it sticks out like anything though the twist is that it doesn't stick out at all, played in the exact same sound and feel as every other song on the album. Is this Neil pushed so far to the limits he imagines himself as a stalker? (Is this song an early example of following Darryl Hannah and trying to stop anyone else finding out?) Is it Neil trying to play with us and fool us into assuming he's slotting into a template? Whatever the cause, sadly this song is only really interesting for the mystery of why it's here - though the melody is nice, the lyrics are slightly clunky by Neil's standards and the performance falls a bit flat compared to his best. Still, trust Neil to throw a curveball in right at the end of his most commercial album in decades - for that alone this song deserves respect.

Closing number 'Natural Beauty' is 10:22 precious minutes of atmosphere and debate. It's one of Neil's most striking and deepest songs, featuring the same rambling technique as 1977's 'Will To Live' as Neil reflects on birth, death, life and nature's laws. Recorded live at a show in Oregon and given overdubs later, it's fittingly a song that wonders about how much of something's essence can ever be preserved. Neil starts by hearing a new born baby cry, life renewing itself in a natural way, his very 'realness' contrasted with the sound he records the cries on, 'an anonymous wall of digital sound' (perhaps his obsession with creating his pono sound technology starts here). He moves on to discuss how much of the Amazon has been lost, never to be replenished, reflecting 'a greedy man never knows what he's done' and seeing an Earth so close to death that, in the context of her many years, there's 'just one more night to go'.  A final verse then has Neil wasting his days, buying a brand new gus-guzzling Chevrolet and a new 'pair of seamless pants', both of which has contributed to the greenhouse emissions breaking the world, watching the world decay on a giant TV screen - the ultimate 'denial', as the world decays in part because of the electricity and power needed to make the TV screen work in the first place. The central idea though is the theme of preservation: natural beauty should be seen as a monument to how great nature is and how mankind shouldn't be messed with. But the very idea of something natural means that it cannot be preserved - that no matter how hard mankind tries to keep something, it's aging and decay that's the natural process and it's living our lives understanding that fact which is the real tribute to nature. In between the song are weaved some amazing instrumental passages, as Neil's acoustic guitar and harmonica weave together against the overdubbed exotic sound of the marimbas and the song's slow stately melody meanders gloriously, enjoying all the scenic stop off points along the way and making the verses all the more powerful as you wait in anticipation for the next one. Throughout the song Neil sounds as if he's trying to hurry, that his harmonica puffing especially is trying to drive some urgency into the track, but just as people seem to have closed their ears to climate change so the song keeps at his own slow pace. There's a twist though, of sorts, with the overdubs from the sound effects CD 'A Month In The Brazilian Rainforest', which overpower the song at the end, bursting into glorious spontaneous noise after such a highly disciplined ten minute track. Is this mankind doing the right thing and letting nature 'win' the war of man? is this hope that the future will be different than our past? Whatever the result, it's a memorable moment on a memorable song. Though many fans and critics consider 'Natural Beauty' the weakest link on the record actually I see it as one of the best moments on the album, asking difficult questions and remaining impressively detached whilst simultaneously being quietly moving. The song needs to be as long as it is to make the full impact, the meandering parts of the track being just as central to the 'argument' about things running at a natural speed without being sped-up and featuring some sublime playing from Neil, as well as a final glorious burst on harmonies on what might well be the best 'vocal' Neil Young album that doesn't feature CSN or Crazy Horse.

The end result is a quietly impressive album that's gloriously deep but also remarkably accessible, Neil keeping us updated about the changes in his hopes, wishes and fears since the release of 'Harvest' twenty years earlier. It would have been fun, actually, to have had Neil return to this concept in another twenty years' time (we got 'Psychedelic Pill' instead) with another update on how things had changed ('Harvest Festival' anyone?) However as it remains 'Harvest Moon' is a clever paean to middle age, worried that things might not last the way they are and open about the problems growing older has created, but equally ready to count its blessings and realise that some good things have come out of the intervening years. Not every track is a classic and the second half can't match the first, but there's enough of worth here to demonstrate that the first part of the 1990s was a real peak for Neil's muse and he was right to name-check his most famous album, with a record that's just as user-friendly but also slightly deeper and consistent. There's enough here for Neil to plough the fields of opportunity again and enjoy his sudden return to the spotlight after the difficult 1980s and for those who came to this after going through the Geffen years it's great to hear Neil so open about himself and those closest to him. The muse moon is full once again and this year's harvest a bumper one once again, even there are a lot of wheat to separate from the chaff. 

Other Neil Young related articles from this site you might be interested in reading:

'Neil Young' (1968)

'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere' (1969)

‘After The Goldrush’ (1970)

'Zuma' (1975)

'American Stars 'n' Bars' (1977)

'Comes A Time' (1978)

'Rust Never Sleeps' (1979)

'Hawks and Doves' (1980)

'Broken Arrow' (1997)

‘Prairie Wind’(2005)

'Fork In The Road' (2009)

'Le Noise' (2011)

'A Treasure' (1986/2012)

'Storytone' (2014)

'The Monsanto Years' (2015)

The Best Unreleased Neil Young recordings

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

You can buy 'Remember - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of John Lennon and Yoko Ono' in e-book form by clicking here

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'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 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)


'Imagine' (1971)

'Sometime In New York City' (1972)

'Mind Games'(1973)

'Walls and Bridges' (1974)

'Double Fantasy' (1980)

'Milk and Honey' (1982)

Non-Album Recordings 1969-1980

Live/Compilation/Unfinished Music Albums 1968-2010

The Best Unreleased Lennon Recordings

Surviving TV Clips 1968-1980

Essay: Power To The Beatle – Why Lennon’s Authenticity Was So Special

Landmark concerts and key cover versions