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“IMAGINE”: ONE OF THE BEST ALL-TIME ROCK ALBUMS

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Powerful, poignant, important and beautiful are all words that describe Imagine – both the title song and the LP that was John Lennon’s second solo album release, in the autumn of 1971. One song does not make a great album, even when it is as seminal and defining as Imagine… and make no mistake this is a great album, full of brilliant songs, with great hooks, but with John’s acerbic wit ever-present to avoid it from becoming the kind of music that John found irrelevant and meaningless.

“The concept of positive prayer … If you can imagine a world at peace, with no denominations of religion—not without religion but without this my God-is-bigger-than-your-God thing—then it can be true.” – John Lennon

John began work on the album that was to become Imagine a little over three months after finishing John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. Recording his new album was done in three separate stages, the first between 11 and 16 February, followed by another from 24 to 28 May, before some final overdubs and mixing in New York over the 4th of July weekend. The earlier sessions were at Abbey Road and the May sessions were at the Lennon’s home studio at Tittenhurst Park, the New York sessions in July were at the Record Plant.

Imagine is a very different album from the one that went before it, as John told David Sheff in 1980, “The album Imagine was after Plastic Ono. I call it Plastic Ono with chocolate coating.” From the stark, but brilliant John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band this record is more instantly accessible, but let not that fool you into thinking John had gone soft. And like his previous album, Imagine has Yoko Ono’s influence all over it and no more so than in the brilliant title song.

Yoko’s poetry, included in her 1964 book Grapefruit, helped inspire John’s lyrics for ‘Imagine’, and also influenced the cover of the album. In Yoko’s poem, ‘Cloud Piece’ it includes “Imagine the clouds dripping, dig a hole in your garden to put them in.” John later said ‘Imagine’, “Should be credited to Lennon/Ono. A lot of it—the lyric and the concept—came from Yoko, but in those days I was a bit more selfish, a bit more macho, and I sort of omitted her contribution, but it was right out of Grapefruit.”

“The World Church called me once and asked, “Can we use the lyrics to ‘Imagine’ and just change it to ‘Imagine one religion’?” That showed [me] they didn’t understand it at all. It would defeat the whole purpose of the song, the whole idea.” – John Lennon

Just what is it that makes ‘Imagine’ such a perfect recording? From the opening bars of John playing the piano the song stakes its claim on our senses. The clever way the track is produced, to move the seemingly distant piano from the centre to the full stereo pan helps to accentuate John’s plaintive, and vulnerable, vocal. The subtly beautiful strings, scored by Torrie Zito, play their part in making this song the very creative peak of John and Yoko’s working together.

The earlier sessions, at Abbey Road, took place during the recording of the single, ‘Power To The People’ and because Ringo was unavailable, Jim Gordon from Derek and the Dominos was drafted in to play drums, along with Klaus Voormann on bass. ‘It’s So Hard’ and ‘I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier’, were begun at the February sessions, with King Curtis adding his saxophone to the former in New York in July, while the latter song was substantially reworked at the May sessions. At Abbey Road, they also recorded Yoko’s, ‘Open Your Box’ that became the b-side of ‘Power To The People’.

‘It’s So Hard’ has more of the paired down Plastic Ono Band feel to it and as such it is the musical bridge to John’s solo debut. It’s a 12 bar blues and the addition of Zito’s string arrangement (overdubbed at the Record Plant) along with King Curtis’s saxophone make it a more “traditional” song than most of what appears on John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band.

‘I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier’ was reworked at the May, Tittenhurst sessions and aside from Lennon and Voormann it features a much larger band including George Harrison on slide guitar, the brilliant Nicky Hopkins on piano, Joey Molland and Tom Evans from Badfinger play acoustic guitars, drummer Jim Keltner and Alan White plays vibraphone; later in New York King Curtis added his saxophone flourishes. The song is one of Lennon’s simplest lyrical numbers but in simplicity there is power, and the power is made even more significant by the hypnotic music that is both relentless and persuasive; Zito’s strings are again a superb addition to the whole feel of the song.

In the five days at Tittenhurst, in addition to ‘I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier’, John and the assembled musicians recorded, ‘Crippled Inside’, ‘Jealous Guy’, ‘Gimme Some Truth’, ‘Oh My Love’, ‘How Do You Sleep?’, How?, ‘Oh Yoko!’ and the album’s title track. George plays some great dobro on ‘Crippled Inside’ and it is further enhanced by some trademark “diamond trills” from Nicky Hopkins on the piano. The spirit in which this record was made was helped by recording so much of it at John and Yoko’s home. It feels personal and with the Lennon’s again producing it, with help from Phil Spector, it heightens the sense of intimacy.

“It was good to have breakfast in our own home and walk right into the new studio next to it.” – Yoko Ono

‘Jealous Guy’ has become one of John’s best-known songs, helped in no small part by it having been covered by Roxy Music in early 1981 and taken to No.1 on the UK charts. But it is a song that is ‘so John’, and its one that had its beginnings in India in 1968 before its full flowering when John rewrote its original lyrics that capture the feelings of a man in a love relationship or possibly it gives another view as to how John felt over the break up of the Beatles. Whatever, it is about, this is consummate songwriting as John tackles a subject that most of us would prefer to keep under wraps.

Acerbic and political, ‘Gimme Some Truth’ highlights John’s way with words and succinctly sums up so much of what made John tick. John, always ahead of his time tackles the question of political leadership – just as relevant today as in 1971 – and this song acts as the bridge to what would follow in John’s songwriting over the coming years.

‘Oh My Love’ is a beautiful and tender song, enhanced by George’s delicate guitar playing and John and Yoko’s wonderful words. From tenderness to harsh reality with ‘How Do You Sleep?’, arguably the most notorious song on the album. Pigeonholed as John’s attack on Paul it is best explained by John himself.

“It’s not about Paul, it’s about me. I’m really attacking myself. But I regret the association, well, what’s to regret? He lived through it. The only thing that matters is how he and I feel about these things and not what the writer or commentator thinks about it. Him and me are okay.”

And then it’s immediately back to the soft side of John with, ‘How?’ and while it would be lyrically at home on his previous LP, its production is definitely of the “chocolate coating” variety. The album’s final song is the uplifting and beautiful, ‘Oh Yoko!’, a simple song, but one that is simply lovely. Phil Spector sings the harmony and at the time of the album’s release, EMI wanted to put it out as a single. John refused and if he hadn’t? It would have been a massive hit. It’s a song that just draws you in and makes you feel good.

BEHIND THE ALBUMS: MIND GAMES , JOHN LENNON

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John Lennon’s 1973 album Mind Games, touched on many themes and vignettes from John’s life – but this time avoided overtly political themes.
Over the course of just 18 months, John Lennon recorded his first three solo albums, beginning with John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band in September 1970, Imagine that was finished in July 1971, and Some Time In New York City that was completed in March 1972. His last album had politics oozing, and sometimes shouting, from every microgroove and it had been the least well-received of the three by critics and public. In the ensuing year he uncharacteristically spent little time composing and he also, starting in early 1973, began to distance himself from the political activities that had brought so much unwanted attention from both the US Immigration Service and the FBI. Then in July 1973 at the Record Plant in New York City, John was back doing what he did best.
Two months after the release of Some Time In New York City, a dark period began for John and Yoko. On 7 November 1972, Nixon won one of the largest landslide victories in American political history and it so depressed John that he got blind drunk at Jerry Rubin’s home on the night of the election. So drunk that he took a woman into one of the bedrooms and had sex with her. Yoko and the other partygoers were in an adjoining room and heard it all. “Something was lost that night for me,” said Yoko, “living with John was a very trying situation. But I thought I would endure all that for our love.” It was against this backdrop that Mind Games was largely written and recorded.

Yoko had started work on a solo album that became ‘Feeling The Space’ with musicians that had been put together with help from their great friend and engineer, Roy Cicala. John liked what he heard and asked Roy to book the same musicians so that he could start recording again; notably guitarist David Spinozza, keyboard player Ken Ascher and drummer Jim Keltner. For John, his marital difficulties with Yoko were compounded by the issues and effects of his involvement with radical politics: “I just couldn’t function, you know? I was so paranoid from them tapping the phone and following me.”

The month before recording began, John and Yoko moved uptown from Greenwich Village to The Dakota, an apartment building located on the northwest corner of 72nd Street and Central Park West. John stopped working with Phil Spector as a co-producer and because of John and Yoko’s issues, Mind Games was produced solely by Lennon. It was recorded in John’s usual quick-fire fashion, And like Some Time in New York City, it touched on many themes and vignettes from John’s life – but this time it largely avoided overtly political themes.

It opens with the album’s title track, a song that dates back to 1970 when it had had the working title of ‘Make Love, Not War.’ Above all else, the song signals John’s intent of returning to his more normal territory as far as song subject matter is concerned. It became the only single to be released from the album.

John’s chronicling of his own life features on many of the tracks on Mind Games. There’s ‘Aisumasen (I’m Sorry)’ that reflects on John’s relationship with Yoko and the hurt he felt at the hurt he had inflicted. Aisumasen is Japanese for sorry. It is one of Lennon’s most melancholic of songs, one in which sees himself cast adrift. It was during the recording of the album that Yoko suggested that she and John have a trial separation and that May Pang would be the perfect companion for Lennon. With heartfelt honesty, Yoko later said, “Hey, it’s John Lennon. It was obvious to everybody, except to John, that I was the loser. Every man and woman of our generation was going to be happy that finally, I was not around their hero.

Other songs inspired by their love and their difficulties are, ‘Out The Blue’ in which John expresses his doubts over their separation. The beautiful ‘You Are Here’ is a love song to Yoko and it’s hard not to be affected by John’s ability to lay his feelings bare; the song is made more affecting by Sneaky Pete Kleinow’s pedal steel guitar. On ‘One Day (At A Time)’, John sings in his falsetto voice and his notion in this song is that two parts are made bigger than their individual size when they are brought together in love. It features a classic saxophone solo from Michael Brecker on one of his earliest sessions.

As with just about every Lennon solo album, his love for the music that inspired him is ever present. ‘Tight A$’ with shades of 1950s rockabilly and country-rock picking is one of Mind Games’ nods to his formative years. On ‘Meat City’ John’s innate love of rock ‘n roll shines through, and he makes his point further by singing “Just got to give me some rock ‘n’ roll.”

John did make a brief return to politics on Mind Games, but in a far wittier and lighter fashion than on his previous album. ‘Bring On The Lucie (Freeda Peeple)’ was no less biting, and perhaps it was more effective as a result.

Released on 29 October 1973 in America, and 16 November in the UK, Mind Games has cover artwork created by John himself. The album made No.13 in Britain and got to No.9 in the US.

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THE ROCK´N´ROLL CIRCUS: THE FIRST JOHN LENNON PERFORMANCE SINCE THE BEATLES ´1966 TOUR

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On December 11th, 1968, The Rolling Stones wanted to put on a very unique performance: a circus extravaganza played for a small audience and recorded to be aired on BBC. Played under a big top, the “circus” included strongmen, trapeze artists, a boxing kangaroo, and even a live Bengal Tiger. Joining the Stones were some of the greatest musicians of all time, including John Lennon,The Who, Jethro Tull, Taj Mahal, and Eric Clapton.

While post-production problems and lost film meant the final recording was only eventually released in 1996, the once-in-a-lifetime festival still held many important moments in musical history.

The First Lennon Performance Since The Beatles’ 1966 Tour


It is easy to forget sometimes that the last tour by The Beatles was less than halfway through their lifespan. In December 1968, the band had just released The White Album while John and Yoko also released Two Virgins.

For The Rolling Stones’ event, John and Yoko were invited to join Eric Clapton, Mitch Mitchell, and Keith Richards to perform as the supergroup “The Dirty Mac.”

The only time the group played together, they performed “Yer Blues” and improvised a piece called “Whole Lotta Yoko” it involved jazz and blues music over free-form vocalizations provided by Ono.

In a very “Lennon-esque” move, the still-current-Beatle introduced all band members by name, but identified himself instead as “Winston Leg-Thigh”.

Perhaps the saddest moment in the show, though only known in retrospect, was the final performance of The Rolling Stones with Brian Jones present. According to Michale Lindsay-Hogg, the director for the “circus” and later director for The Beatles’ famous rooftop performance, “[Jones] couldn’t really contribute at all on the guitar, except for a few chords.” Six months later, Brian Jones was found motionless in the bottom of his swimming pool. He passed away at the age of 27.

For many Rock ‘n’ Roll historians, the “circus” was a turning point in sixties rock acts.In the film that was eventually released in 1996, Marianne Faithful stated the truth many were not ready to admit: “There was an apocalyptic air about the whole thing.”
One year later, The Rolling Stones played the fateful concert at Altamont.

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STRAWBERRY FIELD CELEBRATES 50th ANNIVERSARY OF ‘IMAGINE’ WITH LIVE MUSIC PERFORMED ON JOHN LENNON’s PIANO

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Strawberry Field celebrates 50th anniversary of ‘Imagine’

John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ piano is played by a student from Paul McCartney’s LIPA alongside the Liverpool Signing Choir and Julia Baird

2021 marks 50 years since the writing, recording and release of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, perhaps the greatest peace anthem of the 20th century. Strawberry Field, the latest addition to Beatles tourism and now open to the public, have commenced celebrations by inviting a student from Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts to play the very piano on which John Lennon composed and recorded ‘Imagine’. The Liverpool Signing Choir, joined by Julia Baird, John Lennon’s sister and Major Kathy Versfeld, Mission Director of Strawberry Field accompanied the piano, signing the words to the inspirational song.

‘Imagine’ recording began at John Lennon’s home studio at Tittenhurst Park in Berkshire on 27th May 1971. Archive film footage from 1971 shows a relaxed John at the piano composing ‘Imagine’ before he turns to his keyboard player to remark: “That’s the one I like best.” The world-famous piano was toured by George Michael as a symbol of peace in the early 2000s and hasn’t been played in a performance since 2007. It is now on loan to the Strawberry Field exhibition, courtesy of the estate of the late George Michael.

Major Kathy Versfeld, Mission Director of Strawberry Field says:

“In October 2020 as we welcomed the piano into its new home here, we saw the impact that this fabulous piano had, not just on visitors to our exhibition but even further afield, across the entire city of Liverpool. At a time when there was so much fear and uncertainty around Covid-19, it was a beacon of hope, light at a dark time. As the country emerges from another lockdown, I hope people will be inspired by this performance to reimagine a better world in the here and now, where we are not divided by what we believe, or how we look, or where we live. One people, one planet, all of God’s creatures working together out of mutual respect and compassion. We live in hope!”

Joe Worthington, a student from Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA) was invited to play the piano for this momentous occasion. He says:

“Being a student in Liverpool and at LIPA, The Beatles, their music, influence and legacy is ingrained in me. Playing Imagine, such an anthem of peace, on the piano that John Lennon wrote and recorded it on was brilliant. When I was asked to do it, I did a double take, I couldn’t process it. Still can’t! To sit where he once sat is quite emotional. It feels like I’m touching a piece of history, it’s like I’m a part of it.”

Alongside Joe, The Liverpool Signing Choir were asked to sign the lyrics to the song. A unique, city wide and inclusively diverse choir based in Liverpool, they have performed at events across Europe, notably, performing John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ at the Closing Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Catherine Hegarty, leader of The Liverpool Signing Choir says:

“The Liverpool Signing Choir were honoured to be asked to take part in the 50th anniversary of Imagine. Strawberry Field is working hard to open people’s eyes, share understanding and break down barriers.”

John Lennon’s sister Julia Baird, who is Honorary President of Strawberry Field, was present with the choir and signed alongside them. She says:

“It was an honour and a privilege to sign this wonderful peace anthem with the Liverpool Signing Choir. We were accompanied by a LIPA musician, on John’s iconic Imagine piano, inside the Exhibition at Strawberry Field. A five star treat all round.”

The piano was delivered to Strawberry Field on 9th October 2020 to mark what would have been John Lennon’s 80th birthday. It was always George’s intention that the iconic musical instrument should be enjoyed by the people of John’s home city. “It’s not the type of thing that should be in storage somewhere or being protected, it should be seen by people,” said George to journalists at time of purchase. The upright Steinway piano, purchased by the singer-songwriter in 2000, is now one of the most valuable musical instruments in rock ’n’ roll history.

The ‘Imagine’ piano

·        27th May 2021 marks 50 years since Imagine recording started using this very piano.

·        George Michael composed and recorded using this piano, which can be heard on the title song of his Patience album.

·        This is an extremely rare occurrence – the piano was toured globally by George Michael as a symbol of peace in the early 2000s and it has not been played in a performance since 2007.

·        it’s fitting that the piano should now take centre-stage at Strawberry Field where all funds raised by paying visitors to the exhibition will be used to help change the lives of those with learning difficulties.

·        The piano has never before been placed in a location so steeped in John Lennon history.

JOHN LENNON INTERVIEW TITTENHURST ASCOT, 1969

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The interview was filmed by ATV on December 2nd, 1969 . Tittenhurst, London Road, Sunninghill, Ascot, Berkshire, United Kingdom. The footage was broadcast in Britain on December 30th 1969.

JOHN: “You start off with, say, rock & roll in just the late fifties and sixties when all the kids including me were on James Dean and Elvis and early paranoican violence. And then that part of the trip… That’s what happens on acid, folks! Then from there you start, I don’t know, maturing or thinking about the trip. The first effects of the drug wear off, and you start coasting along a bit. And you have time to look at the trees, and that developed into the actual acid scene. The psychedelic bit, you know. And everybody was grooving around with flowers, and that. And then of course, like any drug, it wears off and you’re back to so-called reality.”

“Speaking as somebody who’s been in the drug scene, it’s not something you can go on and on doing, you know. It’s like drink, or anything, you’ve got to come to terms with it. You know, like too much food, or too much anything. You’ve got to get out of it. You’re left with yourself all the time, whatever you do– you know, meditation, drugs or anything. But you’ve got to get down to your own god and ‘your own temple in your head,’ like Donovan says. Etcetera. And it’s all down to yourself, you know.”

“It’s like the thing I was saying about ‘It starts with us.’ When it started with me, George, Paul and Ringo, and we said, ‘Listen man, here’s another field of professionalism that doesn’t need any qualifications except that you gotta get down to it, and want to do it. And you can make it in the terms of the world– the terms of reference they’re talking about. You can make it without that pressure. And everybody at the same time was finding that out, you know. I mean, I had my guitar, Mick Jagger had his in London, and Eric Burdon was up in Newcastle, and we were all going through the same changes at once. And we all discovered that the values didn’t mean a thing, you know, and you could make it without college and education and all those things. It’s nice to be able to read and write, but apart from that I never learned anything worth a damn, you know.”

“Some people have sort of discovered a new reality, and uhh, some people are still sort of confident about the future. But uhh, we two are, you know. Everybody is talking about the way it’s going, and the decadence, and the rest of it. But nobody is really… Not many people are noticing all the good that came out of the last ten years, which is the moratorium, and the vast gathering of people in Woodstock– which is the biggest mass of people ever gathered together for anything other than war! Nobody had that big of an army that didn’t kill somebody or have some kind of violent scene, like the Romans or whatever. And even a Beatle concert was more violent than that, you know, and that was just fifty-thousand. And so, the good things that came out were all this vast peaceful movement, you know.”

“The bully– that’s the establishment– they know how to beat people up. They know how to gas them, and they have the arms and the equipment. And the mistake was made that, the kids ended up playing their game of violence. And they know how to be violent. They’ve been running it on violence for the last two-thousand years, or a million or whatever it is. And nobody can tell me that violence is the way after all that time, you know. There must be another way, but alot of people fell for it. And it’s understandable in a way, ‘cuz when the bully is actually RIGHT THERE it’s pretty hard to say ‘Turn the other cheek, baby.'”

“When we were in touch with the Berkeley kids, during whatever was going on, we were peacefully doing our peace demonstration in a Montreal bed, and then we suddenly were connected by phone directly to them, you know. And they were saying, ‘Help us,’ or ‘What are we gonna do? It’s gonna go wrong,’ and this was some of the people who were organizing it. But they were saying, ‘It’s out of our control,’ and ‘What can we say?’ you know. And of course I haven’t got any solution.”

“It’s like, for peace or anything, it’s all down to this relationship. To work on this relationship with Yoko is very hard, and we’ve got the gift of love. But love is like a precious plant. You can’t just accept it and leave it in the cupboard, or just think it’s gonna get on with itself. You gotta keep watering it. You’ve got to really look after it, and be careful of it, and keep the flies off and see that it’s alright, and nurture it. And to get a relationship between two people is a start. And then if we two can make it, maybe we can make it with you. And from maybe us four– you and yours– we can make it with the next four. It’s only that. There’s no sort of ANSWER.”

“I’m full of optimism because of the contacts I’ve made personally throughout the world… knowing that there’s other people around that I can agree with, you know, I’m not insane and I’m not alone. That’s just on a personal level. And of course, the Woodstock, Isle of Wight, all the mass meetings of the youth is completely positive for me. Now we’re all getting to know it. We’re all showing our flags, you know. And when you show your flag, you’re not alone. It’s like, we’ve no need to be a few christian martyrs because there’s lots of us. And don’t be afraid because they do look after ya, whoever’s up there, if you get on with it. And I’m completely positive. And when I’m negative, I’ve got Yoko– who is just as strong as me. And it helps, you know.”

“And this is only the beginning. This sixties bit was just a sniff. The sixties was just waking up in the morning, and we haven’t even got to dinner time yet. And I can’t wait, you know, I just can’t wait. I’m so glad to be around. And it’s just gonna be great and there’s gonna be more and more of us. (humorously, to the camera) And whatever you’re thinking there, Mrs. Grundy of Birmingham on toast, you know, (laughs) you don’t stand a chance! A, You’re not gonna be there when we’re running it, and B, You’re gonna like it when you get less frightened of it. And it’s gonna be wonderful, and I believe it. Of course we all get depressed and down about it, but when I’m down, or when John and Yoko is down, somebody else will be up. There’s always somebody else carrying the flag or beating the drum, you know.”

“So THEY, whoever they are, don’t stand a chance because they can’t beat love. Because all those old bits from religion about love being all-powerful is true, you know. And that’s the bit they can’t do. They can’t handle it.”

JOHN LENNON, YOKO ONO DOCUMENTAL ’24 HOURS’ AVAILABLE TO STREAM

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The short documentary about John Lennon and Yoko Ono, 24 Hours: The World of John and Yoko, is available to stream on the Coda Collection on Amazon Prime Video.

The release marks the first time the 35-minute film has been available in full since it first aired on the BBC December 15th, 1969. Directed by Paul Morrison, 24 Hours follows Ono and Lennon over five days, documenting their creative efforts and activism, including their famous campaign to promote peace. Filming took place at Lennon’s Tittenhurst Park estate, Abbey Road Studios, and the Apple Records offices.

A trailer for 24 Hours boasts clips from one of Lennon and Ono’s “Bed-ins for Peace,” as well as footage of the couple working in the studio and bundled up in the snow while watching a giant air balloon. There are also several clips of Lennon bickering with the press, telling one reporter who said she used to admire him, “You liked Hard Day’s Night, love, but I’ve grown up, but you obviously haven’t.”

The Coda Collection release of 24 Hours is accompanied by a new editorial by journalist Alan Light. He describes the doc as “a portrait of two energized and inspired artist-activists, with a strong sense of purpose and a fearless attitude, even in the face of resistance and ridicule” and “a fascinating snapshot of a hugely transitional moment for John and Yoko.”

24 Hours: The World of John and YokoWATCH H E R E .