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Cream of The Crate: Album # 198 - John Lennon: Plastic Ono Band

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  • Cream of The Crate: Album # 198 - John Lennon: Plastic Ono Band

    "The reality of Plastic Ono Band is that it contains eleven of Lennon’s most accessible and gorgeous melodies and riffs." (Gerry Mullholand - BBC review 2010)
    "An album that will be as much analysed as Sgt. Pepper over the years." (Billboard - 1971)
    It remains one of the most audacious, iconoclastic albums in all of rock and roll." (Guitar World 2016)
    The album certainly shows that he had yet to work through many unresolved matters, and that he still had much anger in him. However he was a brilliant man and knew how to channel these elements in such a way to create some brilliant, memorable and haunting tracks." (This review)

    This is album review number One Hundred and Ninety Eight in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and CD albums from my collection.

    The series is called
    Cream of The Crate and each review represents an album that I believe represents significant musical value, either because of its rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of a music or because there is something unique about the music, the group or the particular production. The first fifty reviews were based on vinyl albums from my collection, with the following fifty on CD albums from my collection. Links to all these reviews can be found at the bottom of the page.

    If the 1960's was the decade of "love & peace' then the 1970's was probably best described as a decade of turmoil and even more rapid change. I dig into my crate this week and pull out an artist who changed, almost overnight, changed rapidly leaving the "butterfly of love" behind and showing a tougher and yet more vulnerable side of him.

    The artist are John Lennon and of all his albums I have chose the vinyl album titled - Plastic Ono Band. Released on the Apple label in 1970 and has the identifying code of PCSO-7124. It only has 11 tracks and all were written by Lennon.

    John Lennon's story is almost as well known as that of The Beatles, with whom he shall ever be tied to.

    Yet as he demonstrated to both believers and non-believers, he was much more than John Lennon the Beatle!

    The final part of his story is as follows.

    On 8 December 1980, the legendary musician was shot four times in the back outside of his apartment building in New York City. He was only 40 years old. 7 days after his death, millions of people paused their daily routines to honour Yoko Ono's request for ten minutes of silence in commemoration of his contributions. 30,000 gathered in Liverpool, 225,000 in New York City's Central Park. The radios went silent, too.

    But to try and make his story interesting here are some little known facts and stories about him. John was actually both a choir boy and a scout. In 1963 John almost beat a man to death. Bob Wooler was a DJ that knew the Beatles, he introduced them on stage over 300 times and was often invited to their parties. In 1963 rumours were swirling that John was gay and Wooler didn't help when at Paul's 21st birthday party Wooler started "mincing" around crying out, “Come on John, what really happened with you and Brian? Everybody knows anyway, so tell us.” John had been heavily drinking that night and he was a notorious “bad drunk”.

    In a blind rage, John proceeded to beat the stuffing out of a very surprised Bob Wooler, literally kicking him repeatedly in the ribs as he lay on the ground in a bloody heap. According to John, the only reason he actually stopped the savage beating was because, “I realised I was actually going to kill him." Fortunately for him and the Beatles, he didn't!

    John was also the last of the Beatles to get a driving licence and was the only Beatle to never become a full-time vegetarian. He also thought he had a terrible voice and would request that George Martin try and cover it up, once asking Martin, “Can’t you smother it with tomato ketchup or something?”

    He was never satisfied with the recording the Beatles did. A few years after his split from the Beatles he told George Martin he would love to re-record all, every Beatle track. When Martin asked, Even Strawberry Fields, John replied, “Especially ‘Strawberry Fields'”. He also maintained that the best song he ever wrote for the Beatles was All You Need Is Love.

    So to this album. We all know there we what might best be described as "experimental" albums with Yoko, and despite the general ambivalence, sometimes hatred, toward them by his fans, they were necessary as part of John's desire to leave everything Beatle behind, and to cathartically cleanse himself.

    He succeeded partially, but in 1970 recorded and released this album, which I must agree with the general consensus that, it was either his best, or among his best. Unlike the previous albums; Unfinished Music #1 - Two Virgins (1968), Unfinished Music #2 - Life With The Lions (1969), The Wedding Album (1969) and Live Peace In Toronto (1969), this album had a coherence, and also represented genuine attempts to provide an album that would be accepted by the public, and one that would consist of all his own compositions.

    The album John Lennon certainly shows that he had yet to work through many unresolved matters, and that he still had much anger in him. However he was a brilliant man and knew how to channel these elements in such a way to create some brilliant, memorable and haunting tracks.

    Working with him on production was Phil Spector, who was obviously a two-edged sword himself. Brilliant and an absolute genius behind the mixer, he also brought with him baggage and often lost control, once firing a gun into a the control booth ceiling during a recording session with Lennon.

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    John & Phil

    Yet for all his "eccentricity" his genius and touch can be heard throughout this album.

    Track listing:

    Side 1

    1. Mother
    2. Hold On
    3. I Found Out
    4. Working Class Hero
    5. Isolation

    Side 2

    1. Remember
    2. Love
    3. Well Well Well
    4. Look At Me
    5. God
    6. My Mummy’s Dead

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    Mother is one of those tracks that has many layers to it. It is a cry of pain, there is no doubt about it. Having lost his mother at such a vulnerable age in such a way that there were no "goodbyes", the young Lennon carried that pain right through his life. It is also cathartic, with elements of "primal scream" therapy showing through which is of no surprise given John was indeed going through that therapy at the time he wrote the piece.

    John had lost his father at an even younger age, when he was a toddler, so the loss of his mother was even more painful. John uses the song not only to release his pain and anger, but in the process of healing it allows him to say the goodbye he never said. That "momma don't go" at 4:44 is absolutely gut wrenching.

    Later Yoko said of this track, "He was going back to the days of when he wanted to scream, 'Mother.' He was able to go back to that childhood, that memory."

    The track is certainly minimalistic with John playing simple chords in a dramatic manner with just the right amount of pause between each downward chord. Accompanying him was Klaus Voormann on bass and Ringo Starr on drums yet, it is more than just right, it is a superb track and as far as my theory that track 1 on an album should be the artists "greeting card" the track that introduces him, John Lennon could not have done better.

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    The track opens with the pealing of a funeral bell. The story goes that originally the bell was struck faster, but John insist it be slowed down to give it a more 'deathly' sound. It has been speculated that it represents the "death of his connection with the Beatles". I recall someone (but not who it was) that said of this track, "there is only one thing wrong - it is 10 hours too short!"

    Mother, you had me
    But I never had you
    I wanted you
    But you didn't want me
    I, I just got to tell you

    Father, you left me
    But I never left you
    I needed you
    But you didn't need me
    I, I just got to tell you

    Children, don't do
    What I have done
    I couldn't walk
    And I tried to run
    I, I just got to tell you

    Mama don't go
    Daddy come home
    Mama don't go
    Daddy come home
    Mama don't go
    Daddy come home
    Mama don't go
    Daddy come home

    Mama don't go
    Daddy come home
    Mama don't go
    Daddy come home
    Mama don't go
    Daddy come home
    Mama don't go
    Daddy come home

    Mama don't go
    Daddy come home


    Track 3 - I Found Out is an angry track. It is angry through the lyrics, it is angry through Lennon's delivery and by hell, it is angry through the sound of the music. John is accompanied by Klaus on bass on Ringo on drums. The guitars have been processed to give a distinct distorted sound which say aptly meld with the anger in John's voice all of which reinforces an underlying message of - jeez I'm pissed off at you all.

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    John & Klaus

    We need to remember the break up with the
    Beatles was really, really fresh, and really, really painful. His anger regarding the Beatles was directed toward Paul mainly, and in fact he continued to have a good relationship with Ringo. But this is not new news, yet, we need to remember that this incredible anger was also directed towards the fans of the Beatles.

    John was lashing out at them wanting more of the "cuteness" they had become accustomed to. He also could not come to grips with the incredible antagonism fans were directing at the love of his life, Yoko Ono, who was unfairly bearing the brunt of the Beatles "bust-up".

    Despite his utter commitment to peace,
    John was also beginning to feel the strain of the constant demands by people in that movement for him to keep "doing things", especially "things" they thought he should do. Around the time the album came out Lennon gave an interview to Rolling Stone and what he said, is certainly reflected in this song, when he told Rolling Stone, "I'm sick of all these aggressive hippies or whatever they are, the "Now Generation," being very up-tight with me. Either on the street or anywhere, or on the phone, demanding my attention, as if I owed them something!"

    Hence the line - "The freaks on the phone won't leave me alone, so don't give me that brother, brother."

    I Found Out

    Track 4 has just got to be one of my top 3 favourite
    Lennon tracks of all time. Working Class Hero was utterly sublime in words, delivery and music. As time has gone on the track has taken on a life of its own - it is a rallying cry to downtrodden people everywhere - it proclaims loudly and proudly, that to be working class is indeed to be special.

    There is a certain degree of idealism in
    Lennon's lyrics, but that's OK, John was brought up in Liverpool and in the UK there weren't, with maybe the exception of London's East End, many more entrenched working class areas. Now you might therefore expect that the Lennon's struggled as most Liverpudlians did. Yet John actually came from a middle class upbringing, and while people were quick to point that out in a derogatory manner, I believe Lennon never lost touch with the struggle he saw around him and then later in the struggle he saw around him in the world.

    However I am probably wrong because
    Lennon tackled this in his Rolling Stone interview saying that people had missed the sardonic overtones. He said he was suggesting that if people worked hard enough they could rise above their misery and be like him, happy and unhappy.

    I don't know, I think
    John was so angry that he failed sometimes to even see deeply enough into his own soul. But hey! Who am I to start analysing John Lennon's motives.

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    Mind you in typical
    Lennon contradictions, he also said of this track,"I think its concept is revolutionary, and I hope it's for workers and not for tarts and fags." Sadly he was also showing his sometimes expressed distain for homosexual people. Some say this was because he was fearful that he may have been gay himself.

    I really don't know about that either.

    Mind you he also never lost track of the fact that there was little to aspire to in the upper class. In the song he uses the line
    "If you want to be like the folks on the hill", which he later said was a direct reference to the track, "Fool on the Hill"!

    I also find it strange that the word fucking appears twice in the song and was not censored, yet in the lyrics printed on the album insert sleeve, the word was replaced with an "*". Really? Really!

    There is also some doubt as to whether
    John was ever happy with the final outcome of the track. His tape operator Andy Stephens said in a 2010 interview, that John absolutely obsessed with the track, that there were "an endless number of takes… well over 100.. Probably 120, 130". In fact the version that was released is clearly a meld of two takes, if you put headphones on and listen at around 1:27 you will hear a distinct change in tone of the guitar.

    As soon as you're born they make you feel small
    By giving you no time instead of it all
    Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all
    A working class hero is something to be
    A working class hero is something to be

    They hurt you at home and they hit you at school
    They hate you if you're clever and they despise a fool
    Till you're so fucking crazy you can't follow their rules
    A working class hero is something to be
    A working class hero is something to be

    When they've tortured and scared you for twenty-odd years
    Then they expect you to pick a career
    When you can't really function you're so full of fear
    A working class hero is something to be
    A working class hero is something to be

    Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV
    And you think you're so clever and classless and free
    But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see
    A working class hero is something to be
    A working class hero is something to be

    There's room at the top they're telling you still
    But first you must learn how to smile as you kill
    If you want to be like the folks on the hill

    A working class hero is something to be
    A working class hero is something to be
    If you want to be a hero well just follow me
    If you want to be a hero well just follow me

    Working Class Hero

    The final track is Isolation, another excellent and minimalistic arrangement in which John sings of the isolation he and Yoko feel. John is reflective at times, and quite angry, when he directs his comments right at us!

    OK, let's turn the LP over and have a look at side 2. Track 1 Remember is another self-analysis track strongly based upon Johns therapy sessions where he reflects upon those he felt let him down, the memories are generally unpleasant ones, of conflict with family, authority and peers and how all those who meant most to him seemed to just be playing a part and through it all he reflects that worrying now is of no help.

    Track 2 is Love and features Phil Spector on piano, and sees John returning to a theme he constantly expressed - Love! John wrote the track assuming he would accompany himself on acoustic guitar and started out recording it that way, except after a few takes he asked Spector to play piano, and it works beautifully with Spector showing quite a lot of sensitivity.
    John continued to play the acoustic guitar.

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    It is one of those Lennon tracks that it is hard to listen to without wondering just what might have happened if he had not been murdered.

    Certainly it stands out in the beauty of the words and the sensitivity in which John delivers the lines. There sure is no anger in this song!

    Love is real, real is love
    Love is feeling, feeling love
    Love is wanting to be loved
    Love is touch, touch is love
    Love is reaching, reaching love
    Love is asking to be loved

    Love is you
    You and me
    Love is knowing
    We can be

    Love is free, free is love
    Love is living, living love
    Love is needing to be loved


    Well Well Well is track 3. The album in it's tracks deals with a plethora or matters including family, relationships, drugs, politics and much more. On this track John has focussed on what might be considered as sexual politics as he makes reference to women's liberation and revolution and . . . well in some cases it might even be considered as humorous.

    The problem is that if there is any real message in the track it is well covered by Johns heartfelt but savage screams. Maybe the message is actually in those screams?

    Track 4 is Look At Me. Angst, concern, confusion and a moment of realisation, that he and Yoko are the only one's who really know John Lennon. What the track is not, is angry. It introspective, almost pleading with us to look deeply into him!

    Track 5 is God - and this is a ripper of a track that also has Phil Spector on piano. According to the Tarot, the "Fool" is indeed not really a fool but a man who has emptied himself of everything, who pares back to the core, who is embarking on a journey afresh and is ready to learn. This track really is John Lennon who often presented himself as playing the "fool" in the traditional sense, while in the Beatles, but here, he is presenting himself as the "Fool" in the Tarot. Through this track he declares in no uncertain terms that he has dispensed with all the beliefs he previously held, he is emptied of everything . . . almost!

    I don't believe in magic
    I don't believe in I-ching
    I don't believe in Bible
    I don't believe in Tarot
    I don't believe in Hitler
    I don't believe in Jesus
    I don't believe in Kennedy
    I don't believe in Buddha
    I don't believe in Mantra
    I don't believe in Gita
    I don't believe in Yoga
    I don't believe in Kings
    I don't believe in Elvis
    I don't believe in Zimmerman
    I don't believe in Beatles

    John has thrown out everything that he learned to despise, the things that he believed held him back and declares to the world:

    I just believe in me, Yoko and me, and that's reality

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    He goes on to sing about the dream being over, but I think the dream he refers to is his way of talking about the illusion that was part of his life as a Beatle and in this, the second last track on this album, he begins to redefine John Lennon, as declared by him. He draws upon the comments and concepts presented in the previous tracks on this album and brings it all to a beautiful conclusion.

    He is reborn and he has at least started to be at peace with himself and Yoko, he is no longer angry as he declares:

    And so, dear friends,
    You'll just have to carry on
    The dream is over


    Is it coincidence that the last track brings us back to the beginning. Life is a series or even a process of learning, unlearning and learning again. John completes his circle with the final track, My Mummy's Dead. Track 1 on side 1 was a painful and yet formal declaration about his mother, in this track - Mother. This track is only 47 seconds long, it is almost a voice from the past in the way Spector has processed it and in a simplistic style of playing, John sings what is almost a ditty, albeit a sad ditty, where there is absolutely not a modicum of anger shown in Mother. This pensive, childlike rendition is a track of reflection and acceptance. He is sad but at the same time John is accepting of what happened.

    My mummy's dead
    I can't get it through my head
    Though it's been so many years
    My mummy's dead
    I can't explain
    So much pain
    I could never show it
    My mummy's dead

    My Mummy's Dead

    John Lennon was a human being with the same foibles, weaknesses and strengths of other human beings. The fact that he was also endowed with a very high level of musical ability and a sharp mind and a rapier like wit, were among the things that made him stand out.

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    The last know photo taken of John, just before he was shot

    There is little doubt that when separated from the Beatles, John was able, despite carrying so much pain, to freely pursue the things that were critical to him and yet to continue to record brilliant music which now continues to live on long after his death.

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    The album is really essential in all collections and is available on vinyl and CD with a few of these original copies as well as re-mastered versions. In the end, just make sure you have it.

    VIDEOS - Amazingly and somewhat sadly, i could find no footage of John performing any tracks from this album, so i have included two of my favourite live clips of him performing.

    John - Jealous Guy [The Recording of the track, 1971]

    Live in New York City

    If you are interested in checking out the first fifty vinyl albums reviewed, just click here

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    If you are interested in checking out the first fifty (50) CD's reviewed, just click here

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    If you are interested in checking out reviews 101 to 150 (Vinyl & CD) as reviewed, just click here

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    Past album Reviews - Numbers 151 onward:

    Number 151 - The Shaggs: Philosophy Of The World

    Number 152 - The Animals: The Animals

    Number 153 - Omar Khorshid: Live in Australia 1981

    Number 154 - Alan Parsons Project: Tales of Mystery and Imagination (Edgar Allan Poe)

    Number 155 - Billy Thorpe: Tangier

    Number 156 - Aretha Franklin: The Best Of

    Number 157 - Big Bill Broonzy: Big Bill Blues [His 23 Greatest Songs]

    Number 158 - The Supremes: Where Did Our Love Go

    Number 159 - The Band: Stage Fright

    Number 160 - Ray Brown & The Whispers: Hits and More 1965 - 1968

    Number 161 - Guitar Junior: The Crawl

    Number 162 - Jimi Hendrix: Radio One

    Number 163 - Memphis Minnie: Queen Of The Blues

    Number 164 - Eno: Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)

    Number 165 - The Loved Ones: Magic Box

    Number 166 - Various Artists: On The Road Again [An Anthology Of Chicago Blues 1947 - 1954]

    Number 167 - Janis Joplin: Greatest Hits

    Number 168 - David Bowie: Ziggy Stardust

    Number 169 - Red Hot Chili Peppers: Californication

    Number 170 - Chain: Two Of A Kind

    Number 171 - Bob Marley and The Wailers - Legend

    Number 172 - Coco Taylor: What It takes

    Number 173 - Stevie Wonder: Original Musiquarium

    Number 174 - Various Artists: The Unissued 1963 Blues Festival

    Number 175 - Noeleen Batley: Little Treasure

    Number 176 - B.B. King: The Best Of

    Number 177 - Fleetwood Mac: Fleetwood Mac (The White Album)

    Number 178 - Memphis Slim: I Feel So Good

    Number 179 - Manfred Mann's Earth Band: Live Budapest

    Number 180 - Flowers: Icehouse

    Number 181 - Joe Tex: The Best of

    Number 182 - Chicago [Transit Authority]: Chicago Transit Authority

    Number 183 - Deep Purple: The Deep Purple Singles

    Number 184 - The Doobie Brothers: Best of the Doobie Brothers

    Number 185 - Dig Richards: Jive After Five

    Number 186 - Stereo MC's: Connected

    Number 187 - Ricky Nelson: All My Best

    Number 188 - Frank Frost: Jelly Roll King

    Number 189 - Lonnie Mack: Memphis Wham

    Number 190 - Madder Lake: Still Point

    Number 191 - Carol K and the Hitmen: California Creamin'

    Number 192 - Dion and The Belmonts: Everything You Always Wanted To Hear

    Number 193 - The Beatles: Rubber Soul

    Number 194 - Sleepy John Estes: Jailhouse Blues

    Number 195 - Rob E.G. : All His Hits [The Festival File Volume 3]

    Number 196 - Ma Rainey: Ma Rainey

    Number 197 - John Lennon: Plastic Ono Band
    Attached Files
    Last edited by Rob Greaves; 10 August 2016, 06:47 PM.