Monday, 1 December 2008

John Lennon: The Solo Albums - #1 Plastic Ono Band

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band

Recorded: 26 September - 9 October 1970
Released: 11 December 1970
Produced by: John Lennon, Yoko Ono and Phil Spector

Album Rating: 10/10 John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band was John Lennon's first solo album (following three previous albums of experimental avant garde music recorded with Yoko Ono). If you're listening to the album for the first time, don't expect it to sound like the Beatles, as this is about as far away from the Beatles as you can get. Recorded after both John and Yoko had gone through a course of primal therapy with Dr Arthur Janov, John used his music as a way of finally releasing all the pain and anger of his childhood. It's rare to find such honesty on an album - he really lets us see into his soul. All the tracks on the album have sparse arrangements with the production taking second place to the power and emotion of the lyrics and vocals. John himself played piano and guitar on most of the tracks with Klaus Voorman on bass and Ringo Starr on drums (plus additional piano from Billy Preston on "God" and Phil Spector on "Love".)

Mother is the perfect way to open the album - as soon as you hear the funeral bell tolling at the beginning, followed by the emotional lyrics and finally the primal screaming at the end, you know this is going to be a powerful album. The song is an outpouring of John's grief at growing up without his parents - "Mother you had me but I never had you"; "Father you left me but I never left you" - finishing with his heartrending cries of 'Mama don't go, Daddy come home!'

Hold On
is a delicately pretty little song which is a bit more optimistic than the rest of the album - "hold on John, John hold on, it's gonna be all right, you're gonna win the fight". Coming straight after Mother, it has a soothing, relaxing effect. In the middle of the song he shouts 'cookie' which is apparently a reference to the Cookie Monster in Sesame Street, though I don't know what that has to do with the rest of the song!

I Found Out, a heavy, bitter-sounding rocker showing how John had become disillusioned with religion, gurus, Jesus, drugs etc, is probably my least favourite track on the album - the lyrics have never moved me the way the lyrics of the other tracks do, though it's still a good song.

The brilliant Working Class Hero contains some of John's greatest lyrics, as he attacks the class system and the way the working classes are controlled by the people in power: "Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV, And you think you're so clever and classless and free". His vocals are also great, as they are throughout the entire album.

Isolation is a depressing but beautiful song with some of my favourite lyrics ever ("I don't expect you to understand, After you've caused so much pain, But then again, you're not to blame, You're just a human, a victim of the insane".)

Although it's maybe not considered to be one of his greatest songs, the nostalgic Remember has always been a personal favourite of mine. The memories John mentions are unpleasant ones, such as 'Remember how the man used to leave you empty handed; Always, always let you down' and 'remember your ma and pa, just wishing for movie stardom; Always, always playing a part', but then he tells us "don't feel sorry 'bout the way it's gone; And don't you worry 'bout what you've done".

Love is yet another highlight - and is one of the most beautiful love songs ever written. The magic of the song lies in its simplicity: simple lyrics and melody, which combine to form a stunningly gorgeous ballad. "Love is real, real is love, Love is feeling, feeling love, Love is wanting to be loved" - what more do you really need to say in a love song? Every time I hear this song I have to stop whatever else I'm doing and give it my full attention - it's just so incredibly beautiful and moving.

I never used to care much for Well Well Well, particularly the lyrics - "I took my loved one out to dinner so we could get a bite to eat; And though we both had been much thinner she looked so beautiful I could eat her" - but I've recently come to love it as much as the rest of the album. There's more primal screaming in this song too.

Look At Me is another gentle ballad, beautiful yet bleak and poignant at the same time. It's similar in style to "Julia" from the Beatles' White Album and in fact was originally written around the time of the White Album.

In God John makes the statement that God "is a concept by which we measure our pain" and then goes on to list all the things he no longer believes in - such as magic, tarot, kings, Elvis, Zimmerman (Bob Dylan) and finally, Beatles. After disregarding everything else in life, he finds that all he is left with is "Yoko and me, and that's reality". This is another brilliant song and one of my favourites.

The album closes with My Mummy's Dead, a short but very sad and moving song about John's mother, Julia, who died when he was seventeen.

Plastic Ono Band is not always easy to listen to as it's so emotional – you really have to be in the right mood for it – but along with Imagine it's my favourite John Lennon album.

My highlights: Mother, Love, God, Isolation, Remember

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