Tag Archives: Imagine

Rocks In The Attic #805: John Lennon & Yoko Ono – ‘Some Time In New York City’ (1972)

RITA#805After John and Yoko’s 1972 promotional film Imagine and 1988’s wider-focused Imagine: John Lennon, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the 1971 album had been well and truly covered. But, as seems to happen when you least expect it, somebody stumbled on some unreleased footage and now we have another documentary to entertain us.

John And Yoko: Above Us Only Sky is a 90-minute film by director Michael Epstein, featuring documentary footage, both seen and unseen, from the recording of Imagine and the events that surrounded it. Unlike John and Yoko’s 1972 ‘home-movie’, Epstein’s documentary has the power of hindsight, plus a heap of talking heads, including Yoko Ono and Julian Lennon, to make sense of it all.

RITA#805aRight out of the bat, the highlight of the unseen footage is of Lennon and band recording with George ‘Double-Denim’ Harrison on Oh My Love, and audio outtakes of Lennon coaching King Curtis through his saxophone parts on It’s So Hard. George also lends some advice to Lennon recording the album’s penultimate song, How?, a collaboration that isn’t credited on the album and has never been alluded to.

An intimate and revealing documentary, for sure, but I’m still waiting for a documentary centred on the next stage in his career. The later sections of John And Yoko: Above Us Only Sky scratches the surface of their move from Tittenhurst to NYC, but it’s this phase of his career that’s always been of the most interest to me.

There’s a great quote of John’s I first saw in the John Lennon Anthology box-set, illustrated by a photo of him listening to the beat of the city with a stethoscope: ‘If I’d lived in Roman times, I’d have lived in Rome. Today, America is the Roman Empire and New York is Rome itself.’ This logic has always stuck with me, and perhaps because I devoured that box-set before I actually listened to the individual albums themselves, it’s this weird third record named after his favourite city that I’ve always gravitated towards.

RITA#805bYes, Plastic Ono Band is a belter, Imagine is the big, famous hit, and he still had a number of great albums after this one, but this one sticks out for being the most exciting – definitely until the newfound excitement of the duo’s return with Double Fantasy. It’s the hodge-podge feel of Some Time In New York City that I love the most, almost each song on the studio half of the record is a protest song in itself, on whatever cause the couple were fighting at the time of recording. Hearing these songs nearly fifty years later, it’s not hard to understand why the FBI had opened a file on the Lennons earlier that year and had begun intense surveillance on them. The fear was that John and Yoko were mobilising young people to vote, which could have endangered Richard Nixon’s chances of a second term in 1972. History speaks for itself as to who the real crook was.

I don’t often listen to the live half of the record (or the Bonus Live Jam LP as it’s described on the cover). It’s a great document of the band playing live at that time, but it’s not as interesting as the studio sides of the album and as much as I love her, there’s only so much of Yoko’s screaming I can tolerate.

RITA#805cI do love the insert cover of the live LP though, a replica of Frank Zappa’s 1971 live album with John’s red scrawl across it. This is genius, and even when you consider Zappa’s involvement on the records, it’s so far from anything that would happen in today’s world of music attorneys, trademarks and lawsuits.

Hopefully we’ll get a decent documentary on this era, from the end of Imagine until the start of Mind Games. His every move in New York would have been documented, if not by the press then definitely by the authorities.

Hit: Woman Is The Nigger Of The World

Hidden Gem: John Sinclair

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Rocks In The Attic #718: The Beatles – ‘The Beatles & Esher Demos’ (1968)

RITA#718You can hear the differences straight away. Paul’s snare beat on Back In The U.S.S.R. is punchier and his vocal ad-libs in the fade-out are much clearer. Then John’s acoustic guitar fades into Dear Prudence and Paul’s pulsing bass sounds on top of everything, front and centre.

Released yesterday to celebrate the record’s fifty-year anniversary, Giles Martin’s new 2018 stereo remix of the Beatles’ ‘self-titled’ White Album is an early Christmas present for fans of the band.

Repeating the successful formula employed on last year’s stereo remix of Sgt. Pepper’s, Martin Jr. has broken down the White Album recordings, and built them back up again. Untrained ears might not be able to tell the difference, we’re talking subtle changes. Clarity and focus are the operative words, not revisionism.

RITA#718aThe sliding, uptempo bass line in Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da transforms one of my least favourite Beatle songs into a stormer. Eric Clapton’s swirling guitar lines in George’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps feel even more hypnotic. Paul’s bassline in Why Don’t We Do It In The Road sounds funkier. Birthday sounds as insane as the band probably intended it to. Paul’s screaming salvo into Helter Skelter sounds at war with Ringo’s drums. The horns in Savoy Truffle are sharper, the electronic piano line closer to the front of the mix.

The 2014 mono remaster was previously my favourite version of this album. I didn’t think anything could beat that. How wrong I was. All in all, this new release is like listening to the album for the first time, with fresh ears. And if that wasn’t enough, the other half of the box-set is just as revelatory.

In May 1968, fresh from their Rishikesh trip, the Beatles convened at Kinfauns, George’s house in Esher, Surrey. There, they recorded demo versions of 26 of the White Albums’s 40 tracks, plus songs that didn’t make the intended album.

Glimpsed on 1997’s Anthology 3, Giles Martin has now remixed these tapes and re-sequenced them into a double-LP with – where possible – the same running order as the 1968 album.

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Hearing McCartney doing a loosely double-tracked Back In The U.S.S.R. on an acoustic guitar – complete with a sung guitar solo – is just fantastic, and really fills me with hope that there’s more material like this yet to see an official release.

The songs that were worked out in the White Album studio sessions – Wild Honey Pie, Martha My Dear, Don’t Pass Me By, Why Don’t We Do It In The Road, I Will, Birthday, Helter Skelter, Long, Long, Long, Savoy Truffle, Revolution 9 and Good Night – don’t appear here in demo form. Instead we get a raft of songs intended for the album, but which appeared elsewhere: George’s Sour Milk Sea (a single for Jackie Lomax), Not Guilty (re-recorded for his 1979 record, George Harrison), and Circles (re-recorded for 1982’s Gone Troppo), Paul’s Junk (soon to be heard on 1970’s McCartney), and John’s Child Of Nature (reworked as Jealous Guy from 1971’s Imagine). Two other Lennon demos presented here – Mean Mr. Mustard and Polythene Pam would be reworked into the medley on Abbey Road in 1969.

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The demos make for a fantastic listen. Complete with between-take chatter, coughs and sniffs, the sound quality is mostly very good with the occasional bit of tape-hiss evident on some tracks. In hindsight, the Beatles probably didn’t need to go to Abbey Road and Trident to re-record these demos – they could have just released this back in 1968.

While it now seems inevitable that Giles Martin will provide similar remix duties for next year’s half-century release of Abbey Road, followed by Let It Be in 2020, I really hope he continues with the pre-Pepper albums as they begin their sixty-year celebrations from 2023.

And hopefully he’s training his son in the finer techniques of audio engineering, ready for the next generation of reissues…

Hit: While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Hidden Gem: Helter Skelter

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Rocks In The Attic #490: John Lennon – ‘Imagine’ (1971)

RITA#490Post-Beatles album number two finds John hitting his stride as a solo artist. I love his first record, the minimalist John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band; there’s a certain charm to it, but it’s by no means a record for the Beatle-loving masses. Here we find him producing a piece of work as commercial – but still as artistically valid – as anything released by the Beatles from 1965 onwards.

The only sour note on the record is How Do You Sleep?, a nasty attack on McCartney in retaliation for comments he had made in public about John and Yoko. I’ve never heard these comments, nor have I ever deciphered McCartney’s lyrics on Ram, which are supposed to be just as negative.

Still, if you’re going to have a go at somebody, at least be subtle about it. Lennon’s lyrics on How Do You Sleep? just make him out to sound nasty and childish. He even precedes the song by a short blast of an orchestra tuning up, the same idea thought up and used by McCartney on the intro to the title song on Sgt. Pepper’s.

One of the points stressed by Mark Lewisohn in his fantastic Beatles biography, Tune In: The Beatles – All These Years, Vol 1, was that Lennon could be so brutal and nasty in the way he would ridicule others. Usually, it would be people outside his circle of friends who would feel the brunt of his antagonism, but from time to time those close to him would get a earful too. How Do You Sleep? finds him completely unrestrained, doing everything except actually mentioning McCartney by name. The lyrics are so thinly veiled that he might as well have called the song ‘Paul Is A Douchebag’. In fact, a more Beatle-y insult might have been to name it ‘The Wally Was Paul’.

Always the most honest Beatle, Imagine finds John admitting that he doesn’t have all the answers on songs such as How? and Crippled Inside. It’s refreshing to hear such uncertainty from a ‘rock star’, and it’s almost the exact opposite of what you would hear from a global superstar in the twenty first century. It’s hard to imagine somebody as egotistical as Kanye West writing a song like How? Kanye knows everything of course, yet it’s strange how he couldn’t stop that knowledge from preventing his descent into bankruptcy.

One of my favourite moments on Imagine, the closing track Oh Yoko!, was included on the soundtrack to Wes Anderson’s 1998 masterpiece Rushmore. It’s a lovely song, and used to great effect in the film when Max and Herman decide to join forces to win Rosemary’s affections. A song like that shouldn’t work in a film; it’s a love song written for somebody in particular – Yoko Ono, of course – and she’s name-checked repeatedly in the song. It should only really make sense if the love interest in the film is named Yoko.  I’m not sure if the lovely Olivia Williams could pass for Japanese though.

Imagine represents an artistic peak for Lennon. His later albums would find him trying to repeat the success of this record, not least on its (official) follow-up, Mind Games, in 1973. Imagine is a fantastic record, and one of the reasons he never managed to match it is that it’s so bloody good – the curse of perfection.

Hit: Imagine

Hidden Gem: Oh Yoko!

Rocks In The Attic #379: Wings – ‘Wild Life’ (1971)

RITA#379This is the debut record of Paul McCartney’s second band – the name of his first one escapes me at the moment. In terms of where this is placed in his solo career, it’s record number three after McCartney and Ram. Those two albums showed a natural progression – from the back to basics experimentation of McCartney to the sublime perfection of Ram – which sadly ends here. You can almost imagine his new band-members Denny Laine and Denny Seiwell looking at each other and wondering ‘Well…where are the songs?’

I love Ram – alongside Band On The Run, it’s probably the one album in his career that gets close to escaping from the shadow of that former band. His songwriting on Ram is just as good as anything he contributed to Abbey Road, which makes it even more dumbfounding how he really pressed the reset button with this one. There are songs on the album – Wild Life itself is a nice tune – but gibberish like Mumbo and Bip Bop are reminiscent of the out-of-ideas DIY wankery on his first solo album.

Album closer Dear Friend is a thinly veiled attempt at a reconciliation with Lennon, after Lennon’s no-veil snipe at McCartney on Imagine’s How Do You Sleep? If I was McCartney, I would have written a rebuttal song titled Quite Well Actually, How About You, You Wife-Beating Smack-Head? I doubt it would get picked for a single though, but you can’t win them all.

Hit: Dear Friend

Hidden Gem: Wild Life

Rocks In The Attic #370: John Lennon – ‘Mind Games’ (1973)

RITA#370In terms of a timeline, it really depends where you consider this album in Lennon’s career. It’s actually solo record #7. First there was the three albums of noise with Yoko, then there’s the first post-Beatles album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. Then there’s the odds and ends political album, Some Time In New York City, and then finally this, 1973’s Mind Games.

You could argue though that it feels like solo record #2, after Imagine, if you disregard those experimental albums with Yoko, the omnibus feel of Some Time In New York City and – hold tight – the starkness of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. Being the first post-Beatles release, of course that one is the first solo album, but Imagine always feels like his first proper stab at matching the output of his previous band. John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, despite how much I love it, always comes across as something intended for Lennon’s therapist, not the record-buying public of 1970.

When discussing Mind Games before its release, Lennon talked it up as “like Imagine on speed”. It isn’t as accessible as Imagine, and without that album’s iconic song it struggles to hold its head above his other solo albums. There are fewer moments of brilliance on this album, but they’re still there regardless – just check out that fantastic piano break on Out The Blue.

It’s interesting that Lennon used an upper in his analogy. To me, Mind Games feels like much more of a chilled out record. I guess “like Imagine on a downer” doesn’t sound as attractive.

Hit: Mind Games

Hidden Gem: Meat City

Rocks In The Attic #357: Neil Young – ‘After The Gold Rush’ (1970)

RITA#357Well I heard mister Young sing about her, well I heard ole Neil put her down, well I hope Neil Young will remember, a Southern man don’t need him around anyhow.

There isn’t enough sniping between bands these days. It’s fun and reminds you that everybody’s playing in the same pool. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like the level of antagonism on something like How Do You Sleep – John Lennon’s poison pen-letter to Paul McCartney. That’s taking it down to a schoolyard level (and anyway, McCartney’s initial snipe – a photograph of two beetles fucking each other on the rear cover of Ram – was far more tasteful).

But if it’s one band having a bit of a dig at another band, I usually love it. The above lyrics from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama showed that the rednecks weren’t too enamoured of Neil Young’s song on this album. As usual, with these sorts of things, it all got blown out of proportion and became widely known that Neil Young and Skynyrd didn’t get on.

The same is almost true of Steely Dan and the Eagles. First of all, the mighty Dan include the lyric ‘Turn up the Eagles, the neighbours are listening’ in the song Everything You Did, off The Royal Scam. Glenn Frey then returned the compliment by including the line ‘They stab it with their Steely knives’ in Hotel California. Most people think the two bands were at odds, but the Eagles loved Steely Dan and perhaps most importantly Donald Fagen and Walter Becker both had a respect for the Eagles – that’s Glenn Frey, Don Henley and Tim Schmit you can hear singing backing vocals on the Dan’s 1978 single FM (No Static At All).

I was expecting more snipes from Jack White against the Black Key’s Dan Auerbach on 2014’s Lazaretto, but it’s okay. It seems White was more concerned with rubbing his ex-wife’s face in his new-found promiscuity – ‘I got three women, red, blonde, and brunette, it took a digital photograph to pick which one I like’ – on Three Women, his version of Blind Willie McTell’s Blind Women Blues.

Hit: Southern Man

Hidden Gem: Cripple Creek Ferry